Political Animal


April 03, 2013 12:23 PM Quoting Bigots

By Ed Kilgore

In the comment thread to my post yesterday on Alan Keyes’ “no retreat” comments on same-sex marriage, NealB made this passionate plea:

If Ed Kilgore believes what he portends in support of gays and lesbians and universal, unalienable rights, he would not quote the bigotry of the psychotic leaders of the dwindling few that continue, unashamedly, to testify and confirm their bigotry. It’s not bad enough that such voices are heard in the world at all, but that we must hear Ed Kilgore echo their violence here?….
Thoughts, words, and deeds. Thoughts are up to each of us individually. Deeds cannot be taken back. But words are your business; and you, Mr. Kilgore, use them to bully. You always have. Enough.
Dear Ed: If you sincerely support us, stop quoting the bigots. You’re a reasonable man. Think about it. If you really cared, would you echo-chamber the very violence you descry? Think about it. Surely it’s hard for you to comprehend, but a lot of us have suffered indignities our whole lives. Too many have had our lives diminished to emptiness, or shattered. Why repeat the speech that causes such suffering?

It’s a little unclear whether NealB thinks I’m “bullying” Alan Keyes, or somehow “bullying” Keyes’ targets by repeating his words. But since this is a frequent, albeit a minority, objection to progressive bloggers who quote “the enemy,” I think it deserves a response.

If the idea here is the Lackoffian (not that I think Lakoff himself ever said this) hypothesis that political debate is just words and “frames,” and the “side” that gets its words and frames repeated most often and most loudly “wins,” then I just have to disagree. No one who read the post about Keyes is likely to say, “you know, old Alan has a point.”

A similar if more credible objection you often hear is that by quoting right-wing smears in order to criticize them, progressives are “legitimizing” the opposition or their smears. I don’t much get that one, either. This stuff is out there on the airwaves and the internet and the speeches and dog-whistles of elected officials and candidates. It already has a sizable audience. I’m generally trying to “de-legitimize” it if anything, but in any event, witholding notice of it has zero effect on its scope and its power.

The most compelling argument against quoting people like Keyes is that they are marginal people craving attention (“These men are nothing,” says NealB), who if denied it by all concerned, will soon go away. That’s certainly worth thinking about, and I did before writing the post in question. I chose to write about it for three reasons:

(1) Keyes’ views, however unusual they sound today, were very, very common in conservative (and even some non-conservative) circles quite recently. The guy who came within a few thousand votes in Michigan and Ohio of becoming the front-runner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination said this sort of thing all the time.

(2) The point of the whole post is that marginalized cultural reactionaries may become dangerously radicalized by their loss of power in the GOP and the country generally. It’s the same reason I worry about the antichoice movement, full of people who believe (or at least say they believe) we are living in Nazi Germany. And more generally, the quasi-revolutionary spirit that has suffused much of the Tea Party Movement has been based in no small part on a “Hell, No!” resistance to changes in conventionally acceptable points of view that they find offensive.

(3) Even more generally, reactionary cultural and political movements depend a great deal on stealth and deception—or if you prefer, “strategic repositioning.” When a relatively radical operation like today’s conservative movement “adjusts” on a topic like marriage equality, that may represent enlightenment, or it may represent a strategic retreat. It is rather significant to figure out which it is, and citing views like Keyes’ can be useful in separating sheep from goats. But there are many other areas where this exercise is even more useful: are Republican pols who have suddenly and recently become enamored of nineteenth-century rhetoric about the Tenth Amendment and “states’ rights” and even nullification and secession serious about it, or at least pandering to a significant element of their party’s base that is serious about it? That is worth knowing, and I don’t think you can find that out by refusing to quote or mention extremists.

I don’t know if any of this would be convincing to NealB, and it may be that he simply finds the repetition of bigoted words at a progressive website personally painful, whether it’s justifiable or not. I apologize if that’s the case, and I struggle every day (as does virtually every progressive blogger, though some don’t struggle much at all) not to fall into the easy habit of paying too much attention to isolated wingnuts. But we all have to follow and talk about politics in a way we find useful. And that’s what I’m trying to do throughout each long day.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • inkadu on April 03, 2013 12:36 PM:

    #3 is absolutely the most compelling argument for me. It's always a mixture of pain and humor to watch conservatives in public flounder about looking for a valid reason to oppose gay marriage. Just listening to the stated arguments, one would wonder why they are so worked up on the issue. But when you quote people like Keyes, everything becomes clear. You simply don't have the complete story without it. It's the heart and soul of anti-gay marriage sentiment.

  • Ronald on April 03, 2013 12:42 PM:

    "It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle." -Sun Tzu

    May not like hearing what those people have to say, but it is important that those words get exposed to the light of day. Bigotry relies on lies and shadows.

    Exposing what 'The Base' thinks about things, such as 'gay marriage' or 'healthcare' or anything else for that matter, is critical in understanding how we (as progressives) can deflect and defend against that hatred.

  • Gandalf on April 03, 2013 12:45 PM:

    I personally could care less if gays want to get married. I'm not gay but I certainly don't begrudge them the same freedoms. One thing for sure if your afraid to debate with lightweigts like Keys then they'll look stronger to some people. And part of the problems we have now are letting tea baggers and their ilk go unchallenged.

  • R L Fast on April 03, 2013 12:47 PM:

    Ed Kilgore is the best blogger in the country. The criticism is unwarranted.

  • emjayay on April 03, 2013 12:53 PM:

    Ronald: Thanks. Saved me a bunch of time and typing. As Sun Tzu once wrote: "It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle."

    Also, knowing what bigots and low information redneck Chritianist voters are thinking or listening to just helps explain why things are the way they are and happen the way they happen. In small doses of course.

    If anyone isn't interested, click on something else. Or if reading one of those flat foldy things made of cooked and dried sawdust that don't light up themselves, move your eyes to another location or turn one of the flat things over and read something on the next one.

  • Richard Brode on April 03, 2013 12:55 PM:

    I, for one, am very grateful to read what others are saying - and I take it personally, how can one not - about me. Mr. Kilgore does us all a favor. And I say, the more light being beamed into those very dark corners, the better.

  • Aaron Morrow on April 03, 2013 12:59 PM:

    Over at Shakesville they use content notes:

    > "Content Notes, indicating where potentially troubling or triggering material may be found in a post, will be provided where applicable. We make a good faith effort to identify content associated with common triggers, e.g. violent imagery or slurs, and sensitive subject matter, but please be advised that we cannot predict every reader's individual needs. Content Notes are provided to give readers the option to assess whether they've got the spoons (pdf) to process material that is potentially triggering to them. The provision of Content Notes is an exchange in which readers must participate: We communicate the information, and readers must assess their own immediate capacity to process content in the noted categories, then proceed accordingly."

    (Source: http://www.shakesville.com/2010/01/commenting-policy.html )

    I agree with all of Ed Kilgore's points, but the idea of using content notes is a reasonable request.

  • matt on April 03, 2013 1:03 PM:

    totebaggers don't want to hear the harshest rhetoric of either side, and don't want the repetition of that rhetoric to interrupt their lotus eating.

  • c u n d gulag on April 03, 2013 1:07 PM:

    "The best disinfectant is plenty of sunshine," as the old saying goes.

    Also, a lot of heaping helpings of openly mocking the bigots and their propagandists.

  • Tomm Undergod on April 03, 2013 1:14 PM:

    We have sitting senators, bitter-enders, spending taxpayer money in defense of DOMA. We have one party that has elected officials mandating arms ownership, mandating
    doctors to conduct sodomy-by-implement in some cases, have a new drumbeat against contraception, adoption (!), unions, against easing voter registration, public education ("state indoctrination"), child labor laws, minimum wage laws... And it safe to assume that behind those atavisms, they would also like to ban gays from teaching, and in fact from ban gays from any right to employment or housing.

    Today we even have a bunch of ninnies trying to establish a state religion, on top of a bunch of laws being based in deliberate defiance of the rule of law, and we have cops and sheriffs and mayors refusing to enforce or implement duly passed and signed national legislation.

    Our Lady of the Tundra and her husband have long-time ties to a secessionist group, and Gov. Goodhair down in TX is not the only one to have secessionist rhetoric not far removed from "sovereign citizens." In the very same state, a district attorney just resigned from prosecuting a case involving an "Aryan" prison gang out of safety concerns, perhaps because three of his cohort in the same metropolitan area have been assassinated in the last few months.

    Yet there is extremist rhetoric so hurtful and dangerous is must not be quoted or discussed? Would it be equally objectionable to talk about the Obstructionist Party elite sending out comic pictures of the President of the United States of America showing him with a bone in his nose and feasting on watermelon? Or is this hate supposed to go unremarked because that just perpetuates the injury?

    Somehow, I suspect some people who agree with the objection under discussion made a lot of noise when it was cartoons of Someone Else's prophet that some claimed so offensive that killing people was the only appropriate reply. Why, how dare they NOT show these cartoons, right?

    There are limits to peddling lies, esp. about children and other humans, but with all the festering pustulent bile festering so close to the surface already, the only ones really being served by letting their claims and their rhetoric go unexposed and unchallenged are the perps.

  • Dazed and Confused on April 03, 2013 1:15 PM:

    Thanks, Ed. As Curtis said, "Keep on keepin' on."

  • bobbo on April 03, 2013 1:21 PM:

    I am 100% behind you Ed. "Ignore them and hope they go away" is the response of a child. You are very eloquent in your own defense. And FWIW I have very much enjoyed your contribution to this blog from Day One.

  • Eeyore on April 03, 2013 1:25 PM:

    I dislike reading teh stoopid when it comes to gay rights, tax policy, immigration, or discussions of Barbra Streisand vs. Judy Garland. By that I mean I don't dislike READING about Teh Stoopid, I really dislike the idiocy behind the words. While it makes me sick to my stomach to read claptrap saying that my 37 year marriage to someone of the same gender is sick, evil, and will cause Newt to divorce his third wife I nonetheless need to read it. It reminds me that not everyone outside my gay-friendly liberal progressive green-friendly sphere thinks the way I do.

    Captcha: symontr Priscianus.... think that's Latin for Santorum's Prissy Anus. How apt!

  • brainchild on April 03, 2013 1:37 PM:

    Even if you do buy the "Lakoff hypothesis"--and I do think framing actually matters--quoting the other side doesn't mean you buy their framing. It's how you shape the argument against what the opponent says which will determine whose framing has "won". Letting odious statements go unchallenged gives the opponent more power to set the frame, not less. Presenting a quote, and then dissecting what is logically fallacious and/or morally repugnant about it is, in my opinion, a legitimate and effective tool for shaping important debates. Keep up the good work, Ed.

  • sgetti on April 03, 2013 1:39 PM:

    Possible point #4. Increasingly, news sources 'quote' supposed persons close to the action without identification. This trend dilutes the integrity of the press and reduces everything to 'sources say...' clearing the way for journalistic abuses or good old yellow journalism. Who, What, When, Where, Why and How are the basic points for all reporting if it is to be informative. Mr Kilgore's use of Keyes' quotes and attributtion is sound journalism.

  • Shane Taylor on April 03, 2013 1:48 PM:

    Good points, Ed, but three is especially important. The long game to redefine "religious freedom" is my favorite example. It was depressing to see how many liberal were dumbfounded by this campaign. It was a exasperating reminder of the provincialism of too many liberal pundits.

    Ed, you're obviously an exception, which is why I read you every week. Remember, folks, Ed sifts through far, far more noxious garbage than he posts. I don't fault him for exposing me to the bits he thinks are most important. I am grateful to him for sparing me the miserable chore of wading through this crap alone.

    There is a corollary to real extremism that liberals too often forget. Much of the absurdity we see in Christian Nationalist politicians follows from their political project: pursuing theonomy through democratic means against an "immoral" majority. In other words, real extremists must live in two Americas. They must assure their own "righteous remnant" that they are true to the cause, but at the same time, they must win over, or at least disarm, enough fallen wretches to win public office. Hence the stealth and deception.

  • Pat on April 03, 2013 2:09 PM:

    Plus, we're all familiar with the concept that at Fox News, information that might cause one to question their devotion to the cause gets much less play. Ignoring what the other side is actually saying is a really bad idea.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on April 03, 2013 2:23 PM:

    Here's my schpeel: Before the gay marriage debate really caught fire in 2012, my brother once had the ickies about gay marriage. But by the time the election rolled around last Nov here in Maryland, he was actually repulsed by a neighbor's Vote Against 6 (against gay marriage) yard sign. He really couldn't stand the thought of living across the street to someone aligned with bigotry/ignorance.

    And how did he come to associate anti-gay marriage stances with bigotry and ignorance? Because every time you turned on the tube some GOTea crank was blathering how gays are evil and and less than human not to mention that these same GOTea spokespersons were claiming that rape victims couldn't pregnant based a divine intervention, and that President Obama was CommiNaziSochlistKenyan who faked his birth certificate, college transcripts, and maybe his marriage certificate too.

    My point is the more the media highlight the crazy from the GOTea--who for whatever reason are more than happy to oblige us with demonstrations of their craziness--the easier it is that we can see how truly loathsome they really are.

    Only the likes of Mittens & Co. want to keep everything in "quiet rooms". Yet look at how not talking back against the anti-choice lobby has nearly evaporated reproductive rights in some states. Every time we soft-pedaled their ridiculous claims about alleged links between abortion and cancer/sanity/the earth's rotation those things were easily codified into law anyway. All while we were waiting quietly for sanity to prevail.

  • Josef K on April 03, 2013 2:35 PM:

    I've often wondered how Keyes and the rest would react if someone they were barking at - said someone being male - were to interrupt and say "Sorry, Alan, but I'm not interested in going on a date with you. I prefer women."

    These nits do go on about gay marriage so much, you have to wonder how many of them aren't overcompensating for something.

  • boatboy_srq on April 03, 2013 3:03 PM:

    @Josef K:

    I've often wondered how Keyes and the rest would react if someone they were barking at - said someone being male - were to interrupt and say "Sorry, Alan, but I'm not interested in going on a date with you. I prefer men."

    There are few things that will silence bigotry faster than calling it out for the cowardly, insecure thing it is.

  • Epicurus on April 03, 2013 3:09 PM:

    And to further quote Martin Buber, we all know what it takes for evil to triumph. Call these troglodytes out, open the window and let the sun shine in. They work best in the dark of night or when they think no one is looking. Ignore them at your peril, Pollyanna; they won't just go away if you stop talking about them. Bravo, too, to Mr. Kilgore, for both sharing this divergent opinion, and then destroying the basis for said argument.

  • DRF on April 03, 2013 3:18 PM:

    Extreme comments from even marginal political figures should be reported. When Alan Keyes, or a Southern state legislator, makes a comment like the ones Keyes made, we make fun of it and are dismissive--and rightly so. But that person may be running for Congress, or the Senate or the governorship a year or so from now, and it's important that we have a record of what they said and did.

    Morever, a pattern emerges with respect to comments by the right wing fringe that is important in that it gives us some idea as to what these groups of people are thinking and how they see the world. i believe it's important to know what's going on in that region of the political universe.

  • exlibra on April 03, 2013 4:17 PM:

    Me, I like to hear about the wingnuttiness in fool bloom, so I appreciated Ed's post. It'll be one more arrow in my quiver, should I get into an argument with someone; I don't have either the time or the stomach to dig through mountains of crap, the way Ed does. And I totally agree with # 3, like most readers here.

    But I have observed that the Coffee Party/Third Way "centrist liberals" hate being informed about the worst of the right wing's spoutings. Once you know about it, you might feel compelled to do something about it. Other, that is, than saying "we should get along, for the sake of getting along, even if it pulls us another few yards to the right..." Unlike the Tea Party, the Coffee Party dislikes conflict, and would like to avoid it at all costs.

  • smartalek on April 04, 2013 1:51 AM:

    Unless I've miscounted, the comments are running 100% in support of Mr Kilgore's stance.
    I have never been so proud to be a regular reader and semi-regular commenter here.
    I really, truly do not get how any serious progressive / liberal / whatever could take any other stance.
    Forget theorizing, forget moralizing.
    Just consider it empirically:
    In '04, Kerry let the Bush / Swiftboat lies go unanswered, and played nice on the worst President of at least a century. He lost an election that was his to win.
    In '12, Obama answered every skeevy Publican lie hard and fast, and defined Rmoney with undeniable facts. He won an election that, on the fundamentals, was his to lose.
    Letting the other side get away with rhetorical murder accomplishes nothing.
    And the country -- and the world -- cannot afford more losses.

  • smartalek on April 04, 2013 2:04 AM:

    Always forget something:
    Aaron Morrow's suggestion of something like Shakesville's "trigger warnings" protocol might well be a hi-benefit / lo-cost solution if there are too many regular readers who might seriously lose their harmony over seeing Teh Bad Guyz quoted too graphically too often.
    Might be worth trying as a beta test?

  • Rick Massimo on April 04, 2013 8:25 AM:

    "The most compelling argument against quoting people like Keyes is that they are marginal people craving attention (“These men are nothing,” says NealB), who if denied it by all concerned, will soon go away."

    The problem, of course, is that they are not denied attention by ALL concerned. I remember people saying the exact same thing about Rush Limbaugh 20 years ago. He didn't exactly go away, did he?

    Anyway, what exactly does "go away" mean? No one ever goes away. Who in American politics has gotten less attention in the last five years than Alan Keyes? Did he go away?

  • Christian Roettger on April 04, 2013 12:47 PM:

    @Aaron Morrow, Shakesville's 'trigger warnings'
    Sorry, I think it's too much work for too little benefit. I'd agree if this blog had lots of images from war zones, something like that - but words? more specifically, words from PA, the most mild-mannered, politest, family-friendly of all political blogs that I find interesting?? Please, NeilB, find some real bullies to fight against. And Ed, we appreciate the thoughtful discussion of his argument. But from now on, don't lose any sleep over it.