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April 09, 2014 1:28 PM Homophobia, Racism and Subjective Intent

By Ed Kilgore

The Mike Huckabee speech in Iowa that provided the jumping-off point for Paul Waldman’s argument about the limited power of the Christian Right is interesting in its own right. It also strikes me as relevant to the disagreement I seem to be having with Jonathan Chait about the distinction I’ve made between objective racist policies and arguments and the subjective state of mind of those who promote them.

Here’s the relevant portion of Huck’s speech, as reported by CNN:

Huckabee, who is also a pastor, told a conservative crowd, “I’m not against anybody. I’m really not. I’m not a hater. I’m not homophobic.”
“I honestly don’t care what people do personally in their individual lives,” Huckabee said in his keynote address to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.
“But…when people say, ‘Why don’t you just kind of get on the right side of history?’ I said, ‘You’ve got to understand, this for me is not about the right side or the wrong side of history, this is the right side of the Bible, and unless God rewrites it, edits it, sends it down with his signature on it, it’s not my book to change.’ Folks, that’s why I stand where I stand.”

Though the “don’t care what people do personally in their individual lives” bit is inconsistent with the usual “love the sinner but hate the sin” line of conservative evangelicals, the more important issue is Huck’s denial that support for policies that objectively deny gay people equal rights does not imply subjective homophobia. I’m more than willing to take him at his word, but if it is slander to suggest he supports “homophobic” policies—like the racist policies supported by many people who probably don’t have any personal race phobias—what are we supposed to call it? In Huck’s case, there are other terms I could use. As a Christian who supports same-sex marriage on religious grounds, I could call him a bibliolator, or even a slanderer of God Almighty. I’m sure he is guilty of neither heresy subjectively. But folks, we cannot give up the right to appropriately characterize policies and attitudes with which we strongly disagree simply because their perpetrators have or claim pure motives.

In his response today to critics of his piece on race and partisanship, Jon Chait calls my subjective-objective distinction “chilling” because it reminds him of a conservative argument from the 1950s:

The most problematic part of Kilgore’s argument is his recurrent phrase “objectively racist.” It consciously or unconsciously harkens back to a chilling Cold War-era line used by conservatives, who described their domestic opponents as “objectively pro-Communist.” Their underlying logic, like the phrase itself, mirrored Kilgore’s: if you opposed the conservative foreign policy agenda, the “objective” thrust of your beliefs aided communism. This line of reasoning conveniently enabled conservatives to rhetorically lump together all their domestic opponents under the broad rubric of “pro-communist,” insinuating a poisonous motive while freeing themselves from having to demonstrate it.

Sorry, but I’m in no wise arguing for the right to “free myself” from having to “demonstrate” that racist or homophobic policies or message are what they appear to be. I don’t use either word casually and try to link them to specific incidents, and as for “insinuating a poisonous motive,” the whole point of the objective/subjective distinction is that I’m not seeking to characterize motives at all. They ultimately don’t matter that much in the “objective” world where the impact of racism and homophobia doesn’t go away just because their proponents are motivated by bad economic theories or bad interpretations of the Bible.

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.

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