Saturday, February 20, 2010

Conservatives, gays and überbitches

The above discussion is of some interest, but also, in some ways, very unsatisfactory, at least to a libertarian. The topic itself is of zero interest to libertarians: "Is There a Place for Gay People in Conservatism and Conservative Politics?" Libertarians simply are not conservatives. My only regret about the way modern conservatives view gay people is that they have pushed a large number of people into alliances with the Left and thus many gay people end up buying the entire Left agenda, even when they shouldn't.

The second problem is that conservatism is an incoherent, unspecified, every-shifting set of values. As Hayek noted, conservatives may hold to certain "moral" values very strenuously but they lack any clear cut set of political principles. David Boaz, in his introduction of the discussion, referred to that when he noted that conservatives spent much of the last century opposing equal rights for Jews, blacks, women and gay people, and then wonder why those groups are reluctant to vote for them. He also noted that conservatives today go as far as pretending they never opposed equality for said groups once equality is accepted by most people. Conservatives like to rewrite their bigoted history in order to appear to be classical liberals. They aren't.

The third issue with this debate is that the participants were 2/3rds unsavory and 1/3 coherent and interesting. The 1/3 that was worth listening to was Nick Herbert, Conservative MP from the UK. The worst aspect of the debate was having to listen to Andrew Sullivan and Maggie Gallagher. Certainly if I were the deity I sentence them to spend eternity together—now that's what I call hell.

Sullivan's problem is the same one he always has. As for as Andrew is concerned there are only two topics of discussion: those that deal with him, and those that should deal with him. I find him incredible nauseating since he seems incapable of discussion anything unless he can make it about himself. In this debate he was überbitch. It is one thing when he's being rude and nasty to Maggie, since she actually deserves it, but Sullivan was the pompous ass with everyone. He was particularly snippy because he has created a fake conservatism where he supports Obama and Obama's big government agenda. When Dave Boaz asked a question regarding Sullivan's support of the president and his agenda Sullivan denounced the question instead of answering it.

When James Kirchick asked the same question and how Sullivan's views qualified as conservative, Sullivan responded by invoking authority: himself, of course. He merely said he knows more about the topic than Kirchick and then refused to answer.

I found Sullivan tedious in print and in person and can't think of any good reason that anyone should care what he thinks. His solipsistic view of politics screams self-esteem issues to me. Quite honestly, I can't stand the man. Watching him spar with Gallagher brings no pleasure as I don't want either of them to come out on top. Sullivan's prime point, when he wasn't pitying himself, was that conservatives are nasty. There is no serious debate there, at least not from me.

Gallagher was her usual self as well except she kept trying to emphasize that making gay people second class citizens doesn't mean she's a bigot. She kept whining that it is unfair to say that people are bigot if their views are deeply held, religious views. Of course, bigotry is bigotry, regardless if the the justification of it is theological, racial, or political. That her church, Roman Catholic, had promoted anti-Semitism for centuries is no less repugnant because they thought it was based on the New Testament. Gallagher is basically arguing that religious arguments ought to get a "free pass" in the realm of debate and politics; that one should not question them because they "are deeply held." Sincerity is the same thing as reasonable and sincerely held, wrong beliefs are still wrong. Just because you didn't believe a bus was turning the corner doesn't mean it won't flatten you.

The great problem with the Gallagher's religious nuts is that they honestly believe two very bad premises. First, they assume that religious beliefs hold some sort of protection from scrutiny, debate or even ridicule, not afforded to any other belief. Second, they then assume their religious beliefs should be the foundation for the law. This is a recipe for authoritarianism. A creed can be claimed to be religious, thus unavailable for debate or discussion. Then that creed should serve to regulate the lives of everyone else, even those who don't hold to the creed. This is really what Gallagher is asking for.

She also spends a certain amount of time saying that because evangelical Christians are fearful that we should placate them politically. She, of course, does her best to fan the fear any chance she gets. And she did it again in this discussion by lying about legal cases around gay issue. For instance, she claimed that Catholics in Massachusetts stopped adoption services because they were forced to allow gays to adopt. She neglected to say that the law on that matter only applies to agencies who are state funded. Mormon adoption services still operate in Massachusetts without having to be non-discriminatory because they weren't ripping off taxpayers to fund their activities. One can still discriminate in adoption if one is privately funded. But if gay taxpayers are forced to pay the bills they should have equal access to the services.

The problem is that the Catholic Church wanted tax funds, not that it was handling adoptions. If the church was willing to do that with it's own money (if it has any left after paying victims of abuse by Catholic priests) it would be free to do so, without having to consider gay parents. This was precisely the situation in Washington, DC. The church wanted taxpayer funding with the restrictions on their ability to discriminate that comes when you are a tax supported agency.

Sullivan did call Gallagher on this question and asked her if she were aware of this. She said she didn't know what the facts where even though she had just used this case as an example in her campaign of fear. Galllagher has regularly lied about situations to make them sound like a violation of private rights, when they were regulations on how to use taxpayer funding instead.

Gallagher's big claim was that when gay people make liberty claims they are on strong ground but when they make equality claims they are not. The problem is that she doesn't actually define equality and it can mean several different things. Equality of rights is very different from equality of results. Hayek noted that in The Constitution of Liberty that the two types of equality are incompatible. But what of equality of liberty and equality of rights before the law? Gallagher seems to think the two are at odds with one another.

They are not, for in many ways, they are one in the same thing. Gallagher is free to marry her partner, a gay person is not free to marry their partner. Gallagher has freedoms that gay people do not enjoy. The state treats gay people differently and at a disadvantage. In fact, many of the ways that the state treats gay couples differently means a direct transfer of wealth from gay couples to straight couples. Gallagher, in essence, has certain benefits (which I would abolish) that come to her because gay people are partially subsidizing them. She, for instance, will be able to collect social security benefits when her spouse dies. For gay couples, they pay in equally but collect unequally so that Maggie will be eligible for higher benefits than if the system didn't discriminate. I also believe her husband (who is not the father of her first child), a Hindu, is a immigrant. She is allowed to marry a foreigner who can live with her in the US. Gay men and women are not given the same freedom.

The only interesting aspect to the debate came from Nick Herbert and I found myself agreeing more with his comments than with anyone, other than David Boaz, who I only disagree with advisedly, since I respect his opinions highly. Herbert did say a few things that would set conservatives to howling, but that is a good thing. He also said a couple of things libertarians would disagree with and in fact, Nigel Ashford, who is a good guy and a friend, did disagree with Herbert on the issue of hate crimes.

Part of the problem with the hate crime debate in the US is that the Right intentionally confuses hate crime laws with hate speech laws. The two are not the same. Secondly, legal precedents from other nations don't apply here as they have different constitutional systems. Gallagher, of course, equates the two as if these different systems have no impact on how law is interpreted in other nations.

But Herbert raised an interesting reply, and one that has me seriously rethinking my views on hate crime legislation. Herbert noted that hate crimes are not like most crimes in that they are also a way that bigots inflict distress or trauma on a larger group. When a man is attacked for being gay, the attacker wants all gay people to be fearful. His direct assault may be on one individual but a hate attack is meant as a message to all other members of that group. It is, basically, a threat intended to instill fear in the hated group. Certainly if that is the case, and it typically is in hate attacks, then threatening many individuals, though immediately attacking the one, may well deserve a greater penalty. The greater penalty is not one for attacking a person who is gay, but for engaging in an activity that is meant to threaten all gay people.

For a libertarian, the first question is whether a "threat" is plausible and believable. In the case of hate crimes they clearly are since the attacker only faces such penalties after actually carrying out the kind of attack he is threatening.

Nor am I particularly bothered when groups of individuals who are particularly vulnerable are afforded extra legal protection from actual crimes. I would not be bothered if a violent attack on an elderly woman were punished with greater severity than one on a football player. It is not because the football player has few rights than the grandmother but because he is more capable of protecting himself and less vulnerable. Ditto for laws that inflict higher sentences on attacks on children. I would most certainly feel comfortable sentencing a man to a much longer term in prison for bashing an infant than for the same act in a barroom brawl. I can also see why some groups are simply more vulnerable than others. A person may be more vulnerable simply because they are part of a group that a significant number of people hate and that group is simultaneously a small portion of the population.

Herbert brought up antigay bullying in schools and on the sports field. Now, the school aspect I can immediately understand. Government schools should not tolerate bullying—neither should private schools by the way. Bullying should not be permitted in schools. The sports issue had Maggie implying this is a violation of private life. But this would need to be clarified.

Certainly I' ve lived in countries where sports was heavily subsidized by government and sometimes directly, or indirectly, controlled by government. National teams were not private entities at all. The distinction between private and public is more murky and without clarification from Herbert, and knowing more about the state of sports in the UK I simply can't agree or disagree. Unfortunately sports today is substantially a government enterprise. Even in the US sports teams, while privately owned, are heavily subsidized by taxpayers. These teams actively seek state funding. Again, if that is the case, then I don't see a problem with government saying that all taxpayers must be treated with respect at events they are forced to fund. If a team wants to allow verbal harassment of gay people at their events, then should refuse all state funding. Of course they won't do that, they want taxpayer funding too badly.

Enjoy the discussion. Please remember that Sullivan and Gallagher are on you computer screen and that if you smash your fist into the screen it will hurt only you and your pocketbook. Running time is about 80 minutes.

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