Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Saturday, July 1st, 2006.


Being Liberal Doesn’t Mean Being a Patsy

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I have finished my month as a guest poster at Unclaimed Territory. Glenn Greenwald thanked me graciously even though I snarked at some of his readers. But there’s something I want to follow up with here and get off my chest. This is not specifically about UT or its readers; rather, a couple of commenters at UT have goaded me into writing something I’ve been meaning to get to for a while.

Yesterday on UT I published a variation on the “Dear Media” post below, but with a simpler point — that our political culture is too fouled to support democratic political processes. I quoted this from Wikipedia:

Political competitors may disagree, but they must tolerate one another and acknowledge the legitimate and important roles that each play. The ground rules of the society must encourage tolerance and civility in public debate.

Two commenters went off on this quotation from opposite directions, but they both fell into the same fallacy, IMO, about what it is to “tolerate” political speech.

One guy, a frequent commenter I’ll call “PM,” clearly is on some kind of crusade against Daily Kos because he was banned from commenting there. I infer the ban came about because PM disagrees with Kos’s “crashing the gate” strategy of supporting Democratic candidates. If you’re not familiar with this, the basic idea is to simultaneously take power away from Republicans while impressing the Dems that the netroots are a force to be reckoned with. This, in turn, should enable the netroots to push the Dems in a more progressive direction in the future. I happen to think this is a sensible plan, but some disagree. As I understand it, PM thinks that Kos should be supporting the most progressive candidate regardless of party, which I think is a dead-end strategy.

Anyway, after posting some off-topic comments by way of continuing his vendetta against Daily Kos, PM wrote,

Barbara, are you for acknowledging the legitimacy of political opponents and tolerating their participation in public debate? Or are you for denying the legitimacy of political opponents and, literally, censoring any possible advocacy of them, no matter how polite said advocacy may be, simply because the advocacy comes in service of a party whose very legitimacy you deny?

You have to choose one or the other, Barbara. You can’t have both.

Yes I can have both, because I make a distinction between public tolerance and private tolerance. My respect for the free speech rights of others doesn’t translate into a personal obligation to provide a public venue for opinions with which I disagree.

Blogs are not public utilities. They are the personal creations and properties of bloggers. All of us who maintain blogs over a period of time have put an enormous amount of time and work into them, creating content and building traffic. Yes, I do it because I enjoy it, but it’s still a lot of time. Unpaid time, I might add. Further, I choose to pay for server space instead of using the free services in order to get better tech support and more bandwidth. Now the ads more than pay for the bandwidth, but that wasn’t true for most of The Mahablog’s history.

I launched The Mahablog to chronicle the ongoing atrocity known as the Bush Administration, and I occasionally wander into other topics that interest me. This blog is not a public bulletin board. I keep pretty tight control on comments (as explained here). If I had not been exercising discretion about what is allowed in comments, I believe this blog would have been swamped with rightie hate speech long ago, and the comments threads would be nothing but flames. But there are plenty of places to go on the web if you want to flame. I choose instead to maintain a place where progressives can discuss issues without being distracted by rightie flame-throwers.

Does this mean I am not encouraging “tolerance and civility in public debate.” Folks, this ain’t “public debate.” It’s private property. It’s private property anyone with Internet access can look at, but it is private nonetheless. Any participation here is provisional, and I’m the provision.

When I say I respect free speech rights, I mean that. Everybody has a right to say any damnfool thing they want, as long as it don’t scare the chickens, as we’d say back home. But you’re on your own to find a venue. Since there are countless venues on the Web for expressing just about any opinion known to mankind, that shouldn’t be a problem. But the First Amendment doesn’t give you a right to post signs on private property, nor does it mean privately owned publishers are obligated to publish what you write if they don’t want to.

In other words, if your magnum opus stinks out loud, and Random House rejects it, that is not a violation of your First Amendment rights.

Now, I believe Blogger still offers free blog space, so if someone out there is frustrated by being banned from other blogs, he is free to start his own bleeping blog. He might not get much traffic right away, but neither did The Mahablog until I put years of work into maintaining and promoting it. But I’m supposed to allow someone to piggyback on the work I did to build traffic in order to promote ideas I don’t buy into … why, exactly?

If, on the other hand, certain points of view were being censored from the Internets by the Gubmint — I don’t think that’s possible, but let’s pretend — that would be wrong. Even if I disagreed with the points of view, I support the right of citizens to express that point of view. Somewhere. Just not here. Also, I don’t go around demanding that other publishing venues only publish my point of view. If the newspaper carries pro-Bush letters to the editor, I don’t write to the newspaper demanding such letters be banned because I don’t like them. I don’t set fire to the offices of newspapers that publish views I don’t like, which is something that happens commonly in less tolerant places.

At the same time, I don’t approve of defacing or destroying bumper stickers or other expressions of personal opinion on other people’s property. If you want to plaster a pro-Bush bumper sticker on your car and advertise to the world you’re an idiot, be my guest. I don’t do to others what I wouldn’t like were it done to me. During the 2004 campaign righties whined a lot about nasty mean Democrats breaking their “Bush” signs and saying snarky things to them. I think it was wrong of Democrats to do that. But somehow the righties never noticed the number of news stories about Republicans breaking “Kerry” signs. Nor did they acknowledged that at least some Kerry voters in red states — they told me this personally — chose not to display Kerry signs for fear of, um reprisal. Like slashed tires, or bombs thrown through windows, or the family dog … well, you get the idea. That’s public intolerance, and I think that’s wrong.

In other words, while I am not obligated to publish opinions I don’t like, I do not have the right to prevent such opinions from being published elsewhere.

I hope that is clear.

The other UT commenter that irritated me was a rightie. This guy is an incessant commenter there, possibly a paid one, and I have read his opinions, and basically he’s a mouthpiece for everything Sean Hannity says. So he wrote a comment that argues, in effect, we lefties are supposed to tolerate the VRWC’s crapping on the Constitution and shredding of the Bill of Rights, because if we argue they shouldn’t do that we are being intolerant.

There is a distinction between being intolerant of opposing opinions and being intolerant of actively subverting American democracy and undermining civil liberty. There is a difference between accepting the results of a free and fair election and accepting the results of an election that was stolen by thugs who prevented minority citizens from voting. BIG difference.

As I said, this guy is essentially a Sean Hannity wannabee; I’ve yet to see him say anything original. I responded to some of his comments to my first UT post before I realized I was wasting my time. And on this thread I let him know I wouldn’t be wasting my time by responding to his comments. Notice I didn’t write to Glenn and demand the guy be banned (I have no reason to think Glenn would do that, anyway). I just said, in effect, your opinion doesn’t interest me, and I’m not going to respond to it.

Did I mention that this guy’s comments drip with contempt for lefties, yet he complains that other commenters (on a leftie blog!) are mean to him? Snark. Try being a leftie posting a comment on a rightie blog. The righties go way beyond the parameters of “mean.”

Anyway, he responded to my notice that I was ignoring him with:

Yet another example of how you recognize “the ground rules of the society must encourage tolerance and civility in public debate?”

You have just proven my point about your hypocrisy far better than I ever could have.

Nope. I support your right to express your own opinion, but that doesn’t mean I won’t think you’re an idiot. And I support your right to kick sand on a public beach, but if you kick it in my face we’ve got a problem. I’m not going to tolerate your kicking sand in anyone else’s face, either, and if I can stop you from doing that, I will.

Some people don’t understand what tolerance is. It doesn’t mean being a patsy, or not respecting personal parameters. Righties in particular seem to think that because liberals value “tolerance” we’re supposed to stand aside like grinning idiots and approve of everything they do. Some righties think “tolerance” confers on them a right not to be disagreed with.

No; tolerance of public speech means I must not stop someone else from expressing an opinion. But “tolerance” doesn’t mean I can’t express my opinion of his opinion. Tolerance of behavior as a rule means tolerating behavior that is chosen from free will and not harming anyone else. It doesn’t mean I should stand aside if behavior is harming someone else. I don’t know why so many righties can’t grasp that.

OK; I’ve vented. I feel better now.

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