And by “defines,” of course, I mean “embodies”:
Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights organization, posted an alert on its blog Tuesday: “Paul Ryan Speaking at Hate Group’s Annual Conference.”
The “hate group” that the Republicans’ vice presidential candidate would be addressing? The Family Research Council, a mainstream conservative think tank founded by James Dobson and run for many years by Gary Bauer.
The day after the gay rights group’s alert went out, 28-year-old Floyd Lee Corkins II walked into the Family Research Council’s Washington headquarters and, according to an FBI affidavit, proclaimed words to the effect of “I don’t like your politics” — and shot the security guard.
Oy. You see where this is going, don’t you? To borrow a phrase from Berkeley Economics professor Brad DeLong: why, oh why, can’t we have a better press corps?
Of course it’s terrible this security guard was shot. Anytime a mass (or, as in this case, even a single) shooting happens, it’s awful. And looking for the larger causes, if any (beyond madness), of such shootings is always a worthwhile pursuit of law enforcement. Was this an isolated incident? Was it a terrorist attack? Will there likely be more? These are basic questions that should be – and are – asked by the public servants tasked with responding to such crimes.
However, because this particular case is unusual in that it was both explicitly political in origin and specifically from a traditionally liberal source (gay rights supporter) against a traditionally right wing target (homophobic Christian dominionists), Lord, how the media’s solons of liberal rectitude rush forth to show their “reasonable” bona fides by being first in line to condemn not just the shooting itself, but the “unjustifiable” actions (Milbank’s words) of the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center – the groups which labeled the Family Research Council a hate group.
After briefly glossing over the empirically demonstrable fact that “much of the political anger in America today lies on the right,” Milbank reminds us (by which he means: everyone not on the right) that “there are unbalanced and potentially violent people of all political persuasions” (in other words: all sides do it. See? Balance!) Milbank ends with what I’m sure he imagines is a solemn reminder to “[t]he rest of us” that we “need to be careful about hurling accusations that can stir up the crazies” (because really, people, liberals are just as guilty as conservatives here, and that’s what’s important…or, rather, what’s important is that I, Dana Milbank, be publicly seen saying that, so I can keep my “fair and balanced” club-card). Milbank also goes to great lengths to remind the reader of how he took Glenn Beck to task when Beck still had a show on FOX for whipping up hate and fear (see? I do it to conservatives, too! I’m just being fair here, people!), and he makes sure to point out that (just like you, faithful liberal!) he also “disagree[s] with the Family Research Council’s views on gays and lesbians.” Finally, Pope Dana I condescendingly absolves both HRC and the SPLC of any responsibility for the shooting at the Family Research Council (I’m sure they’re relieved that the heat’s off). That’s a whole lot of prevarication and credential-establishing in setup just to drive home Milbank’s main point, which is that really, liberals are stirring up violence too, and they should just watch it with their criticisms and not call hateful, homophobic speech by its right name, lest the hordes of armed, crazed liberals start shooting up the place.
Milbank’s argument becomes internally inconsistent – even incoherent – because his real goal is: he desperately wants to tut-tut liberals and liberal groups and make the false equivalence between them and the constant churning of gun-rights absolutism, paranoia and various hatreds of much of the right. So Milbank chides the SPLC and HRC for labeling FRC a hate group (although he insulates himself by insisting that neither liberal group is actually responsible for the shooting at FRC), implying that HRC and SPLC should censor what they say in order to minimize the chance of any such violent liberal rampages. Huh? Uh, Dana? If the speech and activities of both those groups aren’t responsible for the shooting at FRC, why, exactly, should they self-censor it?
Where the bankruptcy of Milbank’s argument can really be seen, though, is in the distinction he tries to draw between right-wing groups in order to justify telling HRC and SPLC (and the rest of us) to watch what we say about some right-wing groups and activities. After re-re-establishing his bona fides by reminding us he disagrees with FRC about gays, Milbank pronounces FRC “offensive, certainly,” but not “in the same category as the KKK.”
Stop for a moment and think about that.
The problem with Dana’s distinction here between groups that are “offensive, certainly” (but aren’t real hate groups), and the real thing (by Milbank’s definition: the KKK, Stormfront.org, Westboro Baptist Church, and a few others) is immediately obvious. The same point Milbank makes about watching what we (or the SPLC or HRC) say could easily be extended to even those groups Milbank admits are genuine hate groups. Is Milbank, by saying that the FRC is no KKK, truly suggesting he would have been happy (or at least not upset) if Mr. Corkins, the FRC shooter, had instead visited a Klan office, or some mailing address for Stormfront, and begun shooting? I’ll throw Dana a lifeline, here: I do not believe he would consider such violence justified if it had been carried out at the KKK instead of the FRC. Yet if you try to follow the tortuous internal logic of Milbank’s arguments here, that’s exactly what he implies: liberals and especially groups like the FRC and SPLC should watch what they say about groups like FRC because a) it might incite “the crazies” to violence and b) FRC is no KKK.
Of course, the reason for Milbank’s otherwise-inexplicable distinction is that he can’t simply tell the SPLC or HRC to just shut up, period. He’s trying to shame them into censoring some of their statements, yes…but he’s aware that he has to give a plausible-sounding reason for why these liberal groups ought to alter what they say. And so the distinction is born between “real” hate groups (ones that Milbank judges most “reasonable” people would agree are hate groups) and non-hate groups like FRC, against whom liberals should restrain their speech, lest they incite violence…for which they wouldn’t be responsible. Or something.
Why, oh why, can’t we have better “liberal” punditry?