More Words that Mean Other Things

During the 70s and 80s, a cottage industry of old white evangelical con artists rose up. People who had been involved in the conservative movement but were unhappy with the lefty capitulation of Bill Buckley decided that they had one hell of a product: fear for one’s immortal soul with a righteous superiority chaser. Why not market the hell out of that?

So as a result we saw the rise of luminaries like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Francis Schaeffer…and Pat Buchanan. Buchanan was involved in the Nixon administration early in his career, where he fought for affirmative action based on religion while spending the rest of his career to date fighting against it for race. He is a writer for VDARE, a white supremacist group, and still believes that the Southern Strategy was a good idea.

Also, he wants you to know that he’s totes not racist.

And now he’s worried that the same people who noticed racism exsisted will now discriminate against poor, helpless, politically bereft Christians just because they will speak against gay marriage and queer people more broadly.

“Imagine the situation in America today if priests and pastors were telling congregations they need not obey civil rights laws. They would be denounced as racists. Church tax exemptions would be in peril,” he said. “Something akin to this could be in the cards if the homosexual rights movement is victorious – a public rejection of the new laws by millions and a refusal by many to respect or obey them.”

I really love this quote, not for the content, but rather because you can see his disappointment that he lost the race issue. I’m not saying that racism is solved, but rather that you should look at how he says that if you encourage people to disobey civil rights laws, you might be considered a racist today! Because in Buchanan’s mind, it wasn’t racist before, but now that we have this idea that segregation is bad, for example, suddenly it’s racist to suggest Whites Only drinking fountains in public accommodations.

And, of course, he’s afraid that people will now have to “reject” the “new laws” or someday, vocal and open homophobes might be treated the way we treat open and vocal racists today. Generally by giving them a column on WorldNetDaily.

But that’s not the real amusing part. This is:

He concluded by darkly warning, “The culture war in America today may be seen as squabbles in a day-care center compared to what is coming. A new era of civil disobedience may be at hand.”

By all means, take a  moment to laugh. I’ll wait.


Buchanan, in this case, is using the words “civil disobedience” because he’s pretty sure that it sounds good. At least it seemed to work when he was fighting the people employing it in the 50s tooth and nail, so clearly they were on to something. Obviously there’s something magical about those words, that phrase of phrases, that makes whatever you’re doing seem good and right and noble and true.

The problem is, however, that it’s not generally applicable. Fred Clark does an excellent job of explaining how civil disobedience should work (and gives several followup posts on how the evangelical right is trying to co-opt the words to hilarious effect), but the basic premise is that in order to civilly disobey a law, it has to be one that you have to option to civilly obey in the first place.

But Jesse’s defiance can’t be as easily channeled against this new law. Unlike the litter law, this one doesn’t directly compel him to do anything or forbid him from doing anything. And since it does not directly require his civil obedience, it does not lend itself to his civil disobedience.

I’m not exactly sure what Buchanan wants people to do. He talks about preachers and pastors using the pulpit to rail against homosexuality, but that’s not civil disobedience. That’s exercising your right to be a vocal asshole. They can do that now and there will never be a law that will prevent that, let alone there being one in the works now, so I’m not sure how this qualifies as “civil disobedience”. They can be civilly disobedient against gay marriage laws by…not getting a same-sex marriage, I suppose? Not performing them? No, the latter doesn’t apply because nobody wants churches and the like to be forced to perform same-sex marriages.

I suppose that they can be civilly disobedient against anti-discrimination laws, such as the Washington florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding because she’s in a relationship with Jesus. The thing is, this is nothing new. Buchanan has been fighting anti-discrimination laws since they were passed. He’s spent his life standing up for the privilege of white straight cis Christian males like himself to be able to discriminate against anyone they please because white folks built this country all by themselves.

So really, we’re not seeing much new here, expect Buchanan jumping on the bandwagon with his racist colleagues and trying to use the language of civil rights (that were once so effectively used against him) to fight LGBT equality.

What’s going on here is that the old formula of fear+superiority isn’t quite enough these days. Buchanan and his ilk are having a harder time doing anything other than keeping the already-converted in line by telling them that there are two types of people: those who are like them and perfect in their flaws (or flawed in their perfection), and everybody else who will suffer for all eternity at the hands of a merciful god. That works great on people who currently think they’re in the first category, but is a really bad argument for anybody not already drinking the purely symbolic grape juice.

So they are adding in another component: nobility. It’s no longer just about being super Jesus-y awesome and avoiding infinite torture for finite infractions, now he has to sell the fantasy that standing up for the status quo is actually an act of defiance. Like Recall in the film Total Recall, they offer the feeling of excitement to people who otherwise live boring, average lives, without the mess of actually having to do anything exciting. Any straight white cis male Christian can live the thrill of fighting battles that were won 1700 years ago and not have to worry for a moment that he will lose anything of substance should he not prevail.


2 thoughts on “More Words that Mean Other Things

  1. I like it. You’ve called your blog reasonable conversation but instead you’re a mind reader who can tell the secret meaning behind people’s words without any conversation at all!

    • I know! I would have to be a mind reader, because people’s actions, statements, and attitudes can never indicate that they may have beliefs contrary to what they claim. And, as we all know, sociological evidence is impossible to interpret, as are diction and syntax, which is why neither sociology nor literary criticism exist as far as we can tell.

      So, yup. Mind reader. You found me out. Congratulations, citizen. Your parade is in the mail.

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