People act like assholes in politics all the time.
There's a right way and a wrong way to deal with people you support acting like assholes. The right way is a prompt, concise statement:
My Favorite Candidate acted like an asshole when he called someone a sexist epithet/racial epithet/gay epithet. That was wrong, and he shouldn't have done it. Decent people should avoid that sort of discourse in politics. I believe that without regard to my support for My Favorite Candidate on policy issues. That's all I have to say. No questions.
A not-necessarily-right way, but not disastrous or overtly offensive way, would be to say nothing.
Then there's the spectacularly wrong way, currently being practiced by the National Organization for Women both nationally and locally based upon the "news" that somebody associated with Jerry Brown's California gubernatorial campaign called his Republican opponent Meg Whitman a whore.
NOW started out all right, on a national level:
“While our California chapter’s Political Action Committee voted to endorse Brown on the basis of his support for women’s rights, the National Organization for Women clearly and unequivocally condemns calling Meg Whitman, or any woman, a whore,” O’Neill said. “This term is hate speech that carries with it negative connotations associated with women, and it has no place in contemporary society.
“NOW calls on Brown to fire any member of his staff who uses this word or any hate speech against women,” O’Neill said.
Then NOW screwed the pooch.
Minutes after we posted our riff on the National Organization for Women prez calling out the Jerry Brown campaign for its use of the word “whore” we received an, ahem, “clarification” from national NOW prez Terry O’Neill on what she said she “should have said” on the matter….
“We are not saying anyone on the Brown campaign be fired,” O’Neill said. “What I should have made clear was that anyone who says the ‘W’ word from here on should be fired. What happened last week was a teachable moment for all of us. We can all agree that the word is offensive and should be retired.”
This reminds me of my children, who will argue that they do not merit punishment because I have told them the general rule of not playing ball in the house, I had never told them the more specific rule not to play ball on top of the buffet, where we keep wine and vases and such and such. Apparently, it was previously ambiguous — confound this vague language! — whether it was proper or not to call your opponent a whore.
(Query: would NOW concede that one may call one's gubernatorial opponent a whore if being a whore is part of her platform?]
NOW taketh away, and NOW giveth.
But give NOW-California credit. THEY aren't waffling.
Meanwhile, California’s NOW President told TPM said that “Meg Whitman could be described as ‘a political whore.’ Yes, that’s an accurate statement.”
Here's the thing: it's entirely reasonable to argue that the "whore" comment was some sort of off-the-cuff, spur-of-the-moment, not-intended-for-public-consumption anger-venting that should not be viewed as the intent of the Brown campaign, and that it is being used to obscure more important issues, like which gubernatorial candidate has a more Quixotic plan for improving California's ludicrous budget process. It's possible to argue that the people who are yelling the loudest about the use of the word "whore" are not exactly at the vanguard of advocating respectful treatment of women, except in a Victorian sense.
But the right response, if one draws those conclusions about a dick-stepping move by one's favored candidate, is to simply shut the fuck up. The right response is not to waffle, to minimize, or to issue parses and apologias and quibbles. Or, in the alternative, issue the short, sharp, condemnation I suggest, then move on to the issues.
The response is not to be a whore yourself. That is especially true if the gaffe goes to the heart of your putative values.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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