Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Po' Little Patty Heaton

I have to disagree somewhat with Ken Levine's defense of conservative actress Patty Heaton. Heaton is apparently getting some heat in the media and her personal life for her political and religious views, heat that appears to exceed mere intellectual criticism.

Levine knows Heaton personally and considers her to be both a top-notch professional and a very nice person. This is a relevant point, and if he'd stopped there, I would have considered it an appropriate and reasonable defense. But he takes one more step (although a baby step, to be sure) which prompts me to comment.

Levine seems to imply that it is unreasonable to be outraged over someone's political views in the first place, that we should show tolerance to such views. The "outrage" (and, according to Levine, "people are outraged over everything these days") is "way out of whack". He asks, "Why the hate?" He wishes "the people who disagree so vehemently with her views could see past them to the lovely caring person she is." I object this unconditioned tolerance, unconditioned at least by anything more substantive than her personality and professionalism.

Now of course I take it for granted that Levine does have a moral line somewhere: I doubt he would defend Dr. Mengele even if the guy were funnier than Charlie Chaplin. Woody Allen has had his share of well-deserved negative scrutiny for his personal behavior and beliefs. The question isn't whether we should have a line; it's whether one's political views are or are not over that line, the line where morality ought to start affecting our personal relationships.

If I'd read the same implication even in the Reagan years, I would have unhesitatingly agreed with Levine. Then I would have agreed that--McCarthyism behind us--even people with whom I profoundly disagree deserve social and professional tolerance and respect. And if it were just a matter of disagreement I would still agree. But the conflict between liberals and conservatives has long ago gone past mere disagreement.

For the last ten years I've heard an increasingly vitriolic line from the conservatives about how liberals are not only wrong (hardly surprising), not only stupid (insulting, but I can handle that), not only ridiculous (which starts to push the line of civil discourse), but also treasonous, evil, terrorist sympathizers eagerly awaiting the overthrow of Western Civilization*. And not just by a few wingnuts on the fringe, but by prominent media personalities, elected politicians, religious leaders, and one of the most popular news networks on the air. And any time a liberal complains about such treatment, it is we who are accused of being uncivil.

Any time a liberal actor opens his or her mouth, the conservatives are on the attack. Barbara Streisand, Robert Redford, the Dixie Chicks, the list goes on. Sean Penn is, according to Sean Hannity, apparently an "Enemy of the State". Outspoken liberals "should be rounded up and put in a detention camp."

Even in my personal life, I'm not going to let anyone who's a conservative duck away from owning this kind of rhetoric, no matter how nice they are, no matter how good they are at their jobs. I know that not all conservatives approve of this sort of rhetoric, but they're part of a movement being led by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell, not to mention George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. And Malkin. And Reynolds. You get the point. If these guys embarrass you, kick them out, marginalize them or leave the movement.

I'm entirely unsympathetic to Heaton's plight. So she's a nice person and a good actress; good for her. But we liberals need to stand up for ourselves: There have to be consequences, not for disagreement, but for associating oneself with hatred and vitriol. If she's losing the esteem of her liberal peers who are daily being subjected to the most vile rhetortic we've seen since we repudiated McCarthy, coming from a movement Heaton self-identifies with, well boohoo.

Cry me a river, conservative.

*Do I really need to Google the links for you?

1 comment:

  1. I'd have to say I agree with your entire column here on Ms Heaton, expressed far more civilally than I can. Same with the Atheism column below it.


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