Friday, April 3, 2015

Ted Cruz, Back on the Cross

You've really got to hand it to Ted Cruz. He can feign victimhood with the best of them.

CNN today reported Cruz's laments over the backlash over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA is a piece of legislation so ridiculous and embarrassing that the same man who signed it into law last week, Governor Mike Pence, is already calling for amendments that clarify that the bill is not meant to permit discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers. Pence's repentance likely has a lot to do with the backlash Indiana has faced over the law, not only from citizens, but businesses from Apple and Angie's List to Walmart and the NCAA.

Far be it from Ted Cruz to undercut a fellow republican, but the senator expressed his sorrow over big business' refusal to stand up for traditional exclusionary values, and that they bowed instead to the "extreme left wing agenda that is driven by an aggressive gay marriage agenda."

How come it's only called an agenda when it's what your opponents want?

Surely, as a Republican and thus a staunch ally of corporate America by his very nature, Ted Cruz must have heard sometime, from someone, that exclusionary politics are bad for business. Though the law's defenders will tell you it's not intended to be discriminatory at all, it's certainly being perceived that way, and a person's perception is their reality. If you want your business to be competitive, especially at the national level, you have to be seen as appealing and welcoming to the broadest possible cross-section of people. So you want to stay far, far away from supporting laws that even look discriminatory (with a few notable exceptions.) In this context, the business reaction to RFRA is 100% rational and makes perfect sense.

But not to Ted Cruz.

Because in his world, if someone points out the wrongheadedness of something you did, you don't change course or even engage them in discussion. Instead, you double down on your rhetoric. You cast yourself and people who agree with you (hetero, conservative Christians) as the true victims. Those nasty progressives are the intolerant ones, you insist. In so doing, you hope to provoke your supporters into reacting and giving you a few points' boost in the polls.

It's telling that the only businesses defending Indiana's RFRA are certain small outfits run by religious families such as Memories Pizza , whose owner Crystal O'Connor states that the law is not discriminatory, and then in the next breath argues that religious business owners should be allowed to discriminate "stay true to their religion while running their business."


Leaving aside the obvious question of what couple, gay or straight, would ever ask a rural pizza joint to cater their wedding (rehearsal dinner, maybe?), how is a law allowing you to refuse to provide services to a gay couple because they are doing a gay thing --getting married to one another-- NOT discriminatory? The fact that O'Connor can persist in that strong a contradiction shows a certain... small-mindedness on the part of RFRA's defenders (read: certain conservative Christians) that I think we can extrapolate straight up to the national level.

The states, at least, can be reasoned with. Governor Pence says he's floored by the backlash against the law, as if he had no idea that it was going to cause trouble. And Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, another Republican, will probably decline to sign the bill until it's changed to be less of an invitation to further marginalize the LGBT community and alienate businesses. A Republican governor of a Southern state could hardly be called the vanguard of the progressive "aggressive" gay agenda, but he can tell which way the wind is blowing.

But where Pence and Hutchinson at least appear to want to make changes to their states' RFRAs to bring them in line with the much looser federal standard, Ted Cruz is having none of it. To hear Cruz (or O'Connor) tell it, it is not discrimination to turn away a gay customer if being gay is against your religion. Real discrimination is requiring that when religious people conservative Christians start a commercial enterprise, they treat their customers equally regardless of their identity. Christians, who have enjoyed religious, political, and cultural hegemony in the U.S. since the dawn of our nation, are the true victims here for having their dominance challenged:*

Cross-posted from Doug Muder at the The Weekly Sift,
because he's better at this than I am.

Quick digression: I'm not criticizing Christians as a group, or the faithful in general. To paraphrase Nick Offerman, I have nothing negative to say about faith or prayer- they're both wonderful things, though they happen to not be a big part of my life. My point is that when certain members of privileged groups find their (our, I'm very privileged too) dominance threatened, they (we) sometimes react in a visceral way that they may not intend to be discriminatory. It's simply meant to, you know, reinforce their dominance over other groups.

Increasingly often, those efforts are couched in the language of tolerance or protection from an out-of-control federal government, "activist" judges, or some other nefarious system. The Men's Rights Movement  is another example- they believe, among other things, that courts, the military, and other institutions are stacked against men and any attempt to strengthen women's role in society is a direct assault on men, who have been the true victims of inequity all long. A similar thing is happening here, with a small but vocal segment of believers: the relative prevalence of Christianity in America is decreasing, meaning Christianity is threatened. Christian social mores are declining in importance, so America is hostile to Christian values. Institutions are becoming more cognizant of the full range of identity concerns in a pluralistic, multicultural society like the U.S., and by responding accordingly, those institutions are persecuting Christians. We, the faithful, must fight this injustice on every conceivable front.

And Ted Cruz is just the politican/demagogue to lead that fight. Whether Cruz truly believes in the Christian anxiety he gives voice to, or if he's simply playing a character he believes will be attractive to theocrats in the 2016 race, only he could say. Either way, his support for the politics of exclusion and division is likely to cost him dearly down the road. Eventually (and we've all been talking about this for years, so who knows when), Republicans will have to choose between attracting the younger, more left-centrist, less white part of America that represents an increasing share of the electorate, or clinging to a smaller and smaller constituency whose views become more dated with every passing year.

In the meantime, I'll stick with the extreme left-wing agenda that believes "religious freedom" doesn't mean "your (Christian) beliefs trump everyone else's rights to be treated as equals in society."

*Ironically, Crystal O'Connor might be one of the only white, Christian conservatives who can claim victimization at liberal hands. I just read on The Daily Caller that the owners of Memories have been targeted by threats and online harassment by liberals angered by their stance on gay marriage, and have closed down for the time being. No link, because I can't stand that site's firebrand proclamations about socialist-fascists etc., and I don't want all three of you who read this blog adding to their page views. But that sort of behavior is unacceptable. We don't need progressive allies who act without thinking, preach violence, and work to silence opponents instead of convincing them. It's wrong, and it only strengthens the other side's arguments that progressives are the true oppressors.*


We'll fumble with the planet, dry the river and then dam it, just persuade me that everything's all right.

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