National Review Online writer Charles C. W. Cooke urged fellow conservatives not to criticize the use of anti-gay slurs, writing that such “political correctness” would stifle public debate.
In a December 2 column, Cooke weighed in on the controversy surrounding actor and former MSNBC host Alec Baldwin's apparent use of anti-gay speech during a confrontation with a photographer. Video captured by TMZ appeared to show Baldwin calling the photographer a “cocksucking fag.” After announcing that it would suspend Baldwin's program for two weeks, MSNBC decided to end his Friday night show Up Late entirely.
Cooke wrote that it wasn't surprising that Baldwin - a public supporter of LGBT equality and other progressive causes - would generate a backlash for his outburst, asserting that "[t]hose who live by the sword must watch out lest they die by it, too." Despite his political disagreements with Baldwin, however, Cooke argued that “passes” should be distributed to all users of anti-gay slurs “equally” (emphasis added):
As sequels go, this was the last-ditch effort that even the most generous of critics couldn't excuse. Among the notable public figures who felt compelled finally to leave his side were the American-British writer Andrew Sullivan and GLAAD's own Rich Ferraro. Sullivan, who has evidently decided that Baldwin “cannot be defended any longer,” contended that Baldwin's instincts under pressure “reveal who he actually is” and that what he “actually is” is a “raging, violent bigot.” Ferraro simply lamented that Baldwin had declined to turn his shouting into a learning opportunity. As a reward for their troubles, Sullivan and Ferraro were termed by Baldwin as part of “the fundamentalist wing of gay advocacy” and accused of “killing” his show.
The latter part of this is possibly true: Baldwin has certainly lost his act, and the signals that Sullivan and Ferraro sent presumably had no small part in opening the floodgates to the condemnation that poured down on Baldwin. But the claim that Baldwin was undone by extremists? No, he wasn't. In truth, he was undone by a movement of which he is a fully paid-up member. I agree wholeheartedly with The Partially Examined Life's Wes Alwan, who resisted the hive mind last week and postulated that judging individuals by their outbursts is unwise. But I am not sure that this is the most important point here, which is instead this: Those who live by the sword must watch out lest they die by it, too. [added space]Alec Baldwin is an outspoken progressive who as recently as last week was referring derisively to “libertarian trash” and who flies off the handle at the slightest misrepresentation of his private life. He himself has promised to end countless careers. To expect to be treated differently than he treats others is naïve and entitled.
Nevertheless, we can all react to these things, and how we react matters. However tempting it might be for the Right to celebrate when one of their antagonists is canned, it should take a deep breath and resist. One does not beat the would-be arbiters of speech by joining them, nor does one persuade people that a reflex is wrong by indulging in it when the other side is on the hook. As a rule, the Right has long prided itself on its disinclination to call for scalps, on the eminently reasonable grounds that such a precedent merely opens the door for all sorts of witch-hunting and leaves anyone even remotely controversial at the mercy of rapidly changing fashions. As a rule, it has recently been conservatives who have led the fight against speech codes, against political correctness, and against trying to punish people for what they believe. Why stop now?
Andrew Sullivan is correct to observe that, because Baldwin is simpatico with the progressive agenda, doyens of the professional Left have long given him “a pass when they would never dream of doing so with anyone who was conservative or Republican.” He is also correct to say that this represents “a glaring double standard” and one that “cannot stand any more.” Still, there are two ways of ending a double standard. And, in a country that puts a premium on open discourse, it is infinitely preferable to insist that passes be handed out to everybody equally than to request that they be taken away from progressives -- the one political group that, however unfairly, still enjoys their protection.
Cooke doesn't explain how calling someone a “cocksucking fag” contributes meaningfully to an “open discourse,” but a writer who defends the armed intimidation of political activists is bound to harbor bizarre views about what words and actions should be part of a healthy public dialogue.