My take on the Edwards blogger controversy

A recent kerfluffle in the blogosphere has been the hiring/non-firing/resignation of Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan from the blogging post for John Edwards campaign. William Donohoe, conservative head of the Catholic League, had screamed for the two to be fired for alleged anti-Catholic and profane remarks that they had made on their personal blogs, Pandagon and Shakespeare’s Sister, respectively. The bloggers on the left, correctly, had pointed out the Donohoe was no one to be calling anyone bigoted, given his own history of anti-Semitic public remarks. In some cases I read, they also criticized Edwards for being too lukewarm in support of the embattled bloggers.

Edwards said that he found the remarks offensive, but that he had talked to the bloggers and was satisfied that they had not intended to malign anyone’s faith, and was not going to fire them (they later resigned anyway). Should he have been more forceful?

No. His campaign never should have hired them in the first place.

Look, I am all for free speech. I support McEwan’s and Marcotte’s right to make the most outrageous and inflammatory remarks on their blogs they desire. And to do so free from the intimidation that has been thrown their way by fanatics — inflamed by people like Bill Donohoe. They should be free from having to deal with people lobbing obscene and hateful names at them — not to mention threatening email. The vile and personal — and potentially violent — abuse that these two woman have been subject to is a scary reminder that there are some very sick people out there, indeed.

But their inalienable right to free speech does not bring with it the right to any given platform they desire, even if they are not reporting on their own views. A presidential campaign, like it or not, does have to consider all potential voters, for the simple reason that if the candidate is successful all of those voters will be his constituents. This does not mean a candidate needs to pander, but it does mean that candidates — and the people who work for them — should strive not to gratuitously give offense. When you refer to a segment of the populace as “wingnut Christofascists,” as McEwan did in one post, or speculate about what would have happened had the Virgin Mary taken an emergency contraceptive as Marcotte did, it is beyond credulity that you did not intend such statements to be offensive. Of course such statements were intended to be offensive: just to people who the bloggers believed to be not worth caring about.

The bloggers have claimed that what they wrote on their own blogs is irrelevant, since they would be reporting on their candidates views and not their own. So this means that if John McCain hired Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, known to espouse views that sometime cross the line of common decency (most recently a suggestion that the U.S. should assassinate Iranian government officials and scientists), the left-blogosphere would not immediately jump on this as (further) proof of McCain’s lack of fitness for office, and demand that he go? Riiiiiggghht. And I have some lovely prime real estate in Monroe County, Florida I’d like to talk to you about.

A president has to be careful whom they assume to be beyond the pale of civilized discourse. That the people surrounding the current occupant of the White House seem to believe otherwise and resort to stating that those who oppose them “embolden the enemy” doesn’t change that.

Bloggers and commenters I have read have argued that there is too much deference given to religion, and that one should be able to discuss or challenge religious principles without being attacked as being disrespectful of religion and religious people. Point taken. But the answer is not to drag discussion of religion — or the intersection of religion and politics — into the sewer where so much of the rest of public discourse takes place these days. And I’m not referring to merely the presence or absence of profanity: the right-wing blogosphere, which prides itself on refraining from four-letter words, contains many a high-profile cesspool. Simply because something is not profane does not render it not obscene. (See above suggestion by Glenn Reynolds.)

It is possible to discuss politics and religion — heatedly, even — without viewing the people on the other side as less than human. And unless we do that, the breech in the national fabric is only going to get wider.

Because, whether people in the blogosphere, right and left, like it or not, we’re all in this together, “profane anti-Christian bloggers” and “Christofascists” alike. The world is a complicated and nuanced place. We need to grow up* and act like we recognize that fact.

UPDATE: You know, I really shouldn’t bother writing these, since between the time I started writing this (I write things, and then put them away to think about them) RMJ of Adventus came along and wrote about the whole situation more completely, more cogently, and more eloquently than I could. You can read his take on things here, here, here and here. Heck, just read the blog. It’s worth it.

* Ovlzl has compared the blogosphere to high school. That sounds about right.

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