Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Kevin Williamson Saga - Ur Doon It Worng

So, at long last, our long national nightmare has come to an end. Kevin Williamson is no longer employed as a writer at The Atlantic. Your children can come out of the safe room and you can all sleep sound tonight.


I find this whole thing to be distasteful, and I am particularly disappointed with the behavior of so many of my fellow liberals. What Williamson said was foul, but I have two important reasons why we should have attacked his content (and encouraged him to produce more of it) rather than screaming for his head. The first is based in values I believe are critical to the American experience - values that are rapidly disappearing from both sides (yes, I said it) of the political spectrum. The second reason is more calculated, more pragmatic, and more important in the specific sense of women's rights and the abortion argument.

First, let's talk about writing. Williamson hasn't been silenced, exactly. He can still write a blog, and offer pieces as a free lancer. It was The Atlantic that was silenced, shouted down by a mob for doing what they believed was best for their commercial organization. They might have been wrong about that in the long run, but we'll never get to find out. Williamson was pushed out of a professional writing job. As someone who views himself as a writer first, I find that simply unacceptable. In America we have always believed that you have a right to sell your services to the highest bidder, and if that resulted in content that we found offensive, we had the option of not patronizing that particular purveyor of ideas, or of even writing our own piece denouncing the positions offered. Too often I see my fellow lefties shrieking in fury over a writer with whom they do not agree getting offered a job by a major outlet. I can only imagine how awful they would feel if some conservative hate mob ran them out of THEIR dream job for offering a political position that they found offensive. I guess I can't speak for all the people I thought I knew, but I don't want to do that.

Which brings us to the more pragmatic argument. There is NO reason why we should be arguing about women's reproductive rights in 2018 - Roe v Wade was decided almost fifty years ago. But one of the more 'powerful' (to some) arguments on the right is that abortion is murder. Indeed, they often compare abortion in America to the Holocaust or genocide. This is a stupid, specious argument, but we keep letting them get away with it.  Why? Just like this instance. What Williamson said - that a woman who had an abortion should be hanged - is really nothing but the logical outgrowth of this kind of rhetoric. In that sense, it's both logically consistent and brutally honest. In the Summer of 2016, the politically ignorant Donald Trump said the same thing on the campaign trail. Why? Because it's OBVIOUS, and he had no grounding in the tactical political messaging of the anti-abortion rabble. They KNOW this is toxic - they can go as far as suggestion some limited punishment for doctors, but the logical consequences of their "abortion is murder" stance is something that will kill their movement almost instantly.

So Williamson put it out there. It was a HUGE opportunity for the pro-choice community to engage and put other conservatives on the spot. "Is Williamson wrong? If abortion is murder, isn't he actually RIGHT?" The big, ugly secret behind criminalizing abortion would out on the table for all to see. Religious nutjobs would agree with him, politicians would run from him, but they all would have to explain how to adjudicate the mother in a world where abortions were criminalized. I would have encouraged him to speak out further on how women should be prosecuted and executed for a medical procedure. He'd do more damage to their neanderthal misogynist views on women's rights then anybody would have imagined. And for that matter, I KNOW The Atlantic quite well. I've been friends with James Fallows for over a decade, and they welcome engagement from both sides. Williamson's pieces would have opened up a major debate in their pages, and thoughtful people would have had a chance to speak to women's rights in front of an audience prepared to consider what they have to say.

So congratulations, fellow lefties. You took a major opportunity to advance the dialog on women's reproductive rights and threw it in the dumpster, all while you took an unnecessarily illiberal, authoritarian approach to speech. And in the battle to get ideologues fired from writing jobs, I suspect the Conservatives will be coming hard after this. We got our scalp, shot ourselves in the foot and ended up silencing ourselves.

It's just not a good look...

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