Saturday, October 02, 2004

Crazy-Monkey-Talk, Part 2

I was cyber-leafing through the archives of this blog today when I happened upon Cameron’s philippic against Alan Keyes. Here’s a little follow-up, in the form of block quotes from Keyes himself, transcribed from a recent episode of Fresh Air on which Obama also appeared (with interstitial commentary from yours truly).

On Obama’s supposed “slaveholder’s” position on abortion:
“It’s logical. It’s just rational. It’s an argument. Because the slaveholder position, as reflected in, say, the position of somebody like Stephen Douglas – he was a pro-choice candidate … on slavery, he said he didn’t care whether it was voted up or voted down so long as it was done by popular sovereignty, which meant the people’s choice, and Abraham Lincoln came forward and excoriated him because of the stance of indifference to our fundamental moral principles, and Lincoln referred to the Declaration of Independence … the same indifference exactly [italics implied by tone] is involved in the issue of abortion. The notion that somehow you can look at the life in the womb and say the mother’s choice determines our respect for it, when our principles say that every human being, regardless of circumstance, development or condition – the worth of that human life comes from the creator. That’s what the Declaration states. So just as the slaveholder and people like Douglas were willing to disregard the worth of black Americans on the basis of their choice, so we have people like Obama today saying we can disregard the God-given worth of that baby in the womb because of our choice, and, in doing so, they reject the fundamental principle that Lincoln asserted, that Martin Luther King asserted, that Frederick Douglass and others asserted, that we must respect the conscience shaped by the Declaration on which this country was founded. I believe that, and I think that’s it’s clear that Barack Obama does not. And so I’m not calling him names or anything, I’m just saying, look, the principle at stake is the same, and his position is like the position of Stephen Douglas, and others who were the slaveholders’ favorites in those days.”

Conservatives, particularly those belonging to that extra-colorful band of fundamentalist wack-o-paths known as the “religious right,” have always baffled me with their grasp of the abortion issue, i.e., their assessment of why abortion is an issue in the first place. Not a one of them understands the nature of the pro-choice argument. They seem to take it as a given that we all agree the fetus is a human being, and they surmise that the debate rages over whether or not this particular sub-class of human being is endowed with the same kind of rights as the rest of us. Hence Alan Keyes’ inclination to liken the slave-class, during their time of oppression, to this comparatively recently emerged, and no less oppressed, fetus-class. If this given really were taken as such, his argument would be pretty well airtight. Sadly (happily), the debate over abortion takes its root not in morality, but in science; it’s not a question of whether a particular kind of human is entitled to the same freedoms as other humans, but whether a gestating clump of matter is a human at all. And I’m afraid this has just a squinch more scientific merit than any bygone slaveholder’s belief that the humanity of his slaves was a matter of dispute. Because no method exists for determining, to anyone’s satisfaction, where life begins, the question is left to the horribly chaotic and capricious world of human belief systems. I personally am pro-choice not because I sincerely feel that fetuses are not alive, but because, given that the issue rests on nothing firmer than individual belief, it is not my place to impose any belief system of mine on others. I know that you already know all of these things, and yet I feel personally compelled to articulate the argument.

Anyway, the interviewer, whose name escapes me (it wasn’t Terry Gross, it was her substitute host), wisely avoided that whole hornet’s nest, and instead focused on the hostility of the term “slaveholder” and Keyes’ obvious racial bid in introducing that kind of language:
“Well, his position on abortion, it seems to me, is at least colorblind, and when you bring the rhetoric of ‘slaveholder position,’ it seems to me you’re bringing a racial element into that conversation.”

Keyes’ response:
“That’s nonsense. I’m sorry, I have to be very blunt. One of the things I learned – ‘cause I had slave ancestors, and I, as I said, have deeply looked at and thought about [and] meditated on the injustice involved in slavery. Slavery’s not a racial issue. It’s an issue of human justice. And that means that when someone is enslaved in violation of this fundamental premise of human dignity, we are turning our backs on our decent humanity. That’s not a racial issue. And abortion is not a racial issue, but the principle involved is the very principle that lay at the heart of the kind of arguments that the slaveholders made in denigration of black Americans; but it was not race in fact that caused that denigration, it was an utter disregard for decent humanity.”

Wow. Slavery had no racial motivations, was premised on no racial prejudices, and engendered no racial aftereffects. I mean, I assume that’s what he means when he says that slavery’s not a racial issue. I had no idea. Slavery was, instead, apparently, a practice that demonstrated an utter disregard for decent humanity in no specific way and for no reason. Just a gross injustice that was implemented willy-nilly, adhering to no principles or internal logic of any kind, I guess. This is like arguing that movies are a money-making enterprise, and nothing more. And if a counterargument were to be presented suggesting that, specifically, movies are an entertainment commodity, the response would be “nope. Movies have nothing to do with entertainment. They exist purely to pull in revenue for the studios.” And the counterargument would say, “well, yes, their purpose is to make money, but the specific service that they provide in exchange for money is entertainment.” And the response would be “no way, Jose. Sorry. Contextual specifics are irrelevant. In fact, there is no such thing as context. The essential argument is what matters.” Again, I don’t have to tell you this, but this kind of intellectually bankrupt discursive style is not only laughable; in the political arena, where the stakes are human lives, welfare and liberty, it’s mega-insidious. Diabolical. You can’t talk about movies without discussing entertainment, and you can’t talk about slavery without at least mentioning race.

But what really peeves me is how eager Keyes is to deploy such racially loaded language and then how furiously he backpedals when someone actually has the courage to call him on it, and how self-righteous and indignant he becomes at the implication that his racially-charged words exist to paint his opponents as hateful bigots. Basically, this was just an extraordinarily long show of support for Cameron’s original contention that Alan Keyes is a total nutjob assface. I thought we might profit from getting a better sense of exactly what it is that’s wrong with him.


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