“Born Fighting” and other Political Words of War

Jim Webb is taking some heat for moving away from his slogan “Born Fighting.” Well, he won’t get any heat from this quarter. I think it’s about time.

For one thing, I don’t think the slogan helps him politically with the sector of the voter population he needs most to attract — the majority who are women.

More importantly, as I said yesterday in a blog post on the subject of the language of politics, it’s time to move away from words of war to words of discourse.

Now some will decry this suggestion as a move to “feminize” politics. And, you know what? If changing fighting to conversing, division to discourse, and confrontation to conversation is a “feminine” objective, I’m proud to be feminine!

Language is powerful. Ask Karl Rove and his cohort Frank Luntz.

Who can doubt that some of the heated rhetoric being used in public and private debates on the Marshall/Newman amendment or the immigration issue has an impact on the behavior of those, particularly children, who hear the language of fear and division? Who can doubt that language that consistently makes people “other” or “less than” invites people, especially children, to see the groups attacked as powerless and vulnerable?

As the words of the song in South Pacific go, “you have to be carefully taught” to hate.

We have seen what can happen when folks feel empowered by words to action. Just ask the two men who live in Aldie in Loudoun County whose property was vandalized and tagged with the word “fag”.

We can engage in civil debate. I heard one yesterday on a Sunday morning news show between between surrogates for Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont.

And we can refuse to participate in “hate” and the language of hate. Read this quote from Buck O’Neil, a self-described “proud … Negro League ballplayer,” on the occasion of the induction this week of 17 Negro leaguers and Negro leagues executives into the National Baseball Hall of Fame:

And I tell you what: They always said to me, “Buck, I know you hate people for what they did to you or what they did to your folks.” I said, “No, man, I never learned to hate.”

I hate cancer. Cancer killed my mother. My wife died 10 years ago of cancer. I hate AIDS. A good friend of mine died of AIDS three months ago. I hate AIDS. But I can’t hate a human being, because my God never made anything so ugly. Now, you can be ugly if you want to, but God didn’t make you that way.

Most importantly, we can stand up and speak out against violence and words of violence, and against hate and words of hate whenever they appear.

I challenge those who would write discrimination into our constitution to stand publicly with the men of Aldie against the hate that visited them at their home.

I challenge those who would make Virginia the “least hospitable place in the universe for illegal immigrants” to ensure that the temper of their tone doesn’t lead to the same place in which the Aldie men found themselves: homes damaged and neighborhoods torn by division and fear of “other.”

Now in the interest of full disclosure, let me repeat what’s in my profile: I am the paid campaign manager for The Commonwealth Coalition which opposes the Marshall/Newman amendment and I am paid by the Virginia coalition of Latino Organizations to lobby for reasoned consideration of laws that affect the immigrant community.

But my passion here is personal. My husband is Puerto Rican and my namesake (the third generation Claire Guthrie) is half Chinese. I want them both to be able to go to school or work without fear of discrimination; to live where they want to live without fear of being “alienized” as other; to live peacefully in the “God’s mix” that is America. I want these same things for my friends who are members of the GLBT community.

So, I see changing “Born Fighting” to another less confrontational, and, hopefully, inspiring slogan as a small step in the direction of changing the language of politics to a less divisive and polarizing model.

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15 responses to ““Born Fighting” and other Political Words of War”

  1. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Very moving, Claire. I think most readers and participants in this blog share your thirst for a more civil discourse. Our society is too polarized. People too often demonize those on the other side of the ideological divide.

    But I have to say, Jim Webb’s “born fighting” slogan did appeal to me. I find it sad that he’s disposing of it. I hope this doesn’t mean he’s turning into a milquetoast.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    With all due respect, your arguments engages in some of the very “demonization” of the other side that you profess to deplore. You seem to be suggesting that anyone who supports the proposed constitutional amendment on marriage is necessarily hateful and bigoted. “those who would write discrimination into our constitution” There are people who are quite open and tolerant of towards gay people who, nevertheless, believe that marriage consist of one woman and one man. Yet, you brand them as dicriminatory.

    Similarly, you to equate those who want a stop to illegal immigration as effectively being racists. There are people who respect others of different nationalities, races or cultures who believe that illegal immigration is wrong and want laws enacted and enforced.

    Your words are more subtle than those of many who are openly hostile to gays and immigrants, both legal and illegal, but they are just as self-righteous and, sorry to say, bigoted and inflmatory.

  3. James Young Avatar
    James Young

    Anon 9:50 is dead on accurate here. While no one would endorse what happened in Aldie, it is possible to condemn it and believe that the perpetrators should be held liable for existing criminal penalties without also believing that they should be subject to enhanced penalties for arbitrary “hate” crimes (what if the victims had been an older couple, and the words painted had been “Old Farts,” I wonder?), which are little more than an effort at being thought police.

    This post is just one more effort at demonizing ones political foes with the pretense of objective criteria, criteria that the author herself abandons when convenient.

  4. I think its a positive step by the Webb campaign. Greens will appreciate this, and the Green Party was the only party against the war in Iraq from the beginning.

  5. James and Anon:
    Thanks for your thougthful commentary on mine. I understand your point about language and will take it to heart.

    Regarding the use of “discriminatory” to describe the full text of the amendment (not just the first line)… Does the amendment not “discriminate” between unmarried Virginians and married Virginians when it comes to public recognition of a legal status? Wouldn’t this create a permanent distinction between unmarried Virginians and married Virginians regarding the recognition of any “legal status” for their relationships?

    And, I focused on language not people in my post. I simply asked all in the debate to watch their rhetoric and think about its consequences. Some take care to focus on interests not positions or people. Some don’t. Some use language that paints all with a broad brush; some don’t.

    I asked folks to “temper their tone.” I don’t think that’s asking too much. And, I don’t think that it is bigotry to ask people to consider whether their language is, in fact, simply drawing a distinction between legal and illegal or valuing marriage or something more or different.

    I ask the same of those on our side of the debate … something that I should have made clear, and I realize that I didn’t. So, let me affirm that the request to temper tone applies to all, as I think is very clear in my original post on this subject on ChangeServant.

    I never said I was looking for either of you to agree to any legal categorization of the crime committed against the Loudoun couple; I merely challenged those advocates of the constitutional amendment to distance themselves from such behavior by standing up and acknowleding it was a hateful act that you condemn as having no appropriate place in this debate. How we got on thought police, I don’t know.

    So, here’s my question, again. Will you (have you) publicly condemned what happened, yes or no?

    I promise you that I’ll be the first to condemn any acts in kind directed at anyone on your side of what I hope will continue to be a reasoned discourse on issues this fall.

  6. James Young Avatar
    James Young

    Re: your challenge — What part of “the perpetrators should be held liable for existing criminal penalties” didn’t you understand? Either recognize what was said, or make clear that you are asking for something else — something more — that you are not going to get.

    Re: “Does the amendment not ‘discriminate’ between unmarried Virginians and married Virginians when it comes to public recognition of a legal status?” Yes. So? We “discriminate” all the time: between criminals and law-abiding citizens; between worthy behavior and unworthy behavior; between taxable and non-taxable transactions. Those all require “discrimination,” and all are appropriate. So is “discriminating” between the fundamental relationship of human civilization and deviant behavior. You, of course, use “discriminatory” in a value-laden, all-discrimination-is-evil milieu. I do not.

    Re: “Wouldn’t this create a permanent distinction between unmarried Virginians and married Virginians regarding the recognition of any ‘legal status’ for their relationships?” Yes. Again, so? It’s one that already exists, and has existed throughout human civilization. It is not for the advocates of preserving and protecting it to justify their position; it is for those who demand public affirmation of their perversions to justify their position.

    And BTW, I am not going to unilaterally disarm. With very few exceptions, 5000 years of civilized society has recognized homosexuality as perversion. What you call a “civil debate,” I call “hiding the nature of the ‘debate’ in disingenuous euphemism.”

  7. NoVA Scout Avatar
    NoVA Scout

    The “born fighting” theme probably had more validity applied to Webb than to most politicians, both because of his personal history and because of his book on the Scotch-Irish in America. But, on balance, I’m just as glad he dropped it.

    You cannot leave a political consultant in a room with a blank sheet of paper (or computer screen) before he/she is cranking out drivel about a candidate who will “fight” for you in Richmond, Washington, or wherever. Take a random sample of all the junk mail that is about to be unleashed on you in the next few months and see what I mean.

    I don’t want a representative who will “fight” for me. I want one who can persuade and maneuver to protect my interests. I want someone who will listen for me, speak for me, and make intelligent decisions about complex issues. If I need someone to fight for me, I’ll call the Marines. Which I suppose brings us full circle to Mr. Webb. I doubt that the presence or absence of the tag line will make much difference in his race.

  8. NoVA Scout Avatar
    NoVA Scout

    James Young: Does the perception by a large number of people that homosexuality is what you call a “perversion” have anything to do with the electoral merits of Marshall/Newman? If you say that Claire’s call for “civil discourse” “hides the nature of the debate in disingenuous euphemism,” are you saying that the nature of the constitutional debate is over whether homosexuality is a “perversion”? Should the Constitution be a mechanism by which the state (or State) regulates what the majority regards as perverse?

  9. Actually, James, regarding my understanding of your “response” to my challenge, I understood you to say only this: “it is possible to condemn it and believe that the perpetrators should be held liable for existing criminal penalties without also believing that they should be subject to enhanced penalties for arbitrary “hate” crimes.”

    This is a passive third person statement of possibility not a first person statement of condemnation. Saying that it is “possible” to “believe” that someone should be held liable, is not the same as saying that you do so believe.

    This would be an active voice, first person statement of condemnation: “I condemn the actions taken against this couple, and I want to see the perpetrators caught and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

    As to the rest, res ipsa loquitor.

  10. GinterParked Avatar

    Claire’s most important sentence was this: “Most importantly, we can stand up and speak out against violence and words of violence, and against hate and words of hate whenever they appear.”

    It’s understandable that her appeal was more pointed to supporters of the Marshall/Newman amendment. Their published comments, and those of their supporting organizations, plainly evidence a strong prejudice in favor of those who agree that “5000 years of civilized society has recognized homosexuality as perversion.” I supect those who vandalized this home share this opinion.

    So, as Claire says, res ipsa loquitor.

  11. NoVA Scout Avatar
    NoVA Scout

    I see no difference (other than the diminution of property value and the inconvenience of repair) between thugs who would paint “fags” on citizens’ homes and thugs who would call a respected and generous contributor to the Virginia blog community a “fag” on a website. It’s for that reason that I find it hard to take invocations of “civilized society” advance in the 3:24pm post yesterday at all seriously.

  12. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    I condemn the vandalization of private property. I look forward to the Loudon Co Sheriff’s department making an arrest and the Commonwealth’s attorney pressing charges. Then, the accused can have their day in court and face punishment if found guilty.

    Don’t be surprised if the guilty are members of permanently disadvantaged “classes of persons”, as it has happened in a number of recent ‘hate’ cases. They were hoaxes perpetrated by persons for their own advantage. Not an accusation, but an exhortation to keep an open mind.

    “Write discrimination into the Constitution.” Nice sound byte. It is about writing sanity, first statement of the obvious, into the Constitution in the face of growing (less so in Virginia) judicial tyranny.

    Civil discourse is worthy and important. But, one side doesn’t define what is civil or not.

    I was asked to speak on behalf of the Amendment at the Virginia Beach Libertarian meeting last Saturday. I couldn’t make it – and Gary Byler spoke. The pro-homosexual speaker was Mike Hamar. In an email exchange based on his criticisms of a piece of mine carried by Virginia News Sources some time ago, Hamar said that if a person says, “The Bible says homosexuality is sinful behavior”, then that was hate speech and a hate crime which should be punished by law. And this guy is a U VA law grad.

    The intolerance of ‘Tolerance’ means some speech is okay – like cursing, using God’s name in vain, etc. – but other speech is suppressed – like saying homosexuality is sinful behavior and/or perverted, the Muslim religion is false, etc.

    The Christian standard is to speak the truth, as one knows it, in love. You can say homosexuality is wrong and the Muslims are wrong and hate neither party. They will, most assuredly, hate you, but that’s their choice. Free will.

  13. NOVA Scout Avatar
    NOVA Scout

    my reference to a “3:24” comment should read “3:54pm”

  14. Wrought in sterotypes, this is a statement of opinion or belief not fact: “The Christian standard is to speak the truth, as one knows it, in love. You can say homosexuality is wrong and the Muslims are wrong and hate neither party. They will, most assuredly, hate you, but that’s their choice. Free will.”

    But, in its essence it marks the point of agreement between me and Mr. Bowden, although it it makes my essential point with a bit of one-sided hubris.

    We can and should be able to disagree, even about matters of faith, without begetting hate inciting a riot or a war. But, we haven’t been able to do that as human beings during any part of our history … whether the issue was the minor liturgical differences between Catholics and Protestants or the deeper doctrinal divides motivating the Christian Crusades in the holy land or what’s now going on in the Middle East.

    But, regardless of what’s happening in the larger world, those of us in this blogosphere can and should establish a standard of reasoned discourse that we would model for others outside our sphere.

    In that vein, let me make clear that Mr. Hamar’s reported remarks in his opposition to the Marshall/Newman amendment are the kind of heated rhetoric I seek to cause all of us to re-examine. Included in that also is Mr. Bowden’s need to characterize all who question the proposal to amend our bill of rights as “pro-homosexual” as if that were an epithet.

    My appeal is to both sides in this and other on-going political conversation. I’m not advocating one-sided definitions of civility or intolerant tolerance as JAB suggests.

    If you don’t see that, go back and read my original March 2005 article linked in my post above. The genesis for my concern about the use of the word “hate” in politics was my friends who kept telling me that they “hated” George Bush.

  15. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    CG2: Glad that you aren’t for one-sided civility. Very good.

    ‘Pro-homosexual’ is a description. It’s an epithet, only if you read that into it. If the pro-homosexual marriage includes polygamists, incest, pedophiles or some other sexual behavior advocacy group seeking to make up a new definition of marriage, then I should change the name and call it the pro-something else side. If, on the other hand, homosexuals and lesbians are the people seeking to have their relationships be called marriage, then the name, not an epithet, remains appropriate.

    Ideas change over time. The examples of European (Western)Civilization where religious differences lead to war were followed by changes in ideas – the Reformation and Enlightenment – and in American 3 Great Awakenings – which made former ideas unthinkable – for the most part.

    This assumption of civilization’s progress to make some ideas unthinkable was shaken by WW II when a civilized country came under the control of criminals with NAZI Human Secularist worldview and terrible things again.

    I’d still argue that those who hold to Western Civilization’s advanced Judeo-Christian worldview will benefit from the changed ideas – and not do the unthinkable.

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