It’s days like this that I just don’t understand the urges coming from some in the Never Trump community. I try to respect their views. I can even understand why, on some level, they might make a personal decision to not vote for the President in 2020. In many ways, I’m far more tolerant of their position, despite my disagreements, than the larger Republican coalition. Maybe it’s my wife constantly reminding me to be nice?
To be sure, when I speak of respecting views, I’m not talking about Bill Kristol’s crew or the Washington Post “conservatives,” encapsulated by the ridiculously obtuse and falsely premised website, “The Bulwark.” When you allow your hate and delusion to go so far that you call for voting for Socialists and Democrats who support infanticide, you are no longer standing on principle. You are fighting a petty battle of revenge because voters dared to defy your wishes, nothing more.
Instead, I’m talking about the Never Trump movement that still claims to be fair and intellectual in their analysis instead of hysterical. I often read their pieces, if for no other reason than to see what their current reasoning is. David French, a writer at National Review, is usually seen as part of that camp. Yet, his almost constant need to go after conservatives any time liberals do something objectionable strains reasoning at times.
Yesterday, he tweeted this, linking to a piece of his that we’ll deal with in a moment.
So, when people on the left were calling for Tucker Carlson's head, there was an effort on the right to fire an obscure leftist UC Davis professor for his old tweets. Fake outrage machines are dangerous to free speech. Period. https://t.co/D9VEGgKIQB
— David French (@DavidAFrench) March 18, 2019
This piqued my interest mainly because I hadn’t heard of such a movement to get a UC Davis professor fired. That, as it turns out, is because it’s fairly small and localized. That should be the first clue that it’s a false equivalence and that using it to beat conservatives generally over the head probably isn’t fair. But for the sake of argument, I wanted to see how these instances truly compare. This is what is written in his article on the matter after he recaps the Tucker Carlson episode.
If there’s a right-wing analog to the Media Matters machine, it often comes in the ongoing effort to “nutpick” radical professors, highlight their most ridiculous (and often years-old) comments, and try to drive them out of their jobs. Coincidentally, one of those efforts is underway now at the University of California Davis. English professor Joshua Clover hates police officers, and the student newspaper printed an article exposing his years-old tweets calling for cops to die. The tweets are indeed dreadful:
- “I am thankful that every living cop will one day be dead, some by their own hand, some by others, too many of old age #letsnotmakemore” — tweeted on Nov. 27, 2014.
- “I mean, it’s easier to shoot cops when their backs are turned, no?” — tweeted on Dec. 27, 2014.
There’s no reasonable defense for Clover to call for the death of cops. And, by the way, there’s no reasonable defense for Carlson calling Iraqis “semiliterate primitive monkeys.” Criticizing or condemning Clover and Carlson is proper and justifiable. As I tweeted when the Carlson story broke, if the trending hashtag was #CriticizeTucker, then I was all-in, but since it was #FireTucker, I was all-out. Similarly, attempts to fire Clover (absent concrete evidence of on-the-job misconduct) are not just improper, they’re almost certainly unlawful.
He cites a legal precedent that says a public employee can not be fired if they are addressing matters of public concern IF the comments by that employee “outweigh” the interest of the state in promoting the efficiency of its services through that employee. He then uses a professor at Fresno State who celebrated the death of Barbara Bush as a positive example of protection under that law.
To be frank, I simply don’t understand how he sees that interpretation of the noted precedent as a defense here. How is calling for the deaths of police offers a matter of public concern? Furthermore, how does doing so not hurt the state’s ability to promote the public service — in this case, the public university system — in light of his comments? Putting aside the fact that having a state employee calling for the death of other state employees (i.e. Highway Patrol) is dangerous, couldn’t such comments hurt enrollment? Could they hurt participation by those who disagree? All of these things could be argued to weigh on the side of the state efficiently promoting its public service. French presents his position as a slam dunk legally when I think it’s much more of a 3-point shot.
As a matter of principle, I also think there’s a difference between taxpayers opposing a public employee calling for murder vs. pressure campaigns on advertisers of private networks over jokes. UC Davis is a public university. If citizens want to band together to speak out against one of its professors calling for the killing of police officers, they have the right to do that.
Regardless, that’s not the real argument French is making. In the end, he settles on the fact that he simply doesn’t like outrage mobs. Fair enough, neither do I. Yet, I think it’s disingenuous at best to compare calling for the murder of cops to Tucker Carlson joking about Iraqis on Bubba the Love Sponge.
There’s a reason conservatives largely defended James Gunn, a rabidly liberal Hollywood director, when he was fired for old, offensive jokes. Why? Because we do believe outrage mobs are typically politically motivated and harmful to society. Still, that doesn’t mean there’s no situation in which you can ever call for someone’s firing. If Tucker Carlson were to go on air tomorrow and advocate for the murdering of Nancy Pelosi, everyone, including David French would support his firing. It’s not anti-free speech to recognize that such lines do exist.
In fact, French had no problem with the firing of Roseanne by ABC over an offensive joke she told using Twitter. He used the following logic to differentiate between her and Gunn.
But wait. There’s a significant difference between Barr and Gunn. Barr wasn’t fired for all her past outrages. She was fired when she tweeted a vile, racist insult while employed by ABC. It wasn’t a decade-old tweet.
Is that the standard French is applying here? It sure doesn’t seem like it. Clover’s comments are not “decades old” and they were made while he was currently employed by UC Davis.
One of the inflammatory comments were made in a 2015 interview in SF Weekly.
“People think that cops need to be reformed. They need to be killed,” Clover said in response to the question “What’s wrong with society today?”
By French’s own standard, he would have to agree that Clover’s firing would be just. Again, we are not talking about comments ten or twenty years ago made in jest or as a mistake. We are talking about a professor calling for the killing of cops just four years ago (and repeatedly in other comments). In fact, Clover can’t even be bothered to address his statements, much less explain that he doesn’t hold those views any longer (because he clearly does). That’s another distinguishing factor in all this.
I think French misses the mark here. In the rush to find some sort of equivocation in which to lecture conservatives, he’s comparing two situations that are fairly far apart and he’s overstepping the very standard he set just last year. Further, the case with Clover is obscure and local. It’s being led by a talk radio station and a single Assemblyman. It’s not a national movement nor has it made national headlines. To use it as a reason to “both sides” the argument falls short in my humble opinion. It feels like a strained attempt to find a way to lecture conservatives in general when they really didn’t need to be lectured.
Sometimes liberals do bad, dumb things. Sometimes it’s acceptable to let them pay the price for it without finding a way to assert conservatives are just as bad when they objectively aren’t.
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