RFRA: Not Like Jim Crow Laws at All

RFRA: Not Like Jim Crow Laws at All.

Jonah Goldberg provides a lesson in false equivalence. I am still on the fence about the RFRA: there are reasonable arguments about “slippery slopes” on both sides. Now that Indiana seems to have watered-down the vintage significantly, one hopes that we can all take a break and think through the issue of ourselves, rather than allowing the highly-exercised pontificators on both sides lead the day.

Part of that process, I believe, is reading and understanding the calm, reasoned arguments from both sides of the issue. You may not agree with Jonah Goldberg’s take on the RFRA, but you must appreciate the fact that employing fallacies in defense of your argument only winds up undermining your argument among those who either disagree or who have yet to be convinced. Worse, you are engaging in the worst kind of demagoguery.

Let us have a good debate in this country about religious freedom. But let us not employ fallacy or hyperbole on either side.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

6 thoughts on “RFRA: Not Like Jim Crow Laws at All”

  1. Jonah Goldberg is the intellectual lightweight’s intellectual lightweight — false equivalence is simply the currency with which he purchases his willfully ignorant readership, and they faithfully nod along.

    I still use his “Liberal Fascism” as an example of the black-is-white school of conservative commentary (Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, and Megan McArdle are masters of the “art”) —- to produce a thesis in this genre you simply take whatever is in the public record on a topic, state the opposite as if it were fact, and build from there. (E.g. “Hitler was a liberal”, which is Goldberg’s central claim in his wildly popular novel (I’m not sure what else to call it)).

    “Freedom to discriminate” laws are simply bad law. So is the unfortunately growing body of “hate speech” law around the world. So is any law which relies on a non-objective standard and/or questions of individual “conscience”. This should be something that “liberals” and “conservatives” rush to agree on. But, alas, conservatives seem obsessed with what other people do in private, and liberals seem obsessed with what other people say in private. None of it ends well.

    1. You and I agree that the reactionary right needs to stop worrying about private behavior and the radical left needs to stop policing our thoughts and speech. Anti-democratic stupidity all of it.

      Goldberg’s status in the intellectual firmament is irrelevant to the strength of his argument. I’ll quote the truth or an interesting point from wherever I hear it, even from a comic-book superhero. If his point is wrong, argue it. If it is not, have the stones to grant him the point while maintaining your stance that RFRA is a bad law.

      The more I study this – i.e., the more I ignore the media brouhaha and delve into the law itself – the more it becomes clear that not only is the Indiana RFRA a bad law, it is utterly unnecessary, a solution in search of a problem. The law as it stands – including the Federal RFRA signed by Bill Clinton nearly two decades ago – appears to be adequate. The Indiana RFRA was so much reactionary populist stupidity.

      Be well.

  2. I completely agree — except that I’d argue it *is* relevant to point out Goldberg’s pseudo-intellectual “priors”, and in fact I’ll go further: Goldberg’s “point” in this specific instance is so polluted with flat-out-wrong historical revisionism and name-calling, that it’s a negative net “contribution” to the debate.

    As as single example: note him pointing (thrice!) that it was (primarily) “Democrats” passing Jim Crow laws, but then conspicuously failing to point out that it was Democrats who (primarily) fought and won the Civil Rights battles that ended them.

    Stopped clocks, it has often been pointed out, are right twice a day. But they are still fundamentally broken, and relying on them for support of, well, anything would be foolish.

  3. Shannon, the facts are these, and these are the facts:

    1. It was primarily Democrats passing Jim Crow laws.

    2. It was primarily Democrats that compelled the awful watering-down of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The act, by the way, was co-spearheaded on the Hill by LBJ in on the Democratic side and President Eisenhower on the Republican side. Johnson’s biggest enemy was his own party.

    3. In the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 80% of the Republicans in Congress voted for the bill, while only 60% of the Democrats did. In the Senate, only one Republican voted against. Yes, it was Johnson who pushed the bill (Kennedy never managed to get it reported out of Committee), but conservative Republican Bill Culloch of Ohio was so key to rallying the Republicans in the House that Johnson, and Jacqueline Kennedy much later publicly thanked him. What is more, McCulloch did the same thing for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

    4. George Bush championed the Americans with Disabilities Act, what was called the most significant piece of civil rights legislation for two decades.

    So let’s agree on one thing: neither party has sole possession of the moral high ground on civil rights, and attempting to claim otherwise is partisan at best and revisionist at worst. The truth is far more nuanced than that.

  4. If you’re making a claim to be reporting “the facts” then it behooves you to actually do so, and not use a couple of headline factoids to obscure in a singularly partisan fashion.

    Let’s examine your facts:

    1. Stipulated

    2. So you’re saying it was a bipartisan effort to get legislation passed? You do realize if I accept this argument — and largely I do — that it makes my point about Goldberg even more strongly?

    3. Here you’ve grabbed the surface “fact” which conceals more than it reveals, and does so in a singularly partisan way. Here are the actual voting numbers, broken down in the obvious fashion:

    Southern Democrats: 7–87 (7–93%)
    Southern Republicans: 0–10 (0–100%)
    Northern Democrats: 145–9 (94–6%)
    Northern Republicans: 138–24 (85–15%)

    No further comment required, really.

    4. You mean IDEA — introduced in the Senate by Tom Harkin (D)? And what was your point here?

    I fully, completely, and utterly agree that neither part has sole possession of the moral high ground, and further stipulate that neither party has sole possession of the rotten depths of the American soul. The truth is, indeed FAR more nuanced.

    All of which magnifies and extends every single thing I was saying about a certain “journalist”.

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