Five Best Tuesday Columns
Josh Barro on the coming out of Jason Collins, Nicholas Jackson on fighting words, Jamelle Bouie on the GOP's civil rights history, Michelle Goldberg on the politics of late-term abortion, and David Brooks on how to write about politics.
Josh Barro at Bloomberg View on the coming out of Jason Collins "I'm glad NBA player Jason Collins has publicly announced that he's gay," says Josh Barro. "But I'm already sick of hearing how 'brave' that was. ... He's a graduate of the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles and Stanford University who has made more than $32 million during his NBA career. His coming-out story reflects the strong personal support network that's available to him. Yet every day, much younger gays and lesbians routinely come out without such social, financial and emotional resources. Their actions are bravery; what Collins did should be expected." Sally Jenkins at The Washington Post disagrees: "Bravery takes a lot of forms, physical being just one, and a particularly unappreciated brand of it is social courage, which is the courage to to risk your place in the society you move in." Meanwhile, Frank Bruni in The New York Times weighs the social reality brought up by Collins himself in his Sports Illustrated cover story. "The unremarkable way a person’s sexual orientation ought to be lived and perceived [is] precisely what Collins and his fellow trailblazers are trying to move us toward: not a constant discussion of the rightful place and treatment of L.G.B.T. people in America, but an America in which the discussion is no longer necessary," Bruni writes.
Nicholas Jackson at Pacific Standard on fighting words Should some forms of speech — such as ESPN analyst Chris Broussard's comments about Jason Collins and the "sin" of homosexuality — be regulated if they inspire gay kids to kill themselves? Nicholas Jackson weighs Broussard's statement in the context of other constitutional limits on free speech: "The blanket free speech argument is a weak one. ... Over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has tightened the definition of free speech over and over again." In particular, Jackson argues that Broussard's words, which ESPN half-apologized for late last night, fall under the "fighting words" doctrine, which limits speech that, once spoken, causes harm: "After a couple of years in which we’ve seen dozens of studies — LGBT youth who are bullied are far more likely to consider and commit suicide; acceptance from family and friends minimizes risk — and a similar number of deaths, Broussard’s words, and the arguments by otherwise reasonable people that they should be protected by free speech, are no longer acceptable. They're fighting words." Glenn Greenwald was dismayed: "The relentless instinct for people to use the force of law to ban ideas they dislike is so depressing." Amidst an array of criticism, Jackson wrote to one interlocutor, on the question of limiting speech: "The answer is yes, if those views are so aggressive as to inspire personal violence."
Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect on the GOP's civil rights history Responding to (and disagreeing with) National Review columnist Kevin D. Williamson's take on the early partisan dynamic of civil rights, Jamelle Bouie wonders why conservative writers remain dedicated to revising the the Republican Party's place in civil rights history. "I’m still unsure of what this revisionism is supposed to accomplish. If it’s to appeal to actual African American voters, you might want to try a different approach, since this one won’t work. But if it’s to assuage guilt and assure conservatives that they are, and have always been, on the right side of history, then—to borrow from President Obama—please proceed." At RealClearPolitics, Sean Trende takes issue with Bouie's explanation of the GOP's present dominance in the South: "The assertion that white Southerners began voting Republican in 1964 is simply incorrect, whether for president, Congress, or statehouses. The development of the Southern GOP was a slow-moving, gradual process that lasted over a century, and is just being completed today."
Michelle Goldberg at The Daily Beast on the politics of late-term abortions Why do women obtain late-term abortions? Replying to a series of undercover videos that show staff members discussing late-term abortion procedures at a clinic in Washington, D.C., Michelle Goldberg writes: "The way all this is presented is somewhat deceptive. ... But pointing this out is unlikely to blunt the visceral impact of the videos, because ultimately, what they reveal is something we all already know—late abortion is horrible. We should acknowledge that before we discuss why it happens, and why it’s sometimes needed." Citing statistics about the number of late-term abortions, Goldberg argues: "We would be far better off with a system like that in France, where abortion is limited after 12 weeks but freely available and fully subsidized before then. Late term abortion can be truly problematic. That doesn't mean that the anti-abortion movement is the solution." At Forbes, Warren Meyer sees a parallel between pro-choice and pro-gun activists, each anxious about any new regulations: "The most important common trait they share is that they both tend to feel (and act) like they are standing on shifting sands. ... They feel the need to hold the line against every regulation or incursion, no matter how seemingly reasonable, fearing the narrow edge of the wedge that will eventually threaten their core rights."
David Brooks in The New York Times on how to write about politics Setting up a dichotomy between "engaged" writing and "detached" writing, David Brooks ponders which form is best suited to political writing that might change the world. He settles on detachment: "The detached writer believes that writing is more like teaching than activism. Her essays are generally not about winning short-term influence. ... She would rather have an impact upstream, shaping people's perceptions of underlying reality and hoping that she can provide a context in which other people can think." As for engagement: "Engaged writers gravitate toward topics where they can do the most damage to the other side. These are topics where the battle lines are clearly drawn, not topics where there is a great deal of uncertainty. Engaged writers develop a talent for muzzle velocity, not curiosity." Brooks' column occasioned another dichotomy among critics. MIT's Seth Mnookin called it "impressively facile and trite." Brooks, he added, is "outdoing himself." But others heaped praise. Economist Justin Wolfers: "I unabashedly love this David Brooks column. He makes a pretty compelling case for being a bit more like David Brooks." The Week's Matt Lewis: "This is a good essay. And I think it explains the dichotomy between activist bloggers & conservative journalists." The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta: "I don't know what you people are all complaining about. I like this Brooks column."