I’m growing less fond of political labels for several reasons: somewhat due to the growing similarities between the Ruling and Opposition parties; somewhat due to laziness. But the recent dust-up over Nir Rosen illustrates why they’re no longer useful.
Following news reports that a CBS news reporter had been sexually assaulted by a crowd of Egyptian men while reporting on the protests in Cairo, Rosen – a member of the NYU Center for Law and Security, a sometime correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and Time, and a widely read expert on the Iraq War – posted the following to Twitter:
it sort of depends who it happens to. sometimes we have to find the humor in small things.
jesus christ. at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should remember her role as a major war monger.
Rosen later apologized for these comments, after receiving criticism from all angles – left, right and center.
Rosen has lost his job at NYU and will probably lose several others. But Glenn Greenwald thinks that the media is coming down to harsh on him:
Would like to see a freeze on firing people for one-time outbursts unrepresentative of their career (Nasr, Sanchez, Thomas, Williams. Rosen)
I was a little curious about Greenwald’s defense of Rosen, so I asked him about it:
is it unrepresentative of Rosen? his insight into Iraq and the Mid East (which is still excellent) doesn’t mean he’s a feminist
To which he responded:
Are you aware of any similar comments in his many years of reporting and writing? Neither am I.
so he gets one for free? I don’t want Rosen to stop reporting on Mid East, but no one makes fun of sexual assault _by accident_
And thus it stands.
I suspect a great deal of the uproar over Rosen’s comments, especially from the left, comes from shock. Sure, people expect ignorant bile from the likes of Debbie Schlussel: it’s practically on message. But not Nir Rosen! He’s been one of the closest, most insightful voices on the Iraq Civil War! He’s been critical of the Bush administration and the neocon agenda for years! How could he be so insensitive?
A similar reaction unfolded when Keith Olbermann cast aspersions on the women who’ve accused Julian Assange of rape, and when rumors circulated that the Daily Show‘s writing room might not be a welcoming place for females. There was a simultaneous outbreak of (1) shocked critics and (2) panicked defenders. Oh, Jon Stewart couldn’t really be like that! It’s Jon! He’s our guy! And if Olbermann says these Swedish women are CIA stooges, then he probably knows what he’s talking about! Right?
That’s not the way it works.
Just because someone shares your ideology on one aspect – or on many aspects – doesn’t mean they share your ideology on every aspect. Pro-labor vegans can still be chauvinists. Conservative economists with a hard nose for logic can still believe in creationism or “human biodiversity.” Morrissey could be a racist; Pete Townshend could be a pedophile; Jason Mraz might be an asshole.
This is the risk you run with political labels. You subscribe to a brand, accepting all the ideals that are lumped under it. Then, you start to discover that not everyone wearing the brand feels the same way you do. This can be frustrating if it’s on an issue you find important, like whether or not women are chattel. It can be especially galling if it’s on the issue that drove you to join the brand in the first place. You speak out, but all your friends – all the other brand loyalists – defend the monsters and shame you. Don’t be such a crank, they tell you. We have to compromise in order to achieve our agenda. Politics is the art of the possible.
That’s something to think about. If you say you’re Ruling Party and the Ruling Party does something despicable, what do you do? Do you try to change the party from within? Do you shrug and swallow your bile? Do you break ranks to side with those assholes in the Opposition? Or do you tailor your beliefs – well, if they’re all voting for it, it must be a just war – this one time?
And that’s how you can tell who’s in power. The beliefs of those in power define the Party. The beliefs of those without power, the Party defines. If the pro-labor, pro-growth President drives a bill through Congress that redistributes wealth from the working poor to health insurance companies, then that must be a pro-labor position. If he fights tooth and nail for the Defense of Marriage Act, then that doesn’t mean the Ruling Party is anti-gay – it means the DOMA is pro-gay! But if a middle-tier journalist outs himself as a bitter chauvinist, only then do people have to start choosing sides.
If you’re not comfortable changing your beliefs in order to win an election, you could always drop the label. But then where would you be?
(P.S. In a related story, kudos to Sarah Jaffe at Tiger Beatdown, who has been calling out the 10 members of the Ruling Party who sponsored H.R.3 – the bill that tried to redefine rape and still puts women’s lives at risk; the bill that Change.org and MoveOn tried to lay solely at the feet of the Opposition Party. Remember, when you call the Ruling Party the “pro-choice party,” that’s a description of their tendencies, not their principles)