Saturday, January 23, 2010

A facade of voicelessness for the voiced

This ad campaign in support of same-sex marriage featuring Cindy McCain is hard to fathom. The Advocate says that Cindy McCain and others were "photographed with duct tape over their mouths to symbolize that their voices aren’t being heard on the subject of marriage equality."

My mom says:

I get that she supports same-sex marriage, but what does that have to do with anybody forcibly silencing her? If you have something to say, lady, just say it and quit blaming others.
It's generally better, in political discourse, to focus on substance than process unless there actually is a process problem that's too important to ignore. And I don't see one here. Who's being silenced about same-sex marriage? I'm not -- I can say whatever I want about it on this blog. If I have a voice, then Cindy McCain -- a multimillionaire who's married to a US Senator -- definitely has a voice.

Kasey Nicholson-McFadden has a voice. He says:
It doesn’t bother me to tell kids my parents are gay. It does bother me to say they aren’t married. It makes me feel that our family is less than their family.
He made that statement to the New Jersey legislature, and it was reported in the New York Times. He's only 10 years old. If he can be heard making a substantive point in this debate, then rich celebrities can be heard too. If they want to.

This is essentially the same problem that keeps coming up when people like US Attorney General Eric Holder complain about America's supposed failure to have a national conversation about race. As John McWhorter aptly said in response to Holder (which I blogged at the time):
I suspect those who call for this "conversation" know the claim has become more gestural than concrete. Otherwise, they would state their case directly rather than asking to "talk." ... What, or who, would determine that we had finally "talked" enough?
If you want the country to engage in a particular substantive discussion, lead by example.

Perhaps there's an implicit populism in Cindy McCain's protest. If unspecified, impersonal forces have prevented genuine debate on the issue from occurring, then the public can't be blamed for not being more supportive of same-sex marriage. But if this is the intended message, it's condescending in addition to being wrong.


LemmusLemmus said...

This is almost comically bad: Pretending to be voiceless in a PR photo that gets widely disseminated. Truly paradoxical.

I may be too sensitive here, but looking at the photo I also felt a slight sense of unease because I've seen this kind of motive used to describe situations in which people genuinely can't speak out without risking jail or death (e.g., Burma).

Jason (the commenter) said...

So Cindy McCain came out in support of gay marriage and the news has been spread all over the internet because of an ad campaign. Everybody can claim the picture makes no sense, but I think it's done its job better than one people may have been more comfortable with.

Oh, and thank you Mrs. McCain. Great job!

beckett said...

You've mentioned skepticism about whether this nation has really failed to have an honest conversation about race.

I think it's fairly obvious it hasn't, at least in political culture. It has been treated extensively in the arts, but it's a 3rd rail of politics. Holder can't start the dialogue or lay out his vision of racial problems in this country because the moment he does, the howls for his resignation will start. On the other side are those who stifle all discussion of racial differences because we're supposed to be colorblind. The reality of race in America is very different from the public discussion of race.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I disagree. Race is talked about frequently.

If the majority of Americans want us to have colorblind policies by, for instance, prohibiting race-based affirmative action, that doesn't mean America is unwilling to talk about race. That just means most Americans disagree with the left-wing position. That's not a process failure; it's a substantive disagreement.

Now, Holder himself conceded that we do talk about race, but he said we're not having the right discussion about race. Well, that's the problem with this type of complaint. At best, it boils down to: "OK, yes, people are talking about race -- but they're saying the wrong things. They should be saying the things I want them to say."

John McWhorter made the point well.

Even if there is some dimension of race that should be talked about but isn't, the best way to deal with the situation wouldn't be to lament the lack of a conversation. If people perceive a taboo and wish it weren't taboo, the most efficient way for them to address the problem would be to break the taboo and talk about it. Actually, Holder attempted to do this by talking about how America is still segregated. I don't think that observation stirred up much controversy, which suggests it's not so taboo after all.