Everybody's up in arms over the thing that outgoing and fit-to-be-tried state Sen. Vince Fumo said at a hearing in Harrisburg the other day. His remarks are kind of hard to characterize -- it's easier to start by just printing them verbatim:
Well, basically the world went crazy because a) a public figure said something outrageous and somehow mentioned the word "slavery" and b) it seemed to have something to do with either race, or homosexuality -- the two raw subjects it actually skirted around.
Yet there's really a lot less here than meets the eye here, isn't there, because:
1) The comment really tells us nothing about the human condition, except the sad condition of one particular human, Vince Fumo -- a man who's losing his job and the life he's known, and may very well lose his freedom as well. And so on the way out the door he utters something that's bats--- crazy. You can't even ask the guy to resign, because he's already done that. So in that context, this is important because...why is it important, again?
We get outraged over horrible statements from public figures when they seem to reflect what they truly believe, whether it's Jeremiah Wright saying "God damn America" and blaming it for AIDS or when a U.S. congressman calls Barack Obama "boy" in public. To have the same level of outrage here, you'd have to think that Vince Fumo believes in his heart that Pa, lawmakers support slavery. I don't.
2) To follow on the same theme, it's lower than low when a public official says something that's racist or homophobic (and Fumo, of all people, has done that, and it was deplorable when it happened) -- but in this case wasn't the exaxt opposite thing happening? Clearly, Fumo was not endorsing slavery and as for gays, he was apparently set off by what he perceived as discrimination against them.
So if Fumo was't insulting blacks and he wasn't insulting gays, who was he insulting here? That notoriously oppressed class: Pennsylvania state legislators. OK, I'm being a little sarcastic -- stepping out of my usual Howard Beale mode, of course legislators are humans too and don't deserve to be slandered in public, which is why Fumo apologized. But by the same token, an off-the-way and generalized slam on other politicians just doesn't raise my outrage meter that high. Sorry.
Meanwhile, there's been virtually no attention paid to other side of the coin here. In fact, very few people have focused on the remarks that set Fumo off in the first place, the words uttered by a Philadelphia minister named Gilbert Coleman from the Freedom Christian Bible Fellowship.
I realize the gay marriage is a complicated issue (personally, I want to see government get out of the marriage business altogether, for straights and gays, and just recognize civil unions) but frankly I get really irked by these ministers who leave their neighborhoods so wracked by poverty and crime and in need of spiritual uplift for their crusade to make "the gay" into Public Enemy No. 1.
Here's Coleman's remarks, which blatantly disrespect one of America's greatest traditions, the separation of church and state:
This news coverage out of Lancaster paints an entirely different picture of the hearing than what we've read so far in Philly. Here's another response from Fumo that not only isn't wacky but actually, in my opinion, heroic:
Regular readers know that I'd hardly a big fan of the politically corrupt Fumo. But on this one....am I crazy here, or is Gilbert Coleman's call for an American theocracy that discriminates against homosexuals much, much more offensive than Fumo's ill-conceived retort?
Sadly, we now live in society that's become more worried about stray words that sound like they might somehow be offensive than about deeply held ideas that are truly worthy of condemnation.