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To adapt an old edict: You can't attach a hashtag to a turd!

by Jeremy Hooper

Screen Shot 2009-12-22 At 2.39.39 PmThe January/February issue of Mother Jones magazine features an interesting article about Esther Fleece, the young person who Focus on the Family has hired to recruit so-called millennials into the conservatives' ever-aging tent. The article is a mostly fair assessment of the far-right's struggle to adapt to the changing times, with Fleece herself admitting that a majority of her friends are supportive of "culture war" issues like same-sex marriage. And all who are interviewed by the writer, Stephanie Mencimer, seem to understand that the "pro-family" forces cannot win in the longterm without reaching the voters of 2020 and beyond. For the most part, they seem to get what they're up against.

But then the entire article is mooted when Esther's boss, Focus on the Family communications president Gary Schneeberger, closes out the article by saying the following:

As for revising the positions that are alienating youth, though, that's not really in the cards. "The things we stand for, especially in the policy realm, are things that are rooted in our understanding of the Scripture," says Schneeberger. "So when we say we think we believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, that's not going to change."

So essentially, they've pinpointed the reality (they are losing millennials) and realize the reason (their message is antiquated and offensive to younger people), but they're not going to drop the one thing (intolerance) that's causing them to bleed the most. They want the cool factor, but don't want to cool the most crucial factor! It's absurd outreach, really. It'd be kind of like the NRA thinking that by converting all of the existing DVDs of the film to Blu-Ray format, they could negate the bad PR that Bambi has lent to their pro-guns campaign!

The truth: As long as Focus' song remains the same, it doesn't really matter what hipped up crooner they hire to sing it. No young person is gonna suddenly start thinking that gay folks are anything less than part of the human fabric, simply because the person that's telling them as much happens to be wearing skinny jeans. And to be quite honest: It's offensive hubris for FOF to even suggest that they can or should be able to reach those in their Twilight years without adapting the discriminatory rhetoric that was shaped by those in their twilight years!


The Gossip this Girl's hearing says it's not gonna happen!

**The full Mother Jones article: grand old party [MJ]

****Our earlier take: FOF hopes '80s/'90s-born voters were also born yesterday [G-A-Y]

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Your thoughts

They want millennials, who think differently than they do, to join them, but they don't want to open the tent to a bigger crowd.

So what Focus on the Family really wants is to make the next generation change to be as bigoted and small minded as they are, thereby validating their fossilized belief system and proving they are right and holy and eternal. They want to see a change, but they don't want to change. They want everyone else to change to suit them.

I'd recommend therapy, but it really can't help when people are in such willful denial.

Posted by: Aconite | Dec 22, 2009 4:03:00 PM

Aconite: Groups like FOF and NOM have made no bones about their hope/belief that the millennials will grow anti-gay as they age. They are betting the house on that possibility, rather than evaluating the discriminatory mindsets that have weakened their own houses.

While it is true that younger populations become more conservative with age, I just don't think they realize how different this generation is when it comes to homosexuality. The current twentysomethings and younger are truly the first generation to go through most of their life with LGBT people as part of their normalcy. There is no reason to believe that sizable swaths of them will shift towards bias.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 22, 2009 4:20:01 PM

Here in RI the millennials poll at 82% in favor of marriage equality.

The religious bigots are losing the battle because their core constituency is starting to die off. Add their message of blatant bigotry and it falls flat on the under 30 crowd. Hell, even falls flat in my range too.

Posted by: Tony P | Dec 22, 2009 4:43:55 PM

G-A-Y: "While it is true that younger populations become more conservative with age,"

Is it that people's beliefs change to become more conservative as they age, or is it that time moves on, attitudes move on, and the same belief that was moderate in someone's young adult years is conservative forty years later?

I can't think of a single person I know who has become less in favor of equality (be it racial, gender, marriage, religious, or other equality) as they've gotten older. The ones who are aged bigots were always bigots. The ones who are scared of difference were always scared of difference. The ones who just don't think never did think.

Once people see other human beings as human beings, it's very hard to convince them to see those other humans as mannequins. Which is why FOF and its ilk must fight so hard to keep the Other mysterious and scary. They say so themselves, every time they protest that anti-bullying programs in schools will "normalize" homosexuality. If you don't feed your kids a steady diet of intolerance, they leave your antiquated bigotry behind and wince and roll their eyes when you say something embarrassing in public.

Posted by: Aconite | Dec 22, 2009 5:16:37 PM

Well on our issues, Aconite, I think the problem has been that younger people have pretended to be far more progressive than they are, with some of the hidden biases coming out later in life. But again: I think all bets are off when it comes to people under 35 or so. There simply aren't the same hangups or reasons to play pretend as there were in previous generations.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 22, 2009 5:26:02 PM

G-A-Y, I think that when it comes to marriage equality in the minds of this latest generation, there's another factor in play that's going to make a big difference. This is going to ramble a bit, and I apologize for that.

Remember that just a generation ago--my mom's generation--marriage was what women aspired to. It was what "made" you. It was sold as the single biggest event in a woman's life (leading of course to becomming a mother, which was an equally big deal but not one you could have without getting married first). It didn't just happen to you; you accomplished it. It was possibly the only day in a woman's life that would be completely about her--her wants, her needs, her, her, her--in a world that had pretty much ignored her up until then and which would pretty much require her to sit down and shut up afterwards.

Women who bought that see their marriages as something they earned, something that distinguishes them from those pathetic unmarried souls. Whatever they might have to be unhappy about in their lives, they could at least reassure themselves that they weren't one of the unmarried. Which, of course, requires there to be unmmarried people for them to feel superior to.

Girls may still grow up dreaming about their weddings, but they don't see becoming Mrs. Somebody as the be-all and end-all of ambition any more, thank goodness. I'm horrified at how many women of my generation still think in terms of "my husband's career" instead of "my career" and try to teach their daughters to do the same, but that's definitely changing. Marriage is still hugely important to a lot of people, but in a different way. It's not about becoming one of the select; it's about finding the person you want to spend your life with.

If my thinking well of myself requires me to be one of the Marriage-Haves, then I am hugely invested in there being Have-Nots to be superior to. If I am delighted to have found my love, there is nothing I have to lose by your finding yours as well.

Posted by: Aconite | Dec 22, 2009 5:52:07 PM

Good points, Aconite.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 22, 2009 5:53:41 PM

Schneeberger, seems to think that he and the other fossils will still be able to dictate that their brand of "morality" gets carried forward long past their finite existences. As, I'm sure, the lying liars from years gone by also believed the same thing. But, believing it (or hoping it) won't make it so.

And, I agree with Aconite. I haven't seen anyone age into a bigot. They were either bigots all of their life, or not. Growing older didn't change them in that respect. While there is evidence that we become more fiscally "conservative" as we age, that the older sect is more socially "conservative" (controlling/harping/disapproving) isn't because they've "changed". They've simply become older, and their bigotry now stands starkly juxtaposed to the more accepting attitudes of younger generations.

I would assert that the bigots were that "prudish" throughout their entire lives, and simply still are. And that, prudish-ism isn't a disease that comes with old age, as much as it is the diseased outcropping from their warped supremacist mindset.

One could argue that it is possible to "convert" someone into a supremacist. Just look at how eagerly the population was to kill more Muslims by invading Iraq during the Cheney administration! So, maybe it is easy to succumb to an inherent supremacist predisposition? But I think that as we, as a civilization, progress in knowledge and understanding, that we become less gullible in that regard. The biggest threat to the bigot's agenda is that this more enlightened, communal cognizance becomes even more ubiquitous.

While I admit that saying this doesn't make it so, there is at least some evidence to support it. While Schleazeburger hopes for more hate in the world, my hope is that fear and ignorance becomes even more displaced by knowledge and understanding. And that is, at it's basis, the reason why the religiots are so adamantly opposed to any educational endeavors that they don't fully control.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Dec 22, 2009 8:17:03 PM

I should say, in fulll disclosure, that I have somewhat of a personal relationship with Gary. He is a nice man. Genuinely. He wants to do right, and truly thinks he is. I can't say that about every on the far-right.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 22, 2009 8:28:36 PM

JH, do you think that those like Gary ever have a twinge of doubt that they might actually be raging hatemongers? Or do they truly believe that the majority should vote on everything "morality" related?

Posted by: Dick Mills | Dec 22, 2009 8:49:57 PM

Dick: Whst I know is that when every human lies his or her head down at night, the world turns quiet. I don't know how anyone who is professionally anti-gay could avoid the questions.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 22, 2009 8:54:58 PM

That they doubt themselves in private (and some of them absolutely know that they are lying liars), and that they continue to promulgate their talking points as gospel with the intention of solidifying their stance in the minds of others, to me that pretty much puts them all in the same boat... albeit, some of them may be standing closer to the life rafts, or the debarking ramp.

The public acknowledgment of that "doubt" would go a long way, in my mind, toward separating themselves from the pitchfork wielding mob. Or the acknowledgment that "morality" is (and always has been) relative. Even just leaving it up to individuals to make up their own mind would go a long way... but I haven't heard anything other than the matter-of-fact absolutes from any of them.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Dec 22, 2009 9:16:56 PM

Dick: I do want to reinforce that when it comes to the work, I do not and will not pull any punches with *anyone*. To me, shilling for Focus on the Family is about as ignoble of a job as you can get, in terms of this whole "culture war." Gary knows that I feel this way, and he presumably feels the same way about my own advocacy.

But I do always separate the human being from the role. Some of these personalities can/do/will leave the anti-gay role and turn towards peace. I'm not sure if Gary has that possibility, or even if has any doubt about his work (he certainly hasn't suggested that he does). But for the sake of disclosure, I did feel it was fair to reveal what I know about him on a personal level.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 22, 2009 11:07:47 PM

It sounds like you are saying that to some of the professional anti-gays, their "advocacy" is just a job. They are towing the corporate line, and that they might even be perfectly happy to drop the anti-gay stuff if the corporate wind starts blowing in a different direction. And, if I'm correct, you are then using that to give them a pass.. I mean, after all, it's just a paycheck, and they are really great/likable people, and everyone has to eat.

To me, that's like saying, "He's a great guy to hang out with, as long as you can overlook the fact that his job involves clubbing baby seals to death." It certainly is a personal preference as to whether one can overlook the baby-seal-death-clubbing thing, especially since no "actual" human beings are being injured in the process. One can even make the argument that the excess population of seals would be much more brutal and/or bad for the seal population than bashing the brains out of a few hundred cuddly little baby seals is.

But, with these guys, it isn't a few hundred baby seals, they cause harm to actual humans. They aren't acting to benefit society, they are placing something as stupid as fifty year-old "traditions" over the actual tangible damage that they are doing. And most of these guys, weren't down on their luck, and then just accidentally stumbled into a position where they now wield their harmful influence toward those they deem to be insignificant.. they actively fought and clawed their way into those positions. Cream does rise to the top, but only after pushing all the other molecules to the side. And, in religious circles, that perfect balance of cut-throat cordiality translates directly into coin of the realm.

That they may appear to be charming or cordial or anything other than a closed minded bigot, may be as much an act as not. Even if it is genuine, I just can't get the picture of the lifeless bloody baby seal out of my mind. I would be happy (perfectly happy) to never think about any of these guys ever again. But, as long as they continue to inflict harm, then I can't look at these guys and see anything other than the harm that they cause. And to me, it doesn't get any more personal than that.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Dec 23, 2009 12:23:23 AM

I think I'll just say that when even at Liberty University there are students who are out to pretty much everybody on campus but the administration and none of their friends or acquaintances particularly care, Focus on the Family has already lost the war for the millennial generation.

Posted by: Ryn | Dec 23, 2009 1:53:06 AM

"And, if I'm correct, you are then using that to give them a pass."

Dick: That's an inaccurate read. And frankly, I'm a little surprised you'd even imply that, considering how closely you read this site.

I'm saying that the role itself is detestable, and I will fight against the role with undying passion. I won't even give a half-pass.

But I'm also saying that people come into these roles for diff reasons. I do think there are reasons that go well beyond "I'm a bigot who chose bigotry." So I like to separate the two, just in my own mind. It helps me to focus on the cause rather than personal attacks. And in doing so, I've learned a thing or two about some of those who fight against us on a professional level. I was simply sharing what I know about Gary the human being: That he's an affable guy. I felt it was responsible for me to do so.

Does the "nice" personality excuse the work? Not even a little bit.

Is it an act? That's between each individual and their own soul.

Would I hang out with some of these folks IRL? No, I'm not there (and in fact have turned down several such invitations).

But I will have a conversation with any and every one of them. In those conversations, I do not, have not, and will not waver in my belief that what they are doing is wrong, wrong WRONG. My goal is to open eyes. If they were to undergo a peaceful conversion, these folks could be our biggest allies.

Remember that Mel White used to ghostwrite for Falwell and Robertson...

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 23, 2009 7:51:12 AM

In my days, I have been accused of indulging in the occasional argumentum ad hominem. And, while the slight twisting of Schneeberger, into Schleazeburger, is somewhat humorous, there is no mistaking the fact that it is also schlumthing of a schlur. Intended, obviously, to impugn the "lily white integrity" of Schneeberger. I mean, really. How can I not own that?

But, while it was fully my intention to make a joke at the Schleazeburger's expense, I fully feel justified in doing so, given that those of his ilk seem to take great pleasure in very personally attacking those of us in the LGBT community. They may not use our names, or give us funny "nicknames", or even ever admit that they are gunning for us. But their attacks on our personhood are undeniable.

So, you will have to forgive me if I may have overreacted to what appeared to be an admonishment to only attack the more verbally vicious of the hatemongers. I just see them all in the same light, and feel perfectly justified in attacking their "personhood" as well. And, I know that simply considering them to be "good people" isn't exactly the same as giving them a pass. But they spend much of their lives dehumanizing me (and all of us). So, "Pat Boone Christmas Special"-ing them into the idyllic Mister-Rogers-loves-loves-and-gets-along-with-everyone fictional character, sugar coats something much more sinister.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Dec 23, 2009 3:42:08 PM

Dick, I know what you mean wrt the baby seal thing.

My partner and I were chatting with a mutual acquaintance, who is a woman of a certain age. In the middle of the conversation, this woman completely went off on non-Christians. That rant segued into an expression of disgust at all the dark-skinned, funny-eyed foreigners who are taking over America.

Not only was I astonished, because this woman had always been gracious to others when I saw her (though upon reflection she was always around people who were, to outward appearances, Anglo and Christian), but my stomach just roiled. I made a couple of low-key remarks that made it clear I didn't agree and didn't care to hear more, and she eventually wound down.

Afterwards, when my partner and I were alone, I said something along the lines of, "How can I ever look at her the same way?" And my partner was shocked. "Look at where she's come from. Look at everything she's had to overcome in her life. Doesn't that count for anything? How can you judge her on just that one part of her?"

Which floored me. I don't get it. Bigotry isn't some mildly repulsive but ultimately harmless quirk, like picking your teeth with your fingernail at the table. Bigots believe that other human beings aren't quite as human as they are. How do you get around that?

Posted by: Aconite | Dec 23, 2009 5:36:06 PM

G-A-Y: "He wants to do right, and truly thinks he is."

I think the cultural background noise we grow up with deeply affects whether we think to do a bad thing unknowingly is better or worse than doing it knowingly.

The Christian view is that if you don't know it's wrong, you aren't accountable for the wrongness of the action. There is no sin if you don't know what you're doing is bad. For you to be judged on the wrongness of your action, you have to know that it's bad and choose to do it anyway. (Shorter version: "He's doing a bad thing, but he doesn't know it's bad, so he won't go to Hell for it.")

The Buddhist view is different: if you don't know that the bad thing you're doing is bad, that's much, much worse than if you do know, because if you can't even tell right from wrong, you can't choose to do right. (Shorter version: "What kind of moral imbecile do you have to be not to know that's bad?!")

I used to think what mattered was that you genuinely believed what you acted on. I also used to think what mattered was that you cared enough to vote, not what you voted for. I don't believe either of those things anymore.

BTW, "What I know is that when every human lies his or her head down at night, the world turns quiet."--that's a lovely way of putting it.

Posted by: Aconite | Dec 23, 2009 5:57:40 PM

"So, "Pat Boone Christmas Special"-ing them into the idyllic Mister-Rogers-loves-loves-and-gets-along-with-everyone fictional character, sugar coats something much more sinister."

Again, Dick: I find that a very unfair read of what I'm saying/have said to you. So I'm going to remove myself from this thread.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 23, 2009 5:58:14 PM

JH, that is absolutely true, and for that I do apologize. But, while it may have sounded like it, I didn't intend to insinuate that you were the one "Pat Boone Christmas Special"-ing Schneeberger into something more palatable. It was my poorly executed intention to properly infer that the religiots themselves are the ones who strive to foster that belief, and in every way, that is even more Schleazeburger-ish than everything else that they do.

But, I do have a problem with stratifying the hatemongers into categories. Which is worse, A) the true believing fanatic who hurts because they are following GOD's will? or B) the hate filled hater who hurts others just because he loves to hate? And, I realize that there may be some crossover in those two categories.

I think the distinction, though, is mostly immaterial, but in many ways, the first category is absolutely the worst. Some of those in the (A) category are less "convinced" that they are "absolutely" correct, and as such are less dangerous. Those who are less convinced, may also be somewhat subversively undermining their own cause. But, that (A) group is also the group from which suicide-bombers (and the like) emerge. It also may be that the Gagger and all of the others are actually members of that (A) category, and simply are further stratified within it.

But, motivation aside, ultimately actions are what matter. I could be fully convinced that GOD himself was telling me to crap in a paper bag and hurl it at my neighbor's house every day. Or, I might just really hate my neighbors, and as an act of my hatred, I crap in a bag every day, and sling it into the side of their house. Either way, my neighbor's house would be ending up with a lot of shit hurled at it. To my neighbors, the distinction of my intention probably is considerably less important than the fact that I was hurling shit at their house.

I'm just guessing on this, but I think that they would be even more pissed if in every other way I appeared perfectly cordial and "normal". Because that's pretty much insult on top of injury. I don't think that I would want to be "friendly" with my neighbor if they were hurling shit at my house every day.

So it may just be me, but I tend to think of them (and they know who they are) all in the same way, and sometimes that includes using unflattering, cruel, silly, funny or otherwise stupid names when referring to them. And, that's it. I am not seeking to outlaw religion, or relegate them to lower class citizenship. I laugh at them (but, to be fair, they do make it pretty easy to mock/laugh-at them)... it's my defense mechanism, my way of coping with abject hatred. Is that harmful to the "cause" of equality? Perhaps, but I seriously doubt it. Is it harmful to the hatemongers? Absolutely not.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Dec 23, 2009 9:46:47 PM

Fair enough, Dick.

It should be noted that I haven't criticized or asked you to justify your approach. I get it. I have simply expressed my own unique approach, firsthand insight, and point of view.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 23, 2009 10:21:38 PM

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