Last week’s posts all address the difficult issue of the relationship between public appearance and private beliefs and actions.
Mormons, Muslims, Atheists, Gays and Lesbians are unlikely to become President, Michael Corey reports. Large percentages of Americans would be unlikely to vote for these minorities for the highest office in the land according to a recent Gallop poll. This contrasts with other groups that have historically been objects of intolerance. Only small percentages of the population reveal an unwillingness to vote for a Hispanic, Jew, Baptist, Catholics, woman or African American. Given the definitive role that racism has played in American history, it is striking that of these historically excluded groups, the least amount of prejudice is directed toward African Americans. This represents significant progress. That Mormons, Muslims, Atheists, gays and lesbians don’t fare so well shows that progress is a slow and uneven process. To be sure, even in the case of African Americans and women, the taboo against the expression of prejudice may depress the numbers, as Felipe and Andrew maintained in their replies. There is private prejudice, public denial.
Corey proposes two special reasons for the persistence of prejudice against Mormons, true belief, i.e. ideological certainty, and “know-nothingism,” i.e. intentional ignorance. Michael Weinman explores how these are produced and reproduced in Israel, not only as a matter of official public policy, but more significantly in the naming of a picture book character, Elmer the Patchwork Elephant. The project of official policy to Hebraize the names in East Jerusalem is transparent. Every day practices and expectations about in group and out group relations are more fundamental than the official project of exclusion, resulting in more durable effects. The public project to disappear Arab Jerusalem is strongly supported by the intimate working of primary socialization, turning a difficult political conflict into an impossible one.
The passage of the marriage equality law in New York is a milestone. Changes in everyday practices preceded the event. With gays and lesbians in their diversity more visible, their exclusion from marriage (and the military) became harder to sustain. The way we lived suggested one legal framework. The way we live mandated another. The official public is catching up with private everyday practices.
And as the legal framework changes, so do everyday practice: thus, Americans have become accustomed to have access to public support of medical care in their old age. Even conservative Republicans, who initially denounced Medicare as the beginning of the end of freedom in America, now must maintain their support, as they are proposing fundamental changes to the program, which Democrats see as a dismantling. With this in mind, Gary Alan Fine expects such Republican support of Obamacare, in the long run.
President Obama is a reluctant supporter of gay marriage. While he applauded the passing of the New York law last week, he carefully didn’t openly endorse change in Federal policy. Republicans say they support Medicare, while they propose policies that may dismantle it. Even the casual observer can read between the lines. Obama’s opposition to gay marriage is insincere, as is Republican support of Medicare. Americans, further, may indeed be more prejudiced against blacks, less prejudiced against Mormons than the Gallop poll indicates. Personal conviction may contrast with public appearance and expression.
But note how important appearance and expression are. If a person is afraid to utter openly racist conviction, it is less likely that the person will be willing to engage in overt racist action. The hypocrisy constitutes a social control. When Obama publicly supports gay marriage, it will be a big deal (my guess before the next elections). It will help extend the normality of equality for those with various sexual orientations. While Republican direct attack on Medicare is unlikely (no matter how they feel about it), when they stop attacking Obama’s healthcare reform and start suggesting ways to improve it (perhaps still wanting to undermine Obamacare) it will also be a big deal. How one is hypocritical matters.
But please only two cheers. Sometimes hypocrisy deserves its bad reputation, as in the Strauss-Kahn affair. Charged with rape in New York, DSK is likely to get off here. He appears to be innocent, though he may not be, but in such a case appearance is enough. As we discussed in the replies to my report on Daniel Dayan’s reaction to the affair, Strauss-Kahn may even have a significant political life in France. Yet, a can of worms was opened, and despite some valiant attempts to get those damn worms back in by the likes of Bernard-Henri Lévy, there are still important questions that arise from the case concerning the relationship between public appearance and private belief and actions. Lévy pretends that the private actions of Strauss-Kahn are not at issue and that the biggest scandal has been his public humiliation. Yet, it is clear to me that the private life of public men sometimes should be examined. DSK stands accused of rape in another case, in France this time, not by a lowly chambermaid, but by a member of the French cultural-political elite. An official public appearance of innocence may or may not be supported by private witness. This is and should be a public issue. The public prerogatives of power should be subjected to critical examination. I hope they are not hidden by a resurgence of anti-Americanism in France, as has been reported by The New York Times. No cheers for xenophobia and chauvinism. Only two for hypocrisy. Because sometimes, it should be revealed, with consequences.