June 20, 2014

A new tag: "homophobia politics."

Yesterday, I said that I'm watching the "Emerging trend" of "Democrats insinuating that Republican politicians are gay," and I wanted a tag to express what I'm trying to say. The idea is that there is a background idea that a Republican politician is vulnerable to rumors of homosexuality on the theory that those who might vote for this person have an animus toward gay people.

This is only a background idea, not something to say directly. Obviously, you can't just blurt out your suspicions of gayness the way Brian Schweitzer stupidly did (described at the link). You need to find ways to insinuate, to say it without saying it — and I have long had a tag for that kind of thing: unsaid things.

Unsaid things is one of my favorite topics, and things that fall into this category are things that, aptly enough, most people would leave unsaid. There's a convention in human society not to outline the secret motives of others. As long as someone hasn't actually said something, you ought not to act as though you know what that thing is. But I'm here to transgress on that convention. I think I can and should do it because:

1. I know how to frame sentences so that I don't say what I don't know (using any number of phrases like I suspect that and What X could be thinking is or One might speculate that…).

2. It is my belief that high-level political players do a lot of dirty work this way.

3. Some of the worst human impulses — such as racism and sexism — are released by this kind of messaging. I have a racial politics tag and a gender politics tag, so homophobia politics belongs in the tag set.

4. I blog based on what I find interesting, and I think that there is nothing more interesting than the inside of other people's heads. Every day I celebrate the wonder of having a human mind of my own, and it is fascinating to look around at other people and know that each one of them contains an equivalent universe.

5. I have heard the moralistic chiding to take people at their word, but that can't be the general rule, not if you want to be a competent citizen in a democracy. In some human relationships, you might choose to take another person at his word, but that in itself is a decision based on an assessment of what you think is in that other person's head.

6. I've been part of the law and lawyer-manufacturing enterprise for 3 and a half decades, and I know an awful lot about the way language is used in manipulative ways to put ideas in other people's head without saying things that you have reason not to say. Lawyers' arguments and judges' opinions necessarily leave unsaid the things that don't belong within the legal framework. (Revisit item #1, supra.)

7. I've been pushed back so many times over 10 years of blogging. I have heard about how this sort of thing is unbecoming, unseemly, and unmannerly, and how no one is going to like me anymore if I don't stop. Which is to say, I've built up my toughness, and it makes me particularly fit to do something that needs to be done.


Mid-Life Lawyer said...

Love it. One of the most maddening things about political discourse today is that often when a person (usually a conservative type person) has had something "insinuated" about them and they fight back, then they are perceived, or really painted by media and others, as being reactionary or paranoid and then they, the original victim, are piled upon.

Anonymous said...

This is nothing new. I remember being surprised when I found out Andrew Breitbart had a wife and kid(s?). I just assumed he was a gay guy who had his head on straight because I made the mistake of trusting Democrat media operatives who insisted he was gay. So instead of a straight headed gay guy I found out he was a straight headed straight guy. Either way he was a good guy to have around.

Bob Ellison said...

Interesting essay. I applaud your effort.

On your point #1, everyone knows how to do this. Most people who write don't know when they're doing it. It's a cultural thing: people say "some are suggesting" or "I think that" when they should just state the facts as they perceive them. "I think the sky is blue" is weak. "The sky is blue" is strong.

I don't read other languages expertly, and I wonder whether other cultures have this weak writing tendency.

On your point #2, you are correct. Furthermore, that dirty-work tendency helps explain why people keep complaining about dog whistles and the like. Most of us don't use dog whistles, but politicos project that everyone uses them all the time. Very self-centered.

traditionalguy said...

You are on the target. Fire at will.

Gabriel Hanna said...

I think that your project of saying what someone else wishes to leave unsaid is a good one, provided that it is supported by evidence other than the words of the speaker.

Otherwise you're just accusing them of "dog whistling", which is a species of ad hominem--we disregard what a person says because of the motives we assume they have for saying it.

Saint Croix said...

Unsaid things is one of my favorite topics, and things that fall into this category are things that, aptly enough, most people would leave unsaid. There's an convention in human society not to outline the secret motives of others. As long as someone hasn't actually said something, you ought not to act as though you know what that thing is. But I'm here to transgress on that convention.

Oh, I wish you would do this on abortion! There are so many unsaid things in this area, it's not even funny. Including the fact that so many women cannot talk about their abortions.

Why are we hiding abortion photographs? How can we say that we believe in freedom and liberty and choice for women while we have to censor and deny and repress?

Krumhorn said...

Ann is going to explore the world of unsaid things, bless her heart.

- Krumhorn

Carol said...

When someone like ol' Gov. BS pops off like this, I wish someone say "-and what's wrong with being gay?" since that is the prevailing assumption.

CStanley said...

I guess I don't see this phenomenon, to whatever degree it exists, as odious as you seem to see it.

To some extent, the "homophobia" of conservatives is really a preference for strongly defined gene peer roles. So taking for example the incident in the '12 campaign where Obama mocked Romney for using the word "marvelous". Perhaps that was an attack on manhood, in a sense, but it is hard for me to imagine that it was really meant to plant an idea that Romney was a closeted gay.

So if politicians use these veiled attacks to paint their opponents in a way that is unflattering to that opponents' potential base, I don't see how the use of gender role is any different than other characteristics,

Saint Croix said...

It's interesting to compare unsaid things to unseen things. If you don't see something, it may be because of your own ignorance. You're oblivious. You don't see it. I think a lot of young people tend to be pro-choice because they are oblivious. That's why I was pro-choice in my younger days. I had no idea.

It's a process of waking up, of seeing things that you did not see before.

Actually the better analogy would be an unheard thing. I did not see. I did not hear.

An abortion photograph is an unsaid thing, an image that is widely censored in our society. The people who are not saying things are not saying them so that the rest of us will not hear the truth.

n.n said...

Evasive politics. The lawyer's craft is semantic engineering, which is at least one good reason to deny them public office. For similar reasons, people who have been trained in emotional engineering should also be denied public office. As well as people who have been trained in perception engineering, who manufacture terms such as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., which are often a projection of the speaker, or applied with liberal license. The selective nature of each professional distracts from addressing issues on their merit, is often a cause of moral hazards, and promotes an unstable state.

Finally, the metaphor which describes human consciousness as a universe onto itself is quite apt. I have often wondered if other people felt similarly isolated in the vastness of their own mind.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

"There's a convention in human society not to outline the secret motives of others."

Respecting the fatal conceit.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

verb: celebrate; 3rd person present: celebrates; gerund or present participle: celebrating; past tense: celebrated; past participle: celebrated
publicly acknowledge (a significant or happy day or event) with a social gathering or enjoyable activity.
"they were celebrating their wedding anniversary at a restaurant"synonyms: commemorate, observe, mark, keep, honor, remember, memorialize More"they were celebrating their wedding anniversary"

reach (a birthday or anniversary).
perform (a religious ceremony) publicly and duly, in particular officiate at (the Eucharist).
"he celebrated holy communion"

Indeed you celebrate and I sincerely thank you for it.

Zeb Quinn said...

Especially since you included it in the new tag, start with the term "homophobia." A neat political trick: Create the impression that those who dare to disagree or even just question have some sort of mental disorder.

RonF said...

I find the word "homophobia" manipulative in the extreme. A phobia is an unreasoning fear. People who disapprove of homosexual behavior and do not consider that the State should give such behavior official approval or privileges have good reasons for doing so and are not motivated by fear. But actually engaging in discussion on these matters might very well prove unpersuasive for those who take an opposite view, so they have invented the word "homophobia" and apply it to their opponents as an ad hominem attack so as to shut off that very debate.

I'm disappointed in you, Ann, that you would allow yourself to be manipulated in such a fashion and seek to manipulate others as well by using this word.

dbp said...

traditionalguy said...
"You are on the target. Fire at will".

Which one is Will?

n.n said...

Saint Croix:

She has. She describes abortion as premeditated murder (i.e. willful and premature termination of a human life from conception to death).

She has not, as far as I am aware, distinguished between elective and required abortion. She does not speak of the causes which justify committing abortion/murder, including: money, sex, ego, convenience, and population control. She does not speak of the rationalization people have offered to calm their conscience, including: spontaneous conception (e.g. viability), involuntary exploitation (i.e. pregnancy as slavery), etc.

She is pro-choice. While it may not be a badge of honor, it does seem to be an imperative in her circle (e.g. "I am as pro-choice as anyone else" which is presumably directed to "decent" men and women).

It's ironic that people once argued discussing sex was difficult. Today, discussing the responsibilities of sex are difficult. We have experienced a transposition of difficulties. Perhaps it's part of a repeating cycle.

dbp said...

There is an area of, I believe, economics called revealed preferences. The idea is that you find out about people by what they do, not by what they say they like.

Insinuation would seem to have a parallel. If politician X insinuates that his opponent Y is gay, what does this tell us about X?

--Maybe he just really doesn't like Y and is lashing-out. It doesn't make sense as an insult unless X thinks there is something wrong with being gay.

--Maybe X thinks that potential supporters of Y will be put-off by the idea of Y being gay. This tells us that X thinks the potential supporters are anti-gay and feel so strongly about it that they would change their vote on that basis. If X is correct about this, then it is all good, right? Not so fast! Are people like that the sort of people who pick-up on subtle cues? What seems much more likely is that potential supporters of Y will be insulted by the attempt at manipulation and be eager to vote against X.

Marc Winger said...

She makes keeping track of other conservative bloggers bearable.

Nonapod said...

The problem with unsaid things is that they are subjective. A speaker may intend to imply something specific but a listener may infer something completely different. And two different listeners can infer two completely different unsaid things. I just dislike the imprecision of it all. What the Professor finds fascinating I find frustrating.

rhhardin said...

Some of the worst human impulses — such as racism and sexism

Altruism too.

KLDAVIS said...

"There's a convention in human society not to outline the secret motives of others. As long as someone hasn't actually said something, you ought not to act as though you know what that thing is."

Any evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, the narrator of this blog lacks omniscience.

traditionalguy said...

Speaking of firing at Will, Will is the Playwrite who most took over our minds since ancient Greece..

The power of suggestion of mental images resulting in seed thoughts that we can connect to a present context of people and places is what can make us into the good guy and the winner.

That is what trial lawyers are doing in courtrooms; and playwrites are doing on stages of actors and scenery. The structured trial rigmarole and the often mis-quoted laws are the secondary tools.

The Play is the thing.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Democrats insinuating that Republican politicians are gay...

... Not that there's anything *wrong* with that... (credit Seinfeld)

Michael P said...

I submit that homophobia is no longer that powerful in the Republican party, and that the really damaging allegation would be that so-and-so is secretly an atheist.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

In England you can sue for libel for such insinuations.

Liberace won a verdict for a publication's use of the term "fruit-flavored".

It would be interesting to go back over those English cases to see if any of the winners were actually straight men.

William said...

It has to be done well, or it runs the risk of looking manipulative. I see many times when people on the news or in the movies are obviously tugging at the strings, and it makes them look bad. At a certain point, the dogs have to eat the dog food. I'm not opposed to gay marriage, but I just don't think watching Michael Douglas make out with Matt Damon is entertaining or enlightening.

mtrobertsattorney said...

What are the rules for determining what was "said" without it actually being said and can these rules be taught?

If the mind hears statement "x" but concludes that statement "x" should be translated to really mean statement "y", there must be some chain of reasoning that justifies this conclusion. And that chain of reasoning, if it is to be taken seriously, must rest on logical steps.

Absent this, simply jumping from "x" to "y" makes human communication all but impossible. impossible.

So we're back to the original question: what are the rational principles that govern this kind of translation?

The Godfather said...

Is "homophobia politics" limited to the situation you've discussed, where someone insinuates that an ostensibly straight politician is gay? Or does it apply where the object of the comments is in fact gay, or is reasonably thought to be gay, and does it apply where the comment is not a sly insinuation but an actual accusation? For example if Barney Frank were still in or seeking political office, would it be homophobia politics for someone to say, This guy is not the best candidate because he can't empathize with the struggling families in his district (or because his conduct is immoral?) Another example: Sen. Barbara Mikulski has been widely regarded in Maryland as probably a lesbian, but I don't think she's "out". When she first ran for the Senate in 1986, there were at least insinuations about her "lifestyle", and I think some outright accusations. Would that be "homophobia politics"?

I'm not advocating a position one way or the other. I just want to understand the scope of the subject.

Jupiter said...

"Some of the worst human impulses — such as racism and sexism - "

If racism and sexism were the worst human impulses, or even, say, the 20th and 21st worst human impulses, the world would be a vastly better place. One would think that a Law Professor would know a little something about human impulses.

PB Reader said...

I find that men who are so interested in the sexuality of other men are either homophobic or closeted homosexuals.

Besides isn't "gaydar" something that homosexuals pride themselves on having?

n.n said...


To be fair, Althouse has presented the term in a context where the use of "homophobia" refers to projection by the speaker in order to create leverage, specifically political. It's a common exploitation of language, emotion, and circumstance used by people who prefer to avoid discussing issues on their merits. So, "homophobia politics" -- at least in this context -- is actually an admonishment of the speaker, not his subject.

n.n said...


While the term "homophobia politics" is inherently dual-use, it is most often abused and exploited by the speaker.

Another term which has fallen into disrepute is "bigot" or sanctimonious hypocrite. The term loses its significance when the speaker does not recognize or acknowledge the logical or natural principles of their opponent's argument. This is especially problematic when principles are ignored or denied, then selectively applied in other instances. This is the basis for creating moral hazards.

Saint Croix said...

You need to find ways to insinuate, to say it without saying it — and I have long had a tag for that kind of thing: unsaid things.

What Althouse is talking about is an indirect way of communication. Suggestive, rather than frank. I think of it as a feminine style. But there are also a lot of men who play this game. It's a cultured game of politics, of lies and deceit as opposed to blunt straight-forward attack.

I met a pro-life women who was just appalled at my idea that our media should show abortion photographs. She thought it was an awful idea. She didn't want to see the atrocity.

I felt like a bull in a china shop, having this conversation. I am just an uncouth man, I guess. My way is direct. But there are a lot of pro-lifers--maybe most pro-lifers--who are indirect.

For instance, the Catholic Church often frames any abortion discussion in regard to when life begins. That's the nice, happy question.

It's an indirect question, though. You see how indirect it is? The implicit argument is that abortion kills a baby. But you're not making that argument explicit. And this shying away from the actual question is very unhelpful when trying to answer the question.

When do people die? That's the mean, ugly, harsh question. That's the question I ask. I'm not smarter than the Catholic Church, or the Supreme Court. I'm just more blunt. I'm ruder. If you want to solve the homicide question, we need to focus on the death of a baby.

We have death statutes that answer this question. And we have consensus in all 50 states. The legal question is actually quite easy. It's asking the question that is hard. We don't ask the right question, because of all the upset.

Killing a baby upsets us. Of course it does.

That pro-life movie, Hard Truth, has it exactly right. It is hard. It's brutal. You're looking at the murder of a baby. But without this directness and hard attitude, you can miss the truth of it.

One of the things that's so admirable about Althouse--and why so many men love to read her--is that she is so good at finding the truth hidden under layers of pretension, sophistication, and deceit.

Unsaid things is one of my favorite topics.

Althouse has done a huge amount of posts on abortion. But I don't think she's done a lot of analysis finding the unsaid things in Roe, the unsaid things in Casey. She likes those cases. She does not want to rip into them.

If and when she does, look out!

mikee said...

President Obama: "Some people say..."

Nobody but folks who need a straw man.