Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC5) got her fifteen minutes of fame this week in the worst possible way. The lady really stepped into a economy size bear trap on the floor of the house with her comments on the Matthew Shepard hate crime bill. For those who have been living under a rock the money quote:
“The bill was named after a very unfortunate incident that happened, where a young man was killed, but we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of robbery. It wasn’t because he was gay. The bill was named for him, the hate crimes bill was named for him, but it’s, it’s really a hoax, that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.” Extra compassion points for delivering said speech while Shepard’s mom was in the gallery of the House.
This is what the Republican Party or at least a portion of it has devolved to. Ms. Foxx’s speech was completely off kilter. At best she was totally ignorant of the facts of the case. The authorities in Montana declared that the motives of Matthew’s killers were mainly driven by anti-gay hostilities. The robbery was secondary to the assault and eventual death of Mr. Shepard. Please remember that this Montana Law Enforcement making tease claims not ACTUP or other gay rights organizations
But that is neither here nor there for Republicans like Ms Foxx. She is obligated by Party politics, especially the politics of Republican Primary to pander to the Evangelical right. Of course there is pandering and then there is pandering. Ms. Foxx forgot that because she works in the House of Representatives she is also a national figure. Thus by pandering to the biases of NC-5 she offended the rest of the United States.
Ms. Foxx has tried to back pedal as best she can. But the shear ignorance of her comments leaves her in a deep hole. Let’s strip away the politics and go straight to the personal, the basic human decency, the Miss Manors quotient. Matthew Shepard’s death was appalling, it was gruesome and most importantly it was cowardly. If Mat were not gay and the particulars the same the good people of Montana would have been demanding rough justice on the perpetrators. Leaving that man sitting out on a barb-wire fence to suffer a long painful death was the most salient fact of the case. Robbers, even in Montana, don’t routinely leave their victims in such extremis. The very act displayed an extraordinary viciousness not common to most robberies. To belittle the craven act as just some kind of robbery gone awry was the height of bad manners. It was petty, it was small, it was needlessly hurtful and unfortunately it was absolutely essential for Ms. Foxx’s anti-gay bone fides.
This is because one Ms Foxx and her ilk are forced to concede that people do commit awful crimes against other people because of fear and bigotry it is game over for their obstructionist cause. Let’s get down to reality, homophobic males have been queer-bashing with impunity since before the founding of the republic and hate crimes legislation would put an end to that. The homophobes and other bigots want to continue to be thugs without consequence: they want to be able to beat up on queers, dikes, fairies, or any other person that does not fit their version of proper macho correctness. In short they want to continue to act like thugs without any consequences. That is why it is so important for Matthew Shepard’s death to be the result of a robbery instead of what it was, a grievous assault perpetrated on a man who’s only offense was to be an outed gay.
In a way it’s a shame, there is a good rocked ribbed law-and-order way to oppose hate crimes legislation. Instead of creating a “specially protected class” of people one could argue that the law should only look at the end results of the crime and nothing else. This way we would not have to guess the motives and motivation of the perpetrators. Just look at the facts of the case. If an aggravated assault leads to the death of the victim then that very fact could lead to much harsher penalties. Ditto for the case where there are multiple assailants. In the case of multiple assailants the leader of the group could be singled out for harsher punishment. Society at large could simple state that it will not tolerate assault and battery for any reason and will punish such act severely. Simply put the societies bottom line could be “we don’t care why you beat up another citizen, when you do so we will toss you in jail and let you rot there.” Such an attitude would be forceful, consistent and logical; thus it does not have a prayer of getting past the legislative sausage maker.
Unfortunately for sweet reason there are too many culturally ingrained “justifications” especially for males to settle matters with fists. Thus we are burdened with the codification of these “justifications.” We are forced to explain in law when protecting our macho priorities end and when protecting a pacific society begins. This whole conundrum begins at the kindergarten playground and never truly ends. Should the boy (or girl) buck up and take the bully on his (or her) own or should the school impose order via policies and procedures? The school does have to impose some sort of order or chaos will ensure- the kids will quickly devolve into a Hobbesian struggle of the all vs. the all. How much control is enough?
What is true for the school playgrounds it written larger for the general society. Hate Crimes legislation is basically trying to control the behavior of the grown-up school yard bullies. The bullies have not truly changed; they still prey on the week, the easy marks, the disliked, those least able to defend themselves. The bullies are still the craven, vicious, small minded thugs they always have been. The bullies still gather with like minded souls to better harass their victims. The only thing that has changed is the stakes of the game. It is no longer about bloody noses on the playground, it now about lives. It is about the lives of millions of people who are harassed, beaten, and abused. It is about people who can not go about their lives with out some chucklehead feeling he has the “right” to administer a beat down on them. It is about the use of excessive force to impose conformity for conformity’s sake.
In the end that is the very confrontational conformity that Ms. Foxx is attempting to defend.. She and the people she represents are upset that the larger society no longer supports their brand of conformity. They are upset that the larger consensus is moving toward acceptance of difference vice suppression of difference.
It is said a gaff is saying something one truly believes that is not politically popular. Ms Foxx was providing a small view into her real opinions. Mat Shepard's case is a hoax to her because Mat Shepard deserved what happened to him. It was only a robbery because thumping on the dreaded gay is perfectly acceptable. Those silly cowboys just got a little out of control. We certainly don’t need a law to protect people like Mat Shepard (read "evil, deviant, gays") so we will use any bogus argument that comes to mind. And when we are called out on our crass bigotry and appealing to the worst instincts of our constituents we will offer some lame non-apology apology because any real act of contrition will ruin our chances for reelection in 2010.
One wonders if the good people of NC-5 will ever find the minimal decency or compassion to realize that even if you have solid reason to object to the gay lifestyle there is still no justification for allowing independent actors taking "justice" in their own hands. There is no justification for beating a young man to death just because he is gay. There is no justification for beating him at all. There is no good reason to try to sweep the particulars of Mat Shepard's death under the rug. The punishment did not meet the crime; thus the federal government is attempting to rectify that shortcoming via legislation. Those who object are no friends of law and order; they are nothing more than modern day Visigoths trying to escape the consequences of their behavior.