SOMETIMES, TOLERANCE IS INAPPROPRIATE
by New Times Staff - Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
(Parting Shots)

Every week in this space, the Syracuse New Times will give you a piece of our mind. For what it’s worth.

This essay changed over the weekend.

It was going mention Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who was asked recently if he would ban abortion if he were president. He believes abortion is wrong, but he said that in a country that’s divided 50/50 about whether women should have access to abortion and under what circumstances, a ban wasn’t practical.

“I think where the country is, is somewhere in the middle, and we are not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise,” Paul said.

That, it should surprise no one, made the most conservative end of the Republican base unhappy.

“Considering he wants to be known for being principled as opposed to pandering, he needs to reconsider his statements,” Mollie Hemingway wrote in The Federalist.

Pandering? By observing that half the country wants abortion to be safe and available to women? We wonder how anyone who would put themselves forward to lead this nation could ever ignore the views of half its people. Do we want, with every election, for the new president to seek to ban or unban abortion? What’s not principled about trying to avoid that?

And that was the point to be made here: It’s not healthy when any deviation from acceptable doctrine is attacked, either from the right or the left. One side or another should not jam its views on divisive issues down the throats of the other side (and we observe here that pro-choice people don’t insist anyone get an abortion, only that those who wrestle with the decision have the option).

Ed Griffin-Nolan made the point earlier this year, when he observed that both presumptive local congressional candidates are saddled with supporters who want to paint the opponents as extremists, regardless of their positions. And it’s the point Bob Herz, a conservative, made a few weeks ago in the Rant and Rave section when he observed that Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was being pilloried from the left for taking a position in 2008 that was similar at the time to the views of relatively liberal politicians, like President Barack Obama.

It’s time to end the overreaction to people who stray from the dogma, this essay was going to say. It’s time to be more tolerant, to widen the range of what’s considered acceptable, on both the right and the left.

Then along came Donald Sterling.

Sterling, 80, is the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, and he was caught on tape telling his former companion, Vanessa Stiviano, 31, that she shouldn’t post photos of herself with black people on Instagram (“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people”) and that she shouldn’t bring people like, say, former NBA star Magic Johnson to see the Clippers play (“Don’t bring blacks to my games”).

Sterling has said the audio tape doesn’t reflect his views and raised questions about whether it had been doctored by a former mistress seeking revenge.

But the ironies abound.

The obvious one: The vast majority of athletes in the NBA are black. The slightly less obvious one: A lot of black people buy tickets to see NBA games. The disturbing one: Stiviano is of mixed race; on the tape, she identifies herself as “black and Mexican, whether you like it or not.”

And Sterling’s critics noticed.

“Sterling basically articulated Plantation Politics … Make money off the Bucks/Lay with the Women/No Association in Public good or bad,” tweeted David West, a forward for the Indiana pacers.

Now, invoking “plantation politics” is usually as inappropriate and unwarranted as Nazi comparisons. But it’s hard to argue with it in this context.

And so here we are, preparing to call for more tolerance and less punitive reactions to people’s opinions … and there’s the Sterling tape. We can’t legislate how people think or feel, but sitting quietly by without comment about such racism isn’t OK.

We need to say that these sorts of views are unacceptable in a nation based on democratic ideals and basic civil rights. Donald Sterling will think what he will, but we need to let him and people like him know clearly and powerfully that the rest of us won’t be silent, for fear silence will be interpreted as acceptance.

Cut some slack for Rand Paul and Brendan Eich. Not for Sterling.

(PICTURED: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks at a news conference in New York, April 29, 2014. Silver banned Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, for life and fined him $2.5 million for making racist comments. (Damon Winter/The New York Times)

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