Thursday, February 09, 2006

Truth as a Defense. I've read a couple of things since the funeral. As Howard Kurtz notes, in the WaPo,
Whether you think it was appropriate or galling for Jimmy Carter and Rev. Joseph Lowery to use a funeral to take partisan shots at a president who was sitting behind them, this was news.
As I indicated, just below, I thought this was crass -- but others, including conservative commentators James Taranto and Mark Byron didn't find it so bad.

Lee Harris, on the other hand, aptly describes the situation,
This week, at the funeral for the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, two of the speakers, Jimmy Carter and Rev. Joseph Lowery, might have opened their remarks by saying that they came not to bury Coretta Scott King, but to bash Bush, which is exactly what they proceeded to do. They exploited a solemn occasion in order to take cheap pot shots at the President, keenly aware that their remarks would be broadcast around the world, and into many American classrooms.

Of course, both Carter and Lowery were also aware that the target of their attack, George W. Bush, was sitting right behind them. Had he not been present on the occasion, their Bush-bashing would have only been an affront to good taste. But because Bush had come there to honor the memory of Coretta Scott King, and not to engage in a debate with his political opponents, the attacks on him crossed the boundaries of mere bad taste, and became low blows. They were deliberately attacking a man who they knew could not, under the circumstances, defend himself against their assault. Their aim was quite obvious -- to embarrass and humiliate Bush in the full knowledge that there was not a thing Bush could decently do about it.
I've listened to the defenders of Rev. Joseph Lowery (and Carter although, as I indicated, by that point in the funeral, I was gone -- I had to get to work) to understand their point. As best I understand it, their defense is truth. Even Mark Byron set out this defense:
I wasn't appreciating the digs that folks were getting in at Dubya's expense, but it was within their character, speaking what they saw as the truth to the power in front of them.
In his initial response (and a comment to my posting below) UCC Seminarian Chuck Currie used this defense. Now his response is a modification of that -- it's the Jack Nicholson "You can't handle the truth" response. Anyone who disagrees is a "right winger" who "Just Hates Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King." (I'm glad to see the spirit of moderateness and temperance still lives in the UCC.)

As an aside, before I proceed, not all the commenters agreed with Currie -- there was a moderate spirit there trying to persuade him to the contrary. I particularly liked this:
While I may agree with what was said, there is no one on this earth that could make me believe that Mrs. King would have wanted an invited guest to be embarrassed. There is a time and a place for everything and I think what Rev. Lowery and President Carter did today was terrible. A funeral is not the place for partisan politics. It was to lift up Mrs. King - not the time for digs at a President.

No, truth is not a defense to charges of gracelessness or crassness. It never has been.

Let's try an experiment. Imagine if President Bush had stood up and said something that included the following lines:
  • On October 10, 1963, the Attorney General of the United States, Robert F. Kennedy, authorized the wiretapping of Dr. King's telephones, and then hotel rooms. He did this even though Dr. King was not a terrorist, always preached and lived a life of non-violence. He did this even though Dr. King was a U.S. Citizen, living in the U.S.
  • The tapes were played for the President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democrat, who enjoyed the salacious details.
  • The government of the United States even delivered a copy of the tapes to Coretta exposing her to the sordid details of his infidelity. An infidelity that whet beyond the '?lusts of the heart'? in the words of one former president and were more akin to the exploits of another president....
  • Yes, Dr. King was not always with his wife, but at least none of his lovers drowned while he was driving...
  • Why the President of the United States, Democrat Lyndon Johnson couldnÂ?t even find the time to attend the funeral of Martin Luther KingÂ?.
Yuck . . . I can'?t go on. All I'?ve written above it "?true"? yet, it'?s disgusting -? it'?s beyond crass. We'd all be condemning him. (Except, maybe the right-wingers, which sort of proves my point about people like Currie.)

In short, like what Lowery did, it doesn't belong at a funeral.

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