`Duck Dynasty,' Politics and Family Ties

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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Earlier today Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about the year that was. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

Ramesh: 2013 is ending with a bit of culture-war acrimony, and it's not the "war on Christmas" this time: It's A&E's personnel policies that have kicked up the controversy. I don't think there are hard-and-fast rules that critics can use to judge these things, but I'd prefer that there be a high bar before people start calling for other people to get fired. And I think that one of the distinctions we should make involves malice: Martin Bashir, formerly of MSNBC, spoke with malice toward a specific person; Phil Robertson, star of A&E's "Duck Dynasty," said some coarse things about homosexuality and some insensitive things about race, but he had no malice. He should keep his job. Of course it's the network's right to can him if it wants, as it is also his fans' right to boycott it. What do you think, Margaret?

Margaret: I wanted Martin Bashir fired with prejudice. He shouldn't get the chance to be so vulgar and mean again. It's a privilege to be on television because it is, literally, a microphone. Robertson's offense was to be so cruel and graphic and to dehumanize gays, the type of dehumanizing that made it all right to spit on blacks and so much more. Doesn't loving God and your neighbor trump some other Biblical teachings? Pope Francis didn't change the Catholic position on gay marriage, but he did preach tolerance and kindness when he said, "Who am I to judge them if they're seeking the Lord in good faith?" With the ruling in favor of gay marriage in Utah, the laws are creeping closer to "Duck Dynasty" land. When Robertson knows someone who's openly gay, maybe he'll be less crude and cruel.

Ramesh: I don't agree with Robertson that gay men just need to awaken to the glories of the female body. But I really don't think he intended to be cruel or dehumanizing: As I read him, he was grouping homosexual sex with other kinds of sexual sins, including some he suggests he has himself committed. It was a love-the-sinner, hate-the-sin message. Many people reject this way of thinking, of course, but it doesn't strike me as hateful. Are you, um, ducking the question of whether the network should let him stay on the air? As for Utah, I think it's amazing that the Supreme Court may let a federal district judge decide that the state has to recognize same-sex marriage. If the court doesn't think that's what the Constitution demands, it should reverse the decision; if it does think that, it should make that ruling. Otherwise the majority is just winking at lawlessness in a cause it approves.

Margaret: No ducking here, just one rant at a time. We might agree on cable network suits. They have no beliefs, only ratings, and right now they are gauging what Robertson's remarks are doing to advertisers and their audience. On his not being hateful, he grouped gays with those who pursue bestiality -- are there such people or is that only thrown out to demean? -- which strikes me as hateful. In the spirit of the season, we may also agree on the Supreme Court. They shouldn't punt. Did you ever see "Big Love," which took place in Utah and glorified polygamy? Utah is one curious state, sexwise. You are too intellectual to engage in lists, but don't you want to pile on "If you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance" as the "Lie of the Year"?

Ramesh: Oh, there will be plenty of time to pile on President Barack Obama and Obamacare in 2014: I'm not worried about losing opportunities. Instead, I'll pile on PolitiFact. Sure, it made the right call on Obama's lie -- years after it could have made a difference. When it mattered, PolitiFact was calling the Republicans who pointed out the truth liars. And of course the group is dissembling about its record, just like a politician. The difference is that politicians, unlike fact-checkers, don't hold themselves out as though they were giving you the view from Mount Olympus.

Margaret: Can I segue to the Biggest Loser of the Year? So many are competing, but my vote goes to Liz Cheney, who carpetbagged to Wyoming and arrogantly thought she could challenge a conservative Republican who'd done nothing wrong just because she was a Cheney. She is not only going to lose the race, but she also lost her sister, Mary, publicly. Her father weighed in to warn voters not to take her "compassion" for Mary to be approval for gay marriage. So she feels sorry for her sister. Today marks a new phase in my life as my older brother moves in with me and out of his group home, where there isn't enough care. I recounted the first chapter of my life with Jimmy in the New York Times. 2014 is going to be an interesting time in a way I didn't imagine a few weeks ago.

Ramesh: I'm still rooting for Liz Cheney -- because, among other things, not doing anything wrong is too low a bar for a senator. And I'm rooting for the Carlson household, too, misguided political views and all. May the new year be happy for you both, and all our Bloomberg colleagues.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the authors on this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net
Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net