If there is a worse example of our politics today than this, I’d hate to see it.
Ted Cruz, the ultra-conservative Texas senator running for the GOP’s presidential nomination, spent an evening last week visiting with about a dozen people at the Manhattan home of Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass, the gay proprietors of, among other properties, the Out NYC hotel. Cruz’s opinions about gay marriage are very different from those of the hoteliers. But — gasp! — he and Reisner, in particular, apparently agree about other issues, notably foreign policy and America’s relationship with Israel. So they met to talk about those issues.
Afterward, all hell broke loose.
Cruz was criticized by some social conservatives for the get-together, in part because he reportedly made some comments that reflected tolerance toward gay people. But this backlash was puny in comparison to what hit Reisner and Weiderpass.
For meeting with Cruz — not endorsing him, not holding a fund-raiser for him, but merely meeting with him — they face boycott threats against their businesses. Broadway Cares, an organization focused on H.I.V. and AIDS, canceled a large event that was to be held at one of their clubs. When Reisner finally capitulated with an apology on his Facebook page, the majority of people commenting rejected it as too little, too late and too self-serving.
Folks, we are in serious trouble when people who disagree with each other on one issue cannot even talk privately about another issue without both sides being criticized in public, and one of them facing a boycott. We hear all the time that Republicans must broaden their tent to include more groups of people, and yet when a Republican running for president meets with a person from one such group, the response is to castigate the latter person as a traitor who must be broken, socially and financially. We hear all the time that conservatives must learn to be more “tolerant” (a word I put in quotes because of how often it is misused in these discussions), and yet the more vicious backlash here, by far, was on the part of those who demand tolerance. We hear all the time that politics must focus more on what brings us together than on our divisions, and yet when two people attempt to talk about their common interests, critics put all the attention on that which divides.
If you have ever accused social conservatives of stubbornly injecting their sense of morality into all manner of other issues, perhaps you should take issue with the folks who wrung an apology out of Ian Reisner for having a conversation with a particular person and then told him it wasn’t good enough. If you think businesses that would deny any kind of service to a gay couple deserve whatever economic ruin comes their way, perhaps you should take a look at this case and wonder if a politicized, weaponized commerce might not one day be turned on someone closer to your positions.
Despite its popular usage today, “tolerance” does not mean demanding others deal with you on your terms alone — or that other people deal with others on … your terms alone. It does not mean punishing those who don’t act precisely as you’d have them act.
It means the opposite of those things.