Whenever the subject comes up, conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg jokes that he feels a bit like he’s picking up opposition communications when he listens to NPR. Every now and then on his podcast, Bill Bartholomew gives me the same feeling.
Most of the time, the difference of Bartholomewtown resides in the sorts of guests who appear on the show or the general thrust of the questions. Sometimes, however, the conversation takes place so many ideological assumptions deep that a conservative can only listen as if to a surrealist novel or coded dispatches from foreign spies.
Not surprisingly, one such episode was the one featuring drag queen activist Naomi Chomsky. From the beginning, Bartholomew and his guest proceed on the assumption that drag queen story hour is wholesome. What’s surreal and disconcerting is that the two of them seem unable to comprehend why others might disagree. It’s simply posed, “What could be more wholesome than that?” (I think that’s a direct quote, but I haven’t gone back and checked.)
Frankly, one gets the impression that such principles must be asserted as if they are obvious because they aren’t obvious at all, but pretty clearly a subversive opposite. I’m reminded of Andrew Sullivan’s insistence in the early days of the same-sex marriage debate that we all had to get past the “circular fiat” of a definition. Brushing aside the fact that activists were seeking to change a definition was intrinsic to the argument that there was no reason not to change it. When asked directly, mainstream journalists would acknowledge that one could oppose same-sex marriage for reasons other than bigotry, but they never presented the issue as if that were true.
A particularly educational aspect of the Chomsky Bartholomewtown episode is how much is smuggled in with the initial assumption. Even if one were to accept for argument’s sake the proposition that drag queen story hour could be wholesome, this particular drag queen chose a stage name to be explicitly ideological.
Over the course of the interview, Chomsky celebrates the Russian Revolution and looks forward to something similar in the United States, talks about hanging Confederates, and calls minority and homosexual police officers “traitors to their communities.” And somehow a wig, a dress, and a bunch of makeup makes it obviously wholesome for this radical to read to children. Contrast that with the experience of Karen Siegemund, who lost her job teaching math in California explicitly because she’d said something positive about Western Civilization in a speech outside of the school.
One needn’t agree with me that the subversiveness of drag is entirely reinforcing of the subversiveness of Chomsky’s entire ideological program to acknowledge a crucial point: All of the important arguments are simply brushed aside because — consciously or not — the people having the conversation refuse to entertain them. Pair that with activists’ having created an environment in which other people don’t want to raise the obvious objections and you can see what dangerous times we’re living in.