Dan Savage: Just Another Symptom of an Ongoing Problem

First, watch the Dan Savage speech

Dan Savage, outspoken gay rights advocate who has been best-known the past two years for “It Gets Better”, has been sending what amounts to a mixed message lately. I say mixed because “It Gets Better” is supposed to be an anti-bullying movement, but Savage recently gave a speech to high schoolers which could fit a reasonable person’s definition of bullying.

Not surprisingly, those who happen to agree with Savage say it’s not bullying; it’s righteous anger.  Bullying or not, he definitely was in attack mode. As the video clip shows, he came out swinging. His tone wasn’t “let’s find a way to respect each other even as we see things differently.”

Intentional provocation, followed by feigned “who? little old me? a trouble-maker?”, is always interesting to watch, in that it doesn’t fool anyone. Bu what saddens me is that much of what I have read the last week from those who have called for civilized discourse have been excusing Savage’s remarks. I fail to see how they can reasonably reconcile their calls for respectful disagreement with their defense of Savage.

I’ve been saying for years that civility will happen when people clean their own house (in this case, when those who agree with Savage’s perspective will tell him to tone it down, and when those who have diametrically opposite viewpoints on this topic tell the loudmouths who agree with them to clam up if they can’t talk nice), and not before. Exactly the opposite has been happening, and it’s not getting better.

Civility is a trendy conversation topic these days. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone who’s calling for civility, and IMO, it’s not just a nice blog topic; it’s a great thing to strive for. What passes for meaningful discussion these days is truly saddening, especially when compared to, say, how MLK or Rosa Parks went about expressing their views. History tells us that they managed to accomplish great things, and facilitate needed change in our nation, and not once did they ever resort to the tactics employed by Mr Savage.

Not that Dan Savage is alone, of course. He’s simply falling into line behind those cartoon characters who showed the way to greater ratings and increased book royalties. Ultimately, Savage comes across as just another flavor of Rush Limbaugh: a loud guy with no original thoughts, who makes a living saying outrageous things, then relishing the attention that comes with it.

Make no mistake: Savage’s remarks toward the high school kids is not on the same level of righteous anger, and he’s insulting most people of faith in our nation. He’s not just going after a few wrongheaded fundies with Westboro leanings. When he states that the bible is “bullshit”, he’s taking a swipe at a very large number of good people who have sincere beliefs and who have used their belief in the truth of Scripture to do a lot of good in the world. His remarks do not rise above the level of, say, making a broad statement about blacks, foreigners, women, or pretty much any group you can think of which is often stereotyped.

I’ve read Savage off and on for a couple of years, and his writing is just as mean-spirited and hateful as the people he purports to be against. He really is, in my mind, in the same group that includes Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Ann Coulter, Maureen Dowd, Bill Maher, and Glenn Beck, among others. They’re cartoon characters, unable to use solid reasoning to back up their viewpoints, and unwilling to avoid name-calling to get attention. Yes, it sells a lot of books, but it isn’t helping anything get better. And all this time, I was under the impression that “It Gets Better” was the goal.