Friday, April 11, 2008

Davis apologizes, sort of

Monique Davis, the Illinois legislator who made national news (including being named Worst Person in the World by Keith Olbermann) for her tirade against an atheist who was trying to testify before her committee last week, has apologized. Rob Sherman, the object of her rage, accepted her apology. Sherman tells us about it:
Yesterday, State Representative Monique Davis (D-Chicago) called me from the Floor of the Illinois House of Representatives to apologize for what she had said to me at last Wednesday's hearing of the House State Government Administration Committee.


Rep. Davis said that she had been upset, earlier in the day, to learn that a twenty-second and twenty-third Chicago Public School student this school year had been shot to death that morning. She said that it was wrong for her to take out her anger, frustrations and emotions on me, and that she apologized to me.

I told her that her explanation was reasonable and that I forgave her.

While it's nice that there is peace between Davis and Sherman, Davis' words disenfranchised a larger group than just Sherman and her apology (at least, as much of it as is reported) isn't sufficient to undo the damage of her words. Look again at what she said:
Davis: So, I don’t know what you have against God, but some of us don’t have much against him. We look forward to him and his blessings. And it’s really a tragedy--it’s tragic--when a person who is engaged in anything related to God, they want to fight. They want to fight prayer in school. I don’t see you fighting guns in school. You know? I’m trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln. This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God, where people believe in protecting their children. We don't want-- In my opinion-- What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, it’s dangerous--

Sherman: What’s dangerous, ma’am?

Davis: It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if you’ll go to school to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up! Get out of that seat!

Voices: Amen! Amen! (scattered applause)

Sherman: Thank you for sharing your perspective with me, and I’m sure that if this matter does go to court--

Davis (voice rising to a shout): Get out of that seat! You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying!

Voices: That's right.

Davis: You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.

Davis' apology explains the the nonsequitor of her demanding to know why Sherman wasn't doing something about guns in schools.

If that was the extent of her outburst, the apology would be more than adequate. She apologised for taking her frustrations out on Sherman. In effect she apologized for her rudeness. But her outburst was more than a rude tone or waste of Sherman's time through changing the subject. She attacked Sherman's belief system--a belief system shared by millions. She denied the rights of those millions to take part in government. She denied several of the basic tenants of our system of government--free speech, free exchange of ideas, and equal access to government. She insulted everyone who believes in those things, even if they do not share Sherman's atheism. She insulted the children of Illinois by implying that they are too fragile to survive exposure to challenging ideas. Her moment of frustration does not explain or excuse any of those aspects of her outburst.

Outbursts like that do not come from nowhere. Davis' anti-democratic feelings were not created in that moment by her rising frustration over school violence any more than Mel Gibson's anti-Semetic outburst was created by a few drinks too many. All that frustration did was lower her defenses so that she allowed her darkest feelings to have voice.

Some bloggers have compared Davis to Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern and her unrepentant homophobia. Davis they say is the better of two for her apology. I'm not so certain. Davis apologized only to Sherman and only for her rudeness. She has not apologized to all the others who were offended by her sentiments and she has not implied in the slightest that she feels that there is anything wrong with those sentiments or that she understands why anyone would object to an elected official expressing such anti-democratic bile. If, like Kern, Davis is unrepentant in her bigotry but not willing to stand by her remarks, then she is cowardly as well as bigoted. In this country we consider having courage in your convictions a virtue; that would make Kern actually the better of the two.

Perhaps Davis did express some understanding of the magnitude of her offense and it wasn't reported. I've hunted for that, but haven't found it. Maybe she will have more to say later. I hope so. One of the most appalling aspects of the outburst was that she was applauded as she disparaged the most fundamental of American values. People present called out "Amen" and "that's right" rather than "shame on you." Such people should not be encouraged. Davis needs to make clear just where she stands. Is she for the Constitution and American values or is she for fear and hatred?

It looks like I'm not the only one who was not impressed by Davis' limited apology.

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