Because my husband is an ardent Jon Stewart fan, he’s also a John Oliver fan and instantly started watching Oliver’s new solo HBO show, Last Week Tonight. Moreover, because John Oliver appears to be slightly less doctrinaire than Stewart (which means that NPR ludicrously tries to cast him as a centrist), not to mention obviously more intelligent, I occasionally watch too in order to get the view from the Left.
Sometimes, Oliver manages to get it right, as happened last night when he pointed out how ridiculous it is for Obama to announce that the U.S. will invest $500 million in Syria’s “carefully vetted moderate militias.” Oliver also got deservedly positive press from across the political spectrum for his rant against the FCC’s proposed net neutrality rules.
Most of the time, though, Oliver’s just a garden variety DemProg with a nice British accent. His most recent show was no exception. For example, Oliver went on a lengthy attack against Uganda’s anti-gay laws. I hold no brief for anti-gay laws, but I find the DemProgs’ recent obsession with them disgustingly hypocritical.
For decades, sharia-governed countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, etc., have had the harshest anti-gay laws in the world. In the Palestinian territories, while the laws aren’t officially on the books, they’re routinely carried out, with the result that gay Palestinians are desperate to get to Israel, where they’ll safe. Why so desperate? Because in the Muslim world, the punishment for homosexuality is death and Muslim governments and militias aggressively execute those sentences.
Despite the egregious, and well-publicized, human rights offenses against gays in the Muslim world, DemProgs have been absolutely silent. They may love gays, but not enough to challenge Islam over the issue. I’ve searched, but cannot find any evidence that either Jon Stewart or John Oliver ever addressed homicidal Islamic homophobia on Jon Stewart’s show. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
What this means, of course, is that DemProgs will get exercised about homophobia only when it’s safe to do so. Neither Russians nor Ugandans are going to hunt DemProgs down and decapitate them as the end to any argument. Moreover, the attack on Ugandan homophobia gives DemProgs a nice double whammy, because it allows them to make blanket condemnations of Christianity while they’re at it — again, knowing that the attacked Christians will pray for their souls, rather than behead them.
Uganda reflects the DemProgs’ usual moral cowardice and hypocrisy. The attack on the Hobby Lobby decision is worse, because it’s profoundly intellectually dishonest. You can watch the video and then I’ll address the two worst logical fallacies packed into just a few minutes of Oliver’s mildly amusing and completely wrong rant (Warning: Not Safe For Work):
Oliver’s preliminary attack is made directly against Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, a closed corporation owned by Mennonites, that makes parts for kitchen cabinets. Oliver acknowledges that Hobby Lobby is a tightly held family corporation, that the owners are open about the integration between their faith and their business, and that their faith leads them to treat their employees exceptionally well, and to be extremely charitable. Of course, Oliver cannot end on that final note, so he then crudely attacks Hobby Lobby for selling products that customers can put to obscene or dangerous uses.
Oliver then accuses the Conestoga Wood owners of hypocrisy because they don’t want to pay for drugs and procedures that take a human life. He makes the nonsensical argument that their products can be used to kill people, so that they should have no standing to argue that the government cannot force to kill.
Both these arguments are red herrings, meant to district the audience from the intellectual failing in his core argument. That argument, which flows from his direct attacks on Hobby Lobby and Conestoga sounds so reasonable on its face that many will miss how dishonest it is: Oliver claims that Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s objections to the Obamacare birth control and abortifacient argument indistinguishable from the usual complaints people make about government expenditures: “What these companies are arguing is that the sincerity of their beliefs should allow them a line-item veto over federal law. But government is not an a la carte system what you can pick and choose based on your beliefs.”
Having said this, Oliver then shows a short montage of people saying “I don’t want to pay for” such things as “Israel policies,” war, and “Mexican prostitutes.” The audience laughs uproariously, understanding that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are just more whining taxpayers, indistinguishable from others who object to paying taxes to fund American policies.
Oliver weaves these topics together so skillfully that someone who isn’t paying attention might miss the fact that there’s a difference between tax dollars being pooled together and spent on a variety of things (and more on that later) and a government mandate ordering people to open their wallets and pay directly to the purveyor of something they find religiously objectionable. The two things are entirely different, with the latter being a direct affront on an individual’s sensibilities. (And, although Oliver would prefer to ignore this fact, closely held corporations are a business structure through which individuals operate.)
As an aside, and one that gives even more weight to Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s objections, one can make a very good argument that most of the federal government’s tax dollar expenditures vastly exceed the Fed’s mandate. The Founder’s understanding was that tax dollars would be used for traditional government operations: defense, transportation, a functioning judicial system, public health, etc. Under this reading, those Americans who object to non-traditional government expenditures are correct. But most certainly those who object to being forced to pay for a product that clashes with core doctrinal sensibilities are correct under both the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which is the law the Supremes used in deciding the case) and the First Amendment.