How To Eulogize Your Enemy
Predictable though it was, the tidal wave of vitriol that has followed Jerry Falwell’s death earlier this week has been truly disgusting. De mortuis, nihil nisi bonum? Forget about it. The death of a public figure now serves only to underscore the earlier death of civility in our public discourse. Which makes the brief mention of Falwell’s passing from the most unlikely of sources: Larry Flynt (who Falwell sued in 1983, taking the case all the way to the SupCt) all the more refreshing. The pr0n king shows a lot more class than, well, a lot of people:
My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends. He would visit me in California and we would debate together on college campuses. I always appreciated his sincerity even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling.
Don’t get me wrong: There’s very little in the agenda Jerry Falwell spent his life promoting with which I agree. Constantly having to answer for Falwell and his fellows simply because they support the same party in a two-party system is a source of frequent irritation to me. The Religious Right is the favourite bogeyman of the Left, yet there’s never been any real danger tof their agenda having more than a small influence on the margins of American law. As such, I’ve found myself more than a few times pointing out to liberals for whom “well, what about the Religious Right?” is the first line of attack in any debate with someone on the right, that they present a much larger problem for me than for them. They aren’t forced to answer for the Religious Right every time they talk politics with someone on the other side of the aisle.
So Falwell was never more than a nominal ally of mine, especially in the last decade or so as his influence waned and his penchant for going over the top and saying things any long-term public figure should know better than to say waxed. But, unlike some others in his camp, I never saw any reason to believe that Falwell was motivated by anything other than what he genuinely believed, by his own lights, to be good and proper policy. That I largely disagreed with him on what would constitute good policy was no reason to hate him. Too bad more of his fellows can’t be more like Larry Flynt.