"Duck Dynasty's" Phil Robertson

Why do some people get a pass whilst others have the book thrown at them? It's a question for our greatest philosophers.

Because of the times we live in it's a question for "Duck Dynasty's" Phil Robertson, 67, and the A&E Channel too.

How much do we actually have to know about someone to decide that they are being a bigot? How far do they have to go? Who do they have to insult?

Nowadays we all loudly condemn Fred Phelps and his God Hates Fags crowd of Westboro Baptist fundamentalist hillbillies, but, in fact, there's not a shade of difference between Phelps' toxic theology and Robertson's.

So why the double standard? Why aren't conservatives lining up to defend Phelps' 'freedom of speech' they way they have Robertson's? Why does Phelps get the book thrown at him and Robertson get the handshake instead?

On Fox News' Anna Kooiman cheerily asked if poor persecuted Robertson 'was really trying to attack the gay community or was he merely opening up about his faith and the bible?'

His faith? The bible? To be clear Robertson compared being gay to bestiality. As insults goes, that's about the worst.

Here in New York we can laugh him off as another bumptious 'red neck wingnut' the way Houston mayor Annise Parker did. But gay kids living in more conservative climes heard themselves menaced and marked as bestial. So did their all friends and neighbors. Then those gay kids saw their friends and neighbors take to Facebook and Twitter to agree with and defend Robertson's disgusting sentiments. That's no laughing matter at all. That’s painful and personal in a way few things are.

In his now notorious interview with GQ, Robertson singled out gays as being especially sinful. 'Start from there,' he said. A gay man, in Robertson's mind, is his antithesis - politically, socially, sexually, probably experientially too. He put being gay below bestiality. His disgust didn't sound very religious, frankly.

And none of that quasi-religious bluster explains his truly shocking racial comments, does it? Robertson also told GQ that the Jim Crow south was terrific, full of happy contented African Americans, yet not one conservative who has defended his gay bashing thought this was the time to take a time out?

'I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person,' Robertson told GQ. 'Not once.'

Really? We're supposed to believe this? For the record, white people were shot and killed alongside black people for standing up for civil rights in the Jim Crow south, which was a place where black people were relentlessly told and shown they were inferior, and that white people were always better. Although he grew up in it, it was a place Robertson apparently never saw.

When gays and African American groups protested, they were told they were attacking Robertson's 'right to free speech.' But they were doing no such thing. They were responding to what he said. They hadn't sought the offense; they had taken it. They wanted him punished for what he said, not silenced for what he might say.

It was too late, of course. The Tea Party/Fox News noise machine had already cranked into gear and the debate was mendaciously framed as one of 'free speech' rather than 'the consequence of free speech.'

Contrast this nonsense with the other big social network news story from December. When PR guru Justine Sacco caught a flight to South Africa her casually racist tweet that she wouldn't catch AIDS because she was white became an international incident crying out for punishment whilst she was still in the air.

The hashtag #hasjustinelandedyet started trending almost immediately. So did threats to her personal safety. Her callous and stupid comments deserved a strong reprimand, but the contrast between her hateful comments and Robertson's were actually insignificant.

So why the double standard?

I think, and last month showed me, that America still privileges some arguments over others. Justine was a woman from New York City. What was impermissible for her was not for Robertson, courtesy of his zip code.

Robertson can compare being gay to bestiality and for a lot of people that's still ok. He can advise men to marry 15 and 16 year old girls to mold them into pliant housewives and for a lot of people that's still ok. He can tell us all that the Jim Crow south was a mint-juleped, golden hued paradise and for a lot of people that's still ok too.

We like Phil Robertson. He says mean stuff, but we like him. We insisted he get his show back because we like him. We like our hillbillies to be hillbillies.

Fred Phelps crossed the line when he picketed the funerals of our dead soldiers. Until then his anti-gay hate crusade was a fringe event, noted by the gay community but unremarked upon elsewhere. Phil will cross that line shortly too, but until then we can keep up this toxic fiction.

And the real lesson from this debacle is that A&E will apparently sell out all principles for profit.

The concerns of women and gays and black people still don't yet signify enough. Their concerns are not yet the nation's. You can still mortally offend them without consequence. Even in 2013.