Monday, March 4, 2024

60 Minutes Asked Moms for Liberty The Right Questions

If you have not seen the 60 Minutes piece on book banning, here it is. Go ahead and watch; it will be thirteen and a half minutes well spent.

There are several things on display here, not the least of which is a school district taking a sensible students-first, parents-involved approach to the issue of difficult books. 

Reporter Scott Pelley gets right to the heart of several issues. The difference between giving parents the tools to control what their own children can read (something the district also provides in spades) and trying to control what other parents can let their children read. The outrage-enhancing technique of treating isolated mistakes as proof of some widespread conspiracy.

In the midst of it all, the Moms for Liberty, with Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich finally seen in the footage from an interview they sat for way back in October of 2023. 

The piece is tough on them. The parents that are set up to represent the district are Republican, conservative, combat veterans. Pelley in repeated voice overs points out that the Moms are evasive and avoid answering question but instead retreating to their talking points (he does not point out that they are seasoned political coms professionals, but he doesn't portray them as cookie-baking domestics, either). Some of the talking points were so six months ago. "We don't co-parent with the government," said the women whose demands include forcing the government to help them with the part of parenting that involves keeping an eye on what your children read and watch. 

Their PR firm (Cavalry Strategies) was on the case this morning, emailing out the M4L transcript that includes the part that CBS didn't include, and offering the duo for press interviews to tell their story. It's an odd choice, because the stuff they want you to see is just more of the non-answering that CBS showed. That and they are really, really big sad that CBS chose not to air them reading the Really Dirty Parts or Certain Books. This remains one of their weirdest arguments--since this part of this book is too objectionable to read in certain situations, it must be too objectionable to be found in any situation. Like, it's not okay for me pee on the steps of City Hall at noon, so it must not be okay for me to pee anywhere, ever.

But the question that Pelley asked was a really, really good one. The Moms led into it by saying that although they love teachers so very much, there are some "rogue teachers" out there (I can hear the ty-shirts being printed already). "Parents send their children to school to be educated, not indoctrinated into ideology."

And so Pelley asked the obvious question-- "What ideology are the children being indoctrinated into?"

And the Moms wouldn't answer. The extended answer in their email (and some tweets) suggests that they're talking about gender and sex stuff, and their go to example is telling five year olds that genders can be changed). 

The answer remains unclear. What exactly is the objection? What is the problem? What does "gender ideology" even mean? Because the harder I stare at it, the more it seems as if the problem is acknowledging that LGNTQ persons exist.

But in the MAGA Mom playbook, that's not it as all, which brings us Pelley's other fruitless attempt to get the Moms to explain what they mean by all the "groomer" language that they use on their own social media. They really didn't want to talk about that, though they did insist that they like gay folks just fine. They didn't attempt to address the groomer question in their responses to the 60 Minutes piece. Perhaps that's because their premise makes no sense. 

But if you boil it all down, this is what you get.

If you acknowledge that LGBTQ persons exist in front of children, then you are grooming those children to become LGBTQ.

Part of the premise for that is an old one-- if you believe that nobody is born That Way, that nobody is LGBTQ by nature, then you must believe that all LGBTQ persons are recruited.

But to jump from there to the notion that simply acknowledging that LGBTQ persons exist must only be about recruiting--that's a hell of a leap. And it leads to the worst culture panic impulse, which is to erase those persons, to treat them as if their very existence must be a dirty secret.

And because acknowledging them is equated with grooming other children, this becomes the worst brand of othering. To make it okay to attack the Other, you have to establish that the Other represents a threat, that you need to defend yourself against them. And that makes violence against them okay.

So when Ryan Walters says that he's not playing "woke gender games," he's saying that he won't acknowledge that LGBTQ persons exist, and that anyone who does acknowledge they exist is trying to attack children and groom them and so that "woke mob" is attacking, and so it's okay to attack back. When the Lt. Governor and gubernatorial candidate calls LGBTQ persons "filth," particularly in the context of talking about them in school at all ever, that message is pretty clear. 

Pelley's unanswered questions point us at the nuance missing in the Moms for Liberty outrage and panic factory, the nuance that recognizes that reasonable intelligent people can disagree about the value of certain books. In the real world, there's a huge difference between showing six year olds graphic depictions of the ways one can use a penis and a non-graphic depiction of LGBTQ persons. There's a vast gulf between grooming some small child for sexual abuse and simply acknowledging there are some LGBTQ persons in the world (and possibly in the classroom or the homes of class members). There's a planet-seized difference between saying "LGBTQ persons are not extraordinary or unnatural" and saying "You should become an LGBTQ person."  And yet, in the Moms for Liberty universe, there is no difference between any of those things. 

It's very hard to distinguish between the opportunists and the truly panicked on this issue. The Heritage Foundations Project 2025 seems like an opportunist's political project, but it is also shot through with what seems like a sincere and extreme LGBTQ panic. The Ziegler scandal deserves attention because it suggests that one founding M4L member is not all that freaked out about non-het sex. 

But at a certain level, it doesn't matter whether all this LGBTQ panic is sincere or not, because as the toxic sludge filters through the culture, some people feel justified, even encouraged, in violence and mistreatment of actual human beings. No amount of carefully refined talking points will change that; only the kind of nuanced, complex conversation that doesn't get you a special seat at the MAGA table. 

The encouraging part of the 60 Minutes piece is that it shows how ordinary folks can actually have some of those conversations. Over a hundred citizens came together to have some thoughtful consideration about the list of 97 books that were marked for removal, and they kept 92 of them. Imagine that.


  1. Really excellent piece. Sharing with my group.

  2. Thanks for your commentary and the link to the 60 Minutes story.

  3. Losing so much must be exhausting

  4. I'm all for parents and staff reading books together and all, BUT it is a LOT of time invested. I mean, just say no, we are keeping these books on the shelves that professional librarians and educators selected using our board approved selection policy.