I’m far from the only person who has suggested that U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins isn’t the brightest bulb in the U.S. Congress; indeed, much of social media says far worse on a routine basis. But let’s give Higgins this: He tends to say the quiet part out loud.
That doesn’t speak much for his strategic acumen, as smart politicians trade less on what’s said than what’s implied. But it does make him something of a useful idiot, if you will.
Follow the logical implications of those seeking to crack down on public libraries and the librarians who staff them — not to ban books, of course, but to protect kids! — and you might wind up where Higgins did in his most recent viral Tweet.
“Over time, American communities will build beautiful, church owned public-access libraries. I’m going to help these churches get funding. We will change the whole public library paradigm,” Higgins wrote. “The libraries regular Americans recall are gone. They’ve become liberal grooming centers.”
That’s obviously ridiculous and deeply offensive. But it’s also clarifying.
Nowhere in that sentiment is stated support for public libraries and the mission they serve, which less clueless politicians like Attorney General Jeff Landry, Higgins’ endorsed candidate for Louisiana governor, are careful to voice. Landry did just that in a guest column in this newspaper, in which he wrote that “a library should be a safe place to learn — a place where a child might develop a lifelong love of reading, discover intellectual passions and pursue dreams for a fulfilling career.”
Then came the “but,” a more artful version of Higgins’ “grooming” allegation, in which Landry floated the notion of pornography and “smut being peddled upon our vulnerable children.”
The A.G. was a bit more blunt in the solicitation for complaints on his website, in language that’s aimed less at a potentially skeptical public and more at likely sympathizers:
"Librarians and teachers are neither empowering nor liberating our children by connecting them with books that contain extremely graphic sexual content that is far from age appropriate for young audiences," it says. "If this type of taxpayer-subsidized sexualization of children has impacted you or your family tell us about it below."
It’s important to clarify what we’re talking about here, the sort of content that’s coming under fire from the movement nationwide, in places like Lafayette, Livingston and St. Tammany parishes in Louisiana, and in the attorney general’s office. Pornography is not among the offerings at public libraries, but books are that deal head-on with experiences of people who are gay or trans or struggling to figure out where they fit in to the wider world.
To say that these books are bad — or that librarians who allow patrons to check them out are “grooming” rather than helping — is to suggest that those who’d identify with the stories they contain should feel shame. What a tragic, and dangerous, message, to kids who need to see people like themselves represented, and to society at large.
It’s also important to note that neither Landry nor most of his allies in the crackdown have given any indication that they’d pursue Higgins’ dystopian stated end, a world where traditional libraries are replaced by taxpayer-supported church-owned-and-directed libraries.
I don’t for a minute believe that could happen, or that most people in Landry’s camp want it to.
What they do appear to want is a version of public libraries that more closely resembles what Higgins described than we have now, one in which some people can dictate the material available to others who may or may not agree with their standards.
And the way they propose to get it is by trying to bully librarians and library boards into submission, or pushing so hard and politicizing so relentlessly that communities will give ground out of simple exhaustion. This, not Higgins’ scenario, is how these things tend to work in the real world.
He may not know it, but you can bet that smarter politicians like Landry do.