I’m glad Dan agrees with me on the core point. But why on earth does he feel the need to qualify it? That is the question. Why are progressives held to a lower standard than conservatives? Should they not be held to higher standards? Many readers – depressingly – take Dan’s position or worse:

I feel slimy doing this but I am going to “defend” Alec Baldwin. I am now 38, I do not consider myself homophobic or a bigot. I am from the San Francisco bay area and I have had family, friends, employers are co-workers who are gay. I will vehemently advocate for gay rights during discussions with co-workers and I will not vote for bigoted politicians. I have frequented many gay bars with my wife because the partying is better.

However, when I am angry, I frequently use the phrases, cocksucker, faggot, bitch or a combination of the three words. Does this make me homophobic? Perhaps. Unfortunately I also use racial slurs. I am a third-generation American of Mexican descent and I use all type of slurs – anti-white, anti-Mexican, anti-black. I did grow up in a racially diverse area and we would always joke around with each other using racial slurs. I can only say in my heart and in my head I do not have negative feelings towards gay people or any race. I consider myself a conservative but voted for Obama in small part because the racist strategy used against him was so offensive to me.

Here’s a question. When my reader says he uses racial slurs, he doesn’t cite them. Does he use the word “nigger” or “kike” in public, in anger, I wonder, as Baldwin did in a homosexual context? If he did, would it be relevant to qualify it by saying he voted for Obama or loathes racist political demagoguery – and that he should thereby be given a pass? Ask yourselves that.

Another reader:

As you stated, Baldwin’s anger was merited. But you and everyone else should be very careful in throwing around the word “homophobe”, since being implicated as a homophobe is sort of a big deal. To say that Baldwin has contempt for gays is ridiculous. People who protest gay pride parade and spit on gays are homophobes. People who fire gays for their sexual orientation are homophobes. People who get cut off in traffic, lose their temper and yell “you stupid bitch” aren’t male chauvinists – they’re just being assholes at that moment.

Baldwin was pissed off and threw out a word that invokes the most pain possible.

I want to unpack this sentence, because it is important:

Baldwin was pissed off and threw out a word that invokes the most pain possible.

So Baldwin regards calling another man a “cocksucking fag” a way to inflict the most pain possible. That means he has to buy into the logic of the stigma in order to wield it as a weapon. What he’s implicitly asserting, by choosing those words, is that a man who sucks another man’s cock is a terrible thing to be. It’s a classic form of demonizing gay sexuality. It’s laden with the tones of schoolyard anti-gay bullying.

Then he uses a term that is routinely used in this context (there are other much more benign contexts I have no trouble with) to imply another man is inferior to other men, because he is effeminate, i.e. a fag. I’m sorry, but this is homophobia in its rawest form. If I heard someone yelling “cocksucking fag” to another man on the street, I’d immediately know what was going on, wouldn’t you? And whenever I have witnessed such a thing, I have intervened and protested.

There are many ways to vent in public. “Asshole,” “douchebag”, “fuck you!”, to cite a few more obvious ones. Since living in New York, I have heard many more variations on the theme. But a man who instinctively uses misogynistic or homophobic slurs as weapons in public is not just another angry New Yorker. If this were a one-off, it would be one thing. But Baldwin’s record on all this is appalling. Two years ago, he allegedly had another confrontation with a photographer:

At one point, at the beginning of the confrontation, It sounds like Alec says to the photog, “I know you got raped by a priest or something.” Then, in an effort to assert his dominance, Alec got right in the pap’s face … and in a menacing tone said, “You little girl.”

Baldwin again denies it and there may be some confusion over the precise wording. But this is textbook schoolyard homophobia, laced with the familiar memes of anal sex and the threat of thuggish violence against a gay man demeaned as a woman. (Notice the obvious rank misogyny embedded in that as well.) Even Mel Gibson – for all his foul anti-Semitism – never physically threatened a Jewish person while calling him a “kike.” Then there were the infamous tweets of earlier this year, directed not at a random person, but someone he actively knew was gay:

George Stark, you lying little bitch. I am gonna f%#@ you up … I want all of my followers and beyond to straighten out this fucking little bitch, George Stark. @MailOnline … My wife and I attend a funeral to pay our respects to an old friend, and some toxic Brit writes this fucking trash … If put my foot up your fucking ass, George Stark, but I’m sure you’d dig it too much … I’m gonna find you, George Stark, you toxic little queen, and I’m gonna fuck…you…up.

Again: the classic, unreconstructed homophobia is so obvious it takes one’s breath away. He has called other men “bitch” and “girl” while threatening violence – hate crimes – against them. Again: note the stigmatization of gay sex: “I’d put my foot up your fucking ass … but I’m sure you’d dig it too much.” He is threatening to anally rape a gay man – and is only restrained by the foul thought that a gay man would actually enjoy being raped. How much more hateful can it get?

And in all of these cases, he reflexively and comically lies afterward. He either denies everything – even when you can hear him on tape, for Pete’s sake, even when it’s in his own tweet! – or claims preposterous ignorance. I mean seriously, he has subsequently claimed he had no idea that the word “queen” had homosexual connotations and yesterday tweeted this (and, again, I swear I am not making this up):

Rich Ferraro from @glaad informs me that c’sucker is an anti-gay epithet. In which case I apologize and will retire it from my vocabulary.

At this point, it has become a joke that could work pretty well on 30 Rock – where, by the way, he is a brilliant comic actor.

One final point: is this a witch-hunt of someone – exactly the kind of thing I really try not to engage in, especially on gay issues? Am I being too sensitive?

I’d say this: I hope that Alec Baldwin as a human being really isn’t a homophobe in the depth of his heart and soul. He may well not be or may try not to be. Friends speak well of him. We all harbor prejudices; we’re all human; of all people, I know what it’s like to get angry and say or write stupid things. People are complicated. They can be bigots in one context and the opposite in another. I’m a sinner as well.

The reason I cannot let this go is the precedent it sets. Baldwin is not just an actor; he hosts a political show on MSNBC. He behaves as a political actor with his support of various causes, all of them noble. He has set himself up as a pro-gay progressive. If we concede the point that because you are somehow formally pro-gay, it doesn’t matter if you hurl murderous homophobic threats against people in public, then we have sold our soul.

I’m not talking about poorly written sentences – like Richard Cohen’s. I’m not gleaning subtle tropes in someone’s prose that might lead to suspicions of bigotry. I’m talking about the crudest of anti-gay epithets yelled in public repeatedly, combined in most cases with a threat of violence. If we excuse even that for the greater cause, then it seems to me we have nothing but cynicism left. And that level of cynicism is deeply corrosive of a civil rights movement.

In my view, the gay rights movement is not, at its core, about enacting legislation, or merely a political struggle. It is a moral case for the equal dignity of gay people, and for mutual respect. What deeply troubles me is not so much that one hot-headed actor is a bigot, but that his public support for gay causes is effectively buying him a right to perpetuate the vilest canards and hatreds that have demeaned gay people for centuries. What disturbs me is that pro forma support for various gay organizations or causes gives this man permission to perpetuate the foulest forms of bigotry – and never take full responsibility for it, and to do it again and again, with no penalty or the faintest sense that he has really done something terribly wrong by his own alleged standards.

It isn’t Alec Baldwin who troubles me so much. It’s his liberal enablers.