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Gaylord Perry’s Conversation About Politics

July 20, 2010

Just call this The Day at the Races at the Observatory (and, no, I’m not talking about the Marx Brothers movie).  If you don’t like talking about race, then you and I have a lot in common, but today there are several stories out there that I can’t ignore, which is regrettable.  The Daily Caller has a piece up today about leaked JournoList e-mails which detail an attempt by many liberals at prominent institutions attempting to channel public debate away from Jeremiah Wright during the Presidential campaign of ’08 because they felt that the President was being treated unfairly by ABC news.  The endeavor, as I see, it was to convince members of JournoList not to cave in to conservative calls to denounce Wright — even though Wright was indefensible, some members argued that their respective platforms should not be used in that manner because it was more important to get the President elected than to distance themselves as journalists from Wright’s hysterical philosophies.

I don’t see any problem with that — if I felt very strongly that a certain candidate should not be elected to the Presidency for whatever reason, then I could see how it would suit me better to spend my time arguing why the other candidate should be elected and ignoring connections to politically damaging characters, especially if I worked for a publication that shared that agenda.  I don’t think that’s intellectually honest by any means, particularly if you’re the kind of journalist who attacks politicians’ connections, but I can see how you’d find that reasonable.  What I object to, however, is the proposed counter-strategy detailed by one of my favorite national-security journalists, Spencer Ackerman:

I do not endorse a Popular Front, nor do I think you need to. It’s not necessary to jump to Wright-qua-Wright’s defense. What is necessary is to raise the cost on the right of going after the left. In other words, find a rightwinger’s [sic] and smash it through a plate-glass window. Take a snapshot of the bleeding mess and send it out in a Christmas card to let the right know that it needs to live in a state of constant fear. Obviously I mean this rhetorically.

And I think this threads the needle. If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us. Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists. Ask: why do they have such a deep-seated problem with a black politician who unites the country? What lurks behind those problems? This makes *them* sputter with rage, which in turn leads to overreaction and self-destruction.

Good strategy.  It’s good like stealing signs in baseball is good and doping in cycling is good.  It’s good because it’s not fair.  It’s seriously uncalled for to call someone a racist just because they object to a candidate’s association with somebody like Jeremiah Wright, but it works if that candidate happens to be half-black.  I’d take this opportunity to lambaste people on the Right for being incapable of responding to charges of racism — because it’s true, when conservatives are called racists, they almost inevitably “sputter with rage” — if I were personally capable of defending myself against that charge.

I mean, how do you respond to that?  What are you supposed to say that will convince people that you’re not a racist?  “But I have a ton of black friends!”  “My roommate in college was Hispanic!”  Does that kind of stuff even work?  Probably not, if you’re a conservative.  And I see liberals exploiting that disparity for political gain as a serious problem, because for some reason they get the benefit of the doubt while conservatives don’t.  It’s as if liberals get a “Get Out of Racist Situations Free” Card just because they’re liberals or because they voted for the President (see: Harry Reid), which really is deplorable.  The fact is that there’s no way to prove you’re not a racist — it’s not falsifiable, so it has no business being injected into an argument that’s supposed to be based on facts.

But, hey, anything to win an election.

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