Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Tuesday, July 20, 2010 :::

National Review's Stephen Spruiell takes a brief look at recent discussions of racism around the blogosphere.

I'd like to comment, in particular, on the first two sentences:
NAACP denounces critics of Obama as racist. In response, Andrew Breitbart airs footage of a black USDA official at an NAACP banquet telling a story about how she used to be racist and for that reason not help white farmers but that she isn't racist anymore.
The NAACP denunciation of the tea partiers - rather, since its text is still a secret, what everyone speculates it says - lacks perspective. Are there racists among the tea party movement? Among the millions, there surely are several. If you selected as many people as have participated in tea party rallies and selected against racists in any way less reliable than mind-reading, I would assert as confidently that there were racists among the group you had selected. Racism is a component of the human condition: we should celebrate its decline (at least in America), support its continued decline, and lament but come to terms with the fact that it will always be with us.

More pertinently, is racism a serious problem in the tea party movement? Given the lengths to which opponents of the tea party movement have gone to dig out racist signs and incidents, including members of Congress apparently making them up, and the fact that the handful of actual signs and incidents (including those by mobys (e.g.)) have been widely anathematized, I don't think it is.

The Breitbart video response has been largely misconstrued, I think. For one thing, Spruiell gets credit for noticing that the then-employee of the US Department of Agriculture is not, at the point she tells the story, noticeably racist; she is, on the contrary, telling about the incident a quarter century ago that led her to stop hating white people in favor of hating rich people (I'm simplifying somewhat, and not in her favor, but I'm not her PR agent and my summary is basically fair). Some of the reaction to the video, possibly including that of Governor Vilsack, has been based on her being a racist USDA employee; she has been fired (officially, persuaded to resign, but, again, I'm not a PR agent for her or the USDA). If nobody could work for the USDA who has had a dishonorable thought in the past quarter century, we couldn't possibly have a staffed US Department of Agriculture. In spite of that potential benefit, I think this standard is unduly high.

I don't think that was Breitbart's point, though. Obviously, Breitbart doesn't get to control the story just because he broke it, but I also think his point was more relevant than the arguable impropriety committed by the USDA employee (who, frankly, may have embellished her tale-against-interest of former racism to emphasize her point that only class-based bigotry is acceptable). The key point of that video was the audience's warm reaction to the racism she expressed. If the NAACP is going to ask other, less organized groups to denounce the barely-present racist elements within, perhaps they should address the mote in their own eye.

I could probably do without this coda, but I do think that some of the audience reaction can be explained as politeness to a guest. John Derbyshire wrote well on this subject with respect to the Borat movie that mocked it. When it is appropriate to be solicitous of a jerk and when more of a Simon Cowell approach is called for is not an easy question to answer, but I think the tea party protesters have been pretty good at holding the line. In Breitbart's video, the NAACP's audience was not. The point that should be taken from the video is that the NAACP is throwing rocks from a glass house, when the right thing to do is to build a solid fortress and then pick on people who can't retaliate. Unless I've misconstrued that aphorism.

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::: posted by Steven at 8:09 PM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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