Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Three Cheers for Guilt by Association

The New York Times has turned Barack Obama's denunciation of Jeremiah Wright into a racial injustice.

The paper of record's editorial today on Obama finally heeding calls to break with his race-baiting minister bitches that "African-Americans are regularly called upon to explain or repudiate what other black Americans have to say, while white public figures are rarely, if ever, handed that burden."

It takes a willful disregard of recent history to make that claim. When the white supremacist David Duke ran for Louisiana State Representative in Louisiana almost two decades ago the national GOP and then-President George H. W. Bush unequivocally denounced him, as liberals demanded.

To cite another of many examples: when right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan made blatantly anti-Semitic remarks in 1990 there were calls for conservative patriarch William F. Buckley, Jr. to condemn him. Buckley rose to the occasion with a 20,000 word essay--later turned into a book--that branded Buchanan an anti-Semite.

Ronald Reagan also unequivocally broke with the far-right John Birch society when he ran for California governor in 1966. Guilt by association is the standard by which blacks and whites are usually judged. And for good good reason. The willingness to break ranks with compatriots is a crucial moral test for anyone engaged in public ranks. It takes tremendous courage to denounce allies or associates for unconscionable behavior. You can end up with diminished influence and your former comrades new found enemies. It's a price honorable men and women, of all ideological stripes, have willingly paid over the years.

Cold War liberals such as Joe Rauh and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. founded Americans for Democratic Action in 1947 to separate liberals from communists. The ADA's charter explicitly barred membership for communists.

More recently, in the 1980s, David Dinkins, the first black mayor of New York City, with little public pressure denounced Louis Farrakhan, even though Dinkins had almost nothing in common with the minister other than skin color. Renouncing allies is a rejection of the ends justify the means ethos. The demand for solidarity in the ranks, by contrast, is the stuff of totalitarians.