The Cost-Free Smear
January 11, 2001
about to witness a rancorous fight over the confirmation of John Ashcroft as
G.W. Bushs attorney general. It may surpass the nastiness of earlier fights
over Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.
The progressive Hive, as I like to call it, is most
incensed about Ashcrofts opposition to abortion. But its staking its
chips on the charge that he is racist.
As a senator from Missouri a few years ago,
Ashcroft opposed the confirmation of Ronnie White, a black man who had been
nominated to a federal judgeship. Of course Ashcroft never suggested that
Whites race was a reason for rejecting him: White was just very very liberal or,
as Ashcroft put it, pro-criminal.
the Hive is eager to make this a racial fight. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the
bitterly black California Democrat who sees racism in every nook and cranny of
America, had no trouble discerning it in Ashcroft in 1999: Senator Ashcroft
played the race card [in the White case]. He played it by acting in the most racist way to
deny a qualified African-American his rightful position on the federal bench. I know a
racist when I see one. Senator Ashcroft acts like a racist, walks like a racist, and talks
like a racist.
Actually, shouldnt acting in the
most racist way involve some form of overt appeal to race, such as, oh, maybe
at least mentioning race or even using racial epithets? But no, Miss Waters
doesnt say he did any such thing. She merely claims an infallible ability to
discern racist motives even when they are not manifest to anyone but
herself. If she calls you a racist, you must be one whatever a
racist may be.
The less overt racial prejudice there is, the more
black race-baiters like Miss Waters profess to see. Racism no longer has any
definite meaning; its what philosophers call a bogus predicate a vague
pseudoconcept with no rational content. Though it can be used grammatically, it
cant be paraphrased in plain English nouns and verbs. And because it
doesnt really mean anything, it cant be refuted. Thats what
makes the bogus predicate useful. All we know about racism is that it has something
or other to do with race, though nobody can say just what.
When Joe McCarthy called people Communists,
there was no doubt about what he meant. The charge was either true or false, and if it
couldnt be proved, the accuser himself would be discredited. Not so with
charges of racism. Being meaningless, they cant be proved or
disproved, and nobody is penalized for making them loosely.
Miss Waters wants to create the impression that
Ashcroft hates blacks, but she doesnt dare put it that way. She doesnt
say that he hurts or injures blacks, or avoids social contact with them, or advocates
laws denying them their rights. Any such specific accusation could be easily tested
and falsified, discrediting the accuser. So she calls him racist.
That may not mean anything, but it works
politically. It ignites hostility and rallies the troops. Once upon a time, black leaders
opposed racial polarization; now they welcome it, incite it, use it as a
tool for their own purposes with the full support of the Democratic Party, which
regards enraged blacks as political assets. Black demagogues are now invited to
twist every issue into a racial issue: the O.J. Simpson murders, the Clinton
impeachment, the Florida vote mess, the rejection of a black nominee (unless, of
course, its a black conservative).
If people like Miss Waters, Jesse Jackson, Al
Sharpton, and their white allies really opposed racism, the first thing
they would do would be to define it, so there would be no doubt about its meaning and
application. Then they would take care to reserve the charge for people who really
deserved it, with safeguards for the innocent.
But thats not at all what they want. They
want a vague charge they can use as they please, in such a way that the accused
cant defend himself and the accuser never pays a price for a cynical
This country may be turning into a swamp, but it
furnishes an environment that certain critters are quite comfortable in.
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