Crying “racist”

by Ted on November 4, 2003

Dwight Merideth has a swell post on Democratic opposition to confirming minority conservatives to the bench. Democrats have confirmed twelve of Bush’s Hispanic court nominees and denied one (12/1). They have confirmed seven African-American nominees and have not yet confirmed Brown. (7/1). Read the whole thing for many more details. When will this reign of terror end, I think we can all hear the American people asking.

Dwight is responding to Jane Galt, who says that Democrats are trying to keep conservative minorities off the appellate bench. Others have gone much further. The most vile example of the “Democrats are racist” meme that I found without really looking came from William Sjostrom’s smear of Illinois senator Dick Durbin (via Jack O’Toole). Sjostrom notes that Durbin opposes Brown, and says:

Durbin is a long-standing stooge of the Chicago Democratic machine, which always believed blacks could be around as long as they were the shoe-shine boys or the maids, unless they were as crooked as the white Democrats. Then they could be precinct captains, and do nothing at the DMV.

When Dick Durbin sees Brown, all he can see is an uppity black woman who doesn’t know she is supposed to be either cleaning his oven or helping the local boys steal votes.

If you think that I’m leaving out any relevant evidence, context, or links, click through. That’s his whole argument.

Most people think that charges of racism, which ruin reputations and careers, should be handled with utmost care. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, for example, are often bitterly criticised for making unsupported, politically motivated accusations of racism. On a few occasions, I have expressed my intense dislike for Al Sharpton for this reason.

William Sjostrom doesn’t write as if he believes this is a problem. If he has more evidence for his accusation that Durbin is a racist, he has so far kept it to himself.

One of Durbin’s most important crusades has been about AIDS in Africa. It seems from this article that he was inspired to work on AIDS partially by his African-American advisor, Natacha Blain. I have a friend who worked on Durbin’s campaign, and he has nothing but good things to say about the Senator. My friend is Asian-American. Durbin has a 100% voting record with the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda. As far as I can tell, Durbin has never been accused of racism in his career in public service. (Perhaps I will be corrected.)

Yet Sjostrom can see through this, based on Durbin’s opposition to Janice Brown. I doubt that he would like to have this standard applied to the members of his preferred party.

Dwight has a list of Bush’s African-American nominees for the bench, collected by commentor alkali, who have been confirmed. If Durbin is unable to see Brown as anything other than an “uppity black woman” who is “supposed to be cleaning his oven,” I thought that it would be interesting to see how he voted on Bush’s other black candidates for the bench. It would also be interesting to see how much Democratic opposition met these other “uppity” black candidates. Here’s the news:

Reggie B. Walton: Yea (Unopposed confirmation)
Julie A. Robinson:Yea (Unopposed confirmation)
Legrove D. Davis:Yea (Unopposed confirmation)
Percy Anderson:Yea (Unopposed confirmation)
Lavenski R. Smith: Yea (three Nays on a cloture motion)
Henry Edward Autry: Yea (Unopposed confirmation)
Morrison C. England Jr: Yea (Unopposed confirmation)

All but one were unopposed. And Dick Durbin voted for every one of them.

William Sjostrom, do you really believe that Dick Durbin is a racist who thinks that blacks are only fit for domestic jobs? Do you have any evidence for this serious accusation? Or will you apologize?



Ophelia Benson 11.04.03 at 1:24 am

[urgently] Ted, you’re not holding your breath are you? If you are – stop!


Yuval Rubinstein 11.04.03 at 1:35 am

Christ, Durbin isn’t even from the Chicago area, as his bio notes (Illinois does not equal Chicago, BTW). All together now: smarter monkeys, please.


fred 11.04.03 at 1:57 am

Aw, say you didn’t really use the word “meme” without irony or disgust. yuck. I support everything else you wrote, fwiw.


Atrios 11.04.03 at 2:27 am

Ahhh, the new PC. Same as the old PC, only stupid and dishonest.


Zizka 11.04.03 at 3:01 am

To me, the “Democrats are the real racists” meme (yes, meme! — so sue me!) is such a transparent wedge-issue ploy that anyone who uses it discredits themself, pretty much permanently, as a partisan tool. Considered in the context of the Republicans’ Southern strategy, it’s just an enormous lie.

Anyone using this argument, from that point on, deserves the minimum decent level of civility everyone gets. No death threats, don’t publicize their home addresses, don’t drag their children into it, etc.

I think liberals (I’m a stuck record on this topic) make a big mistake by arguing seriously with these tools as if they were conscious beings. Debating them in front of an audience is great, and alkali did a great job on the Galt thread. But once someone starts retailing dishonest talking points, they should be gone. At that point, snarkiness and abuse become justified. (Of course, there are stylistic reasons for trying to avoid the simply “fuck you” level of abuse, of course).

There are conservatives and libertarians who actually are thoughtful and well-informed, and they deserve more than the minimum respect. But I think that they’re fewer than people wishfully think, and even at best, debates with conservatives end up going around in circles.

And yes, there obviously still is racism in the Democratic Party. That just isn’t something Republicans have a right to criticize. There are even some forms of racism more common among liberals than among conservatives — some kinds of tokenism and multicultural racial stereotyping. But granted the gruesome facts of Presidential political campaigning, it’s not for Republicans to talk about these issues either.

Except as cheap and dishonest (though completely legal) tools.

Being the sole advocate of internet incivility is a thankless job, but someone’s got to do it.


Randy Paul 11.04.03 at 3:06 am

Advantage, Mr. Barlow. The nature of debate from the right seems to be that if you say something often enough, that makes it true.


Norbizness 11.04.03 at 3:21 am

Not only that, but Durbin, a self-hating Catholic, repeatedly questioned devout and holy appellate court nominee Bill Pryor about his “intention to move the 11th Court of Appeals to Rome”. Really, anti-Catholicism is the only thing blocking that guy’s nomination. I swear.


Brian Ulrich 11.04.03 at 5:40 am

When Durbin first got elected, he was considered a strong candidate to fill the seat precisely because he was from downstate and not Chicago! I’m sure he has some connections, but as my former congressman, he was a farm-friendly downstater all the way.


drapetomaniac 11.04.03 at 8:49 am

Most people think that charges of racism, which ruin reputations and careers, should be handled with utmost care. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, for example, are often bitterly criticised for making unsupported, politically motivated accusations of racism.

Name a few unsupported accusations of racism made by Jackson and Sharpton outside of the Tawana Brawley case.

“Politically motivated” is a different story, really. Of course any person chooses where to make a stand on racism and where not to — there’s simply not enough time in the day to go after every instance of white racism — but the Brawley case aside, where these men made unsupported allegations of racism.


john c. halasz 11.04.03 at 9:05 am

A couple of others have already caught this, but Sen. Dick Durbin is from southern Illinois, which may not obviate the guilt-by-association racism charge, since southern Illinois really is …er… southern, but, at least, it should modify the terms of the slur, since accuracy in slurring ought to be a prized political value.


G 11.04.03 at 1:45 pm

Surely the “Democrats are the real racists” meme is riding the back of the hugely successful “Democrats are the real anti-Semites” one.


rea 11.04.03 at 3:08 pm

“Name a few unsupported accusations of racism made by Jackson and Sharpton outside of the Tawana Brawley case.”

And apart from WWII and the Holocaust, Hitler wasn’t such a bad guy.


John 11.04.03 at 5:51 pm

“Anyone using this argument, from that point on, deserves the minimum decent level of civility everyone gets. No death threats, don’t publicize their home addresses, don’t drag their children into it, etc.”

Zizka – What about dragging their wives who work at the CIA into it, then?


Joe 11.04.03 at 6:45 pm

You guys are missing the real rationale behind the “Democrats are the real rascists,” er, meme. Ask yourself this: Why does the GOP care if it’s seen as racist? It’s not to attract minority voters–they’re going to vote Democratic no matter what. No, it’s to attract the vote of suburban baby boomers and their children who would be noticeably uncomfortable voting for the Party of Racism.

So there’s two ways to combat the stereotype of the GOP. The first is to deny charges of racism.

The second, as we’re seeing here, is to portray the other guys as being just as racist as you are. Under this approach, the intended goal is for the suburban voters to basically say “well, I don’t like the fact that the GOP is the CCC’s party, but hey, the Democrats are just as bad, so I’ll have the racism-but-with-lower-taxes party, please.”

The solution to that is to actively combat the notion that the GOP and Democrats are remotely equivalent. All that would be needed is an effective way to get out the real message…



Judy 11.04.03 at 7:10 pm

“Logic and ethics are fundamentally the same, they are no more than the duty to oneself.”
Otto Weininger, “Sex and Character”

I’m not sure about the relevance of this quote but I can’t help but wonder how long is it going to take for this country to grow up? Racial politics is over – as least as far as the average American is concerned. Campaign managers and political activists might still be clinging desperately to the race issues as a wedge but “IT’S OVER – NOBODY CARES” – as in we have bigger fish to fry. Grow up people, grow up.


Ratherworried 11.04.03 at 8:32 pm


Racism is, sadly, not over. It is not over in politics and it is not over in the everyday life of Americans in the United States. It takes many forms, some of which are recognized and some of which are persistantly ignored.

Racism is committed by Democrats and Republicans. Lately it has seemed trendy to say racist things about Jews. Some prominent Democrats have said things about Jews they would consider racist if they were said about African Americans. What can you do? You tell them they are wrong and move on.

Trying to claim that the only reason for someone’s opposition to a particular candidate or even policy is racism, sadly has it’s roots in the Democratic party. Some Republicans apparently feel that they can level these kinds of awful charges in imitation of tactics employed by some of their Democratic opponents. This form of intimidation has no place in intellectual discourse but that type of discourse has become rarer and rarer these days.

What are you going to do? You tell them they are wrong and you move on.



zizka 11.05.03 at 4:03 am

Confusing the issue is the goal, as Joe pointed out, and as ratherworried tried to do.

“Alas, a few Republicans are starting to use dirty tricks they learned from the Democrats.”

Yeah, that’s the problem all right!


Stuart Buck 11.05.03 at 4:39 pm

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