See Update below
Politico is one of the class acts in internet news to which I link frequently, and Ben Smith is a justifiably respected commentator at Politico.
Which is why it pains me to have to point out that yesterday Smith unfairly smeared Robert Stacy McCain as a racist who opposes interracial marriage based upon disputed allegations. And it all emanates from the fact that McCain knows Lynn Vincent, who co-wrote Sarah Palin’s book “Going Rogue.”
The hatred for Palin among the self-anointed intelligentsia and left-wing blogosphere is renowned and indisputable. Merely knowing Palin puts one’s career and reputation at risk, as happened to Vincent. In the effort to get Palin, the Palin haters tried to smear Vincent as a racist.
Having no evidence against Vincent, they cited the fact that Vincent co-wrote a book many years ago with McCain, with the false assertion that McCain was a racist. The evidence was either non-existent, distorted, or fabricated, as I have written before when Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs made the accusations. But no matter. McCain’s crime was knowing someone who knew Sarah Palin.
The latest round took place yesterday, when in the left-wing hysteria to get Palin and Vincent, Max Blumenthal at The Daily Beast repeated the accusations against McCain. Blumenthal quoted from and linked to an article by Michael Signorile from 2002, where Signorile repeated hearsay and gossip about McCain, and made the assertion that McCain, using a fictitious Username, posted a statement hostile to interracial marriage on a posting board called Reclaiming the South. (The meaning of the disputed post itself could be disputed, but I’m not going to make that argument.)
McCain repeatedly has fended off these accusations, and has gone on record denying such posting (“contrary to Michelangelo Signorile’s assertion, I never contributed to the white separatist site ‘Reclaiming the South.'”).
I have no personal way of knowing if McCain’s denials are true, but in the absence of other conclusive evidence, at least cite the denials when making the accusation. (Yes, I’ve listened to the 2006 interview of McCain by Alan Colmes, and no it does not prove that McCain was the author, which he denied in the interview.)
The fact that the post in question cited by Signorile used a Username McCain had used in the past means nothing to me. Someone has been using the Username “Legal Insurrection” without my prior knowledge or permission to post comments at Huffington Post.
Some other person used my blog address without permission to post a derogatory comment directed at the author of a blog called Peking Duck (““I hope you get AIDS from a loved one.”) I never made that comment, and the blog author then had to post this correction: “Twisted, the commenter wrote back and said he/she is not Bill Jacobson despite listing it as their blog, so let’s not retaliate.”
The internet is a nasty, nasty place. Publications like Politico need to be really careful before attributing comments to a particular person, particularly when the person has denied being the author.
Instead, Smith simply took Blumenthal’s characterization and wrote that McCain’s “views on race — he opposes, among other things, intermarriage — have since made him a pariah even on the right.”
I e-mailed Smith and asked for the basis for that statement, and pointed out that I was not aware of anything supporting the proposition that McCain opposed interracial marriage (or that he was a pariah, but that’s not the point of this post).
Smith then changed the wording, to state that McCain “has written critically of interracial marriage” with a link to the Signorile article, with no mention that McCain denied the assertion. Sometime overnight, Smith changed the post again to include a link to a Southern Poverty Law Center assertion in 2005 that McCain was associated with racist groups, an allegation McCain also has denied. (My own views of the demise of the SPLC into partisan hackery, including labeling a black female law professor an “apologist for white supremacists,” are here.)
To his credit, Smith added an update linking to McCain’s denial of the allegations. But Smith also added a link to Little Green Footballs, which has been the main source agitating against McCain after McCain criticized Charles Johnson’s attacks on other bloggers. Smith may not realize it, but he has become an unwitting tool in an old-fashioned blog war.
There are few worse epithets than to label someone a racist, so a responsible news organization like Politico should know better than to throw that charge around so loosely. And the clarifications of the post merely have made matters worse, by linking to more disputed charges against McCain from people with a personal and political agenda.
It’s one thing when the Max Blumenthals of the world engage in such tactics. It’s quite different, and infinitely more damaging, when Politico does the same.
For years into the future, Smith’s Politico post will be cited by bloggers and pundits as proof that McCain (and anyone who knows him) is a racist; that’s how smears work on the internet. Start the smear at some blog or publication no one ever has heard of, get someone partisan at a larger publication to cite to it, then get a respected organization like Politico to cite to it, and now it is “proof.”
How does one defend oneself against such charges? It’s the age-old problem of self-publication. In order to defend oneself against defamatory accusations, one has to repeat the accusations as part of the defense. So McCain is put in the difficult position of having to defend himself while not self-publishing the accusations. “Ignore it or fight it” is a difficult choice, made all the more difficult by the rise of the internet, where smear merchants playing the race card abound.
And it’s a choice I faced in deciding whether to write this post. By so doing, I’m including links to and discussion of the accusations. More fodder for the search engines. But it has to be done, because anyone to the right of the far left-wing blogs is a potential victim of the race card.
When I wrote a post in October 2008 critical of Obama’s lack of record, with a spot-on assessment that Obama was over-rated and narcissistic, I was accused of having a hidden racist agenda: “Considering that it adds no value to the debate at all, one has to conclude that Jacobson is doing only what other [John] McCain supporters are starting to do, produce these worthless pieces from some narrow perch in order to cover up their own racist bigotry.” (The link has gone dead.)
It can happen to any of us. Ignoring it will not make it go away. The people for whom the race card is the debate-stopper will not stop using the race card. Politico and Ben Smith should be aware of this dynamic, and not fall victim to it.
Which gets me back to this question: Why are we even talking about McCain at all? It’s because McCain knows someone who knows Sarah Palin.
By writing this post, I put myself at risk. Because I can be accused of knowing someone who knows someone who knows Sarah Palin.
Update 12/7/09: Patterico has posted That Quote Most of You Called “Racist” Was Written by Robert Stacy McCain, attributing the wording quoted by Smith to a 1996 e-mail exchange by McCain, with a link to a Founding Bloggers post in which McCain argued that the language was taken out of context. So Smith may have had it wrong about the 2002 posting, but right ultimately about the quote, so for that I owe Smith an apology.
As to the ultimate meaning of the quote, it really doesn’t matter if it was in a private e-mail 13 years ago. I’ll agree with Patterico on this:
Again, I’m not willing to write off the man entirely for one quote. And yet, it’s clear to me that this quote is his — and that it is racially prejudiced.
He ought to stop halfway pretending he didn’t say it. He should just flatly renounce it.
Nothing I’ve read from McCain in the past year-plus that I’ve been following his blog leads me to think he is a racist or white supremacist, or anything close. So I stand by my reaction to Charles Johnson’s attempts to paint McCain as a white supremacist. In fact, McCain’s writings reflect just the opposite. But ignoring something will not make it go away. Disavow it or explain it. It’s out there.
And Update 12-08-09: Perhaps I had the context of that single pararaph wrong, see this defense of the statement in a guest post at Patterico:
The next statement also appears to arise from a paleoconservative outlook: that a white man might have a high NTF (”Negro tolerance factor,” a very useful phrase invented by black activists) in dealing with black men in everyday transactions… but still feel panic when his brother wants to marry a black chick. And McCain is correct that this is not racism: There is no hint that blacks, as a group, are inferior, or that they should be treated differently as a group. The same man may have the same reaction to his brother wanting to marry an Italian or a Pole — both of whom are of course white.
It’s not racism; it’s more like tribalism or xenophobia. It’s similar to a blonde family being upset if their beautiful, blue-haired, blonde-eyed daughter decides to marry a swarthy southern-European with dark brown hair; the reaction flows from preservation of the sub-subspecies of blonds, not a belief in the superiority of the yellow-hairs, which would be required for true “racism.” ….
McCain draws the same distinction I would: That father is not racist for not wanting his daughter to marry a blind man; he is stupid, irrational, prejudiced, and unreasonable for a very different reason: because the important components of a marriage are a sense of decency, moral uprightness, loyalty, shared interests, sexual desire, and the willingness to love (v.t.) the partner — none of which depends upon being able to see.
That’s how I read the lengthy McCain quotation, most of which appears to be McCain quoting Kent H. Steffgen, whoever he was. (Steffgen wrote at least a couple books attacking Ronald Reagan as a socialist, of all things.) R.S. McCain is not exonerating or praising those who recoil in revulsion from a biracial marriage, but he is acquitting that person of being driven by a belief in the inferiority of one race to another — at least on the evidence presented at trial.
And consider this defense of the alleged hostility to interracial marriage in the black community, by someone who considers himself an expert race theorist (emphasis mine):
To call this racist is, well, stupid. It is no different than the in-group preference you see in any other racial or ethnic minority. Indeed, it is best understood as another way to preserve cultural cohesion and push back against negative depictions of ones ethnic group. Of course, seeing as how conservatives are constantly on the hunt for anything to deflect charges of racism onto minorities, it’s not really a shock that they would latch on to this as an “example” of racism.
So is McCain’s statement 13 years ago in an e-mail “racist” on its face? Would it be “racist” if someone preferred that relatives marry within their ethnic or racial group not out of hatred for others but as a defense mechanism or out of pure pride in one’s own group? Do Jews “hate” Christians merely by wanting their Jewish children to marry within the faith? I’ll let you be the judge.
Because I don’t hold myself out as a “race theorist,” and never will. I prefer to judge people individually, and from what I’ve read at McCain’s blog and other writings in the past year-plus, there is nothing to suggest that he is racist or a white supremacist or any of the other Charles-Johnson-isms being cast McCain’s way.
The original point of this post remains correct, notwithstanding the updates: McCain was targeted by Johnson and Blumenthal because of agendas having nothing to do with the meaning of a single paragraph McCain wrote 13 years.
And Update 12-10-09: The final update to this post (hopefully), where you can read everyone’s point of view on this, at Little Miss Attila
Charles Johnson and Robert Stacy McCain
An Allergic Reaction To The Race Card
“Race” As Political Weapon