Rick Jones, whose own blog Curmudgeon Central should be on everyone’s list of bookmarks and visited often, delivers one of the finest and most thoughtful comments ever to grace Ethics Alarms, and we’ve had many excellent ones. His topic is my post regarding Professor Dyson’s comments on ABC this Sunday about criticism of President Obama, but Rick makes a perceptive connection to the Trayvon Martin controversy as well.And here is the really amazing part: there is not a word here that I don’t agree with completely.
Here is his Comment of the Day, on the post Unethical Quote of the Week: Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson:
“It strikes me that President Obama has come in for at least his share of sniping—legitimate and otherwise. But that isn’t the issue here. Rather, how much of that criticism is based on race? The honest answer is that we can’t say with certainty, but we can make some pretty fair conjectures.
“It is beyond stupid to assert that either all of none of the commentary is race-based. To say that all is would be to make him the Messiah that the right accuses the left of claiming him to be: I honestly know of no one on the left who thinks that, but it’s a common trope of the right to allege that the left has pledged blind allegiance… whereas in fact a good share of the left kind of wishes President Obama were indeed anything like the radical socialist portrayed by the Hannitys and Limbaughs of the world.
“Similarly, much of the birther movement can legitimately be traced to racial animus. And no small number of protest signs carried by Tea Partiers would indeed be viewed as racist by a dispassionate observer. That doesn’t mean that the Tea Party as a whole is racist. It does mean that some of its members are.
“There’s a case to be made that the current GOP leadership will oppose any initiative supported by President Obama, even those they’d hitherto supported (e.g., the individual mandate), to a greater degree than any previous opposition party had done. Is this because of race? Chances are, the answer depends on the individual politician and the individual issue, and is more likely to be found along a continuum of thinking rather than a disjunctive yes/no dichotomy. That is, 60% of Senator A’s antagonism on Issue B is race-based, but Representative X had an honest change of heart and now opposes Initiative Y for reasons completely apart from any racial dimension. More importantly, there are cases—the majority, in fact—in which racism might be a factor, but we have no way of knowing. In these circumstances, we can but place our faith in the good will of our fellow travelers, all the while remaining wary. Trust, but verify, as President Reagan famously said.
“All of which leads us to this particular incident. President Obama said something remarkably stupid—surely, he knows better—and soon walked it back, the way he and countless other politicians have done in the past. His initial comments drew criticism, and should have, from a broad spectrum of commentators. To suggest that such analyses are inherently racially inspired is damaging in two significant ways: first, it diminishes the discourse. Everyone, politician, pundit, and private citizen alike, makes mistakes. No one ought to be immune from criticism, and it is unworthy of the democratic system we try to uphold to suggest that every argument advanced by one’s political rivals is based on unethical or nefarious motives.
“Equally important, however, is the Crying Wolf Syndrome. I stopped believing any evidence distributed by Andrew Breitbart after his duplicitous editing smeared everyone from innocent ACORN workers to Shirley Sherrod to University of Missouri faculty, only to have him actually be right about Anthony Weiner. Similarly, silly charges of racism—and those of Professor Dyson in this case will indeed be perceived as silly by the overwhelming majority of thinking people—will ultimately detract from the rightful scrutiny of remarks which really are (or could be understandably construed as) racist.
“The polarization you’ve written about in the Trayvon Martin case, Jack, is an ideal case in point. Were George Zimmerman’s actions racially inspired? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else except Mr. Zimmerman himself. We can but look at the evidence—the real evidence, not the stuff of Geraldo Rivera’s musings—and do our best to figure out what happened and why. Is it possible that Zimmerman is a bigoted jackass who initiated a confrontation just because Martin was black? Yep. Is it possible that Zimmerman was really acting in self-defense, just as he said he was? Yep.
“One of the most valuable words in a free society is “maybe.” Professor Dyson and his ilk, left and right, black and white, male and female, straight and gay, threaten to take that word, that concept, away from us. This cannot be allowed to happen.”