Sobrans -- The Real News of the Month

The Cost-Free Smear

January 11, 2001

We are about to witness a rancorous fight over the confirmation of John Ashcroft as G.W. Bush’s 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 Ashcroft’s opposition to abortion. But it’s 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 White’s race was a reason for rejecting him: White was just very very liberal or, as Ashcroft put it, “pro-criminal.”

[Breaker quote: There is 
no penalty for loose charges of 'racism.']But 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, shouldn’t “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 doesn’t 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; it’s what philosophers call a bogus predicate — a vague pseudoconcept with no rational content. Though it can be used grammatically, it can’t be paraphrased in plain English nouns and verbs. And because it doesn’t really mean anything, it can’t be refuted. That’s 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 couldn’t be proved, the accuser himself would be discredited. Not so with charges of “racism.” Being meaningless, they can’t 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 doesn’t dare put it that way. She doesn’t 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, it’s 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 that’s not at all what they want. They want a vague charge they can use as they please, in such a way that the accused can’t defend himself and the accuser never pays a price for a cynical smear.

This country may be turning into a swamp, but it furnishes an environment that certain critters are quite comfortable in.

Joseph Sobran

Archive Table of Contents

Current Column

Return to the SOBRAN’S home page

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive | Back Issues of SOBRANS 
 WebLinks | Scheduled Appearances | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas | Notes from the Webmaster
  Contact Us | Back to the home page 

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications

small Griffin logo