Sunday, January 26, 2014

Smearing Tim Scott

A racial slur from an NAACP leader.

By James Taranto

"NC NAACP Chief Denounces Extremists of All Kinds, Including Conservatives" read a headline in Monday's edition of the State, daily newspaper of Columbia, S.C. But if the story is a full account of the Rev. William Barber II's "speech of fire and thunder," delivered in the Palmetto State capital on the eve of Martin Luther King Day, the headline should have read "NC NAACP Chief Denounces All Kinds of Conservatives as Extremists." As far as we know from reading the article, the only people he criticized other than conservatives were, as the reporter put it, "blacks who he said aren't following the MLK spirit," among them "black youths who kill each other and others 'who wear their pants down to their knees.' "

Tim Scott ZUMA Press/Corbis

But Barber drew national attention for his comments about South Carolina's junior senator, Tim Scott, who is Congress's lone black Republican and one of only two black senators. Elected to the House in 2010, Scott was tapped by Gov. Nikki Haley to replace Sen. Jim DeMint, who resigned at the start of last year to become president of the Heritage Foundation. As a conservative politician in a conservative state, Scott is expected to prevail easily in this November's special election to serve out the two years that will remain in the term.

The NAACP is a liberal group, so you wouldn't expect its leaders to see eye to eye on politics with Tim Scott. But the manner in which Barber expressed his disagreement was remarkably disagreeable. "A ventriloquist can always find a good dummy," Barber said. "The extreme right wing down here finds a black guy to be senator and claims he's the first black senator since Reconstruction and then he goes to Washington, D.C., and articulates the agenda of the Tea Party."

Scott is in fact the South's first black senator since Reconstruction, but of course what's invidious here is Barber's characterization of Scott as a ventriloquist's "dummy." And the Washington Times notes that the NAACP stood behind Barber's comment, saying in a statement: "Dr. King emphasized love and justice rather than extremism. Unless we stand for justice we cannot claim allegiance to or pay homage to Dr. King. In a state such as South Carolina, politicians, whether they be black or white, should not be echoing the position of the far right."

Fox News reports that Scott, in an appearance on "The Kelly File," described Barber's attack as an example of "philosophical bigotry"--a rather gentle characterization of what inescapably is also a racial stereotype. Barber's slur wasn't original; as a Google search for "Scalia Thomas ventriloquist" shows, the trope of a black conservative as a white one's puppet has been around for years.

The Barber-Scott kerfuffle reminds us of an attack on one of our own columns from In an April 2010 column titled "Why the Left Needs Racism" (which turned out to be the first in a series), we argued that "to keep blacks voting Democratic, it is necessary for the party and its supporters to keep alive the idea that racism is prevalent in America and to portray the Republican Party . . . as racist."

MediaMutterer Simon Maloy recast our argument as a racial attack:

First and foremost, it's remarkably insulting. The implication of Taranto's theory is that African-Americans aren't sophisticated or observant or intelligent enough to know real racism when they see it, and are thus continuously duped en masse into voting for Democrats. It couldn't be the case that black voters actually care about issues and have real reasons for voting Democratic, they're just puppets who are motivated by racial sentiments that Democrats prey upon.

The false-choice fallacy should be obvious. Like any human behavior, voting is complicated and involves both reason and emotion. To emphasize the latter is not to deny the former. But we took especially vigorous exception to Maloy's falsely imputing to us the "puppet" language, a dehumanizing stereotype that was quite the opposite of what we were saying. Whereas puppets are inanimate objects, to respond to emotional appeals is quintessentially human.

Read again what Barber said about Sen. Scott. He used exactly the slur Maloy falsely ascribed to us.

Now one might say it's one thing for a black person to use a racial slur against another black person, and something else entirely for a white person to do so. We agree. Like the "N-word," Barber's slur against Scott would have been far worse had it come from a white person.

But it was ugly and invidious nonetheless, and it underscores a way in which blacks are truly at a disadvantage in American society. No white senator of either party would be slurred as a "ventriloquist's dummy," at least not on account of his race. There's no shortage of antagonism between liberal and conservative whites, but whites do not face the same sort of race-based demands for political and ideological conformity. In that respect, the NAACP has shown itself to be very much opposed to racial equality.