For promoting a ballot measure to end racial preferences in California, Ward Connerly was smeared as a Klansman by liberal commentators.
LIBERALS IN AMERICA are permitted to say things about conservatives -- horrid, awful things -- that no conservative could get away with saying about a liberal. Every year, I never lack for fresh evidence to illustrate this double standard. Alas, 1996 was no exception.
When David Brinkley commented on Election Night that President Clinton "has not a creative bone in his body … and will always be a bore," the media were aghast. Every daily in America ran a story on Brinkley's put-down; the venerable newsman was compelled to apologize publicly. Bob Dole's flip reference to Clinton as "Bozo" a few weeks earlier was just as widely covered, and just as sternly scolded.
"It turned decidedly nastier in the Dole camp," Katie Couric and Tim Russert lamented on the "Today" program, while CNN's Bernard Shaw rebuked Dole for "lower(ing) the level of civility."
But when Clinton, one day after the election, called his political foes "a cancer" who should be "cut out of American politics," there was no wave of disapproval. And there was no mea culpa when Bryant Gumbel crudely referred to Pat Buchanan as "Puke-anan" on network television.
At the far-right and far-left fringes, gross libels abound in equal measure. But when coarse and vicious slanders are hurled by mainstream politicians, journalists, or commentators, it is generally a liberal doing the hurling.
Rather than grapple with conservatives and debate their ideas on the merits, too many liberals find it easier to demonize them as beastly and inhuman. Jesse Jackson, irked by a Supreme Court decision, likened the conservative justices to Ku Klux Klan arsonists: "At night, the enemies of civil rights strike in white sheets, burning churches. By day, they strike in black robes." In August, CNN's Bill Schneider marveled that Jack Kemp "is a rare combination -- a nice conservative." See, most of the time "conservatives are supposed to be mean. They're supposed to be haters."
They're even supposed to be gangsters. The Dole campaign, John Cochran muttered on ABC late in October, "is taking on faint overtones of the old protection racket, with Republicans increasingly sounding like the Capone gang." But it wasn't the GOP that issued this bit of thuggery: "He's one more mistake away from not having any kneecaps." That was Clinton guru James Carville, pronouncing a fatwa against independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Hear that deep, still silence? That's Carville not being lambasted for making so obnoxious a threat.
Al Franken titled his book about a popular conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot … and other Observations. Classy, huh? If a book about a liberal radio host were similarly-titled -- say, Mario Cuomo is a Big, Fat Idiot -- it would be (properly) scorned as nasty right-wing trash. But Franken won favorable reviews in dozens of media outlets.
Hateful: The liberal magazine Emerge depicted Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as a "Lawn Jockey for the Far Right" on the cover of its November issue.
Nobody drew more savage abuse in 1996 than black conservatives -- usually at the hands of black liberals. Ward Connerly, chairman of California's Proposition 209 campaign to abolish race and gender quotas in state government, was routinely called an "Uncle Tom" and a "traitor" by the defenders of quotas. "He's married to a white woman," hissed state Sen. Diane Watson of Los Angeles. "He wants to be white." The Oakland Tribune depicted him in a cartoon as the proprietor of "Connerly & Co./ Ethnic Cleansers" -- with a Klansman's robe hanging in the window.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas again found himself on the receiving end of sickening hate speech. On the cover of its November issue, Emerge, a liberal black magazine, portrayed "Uncle Thomas" as a "Lawn Jockey for the Far Right." Inside, a grinning Thomas crouched at Justice Antonin Scalia's feet, shining his shoes.
And then there was the six-page memo that U.S. Representative William Clay, a black Missouri Democrat, published about Representative Gary Franks, a black Republican from Connecticut. Franks is "a Negro Dr. Kevorkian," Clay spewed, "who gleefully assists in suicidal conduct to destroy his own race."
That was but the warm-up. Clay bashed his colleague's "foot-shuffling, head-scratching 'Amos and Andy' brand of 'Uncle Tom-ism,"' calling him a "gun for hire willing to assassinate … blacks." Like all "barbarous" black conservatives, he snarled, Franks wants "to maim and kill other blacks for the gratification and entertainment of … white racists."
Will Clay be censured for his filthy slanders? Will he apologize? Of course not. When it comes to smearing your opponents, being a liberal still means never having to say you're sorry.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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