Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 3:37 am | Fair 43º


David Harsanyi: Is This a Teachable Moment on Race?

The moral of the Breitbart/Sherrod story is that, for once, we should leave racism out of it

When a story is too good to be true, it probably is.

David Harsanyi
David Harsanyi

It is safe to say that conservative gadfly Andrew Breitbart — whose notoriety exploded after helping expose ACORN’s tax-assistance-for-hookers program — ignored this journalistic truism when he rushed to release tapes of a speech by Shirley Sherrod.

Yet faster than an administrative assistant in the U.S. Department of Agriculture could type the words “we are in the midst of conducting an internal investigation,” the administration canned Sherrod in what is, no doubt, a particularly terrible time for the White House to be embroiled in any sort of scandal.

Whatever the sins of the participating parties, however, the most peculiar aspect of this kerfuffle has been the onslaught of manufactured distress and outrage leveled by many in the media over the very idea that a political activist might accuse an opponent of racism without sufficient vetting.

Because, you know, that sort of thing happens elsewhere.

Asked whether there was anything Americans could learn from this regrettable incident — considering President Barack Obama famously called for more dialogue on the topic when running for office — White House press secretary Robert Gibbs answered, “Well, look, I think this is one of those teachable moments.”

Let me suggest one lesson the nation might take from the Breitbart/Sherrod story: Let’s take a breather from any more national dialoguing on the issue of race. Please.

After all, can anyone recall the last productive conversation on the topic? Whenever we hear about race in politics these days, it typically is being wielded as a weapon to smear entire political movements, delegitimize a genuine national debate and ratchet up anger over imaginary slights.

Recently, Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller published e-mails from JournoList — the now-defunct virtual gathering place where 400 left-wing journalists engaged in off-the record conversations, bounced ideas off one another, talked about messaging and codified their lock stepping.

In one ugly missive, we find Spencer Ackerman of the left-wing Washington Independent chiming in during the Rev. Jeremiah Wright debate: “If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us. Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”

Who cares, right? It must be noted that the majority of professional journalists — liberal or not — do not throw around irresponsible accusations. But for conservatives, this is just more confirmation that racism is often used to chill debate.

But it’s likely more complicated. Many progressives probably sincerely believe that proponents of free-market ideology, for instance, are inherently racist simply because their positions are (allegedly) damaging for minority communities. Surely, this is how someone rationalizes the disgusting act of character assassination.

Perhaps it’s because institutional racism has been eradicated in this country that activists who see all policy through the prism of class and race are forced to try to reinvent what it means to be a racist. For instance, if you believe that the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution still should mean something, you’re a “Tenther” and probably a fan of Jim Crow. If you’re worried about the president’s policies, you’re actually a bigot.

Nothing is as it seems.

So the Sherrod incident should be a teachable moment for the left, as well. It illustrates how easily a reckless charge of racism can destroy someone. And why, perhaps, we should stop injecting race into every argument.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

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