I want to get into some other questions on the race issue. But first, Mickey Kaus.
I’ve been watching Kaus’s posts on the Frist matter pile up. And to me it looks like another distressing case of Mickey’s BOBL — bend-over-backwards-liberalism, the curious but telling desire on the part of the afflicted to turn over every stone and spare no effort to find excuses for or rationalize the behavior of the right. One can certainly find better examples of it in recent weeks. But this one definitely fits the symptomatology.
The question with Frist is not whether excuse-making conservatives and Mickey can retroactively shoehorn his comments back into respectability by bringing up the fact, as he does today, that Barry was himself born, raised and educated in Memphis, Tennessee. Not even the fact that his then-opponent Jim Sasser sat on a subcommittee charged with overseeing the District.
The best evidence here is Frist’s own defense of his use of Barry at the time. When Sam Donaldson asked him what Barry had to do with a Senate campaign in Tennessee, Frist said: “Not very much, but Marion Barry symbolizes a lot about what people think about politics today.”
Mickey’s retroactive excuses had never even occurred to Frist. Or if they had, he knew they wouldn’t pass the laugh test under actual questioning. The essence of Mickey’s argument, as I myself argued earlier, is that a politician can’t be barred from bringing up a legitimate political issue relating to a black politician simply because that reference might also be interpreted as having a racial overtone.
As I said earlier, this matter of Frist and Barry is very much a close-run thing. But Frist couldn’t even seem to come up with what his legitimate political issue was. And that brings me back to the common sense understanding of Frist’s use of Barry, which is that he was an uppity-you-know-what who got videotaped in a hotel room smoking crack. That doesn’t mean Frist is a racist. I doubt he is. It just makes him cynical and willing to use race, albeit subtly, when convenient.
Barry proved a convenient way to marry together a legitimate, if extremely obscure, issue of the subsidy the federal government rightly pays the District of Columbia — bear in mind that Tennessee is one of those states that receives back more in programs and subsidies than it sends to the federal government in taxes — and an appeal to unflattering views of blacks.
One of Mickey’s great claims to fame was forcing Democrats to stop their excuse making for one of their favored constituencies and start getting them to confront their problems. Now Mickey has a favored constituency of his own. And they could use the same sort of help.