Bustamante and MEChA: Enough Already!

Ted Barlow, writing at Crooked Timber, does a skilful deconstruction of the “Bustamante-is-a-racist” story. [*] That hasn’t kept Glenn Reynolds from continuing to push it.

Reynolds rags on Ted Barlow for a trivial spelling error, but doesn’t seem to think he owes Bustamante an apology for trying to pin on him the rantings of a group called El Voz de Aztlan, to which Bustamante has never had any affiliation. (And which seems to have endorsed Glenn’s preferred candidate, Arnold Schwarzenegger. [*] And he seems to think that his paranoid distrust of the “liberal media” justifies his believing, and spreading, any random rumor he likes involving any person or organization he thinks of as liberal.

[In my emails back and forth with Glenn, he seems genuinely puzzled by the anger sometimes directed at him. I think that part of what generates that anger is the utter unseriousness with which Glenn handles the power that blogging has given him to damage people’s reputations. Not taking yourself too seriously is attractive; not taking seriously the harm you do to others isn’t. A false accusation of bigotry calls for a prominent correction (not just an “update”) and a frank apology.]

Mickey Kaus [*] points out that the now-notorious slogan “”Por La Raza todo. Fuera de la Raza Nada” doesn’t mean “For the Race, everything. For those outside the Race nothing,” but rather “By means of the Race, everything. Outside the Race, nothing” or “On behalf of the Race, everything. Outside the Race, nothing.” But then Kaus continues to demand that Bustamante denounce the “For the race, everything,” version.

[More on the subtleties of Spanish, and in particular the meaning of the word por, from San Diego Soliloquies. [*] Suggested translation: “United we stand. Divided we fall.” Update And it turns out, according to a reader, that “race” is not the primary meaning of “raza” as given by standard Spanish-English dictionaries. “Raza” can mean “family” or “kin group” or “affinity group.” My reader suggests that Kaus should be embarazada, except that embarazada actually means “pregnant” rather than “embarrassed” On the evidence, Mickey — who is a much nicer and more serious guy in real life than the character he plays in his blog –is no more capable of embarrassment than he is of pregnancy.]

[Oddly, neither Kaus nor Reynolds is asking Schwarzenegger to renounce his support of a known Nazi war criminal for re-election as President of Austria [*], or his board membership in US English, which denounces efforts to teach emergency room personnel and paramedics in areas with large Spanish-speaking populations to speak enough Spanish to communicate with people who might otherwise die. [*] Nor does either of them point out how outrageous it is to compare MEChA’s windy theorizing to the violence of the KKK, as Sen. McClintock has done.]

The whole thing is a case study in the right wing’s mastery of the politics of smear. And don’t think it isn’t working: Bustamante, despite his long career, is virtually unknown, and this is among the first things the voters are hearing about him. In a five-week campaign, it’s deadly, and almost impossible to counteract. As in the old Lyndon Johnson story, there’s no need to prove that your opponent has sex with his pigs: it’s good enough if you can get him to deny it. (That said, I wish Bustamante had shown more skill in his handling of this nonsense: If I’d been writing his speeches, I would have suggested that he say something like, “Anyone who thinks that California ought to go back to Mexican rule has been drinking the wrong brand of tequila. Next question?”)

If one of the Democratic Presidential candidates is on the ball, he’ll hop the next plane to California, put an arm around Bustamante, and denounce the whole nasty business for what it is: the right-wing spin machine in action. Whoever the nominee is had better expect the same sort of vicious attacks. But the ethnic tinge makes this particular character assassination especially nasty.

Yes, there are minority politicians, including Al Sharpton and some California Latinos, who make explicit appeals to the anti-majority prejudices of their followers. And it’s necessary to keep such people from gaining power. But that makes the practice of crying wolf — making accusations of reverse racism in the absence of any evidence — so much the worse. MEChA is more or less a fraternity. Is anyone asking George W. Bush to denounce the desecration of an Indian corpse notoriously associated with Skull and Bones?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com