Reading Mickey Kaus this morning, I had that horrible sinking feeling that only comes from having made a false accusation in public. Following Josh Marshall’s lead, I had noted what seemed to be a pretty openly racial appeal from Frist’s first run for the Senate in 1994: charging that his opponent, Jim Sasser, had been “transplanting Tennesseans’ money to Washington, D.C., home of Marion Barry.” What, I demanded rhetorically, did Barry have to do with the Senate race in Tennessee?

Mickey had an answer to that: Sasser was the chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the District of Columbia, responsible for the federal subsidy to the bloated DC budget. Barry, as mayor, was a legitimate symbol of that. Oooops!

Just as I was pondering whether to eat my words plain or with mango chutney, Josh rode to the rescue, reminding all of us that Marion Barry wasn’t the Mayor of Washington in 1994, having been replaced by Sharon Pratt Kelly in 1990. Un-ooops.

Mickey, if you’re interested, I have some nice chutney here …


Oh, my. Mickey seems to have forgotten a basic principle of karma yoga, American style: When you’re in a hole, STOP DIGGING.

Responding to Josh Marshall, he says:

The truth is that Barry was a perfectly good synecdoche for Democratic willingness to tolerate failed, bloated, union-hamstrung city governments for fear of offending African-American pols. [Emphasis added.]

So instead of denying that Frist’s appeal had racial content, Mickey now insists that it did have racial content, but that was all right because Marion Barry’s race was part of a perfectly legitimate issue: Democrats’ bad behavior motivated by their “fear of offending African-American pols.” He then goes on to suck his thumb hard about whether the Willie Horton ad was also legitimate: Mickey isn’t quite sure.

Well, okay. No point arguing about words. If Mickey wants to say that Bill Frist’s campaign ethics are no worse than Lee Atwater’s –admitting that they were no better — I for one don’t much care whether he calls that sort of behavior “racist” or not. But if that’s the conservatives’ definition of being non-racist, then the whole Lott affair simply means that Republican politicians need to learn to give their racial appeals some sort of veneer to make them look different from simple bigotry.

Funny, that’s sort of what I suspected in the first place.

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