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Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Crooked Logic

Last week I posted a short piece about the Californian Democrat politician Cruz Bustamante. I said the follwing: "While everyone esle seems worried about where big Arny would take the golden state, deap seated changes which seem to revolve around the rise of the Chicano vote, do seem to be on the horizon. Tacitus's question about just why Bustamante hasn't renounced this part of his past seems a perfectly reasonable and legitimate one". Well yesterday I trolled over to the normally ultra-reasonable Kevin Drum to find that a new member of the 'crooked crew' - Ted Barlow - had a long takedown of the absurd MEChA baiting recently invented by desperate right wingers afraid that Cruz Bustamante might win the recall election . My god, I thought, I've put my foot in it, I've been doing some 'absurd Mecha baiting' and now I'll have to pay for my sins. (I'm not especially desperate, and I certainly don't consider myself to be 'right wing' - although I have defended Alan Greenspan, Marty Feldstein and Greg Mankiw, so I guess in some peoples little books that makes me as good as).

So off I went to see this 'long takedown' and frankly I was appauled by what I found. What we have from Barlow is a piece which is long on invective - the term bullshit is one of his favourites and (as Juan Non-Volokh and Tacitus have shown) short on fact - including the incredibile detail that he googled in English for his MEChA research. Rather than addressing the question of why Bustamante stayed silent for so long, what Barlow does is try to suggest there is nothing to worry about. Except that there is this awkward little phrase 'por la raza todo', which may have sounded just fine at a time when the Black Panthers and Malcolm X were all the rage, but somehow doesn't seem to fit in in the new multi-cultural, diversity-open US of A. (Incidentally check out the official Bustamante disavowal of his past and see if you are convinced). Both Lionel Jospin and Joschka Fisher have had to take a lot heat for opinions they once held, and their political careers have continued, I don't see why the case of Bustamante should be any different. We all love poking fun at Big Arny and his apparently sexist past, but surely what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.

Is all this a 'typical example of the tendency of blogland to get bogged down in trivia'? I don't think so. I have no idea who will make the best governor of California (I don't even know if it would be Davis), what concerns me are political standards, and even-handedness in criticism, and that the Barlow approach applies just the same 'guilt by association' technique to Tacitus (who after all originated the story) as he suggests Tacitus applies to Bustamante. In conclusion, una de cal y una de arena, as we say in Spanish. First Tacitus's own explanation - which I agree with, and don't dare miss the Sims link - and a piece I fished from the comments section of CT. The latter makes a point which needs to be made, the Chicanos had one hell of a rough time and deserve all our respect and consideration (I was busy listening to Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez at the time in question) but this is no reason to adjust downwards our standards of debate.

First Tacitus

In answer to your question, Matthew, the issue is not whether Bustamante is personally racist, nor whether "the nation is threatened by a rising tide of Latino fascism." The former is probably not true, and the latter is almost definitely not true. I took care to disassociate myself from the wacky theories of Lowell Ponte and the nutball American Patrol from the get-go, and I still do.

The problem with Bustamante's affiliation with MEChA is that the group itself does indeed espouse and abet sentiments and principles that may be justly described as racist or secessionist. Source documents and citations in the posts above. A common rebuttal to this is that most Mechistas don't actually act on these sentiments or principles; however, this is not a moral defense, but an argument from efficacy. I'd assume that wrong is wrong whether it works or not. (Certainly that was the just basis for the condemnation of Dave Sims .)

Bustamante's unwillingness or inability to disassociate himself from MEChA over those concerns -- or even to acknowledge that those concerns exist -- is deeply disappointing. It shows, at best, a lack of comprehension on his part. At worst, it shows a lack of character. As a Republican who denounces neo-Confederates, it would be hypocritical of me to not apply the same standards to Cruz Bustamante.

Now Tanglebum from the comments section

I don’t know anything about Bustamante’s politics. I think the odds are pretty high he did some deals along the way. He endorses Lieberman. But he is hispanic, Latino, Mexican. Mestizo the way a lot of Californianos use it means the Indian Spanish mix. But if you look at most of the ‘Mexicans’ washing dishes banging nails running leaf blowers, they’re Indians. With Spanish surnames. I remember a labor bus hit by a train back in the 60’s. Those guys were working for next to nothing, then they were gone. The Salinas valley press treated it like a truck load of chickens spilled on the highway. There’s no historical record of what it was really like, it’s all in the memories of people who were there. Then they get old and the history’s gone. Talking about it is reliving it. So it isn’t there in the minds of the young, in the minds of the sheltered and privileged who never saw it when it was happening. It’s off topic I know. But really that’s what we mean when we say racism. It’s been bowdlerized to mean you couldn’t get a job, or a nice house. But it was much much worse than that.

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