Fine, one more post on the endless Wright controversy. On several occasions, I have argued that there is a double standard being applied in the treatment of Hagee and Wright, but it isn’t the double standard that is being routinely trotted out in recent days. Frank Rich sums up this view:
But whatever that verdict, it is disingenuous to pretend that there isn’t a double standard operating here. If we’re to judge black candidates on their most controversial associates — and how quickly, sternly and completely they disown them — we must judge white politicians by the same yardstick.
Of course, one of the reasons why the Wright business provokes many conservatives is the resentment of a double standard when it comes to racial attitudes, whether perceived or real, that is deployed against whites and conservatives in particular. If Joe Biden so much as makes a bad joke, it’s treated as if it were a three-alarm fire, Geraldine Ferraro’s basically innocent remark “has no place in our politics” (as Obama likes to put it) and we heard a cacophony about what Obama called the “quiet violence” of Don Imus (and those are just some of the most prominent episodes in the last year or so), but all Obama needs to do to satisfy most journalists is to disavow his pastor. Heaven help an actual conservative who utters some poorly chosen words, because no one else will save him. So if there is a double standard on racial matters, it is one that is indisputably working to Obama’s advantage, at least as far as the media are concerned, while the white Democratic voters who are moving away from him are probably doing so at least in part because they know full well that they would be ostracised or fired if they were to utter anything even 1/100th as incendiary or provocative as the things that Wright says on a daily basis. I suspect that this grates on some people. As I have been trying to say before, what we should want to see is an end to this mindless policing of thought, speech and association, but as long as we do have it let’s be clear about who usually benefits from the double standard.
Of course, it is absolutely legitimate to take a candidate’s associates into account when you vote, but then it seems to me that those who have closely associated themselves with Mr. Bush have a great deal of explaining to do–will they disavow him, his errors and his crimes? (Of course, we know they won’t.) After all, ironically enough, McCain owes Bush for some significant part of his political success in a couple of ways: in a very direct way, many from Bush’s campaign backed McCain early on and made him the heir apparent, which, despite the failures of 2007, helped to carry him on to win the nomination, and in a negative way Bush provided McCain with the perfect foil against which he could cast himself as the reformer and independent-minded McCain of myth. McCain owes his current position to Mr. Bush much more than Obama owes his to Wright, yet there is no expectation that he will meaningfully repudiate Mr. Bush more than he has, which isn’t very much.
There is absolutely a double standard being applied to Wright and Hagee that lets Hagee (and, by extension, McCain) off the hook, and it is pretty obvious why. Hagee is the head of an influential lobby that supports Israel and takes the hardest imaginable line on policy in the Near East, so the combination of a “pro-Israel” position and a reflexively pro-war view secures Hagee and anyone who associates with him from any serious criticism. In other words, he has taken what is somehow considered a “respectable” and “mainstream” view on these policies, and this inoculates him to other criticism that he has awful views of Catholics. Meanwhile, Wright’s policy views with respect to Israel and the Near East are diametrically opposed to Hagee’s (and, for that matter, to most of Obama’s views), and it is as much for this (and the “anti-Americanism” charge) that the media focus on him with so much more intensity, and it is for this reason that Obama had to throw in that fairly blatant pandering line on Israel in his Philadelphia speech that otherwise had nothing to do with foreign policy. Wright has said offensive, untrue and stupid things; Hagee has actively promoted dangerous, destructive and stupid policies and gloried in the bombardment of civilian populations. The latter is treated as a “legitimate” policy view that should not be stigmatised or challenged, while the former must be vigorously policed and punished. Lieberman calls Hagee a “man of God,” while Wright is deemed by pundits left and right to be a crackpot. Would that we could work up as much indignation for the terrible policies that Hagee regularly endorses and promotes as we have for words that are basically irrelevant to the business of government.
Besides, there is a general double standard that is going to define the entire campaign: McCain was a media darling before most people knew who Obama was. Not just any white politician, much less a Republican, could normally get away with being tied to Hagee as easily as he has, but McCain is basically untouchable by the media because the media refuse to question his judgement, which most of them have already decided is sound and reliable. When he panders, his admirers in the press corps make excuses for him (“he doesn’t really believe that!”); when he gets things amazingly wrong, they cover for him (“he has tremendous experience and knowledge on national security!”); when he tells what are obviously lies, the bold teller of truths is given a pass because the journalists know, deep down, that at least McCain feels really bad about lying. McCain could associate with known criminals and terrorists, and the media would find a way to put it in a good light (“he was gathering intel on their operations!”).