Spindle Time: Civil Rights Hypocrisy Edition

David Brooks takes a lot of heat from conservatives for trimming his sails at the New York Times, where, he’s remarked to me and others, being the identified “house conservative” is like being a rabbi in Mecca.  But even with his moderate disposition, his columns still rack up tons of hate mail and intemperate remarks from Times readers who simply can’t bear the presence of any columnist to the right of Emma Goldman.

But let me say something in defense of David’s disposition here: did you happen to see him on the roundtable portion of Meet the Press on NBC Sunday morning?  He had to share the table with the egregious Al Sharpton, where the topic naturally was the run-up to this week’s commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington.  (Yes, this spectacle is lasting longer than Black History Month, which Harry Stein once remarked seems to last until June.)

The temptation would be overwhelming for me in that situation to deliver a deserved beatdown on Sharpton, which would, in the format of those shows, probably come off badly.  David took a different, and, I think, highly effective tack.  Without looking at Sharpton or acknowledging Sharpton’s presence, he delivered a short but elegant speech about the “immense dignity” of the organizers of the 1963 march, A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, who, David pointed out, were humble men who sought not to draw attention to themselves, but who sought to increase the glare of the harsh light of the racism still institutionalized at the time.  They were, David said, men of “enormous emotional self-discipline and self-control.”  The implicit contrast between those civil rights leaders and today’s demagogic grandstanders could not have been lost on Sharpton or any perceptive viewer of the show, and Sharpton was helpless to respond.  You can watch the segment at this RCP site.

Columnist Cathy Young has further reflections on the case of Bayard Rustin, and how this gay former Marxist grew much more conservative as time went on (which is one reason why Rustin is seldom recalled or celebrated today):

A number of articles on Rustin have mentioned that he was briefly a Communist in his youth and then a socialist, as well as a pacifist and a conscientious objector during World War II. But that’s only half the story. From the 1960s onward, Rustin was a passionate anti-Communist. His socialism was a support for government programs and strong labor unions to alleviate the market’s imbalances; for Rustin as for many other Cold War liberals, it went hand in hand with unequivocal support for American democracy and opposition to Soviet totalitarianism…

In the mid-1960s (as most media tributes won’t tell you), Rustin broke from the civil rights movement over its embrace of open opposition to the war in Vietnam, a stance from which he had tried to dissuade King. Arch Puddington, vice president of Freedom House — with which Rustin was affiliated in his later career — writes that while troubled by the war’s brutalities, Rustin was “deeply disturbed by the prospect of Vietnam’s people coming under the domination of a totalitarian regime on the Soviet or Chinese model.” He also opposed linking the cause of racial equality to a broad attack on American power.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Rustin’s activism focused on global promotion of freedom. He was a strong supporter of Israel and a champion of refugees from Communist oppression, be it Soviet Jews or Vietnamese boat people. While he worked against South African apartheid, he was extremely concerned about Soviet expansionism and the rise of brutal postcolonial dictatorships in Africa.

Contrasts rather sharply with, for example, Jesse Jackson, who never could find anything wrong with Cuba, Nicaragua, etc.


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