Imagine that George W. Bush found himself down by between 4 and 10 points in the polls 10 days before the election. Suppose further that a Jewish organization favoring George Bush were to run the following ad:
Grainy images of Auschwitz in background. Voice over: “When the Jewish people suffered genocide, America came through.” Cut to images of GIs. “When Israel was alone against the world, America came through.” Images of Pat Moynihan at the United Nations. . “But now, when Israel is facing perhaps her most dangerous hour, Bill Clinton and Al Gore have turned their backs on her.” Palestinian holding up bloody hands. Image of Bill Clinton embracing Yasser Arafat and Hillary Clinton embracing Suha Arafat. Cut to image of U.S. empty chair while Security Council condemns Israel. Next image, Auschwitz again. “It can happen again. But the Clinton/Gore administration doesn’t mind.”
Even if such an ad were to run only in Florida, the outcry would be deafening — and justly so. To suggest that the Clinton/Gore administration, because of admittedly unwise policies in the Middle East, is somehow indifferent to genocide would be obscene. The juxtaposition of the Palestinian with bloody hands and the Clintons’ embraces of the Arafats would utterly misleading and contemptible.
OK, so let’s turn now to the ad being run by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — and which we have reason to suppose was cleared with the Gore/Lieberman campaign. On screen are grainy images of a pick-up truck. A chain is crudely tied to the bumper and moves jerkily as the voice-over is heard. “I’m Renee Mullins, James Byrd’s daughter. On June 7, 1998, in Texas, my father was killed. He was beaten, chained and then dragged three miles to his death, all because he was black. So when Gov. George W. Bush refused to support hate crimes legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again. Call George W. Bush and tell him to support hate crimes legislation. We won’t be dragged away from our future.” Several times as she speaks, the camera focuses on the Texas license plate.
That is low. Honorable men and women can disagree about hate crimes legislation. Among the many arguments against such laws: 1) They may involve the federal government in virtually any criminal prosecution in the country. 2) They would politicize law enforcement by criminalizing thought, not just conduct, which can be very dangerous since thoughts are hard to prove and easy to misinterpret. 3) They might, ironically, make it harder to get convictions in cases like the gruesome murder of James Byrd because the prosecution would have another element of the crime, namely motive, to prove. 4) Motives are irrelevant to criminal prosecutions. The Columbine shooters killed jocks, blacks, boys, and girls. Should they suffer different penalties depending upon how they felt about each victim? 5) Listing some offenses as “hate crimes” could undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system if some individuals come to be seen as more sympathetic victims than others. 6) There is no evidence that state officials are failing to prosecute crimes motivated by hatred. As everyone knows, two of those convicted in the Byrd killing are on death row. The third got life in prison. Satisfaction with those sentences is universal in Texas and in America, so far as anyone can tell.
The NAACP and the Gore campaign know all of this, of course. The fig leaf at the end “Call George Bush and ask him to support hate crimes legislation” isn’t fooling anybody. This is not an attempt to lobby Bush, merely an attempt to smear him.
In order to boost black turnout on Nov. 7, the Democrats are willing to inflame feelings of racial animosity and mistrust, and to defame most unjustly a totally honorable man whom no one in a million years, including Kweisi Infume, would ever call a racist — someone who, in fact, without any political motive, is doing his best to improve the lives and educational prospects of poor black children. And why are they willing to do such damage? For Al Gore?
As Sir Thomas More says to Richard Rich in “A Man for All Seasons,” “It profits a man nothing if he give up his soul for the whole world — but for Wales?”