Bell was one of the chief proponents of Critical Race Theory, a radical doctrine that holds that American legal institutions--including our civil rights laws--perpetuate white supremacy.
Bell's ideas were not only radical, but bizarre.
This is only "bizarre" and "radical" to people who are willfully blind to American history. I don't agree with it, and it's far too sweeping for what I would argue. But white supremacy is actually in the Constitution, the whole Constitution, not the abbreviated one the Republican party read after taking the House in 2010. The laws of this country, until, the 1960s actively promoted white supremacy.
Moreover, I suspect that a critical race theorist would argue that the criminal justice laws in the country -- post-1960 -- have themselves promoted white supremacy. I would not, mostly because I think their implications are much broader. But the point I'm driving at is that making such an argument is not hair tonic.
"Radical and bizarre" is a political movement which can't face up to evolution; is campaigning for president while standing in front of a flag of treason; is "Kenyan anti-colonial behavior" and "a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists," Asserting that white supremacy haunts our legal institutions is mainstream for anyone with a serious knowledge of our history.
I will leave it to an actual critical race scholar and someone more familiar with his work to make a full-throated defense. But this definition, even as rendered by Bell's opponents, is firm ground and should be defended as legitimate.
One way to address a smear campaign is to attack the allegation of association. We saw this in the 2008 election with Barack Obama was accused of being a Muslim. The reply was, sensibly, "he isn't a Muslim." In this case the reply (by me and others) has been to point out that a hug and deeply personal introduction do not constitute an endorsement.
But it's more important to address the bombshell itself. The finest portion of Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama was when he made that not only is Obama not a Muslim, so what if he were? This is important. The "Muslim" claim attempted to smear Obama--but Obama is more than capable of defending himself. But the millions of Muslims who are implictely smeared? Not so much.
Thus it's worth noting, in the present business, that Derrick Bell is dead and can't defend himself. Obama will be fine.