Benjamin Jealous Again

by Dave Weigel

Ta-Nahesi Coates pushes back on my "NAACP tea party resolution backfires" theory:

To the extent that the NAACP has, as Dave says, "failed," it is because the arbiters of facts have ceded ground, and reporters and writers dutifully, and uncritically, dispense the notion that an organization which helped birth modern America has "a long history of...racism." But it also fails because there is very little pushback on this notion from "sensible" liberal writers. (I don't include Dave among them, mind you.) Instead we're getting calls for the president to condemn the NAACP, essentially, for being the NAACP. 

Dave concedes that the NAACP has a case, but concludes that they're wrong for making it. But they're only wrong for making it because the broader society, evidently, believes that objecting to a call for literacy tests is, in fact, just as racist as a call for literacy tests. This inversion, this crime against sound logic, is at the heart of American white supremacy, and at the heart of a country that has nurtured white supremacy all these sad glorious years.

You know, I don't disagree with this. Coates and I are writing from different places. I don't think the way that the NAACP's resolution was covered was good at all. I don't think any racial issues are covered well, least of all "debates" like this where the press creates a point-counterpoint between Ben Jealous on one end and Mark Williams on the other. It was with that assumption that I said this would "backfire."

In the long run, will it backfire? I don't know. Conservatives who disagree with the NAACP have no tolerance whatsoever for being called racists or supporters of racism. Past NAACP attempts to shift the debate by using tough rhetoric -- I am thinking of Julian Bond calling some conservatives the "American Taliban" -- are remembered today not as things that shifted the debate, but things that torqued off conservatives and justified their suspicions about the NAACP. This doesn't seem fair to them. How is it fair that bringing up the 2000 election's result reveals them as bitter conspiracy theorists, while Tim Pawlenty intimating that Sen. Al Franken may have been elected by felons is just proof that he's a smart pol looking at 2012? It's not fair. I guess I'm more a defeatist than Coates is.