Is Bill Frist a race-baiter?

Is Bill Frist a race-baiter?

Is Bill Frist a race-baiter?

A mostly political Weblog.
Dec. 23 2002 3:07 AM

Bonus Onus

Plus: Who died and made Carville Pope?

The Fristing of Dr. Bill, #2: Editors Do It With Sharp Pencils! David Firestone's Saturday NYT Fristing  pushes another allegation that in 1994 the incoming Senate Majority Leader made "comments that were seen as racially insensitive."

 Mr. Frist, going to a largely black march against crime, had asked a worker to obtain imprinted pencils to distribute, requesting unsharpened pencils.

"I don't want to get stuck," he told the aide.

Instapundit notes  blogger Bill Hobbs' response --   that the pencil-based "racially insensitive" charge was so "ludicrous" that

"most everyone in the newsroom at The Tennessean, where I worked at the time, knew it and was embarrassed by the story."


Hobbs' insider perspective carries some weight. (Hobbs' wife worked on that Frist campaign, so he's not exactly unbiased, as he admits -- but he notes he didn't know her at the time of the Sharp Pencils Incident. They met six years later.) I would only add that even if the worst interpretation is given to Frist's words -- namely that he was seriously worried that he, Frist, might get stabbed by one of the people to whom he'd given the pencils -- it amounts to a Kinsley Gaffe, an accidental telling of the truth. Was it racist to worry about crime in the neighborhood that Frist was going to? If if wasn't rational to worry about crime in that neighborhood, why were they holding a "march against crime" there? As Tina Mercer, daughter of the march organizer, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal (in the course of somehow condemning Frist):

''We hit the tough neighborhoods because that's where the trouble is."

If that was "where the trouble is," then it doesn't seem crazy or racist (as opposed to, maybe, neurotic) to worry about getting assaulted.  P.S.: It's of course not clear that Frist was worried about getting stabbed, as opposed to accidentally pricking himself while handing out the pencils. (Doctors tend to be very conscious of the threat of accidental prickings, since they have to worry about getting stuck with infected needles.) Rev. James Thomas of the Jefferson Street Baptist Church in Nashville, told the Commercial Appeal at the time: ''I couldn't say it was absolutely a racial statement, the one that he made. He could have just been saying he didn't want to get stuck." ... [I don't want to see the Nexis bill for these items--ed. Without Nexis I am nothing.] 12:03 A.M.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

The Fristing of Dr. Bill, #1: Muchas Gracias, Senor Sasser! Josh Marshall notesthat in 1994 Bill Frist attacked his opponent, then- incumbent Senator Jim Sasser, as follows:

"While I've been transplanting lungs and hearts to heal Tennesseans, Jim Sasser has been transplanting Tennesseans' wallets to Washington, home of Marion Barry."


Marshall doesn't see "what on earth this had to do with a Senate race in Tennessee." He concludes "the answer is obvious: nothing" and thus accuses Frist of dabbling in "racial code words and appeals." Does Marshall know that in the early '90s Sasser was chair of the Senate subcommittee in charge of the District of Columbia -- at a time when Congress exercised considerable control over the District's budget (and when federal taxpayers picked up the tab for a large chunk of that budget)? For at least part of that period, Marion Barry was D.C. mayor -- and nobody would call the bureaucracy tolerated by Barry and Congress lean and mean. (Barry's successor had to stage a round of layoffs immediately on taking office.) When Barry made his comeback after his drug conviction -- successfully winning election in 1994-- he boasted of his ability to get funds for the District:

I know Congressman Pete Stark, I know Senator Sasser, Senator Cohen and others in the Congress who control our budget. [Emphasis added.]

Maybe there's a record somewhere of Sasser denouncing Barry during his tenure -- but I haven't found it. Barring that, Sasser's tolerance of big federal subsidies for bad, bloated District government was a completely legitimate issue to raise. It wasn't even a cheap shot, really, unless you expect political candidates to soberly consider the entirety of their opponents' accomplishments when criticizing them. Rather, it seems to fall into that awkward "race bonus" category -- where a legitimate issue has an added, "bonus" appeal to anti-black voters. ... Would Frist have made the same point if the mayor of D.C. had been white? Maybe -- if he'd been a nationally-famous "drug-using" and "rotten" (Marshall's words) mayor like Barry. Maybe not. We can debate whether and when a "race bonus" should prevent politicians from raising legitimate issues, and what measures pols should take to detoxify the "bonus," and if that's even possible. But Frist wasn't engaging in the out-of-the blue racial coding Marshall seems to accuse him of. 

P.S.: It's true that Frist was not exactly his own best defender against the "code word" charge, He backpedaled pathetically when grilled on the subject by Sam Donaldson in October, 1994:

SAM DONALDSON: Dr. Frist, your opponent, Senator Sasser, says you've injected race into your contest, and I'd like to ask you about a couple of things you've said. On three occasions, you've talked how Jim Sasser has voted to send money to Washington, D.C., 'home of Marion Barry.' Now, what does Marion Barry have to do with sending tax dollars to the federal Treasury?
Dr. BILL FRIST: Not very much, but Marion Barry symbolizes a lot about what people think about politics today.


Not "not very much"! Bad answer! ..

P.P.S:  Frist was also accused of race-baiting when he attacked Sasser for having voted to confirm Dr. Joycelyn Elders -- another "bonus" target -- as Surgeon General.  But Frist had a better answer regarding Elders ("I think her stands on legalization of drugs and spreading condoms in schools with very young children are not consistent with what Tennesseans want") and Sasser actually agreed that in hindsight his vote to confirm her had been wrong. 10:05 A.M.

Eat Your Heart Out, Donna Brazile:

"I try to use them in every election."


That's Chicago Alderwoman Shirley Coleman, providing the best quote in today's Chicago Sun-Times expose on politicians' the use of gang members to "get out the vote" on election day. Coleman "estimated a fourth of her workers in the November election were gang members," according to the paper. ...

P.S.: Where are the Neoliberal Vice Lords when you need them? There are also stories of redemption:

Calvin "Omar" Johnson says he's one of those who went straight, after honing his political skills in his gang days.

Once he was a leader of the Conservative Vice Lords. Now he's GOP committeeman in the 24th Ward and boasts about delivering some programs and jobs to the West Side ward, a Democratic stronghold.

His WorkShip Coalition is known for shutting down the Stevenson Expy. to press for more minority contractors.

[Johnson] proudly pointed to photos in his map-filled "war room," showing him posing with Gov. Ryan; House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert; even former President Bush. A 2002 White House Christmas card lay on a table.

"We took gangs to government," he beamed. [Emphasis added.]

Johnson may well be a vital, constructive force in his community -- I don't know about Chicago. But in Los Angeles, the "leaders" who run around making a fuss about minority contracting are not the ones doing much good.  ... 8:04 P.M.


Friday, December 20, 2002

Good Noonan column explaining 21st century Republicans to 20th century Republicans. The payoff graf:

Some of us have put our reputations in jeopardy by supporting programs like the school liberation movement because we want to help people who don't have much and need a break. Or we've put ourselves in jeopardy by opposing racial preferences, or any number of other programs, for the very reason that we believe completely in our hearts and minds that all races are equal and no one should be judged by the color of his skin. And then some guy comes along and speaks the old code of yesteryear and seems to reinforce the idea that those who hold conservative positions are really, at heart, racist. We are indignant, and we have been for a long time.


1) Noonan will be asked why "Willie Horton" wasn't a "code" too. I think there's an answer to that, involving avoidable code and unavoidable code. At best, Lott went out of his way to be ambiguous, so as to appeal to the segregationist remnant (as Hugh Hewitt calls them). Opposing furloughs for those sentenced to life without parole, on the other hand, was a sensible, unambiguous policy position that addressed a core flaw in Dukakis' leadership (i.e., anti-common sense, egg-head liberal legalism). Similarly, supporting welfare reform has a clear, independent meaning, though it too is often said to be a "code word" for anti-black sentiment. If some people hear the "bad" meaning, what can you do except make it clear that the bad meaning is not the meaning you intend?

2) Lott, in his flailing, destructive attempt at self-preservation, didn't quite equate opposition to race preferences with racism. But he did equate support of race preferences with opposition to racism. That's why, as someone who thinks race preferences do far more harm than good, I worry that it's not quite enough for the Republican Senate to simply vote Lott out of his leadership positon with "a brief statement explaining what they did and why they did it."  A brief statement would have sufficed if Lott's only sin were his Thurmond tribute. But his subsequent compensatory embrace of preferences needs to be repudiated also, in memorably strong  terms. The most reliable way for that to be done is for President Bush to do it himself. If the caucusing Senators are left to do the explaining, fifty different politicians will be interviewed, and there's the danger that they will allow the public to think the Republicans dumped Lott simply because he'd become a political liability, or because they never really liked him that much. (Of course, Bush -- uncourageously -- may not want to come out explicitly against preferences. That's one way Lott's actions have put him in a bind.)

3) Do we really want Lott, as Noonan suggests, to spend the rest of his days "speaking about the American dilemma as a Southern white man of the 20th century"? That could be a public service, but given what I've seen of Lott's conversion and repentance process so far, I'm not sure it's such a good idea. Better to let him serve out his days on the Finance Committee, doling out favors to lobbyists.

P.S.: If you read Lott's BET interview, it's pretty clear he's trying, in Clintonian fashion, to say he's "for affirmative action" while leaving open the possibility that he means "affirmative action" in only the limited sense (i.e. "outreach," expanding the recruiting pool) often supported by conservatives. But it doesn't matter. Lott was again speaking in ambiguous code -- he clearly wanted his audience to think he supported preferences, not just expanded recruiting. It's fair to hold him responsible for that suggestion, and for the damage it caused to the anti-preference cause.

P.P.S.: From the NYT coverage  of the Trent Lott resignation, it certainly appears that slick lobbyist Charles Black was one of those supporting Lott's disastrous, damage-compounding strategy of turning the Senate into festival of compensatory pandering to minority interest groups. Will Republicans punish Black the next time he comes around seeking a favor for his corporate clients? ...

P.P.P.S: I was late on the Lott story and don't belong on Arianna's list. ... 2:53 A.M.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Who died and made Carville Pope? Political strategist James Carville has faxed a bizarre, stunningly self-important letter to embattled Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott purporting to "forgive" Lott for his apparent fondness for segregation:

"You have asked for forgiveness.This letter is to inform you that ... I do forgive you."

Washington experts, pondering the myriad pathologies embedded in the letter -- e.g., under what megalomaniacal delusion did Carville think Lott had asked Carville to forgive him, as opposed to, say, 250 million other Americans? -- have come up with several theories to explain the Crossfire host's erratic behavior:

1) He's following the advice of his new "life coach," John DiIulio;

2) He's subconsciously annoyed that his early attempts to make an issue of Lott's gaffe (see below) haven't attracted much publicity for James Carville, Crossfire, and CNN. His letter of forgiveness is best translated as "I decide who's a racist around here."

3) He's punishing Lott further with brutal condescension --  by taking it on himself to give Lott pompous spiritual guidance as if Lott were a wayward child:

Remember, Senator, we all make errors. Committing errors is not a tragedy, but failing to learn from them is a grave one.

4) Now that Lott is crudely trying to save himself -- attempting to appeal to what he calls "African Americans and minorities of all kinds" by (as Charles Krauthammer puts it) "practically [pledging] himself to enacting the modern liberal agenda of racial preferences"  -- Democrats like Carville know they have Lott where they want him. If he turns to the left, they "forgive" him and win. If he doesn't stay turned to the left, they can always tar him as a not-so-closet segregationist whenever they want. ... Meanwhile, as several kf readers have noted, if Lott is ousted soon, the story goes away, which hardly helps Democrats. ... Note: Lott's desperate, craven, simplistic pandering has not been confined to affirmative action -- I just heard him on the radio babbling about "community renewal," by which he presumably means buying off African-American mayors, community leaders and activists with Urban-Development-Action-Grant-style pork. (I don't like to use shorthand phrases like "failed liberal policy," but "community redevelopment" is a proven FLP if anything is.)  Can reparations be far behind? ...  At the very least, for Carville there's no downside to "forgiveness" -- it's not his agenda that's being thrown overboard. ...

5) It's all a stunt that Carville, the "Stagin' Cajun," will forget as quickly as he's forgotten his previous stunts -- like when he weaseled out of his flamboyant pledge to pay $100,000 "to any reporter who can show me that Hillary Clinton linked [her husband's] sexual misconduct with his childhood" once it turned out Hillary had done just that.

6) It's a hostile act. Carville realizes that (in part because of #4) his "forgiveness" will be the final nail in Lott's coffin within the Republican caucus. ...

My vote is for #2. ...

P.S.: There's something offensive (and retro) in Lott acting as if African-Americans, as opposed to all Americans, were the people harmed by his remarks. 11:36 A.M.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Green Light: The long-awaited (by Slate ad salespeople) kausfiles-related  "Gearbox" automotive blog is now up and running. ... P.S.: That link is a permanent one -- it will always take you to the latest version of this exciting new feature. ... And it's a blog, remember, so you never know when something new will show up. You just have to keep clicking! ... Comments, suggestions, lavish subsidized junkets appreciated. ... 4:54 P.M.

In National Review Online, Timothy P. Carney fingers (or credits, if you prefer) another suspect  in the anti-Lott campaign:

The Lott turmoil was entirely manufactured by Democratic operatives — namely by unrepentant Clintonite James Carville, who first made an issue of the remarks the same night on Crossfire — and then pushed the story behind the scenes wherever they could, explaining to pundits and politicians how this could be used to sock it to the GOP.

Kausfiles has confirmed that Carville was, in fact, calling reporters the day after Lott's remarks. What Carney doesn't provide is evidence that Carville's efforts had much of an effect. Sidney Blumenthal's e-mails, on the other hand, appear to have actually provoked much of the liberal blog activity (see below) that in turn provoked the conservative blog activity that many credit  with keeping the Lott pot boiling. ... It's entirely possible that once the mainstream press (in the form of WaPo's Edsall) reported on Lott's remarks a big backlash became inevitable. But if the blogs were a factor then Blumenthal's efforts were a factor. ... Many Republicans, apparently, thought he'd disappeared, not realizing that he's still out there, e-mailing away.  ... More: Glenn Reynolds calls such e-mail "the 'dark matter' of the blogosphere," which is a good way to put it. You can't see it, but it exerts an influence..... 10:59 A.M.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Mickey's Assignment Desk: The Triumph of Sid: Let's concede that John Podhoretz  and Instapundit(and WaPo and the NYT) are onto something when they credit the "blogosphere" with playing a large role in what looks to be the successful effort to dump Trent Lott after his Strom bomb. But they're all missing something -- a crucial link in the new post-blog ecology of scandal.

Lott's comments were first reported, as has been noted, on December 6th in ABC's ever-alert "Note." But "The Note" focused on the impact Lott's gaffe might have in the Louisiana runoff election the next day. It was a string of pro-Democrat bloggers -- Atrios, Josh Marshall, Tim Noah, to name three -- who immediately started whaling on Lott. ( Instapundit  agreed with them that evening. Most of the conservative bloggers -- Sullivan, Frum, and Goldberg  -- began pummeling Lott a day or two later).

Is it an accident that the Democratic bloggers all pounced on the Lott tidbit buried in "The Note"? Think that if you like! My instinct tells me there is a tenth planet at work here, a hidden force behind the blogosphere's rising influence. What is that force? E-mailers. People who send out tips and clips to bloggers, who in turn blog about them to the world.

And what highly active e-mailer was at work in this case? I think I know, and Podhoretz might be disturbed to learn his identity. His email address begins with the letters "sb ..." which Democratic insiders will immediately recognize as belonging to Sidney Blumenthal, the controversial journalist and former aide to President Bill Clinton.

Sid was definitely responsible, in part, for Noah's early pick-up of the Lott gaffe in Slate -- Slate editor Jacob Weisberg got a Sid mass e-mail that relayed the "Note" item, and Weisberg forwarded it to Noah. What about Marshall? "I don't disclose my sources," he told me this morning. A wise policy! But I smell Sid there too. The mysterious Atrios says (in response to my e-mail query), "I've never communicated with Blumenthal. The first I saw of it was on the Note."  My guess is Sid is batting two for three here. Not bad. (That's assuming, of course, that Atrios isn't Blumenthal!)

Is there anything wrong with this? Not at all. I've relied on Sid's tips myself. He knows a lot! More to the point, like many bloggers I use tips from e-mailers all the time -- so often that I've come to rely on them. The vast majority of these tips are simply links to other published sources, not original bits of inside info. I'm not on Sid's list, but my impression is his e-mail missives are almost entirely (as with Lott) references to already-published articles, with heavy emphasis on British Labor politics, The Guardian, and Joe Conason. Maybe there's a more select list to which Blumenthal sends first-hand, as opposed to second-hand, material -- Sid frequently gives the impression that he's on his way to a great party to which you're not invited, and in my experience he often is. But if he has a more exclusive e-mail list, I don't know anyone who admits they are on it.

The point is just that, as long as we're giving credit to the new power of blogs in the chain of media story generation, someone should also write an article crediting the more hidden role of e-mailers like Blumenthal. It's also amusing that the right-wing's Clinton-era paranoia -- that Blumenthal is somehow behind all negative stories about Republicans -- happens to be right in this case, the very case in which conservatives are (appropriately) congratulating themselves for having themselves gone after a.prominent Republican.

[ Eschaton now has an Assignment Desk too!--ed The difference is that someone -- Paul Krugman -- actually takes their assignments. ... But who gives Eschaton its assignment?]

P.S.: The right-wing bloggers weighed in only after Thomas Edsall wrote up Lott's comments in a Saturday, December 7th Washington Post.piece. To be a complete Sid-centric paranoid, you'd have to think that Edsall and Blumenthal were buddies or something. ... What's that you say? ... Backfill: Sneaking Suspicions also gave an early, next-day dissing to Lott. .... 2:00 P.M. link

Monday, December 16, 2002

It's not Friday, so this must not be bad news: John Ellis has already blogged the practical, strategic implications of Gore's no-go decision, tapping Gephardt as the new favorite. ... Ellis argues the South Carolina primary is key for Lieberman, because

South Carolina will be the state where the race goes from 3 candidates to a two-man race (the TV networks can only afford to cover two candidates once the Super Tuesdays begin).

Ellis famously worked for Fox in 2000, and presumably knows what he's talking about regarding network finances. But do the nets really have that much power -- so much that they can twist the race to serve their budgets, as opposed to the other way around? The alternative view is that candidates routinely tend to get stampeded by the press into dropping out when they don't really have to. If the #3 candidate after South Carolina sticks to his guns, has something to say, and keeps expenses low (so he doesn't run out of money before the networks do!) won't the nets have to cover him -- especially if they are also covering Sharpton's campaign, which will presumably never to away? .. In a Faster political world, the #3 candidate can become #1 in a way that wasn't possible, say, when Humphrey lost the West Virginia primary in 1960. So the networks go bankrupt? "Make 'em spend it all!" ... As long as they don't cancel "The Note."  ... WaPo's David Broder also highlights the new It's-A-Two-Man-Race-After-South-Carolina Conventional Wisdom, which seems likely to go the way of most CW. ...More: TNR's Ryan Lizza nominates Gore to replace Terry McAuliffe as Democratic National Committee chair. One argument in favor: It's a way to stop Hillary from taking over in 2008. ... Lizza also has some good nasty anti-McAuliffe dish. ... More: This crusty  Scrum post has renewed relevance. ... [Yr. hed is not a palindrome, you know--ed. It is if you go by syllables!]. 8:25 P.M.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Always announce bad news on Friday: As  foreshadowed with eerie prescience in kausfiles, Mary Matalin wants to spend more time with her family! ... She spins it to the wall: 1) She'd planned to leave anyway! 2) It's part of the traditional turnover! 3) She was really influential -- (as AP puts it) "a key adviser not only to Cheney but also President Bush the center of most high profile announcements"!... She only left out 4) Bush doesn't like her! ... 1:00 P.M.

Bush's Lott Shot: Andrew Sullivan  nominates a fairly bland quote from Bush's excellent Lott denunciation  for inclusion in Bartlett's. But isn't this the star sentence --

Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals.

When it comes to recent Republican presidential egalitarianism, I still prefer Ronald Reagan's far more difficult appeal for social equality (as opposed to mere legal equality or equality of opportunity):

Whether we come from poverty or wealth... we are all equal in the eyes of God. But as Americans that is not enough--we must be equal in the eyes of each other.

P.S.: Bush had to go spoil it all by saying that "welfare policy will not solve the deepest problems of the spirit." ...P.P.S.: The only downside I can see to Lott relinquishing his leadership post is the revival of "blogger triumphalism" that will follow. Though blogs (e.g. Atrios, Josh Marshall, Tim NoahSullivan, and Instapundit) took the lead in blasting Lott -- while the NYT 's Guilty Southern Liberal Howell Raines, hilariously, was asleep at the switch when a real 60's-style civil rights controversy came along -- wouldn't Lott eventually have gotten into big trouble for his remarks even if the Web didn't exist? ... When Raines steps aside, I'll become a triumphalist too. ..Update: John Podhoretz is already boosting the "victory for the blogosphere" meme in what is actually a pretty persuasive column. ....4:10 A.M..




Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes "Tilting at Windmills" the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. The Liberal Death Star--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. horror stories. Eugene Volokh --Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman -- Always annoying, occasionally right. Joe Conason -- Bush-bashing, free most days.  Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.