Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Slouching Toward Irrelevancy II

Is “The Point” no longer relevant? Under the leadership of Mark Hyman, the one-minute commentary has been turned into a radical right-wing rant that’s far out of the mainstream. Only time will tell if Sinclair can turn “The Point” into a voice that people will respond to.

As you can see from this example, musing about the relevance of a person or group and suggesting how it might save itself from irrelevancy is a passive-aggressive way of claiming that this person or group’s ideas don’t matter and are unworthy of consideration.

Hyman has taken this approach twice in recent days, first in a commentary about the Democratic Party, and most recently in
an assault on the NAACP . Framing his comments as speculation about the future leadership of the oldest civil rights group in the United States, Hyman’s thinly-veiled assertion is that the concerns to which members of the NAACP have devoted themselves are passé. Lacking the gumption to argue this point in a head-on manner, he takes the rhetorically circuitous route that allows him to attack from the discursive shadows.

Hyman’s attack is timed to coincide with President Bush’s
refusal to reappoint Mary Frances Barry to the United States Commission on Civil Rights . Barry, a 25-year veteran of the commission, has a history of asking tough questions and not being satisfied with past progress in civil rights. As a gadfly on the issue of equal rights for all Americans, she has no place in a Bush administration, and has been replaced by a man who calls Affirmative Action “a big lie.” Now that’s a black person even a Dubya could love!

What unites Hyman and Bush is more than just the fact that their actions come at almost exactly the same time. They spring from the same underlying right-wing ideology: groups of people don’t have rights, only individuals do. “Civil rights” is a nonsensical term to them, since it is based on the idea that it makes sense to think about the rights of collective groups of people.

But it does. When discrimination is based not on someone’s individual identity, but on their membership of a certain group (ethnic minorities, one gender or the other, religious denomination), then we must talk about remedies in the same way. Part of the collective American dream is that we will live in a society where we are judged on our individual merits. In such a world, groups like the NAACP might well be irrelevant. But that world is not our world, at least not yet.

Until it is, there’s an important role to play for organizations that make the case for equal treatment for collections of individuals who are routinely discriminated against because of what they are rather than who they are. Such groups will change policies and attitudes over time as battles are won and lost, but to label them “irrelevant” is tantamount to saying the idea of equality is irrelevant to the dream of American democracy.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


At 1:13 AM, Blogger Bando Bling said...

Point well made. Boycott 'Bush Pimps' like Sinclair, Fox and Rush.


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