Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Lost in Hyman-World

To take Mark Hyman’s analogy to the next step, a broken compass doesn’t help you find your way, but unlike Hyman himself, at least it doesn’t deliberately mislead you.

Hyman suggests that the recent resignation of Russell Redenbaugh from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was the result solely of liberal mismanagement. In fact, Hyman claims Redenbaugh laid the blame for financial problems facing the commission “squarely at the feet of Mary Frances Berry and her staff director Les Jin [two liberal members of the commission].”

But as Hyman himself notes, Berry and Jin were thrown out of office by President Bush months ago. In fact, the commission has been in the control of conservatives since the beginning of the year. So why did Redenbaugh resign if those supposedly fiscally disciplined conservatives took over the show?

Because they’re not (at least in Redenbaugh’s opinion). According to the
Washington Post, Redenbaugh doesn’t think much has changed:

Redenbaugh said in an interview yesterday, the commissioners seemed no more willing to implement financial reforms after the board changed from liberal to conservative hands at the beginning of the year.

This directly contradicts Hyman’s characterization of Redenbaugh’s reasons for leaving.

In addition, Hyman claims the commission was “wrapped in controversy in the 1990s.” That’s literally only the half of it. The commission began its decent into partisanship under Ronald Reagan, who appointed Clarence Pendleton as its chair. Pendleton’s outspoken partisanship (he was against Affirmative Action and equal rights for women) anticipated (and perhaps influenced) Berry’s controversial style in the 1990s.

Reagan in fact attempted to fire Berry and other liberal members of the commission when they criticized the administration’s positions on civil rights and opposed Pendleton. Berry sued and was reinstated.

There’s no sign that conservative partisanship under Bush is any less shameless than under Reagan. As the Post article notes, the current commission is taking up the issues of Affirmative Action in awarding contracts and the effects of Social Security reform on minorities. By itself, that’s fine. The problem is that the conservative-controlled commission is using studies by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and the libertarian Cato Institute as the basis for its investigation. This all but assures that the “impartial” findings of the commission will mirror the Bush administration’s agenda.

And it wouldn’t be a Hyman commentary without camouflaging a conservative source as “non-partisan.” Hyman pointedly notes that Redenbaugh is a “political independent,” a fact he uses to suggest criticism of Berry and the commission as a whole is unaffected by partisanship.

But while Redenbaugh may not be officially affiliated with either party, that does not make him a “political independent.” As the Post story notes, Redenbaugh was considered a conservative voice on the panel. This isn’t surprising given Redenbaugh’s political leanings. While not calling himself a Republican, he certainly acted like one. One only needs to take a look at the sizable contributions Redenbaugh and his wife, Patricia, have made to GOP
committees, candidates, and PACs in recent years to know where he stands.

This does not in itself negate Redenbaugh’s charges about the commission. There’s widespread agreement that the commission has been dysfunctional for years (going back well before the 1990s). However, Hyman’s intentionally incomplete characterization of Redenbaugh as part of his attempt to frame the problems of the commission as a product solely of liberal actions is misleading in the extreme.

What’s the lesson here? When entering Hyman-World, make sure to leave a trail of breadcrumbs.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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