Over the weekend I said, on Twitter, that while I think it's worth asking Rick Perry about the fact that since 1983 his family has leased a hunting camp locally known by a racial slur, I don't think Perry is a bigot. Earlier today I received an email from a young man, presumably referred by Digby, wanting to know why I am being an apologist. I wrote back with what I thought was a pretty fair offer:
In what can only be understood as a failure of the Habermasian ideal I haven't heard back from my new friend yet, and I'm starting to suspect that he was never really a friend at all. :,-(  

In any case, in recognition of the fact that it is possible to oversimplify things on Twitter, I went ahead and wrote about the racist hunting camp at Democracy in America. Punch line:

...Politicians have a normative obligation to err on the side of transparency, and as a matter of leadership, if not obligation, they should make a point of offering thoughtful commentary on sensitive issues, such as the legacies of historical trauma and ongoing patterns of discrimination or even abuse. I think it would even be fair to say that some politicians should feel a special obligation to speak to public questions about their background, even if the questions are based on generalisations and are somewhat unfair. So, for example, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman might engage with some candour on the subject of what Mormonism means to them. And Mr Perry, being a white man of a certain age from a former Confederate state, would be wise to offer more thoughts on the legacy of segregation and the civil-rights movement in the South. More to the point, if you rent a property that is locally known as "Niggerhead", you should be expected to explain that. But there's a cost to all parties when we jump to conclusions this way. Politicians should be able to shoulder a little unfairness, but our ability to recognise and condemn substantive examples of coded bigotry—not in short supply in contemporary America—is somewhat confounded by the kind of overreach we see in this article.

Feel free to let me know if you disagree, in the comments or via the contact form.


10/03/2011 19:27

This kind of attacks on a candidate only makes everyone with the slightest public ambition paranoid about their every move. After all Rick Perry has done, the hand-painted nickname of a summer home that his father rented some 30 years ago threatens to derail his presidential campaign? By that standard, who's clean?

10/04/2011 10:48

I think you're being fair, although I'd also consider that Perry seems to walk right up to this line. I think I recall that he made a joke about changing the name of the White House after Obama was elected, while on a hunting trip. Enough weak evidence is a fair starting place for a line of questions.

But as a redneck-American, I take stuff like this as probably without malice.


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