Much Ado By Association

I’ve spent much of the life of this blog – eight years, now – railing against the evils of smearing by association. 

It’s a particularly slimy tactic in the hands of the not-very-bright, on all sides of the putative political aisle.  Being a conservative, I bag on particularly egregiously stupid examples from the left (like this, that, the other thing, this, and of course this), but of course it’s not limited to a party.  Much.

Still, there are those from whom we expect better.  Or like to think we do.

Erik Black at the MinnPost – the dean of Minnesota political reporters (or, I guess, one of a classroom full of deans, once you add in Pat Kessler, Mary LaHammer and Bill Salisbury), makes noises about also rejecting the whole stupid game in this piece about the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which Governor Pawlenty will be attending:

In February, Gov. Tim Pawlenty will take his undeclared campaign for the Republican presidential nomination back to Washington, D.C., for the Conservative Political Action Conference. CPAC, as it is always called, is a  major annual gathering of conservatives and an opportunity for Repub candidates and might-be candidates to strut their stuff before various elements of the party base (although CPAC, which is put on by the American Conservative Union, is technically non-partisan).

Among the co-sponsors of the conference one finds a name one hasn’t heard much since the mid-20th century — the John Birch Society. As a refugee from that century, I can tell you that when your mom and I were kids the “Birchers” (I use the term I grew up using and mean no offense by it) were a leading symbol of right-wing extremism.

Of course, “right wing extremism” is a term that’s more or less lost all meaning, largely because of the efforts of the news media of which Eric Black has been a part for his entire working life.  I joke about it; “if a fiscal-conservative socially-libertarian constitutional originalist orders a pizza in the woods and no liberal is there to hear him, is he still an extremist?”, I ask, constantly, when people refer on the left and in the media (pardon, as always, the redundancy) to everyone from Tom Tancredo to (this makes me mildly dizzy) Tim Pawlenty as “extremists”. 

But Black, being all responsible, rejects the whole stupid game.

Or…does he?

So this is an obvious set-up to play the always popular “dissociate yourself” card. Under the rules of that card game, everyone involved in CPAC (including Pawlenty, as a speaker) has to repudiate the Birchers or be tainted by association with the most extreme thing the group ever said or did. It’s fun and easy to play (see Barack Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright) but also stupid and demeaning (ibid). A letter-writer to the Strib played the card early this week, asserting that Pawlenty’s attendance would amount to an endorsement of Bircher views.

Well, so far, so good – although I think it’s fair to observe that the MinnPost is no better than the rest of the left-leaning mainstream media at focusing attention on the right’s fringe players; the nutcase with the racist sign at the Tea Party, the stars-‘n-bars-flying redneck at the Second Amendment rally, the Tenth Amendment’s long-dead associations with slave-owners-rights.

But Black is better than that.  Isn’t he?

I actually did inquire of the spokester for Pawlenty’s undeclared campaign whether the governor might want to comment on whether his willingness to speak at an event co-sponsored by the John Birch Society implied any association between his views and theirs, but the calls and emails (over several days) received no reply.

And why would that be?  Because Black works for an organization that is pretty up-front about working for the “enemy?”  Or merely because the very question is, to quote Black himself in the context of this very issue, “stupid and demeaning?”

Still, I cannot bring myself to play the card.

Am I overly cynical, or do I detect a silent, implied “when did the Governor stop beating his wife?” in Black’s repudiation of the whole “stupid, demeaning” issue?

Because if there is no story there – if there is no evidence throughout Pawlenty’s career of any sympathy, overt or otherwise, for the Birchers – then why write about it at all?

I was surprised and interested to learn that the John Birch Society was still in business. But, as this recent NYTimes where-are-they-now feature indicates, they are still kicking, based in Grand Chute, Wis., (near Appleton, Oshkosh, Green Bay), still believing in what its leaders call a satanic conspiracy to take over the world.


So what?

Black gives a brief lesson on the history of the Birchers – they’re anti-UN, anti-Communist, and have espoused some pretty wacky things over the decades – and then cuts to what passes for his chase:

So, back to the present. If Tim Pawlenty wants to be president, he certainly must say what he thinks the U.S. relationship to the U.N. should be, but he doesn’t have to start from any particular that he agrees with the long-standing JBS position just because he spoke at a conference co-sponsored by the JBS.

Right.  Especially since “sponsorship” is a come-one, come-all thing, as opposed to an implication that a “sponsor” has any special ideological traction:

Of course, Pawlenty is no more implicated in JBS’s beliefs than any of the many other speakers, which includes other leading undeclared presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Mike Huckabee was scheduled but has canceled. Sarah Palin was invited but has declined. The current list of speakers, co-sponsors and exhibitors is available here.


So – the story is…what?  That no candidate needs to apologize for being at an event sponsored (in tiny measure) by a splinter group that nobody’s taken seriously since the Johnson Administration?

Why, that’d be like saying that one needn’t discount the opinion of Mark Dayton, Margaret Anderson-Kelliher, Steve Kelley, John Marty and Taryll Clark even though none of them have renounced the activities of International ANSWR (who are involved in much left-wing agitation), since none of them have expressly shown sympathy for America’s last Stalinist fringe group.  It’d be another “why did you stop beating your wife” moment.

Pawlenty needs to improve on that showing more than he needs to repudiate the John Birch Society, but he really needs to return my calls anyway.

To answer a question that Black himself considered “stupid and demaning?”

Just curious.

9 thoughts on “Much Ado By Association

  1. I grew up in Appleton, which is a small city about the size of St. Cloud or Rochester. Grand Chute is a suburban area west of town. The Birchers have been there for over 20 years now and unless you look for them, you wouldn’t even notice they are there — they have a one-story office building that’s about the size of a small real estate agent’s office. They took up residence there because a guy named Gordon Buboltz, who was a successful businessman in the area, was a Bircher. He gave them the building and underwrote their activities, which he probably did out his petty cash drawer. They haven’t been relevant for at least 40 years and there’s no reason to believe that they ever will be again. No one in Appleton pays any attention to them, that’s for sure.

    It’s amusing that the Left is trying to use the Birchers as a cudgel at this late hour; at this point I’d wager that only people who are highly interested in politics would know much of anything about the Birchers.

    My guess — Eric is just lonely and wishes that someone, anyone would return his calls. He works for an organization that is about as relevant as the Birchers.

  2. How about this for association. Summit Brewery is sponsoring something at the Bedlam theater that appears to support the right wing terrorist group Hamas.

  3. […]but he really needs to return my calls anyway.

    Just how much ego do you have anyway, Eric? The governor needs to respond to every pipsqueak, left wing wacko’s questions? Given the relative volumes and influence of the sites you’d think that PowerLine or Instapundit would be in constant contact with Obama.

  4. So Black knows that Pawlenty will renounce any association with the JBS’s extreme ideas, but he needs Pawlenty to respond to his questions anyway?
    I guess getting that journalism degree was money well spent.

  5. Maybe Black could look into that whole ‘Global warming” scam. I’ve got an idea for an angle! It seems Al Gore is pitching his services as carbon trader to some foreign countries with publicly overseen pension plans. Imagine the loot he could make getting a few points off of the top of an entire country . . .
    Or Black could look into exactly how Obama paid for his education. Or he could look into how the TARP money was spent. Or the stimulus money.
    But apparently he thinks that it more important to have Pawlenty confirm that he is not a Bircher.
    Carry on, our Orpheus! Down to Hades, your song of inquiry calling a drowse to dwell awhile on the sextuplet lids of Cerberus, that from the depths of Hell you shall steal free the Truth that Pawlenty would keep hid — his secret membership in the Order of the Rosy Cross!

  6. The whole “guilt by association” tactic is pretty much useless with anybody who has a brain and pays attention. It’s not directed at us, it’s directed at the mushy middle – people who pay no attention to anything until right before the election, then believe whatever they hear in the MSM.

    Besides, it’s so hard to tell where the guilt by association lies. If I think the UN is corrupt, is that because I’m a Bircher or because I read the UN’s own report on Oil-For-Food kickbacks and under-the-table deals? If I think the UN wants control over the world economy, is that because I’m a Bircher or because I read the UN-subsidiary World Health Organization’s report last month on taxing all banking transactions to raise money to redistribute to dictators in the Third World?

    Am I a Bircher or an UN-apologist for believing those things? Depends on who wants to impugn me, right or left. And in the end, the mushy-middle won’t understand the controversy anyway, only that there is a controversy, and where there’s smoke there’s fire, and they wouldn’t print it in the paper if it wasn’t true, and we don’t want to be called names like “racist” even if it’s not true, so I guess to be safe we’ll just vote DFL again . . . .

  7. Mr. D, you said you were from Wisconsin.
    We should be reminded of a certain senator from YOUR state. Now I’m not sayin anything, but McCarthism… yikes… hey you were the one that admitted being from WI…. Heh heh heh

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