My headline was deliberately provocative, and I was pleasantly surprised while driving in to court when I heard no less (and no more) than the Journal Company’s full-time GOP message-boy, Charlie Sykes tease listeners with the question "is ‘thug’ the new N-word?" before his show on Tuesday morning. Tracking Rick Esenberg’s predictably critical post almost word-for-word (including the oh-so-clever "Plaisted should talk about name-calling" line), the unoriginal Sykes read about half of my post to his unfortunately large audience, while setting up his (really, Esenberg’s) punch-line that I had used the word "thug" in a different context 6 months ago.
Listening to it later on the podcast, I couldn’t help but enjoy Sykes’ reading of my own words to a statewide audience. I am always fairly self-critical, but I have to say that my turns-of-phrase bore up pretty well under Sykes’ speed-read, even if he was strategically skipping over some of the good parts (like my still-unmet challenge to those who predicted Big Trouble at the free summer festivals after RiverSplash to explain all those peaceful, incident-free festivals since then). There was something surreal about hearing Sykes read my observation that "right-wingers play these race-baiting games and then act offended when someone calls them on it" while he was in the process of playing these race-baiting games and acting offended because I had called him on it. But then Sykes, who glibly race-baits as good as anybody (such as calling Al Sharpton a "pimp"), is the king of the smug dismissal, his elitist nose high in the air as he sniffs at mere mortals who don’t have the benefit of his 50,000 watt radio presence and right-wing "think"-tank funding.
Although Sykes’ snarky games are sometimes inadvertently enlightening – like him referring to me only as a "lefty lawyer" for the first five minutes of the bit, mentioning my name only when springing Esenberg’s supposed gotcha – the increasingly hysterical comments to the post by mostly anonymous right-wingers (now at 46 comments and counting) are even more revealing of the defensiveness and pretzel logic of those who would defend racist name-calling by a fellow-traveling blogger. The strategies implemented by the commenters – including (especially) their cowardly anonymity – are not unfamiliar and display a tiresome broken-record sameness that infects their uncreative ilk.
- "We call all kinds of people thugs": Republican-for-hire Brian Fraley steps in first to inform me that, since he and others (over)use the world "thug" to describe all kinds of foreign bad-guys and violent criminals like the Jude cops, they are immune from accusations of racist language for using the word to describe a black politician who is doing something politically that they don’t like. This is like saying, if they use the word "queer" to describe curiously weird phenomenon, then it’s OK for them to go around using it to describe gay people. As always, it is all about context, combined with harsh intent. Exaggerated scuffles in the Courthouse notwithstanding, Lee Holloway has done nothing to earn the use of a term otherwise reserved for brutal dictators, violent cops and gangbangers. It was used by Eggleston to smear Holloway and diminish his status as a man and a human being in order to beat him on a political issue, which is the definition of a politically-motivated racist tactic.
- "Hey, Plaisted, you used the word ‘thug’ once, so na na na boo boo": Like I said: context and intent. When I accused some national commentators of infecting the MSM with right-wing quasi-intellectual thuggery, it was not in a racial context and an attempt to describe, not to smear. Rick Esenberg, right-wing Milwaukee’s chief apologist, pulled a not terribly clever google (Plaisted + thug) and proclaimed me a hypocrite for complaining about someone else using the same word. But Rick – Milwaukee’s chief Obama-phobe who will find all kinds things to worry about from everything that comes out of Obama’s mouth, former church or campaign – will give the benefit of the doubt and find any way to excuse all right-wing racial smears. As usual, he dodges his own responsibility for enabling the racial tactics. "I wouldn’t call Holloway a thug," he says, which sounds a lot like his comment that he "would have strongly counseled against" Gableman’s racist Willie Horton ad during that sad campaign.
- You have appointed yourself the language police; crying "racist" all the time is like crying "wolf": Hey, I’m not the damn police. Like I said, they can do what they want; I’m just encouraging them to take some ownership of their own tactics and quit being so defensive when challenged. As for calling them on their racist tactics too often, well, maybe they are giving me too much material to work with. I do have a zero-tolerance for this sort of thing. If I sit around and wait for them to agree with me...well, it ain’t going to happen.
- Many Democrats were racists in the South before the Civil Rights Act: Well, sure, but what has that got to do with a) this discussion and b) with the world as it is today? The Republican’s Southern Strategy under Nixon -- to peel southern racists away from the Democrats by portraying them as a bunch of N-lovers -- put an end to that a long time ago. The GOP now proudly owns those people and that tradition, and they can have it.
- Personal/Professional attacks on me: The last refuge of the desperate anonymous wing-nutter. Hey, did you hear I’m a criminal defense attorney and represent, er, criminals? The nerve of me saying anything about anything. My favorite is the guy who claimed that he "looked up" my "record" and claimed that I had "lost" 20 cases in a row. When I pointed out that such a search was a) impossible and b) just flat out wrong, he backed up to say that he didn’t like my suits. Sometimes I like to let this kind of desperation develop and just watch them trip over their own words. It makes such a nice splat when they hit the ground.