As Herman Cain answers sexual harassment story can this black man ask: Enough with lynching talk?
Coming from someone who has regularly accused liberals of alleging racism to silence critics of Barack Obama, it was a particularly cheeky turn of phrase.
But, as always, Ann Coulter is willing to go there -- somehow tolerated as a telegenic pundit despite her tendency to offer analysis which is little more than name-calling and provocation.
Coulter on Sunday called POLITICO's story about a sexual harassment settlement involving GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain a "high tech lynching" by liberals out to discredit a black conservative. Nevermind that the story itself -- two women who may have been paid a five-figure settlement to resolve sexual harassment allegations while Cain led the National Restaurant Association -- seemingly has little, if anything, to do with race.
Apparently, for Coulter, it is clearly racist to publish negative stories about a black candidate she likes. But when she wrote about how Democrats react to criticism of Barack Obama in her new book Demonic, Coulter noted: "Just as fire seeks oxygen, Democrats seek power, which is why they will always be found championing the mob whether the mob consists of Democrats lynching blacks or Democrats slandering the critics of Obama Care as racists.”
Of course, she's not the only pundit using such overheated language. Media Research Council head L. Bret Bozell also wrote a column today headlined "Stop the High-Tech Lynching of Herman Cain." (he did note at the column's end he is a friend of Cain). It may not surprise many that Bozell wrote a 2009 column observing, "When Reagan, Bush I and Bush II were in office, nasty demonstrators — even rioters — were celebrated by the left. But when Democrats take control (Clinton, Obama), any criticism becomes angry, hateful, and now racist."
The Washington Times and The American Spectator also have headlines using the term. And it is particularly jarring to a black man who has just helped friends bring attention to newspaper stories and a book about actual lynchings -- when black people were hung, shot, stabbed, beaten and maimed by white mobs, their body parts taken as souvenirs and their deaths made an ugly, brutal carnival.
Assessing whether a politician is guilty of a sex-based scandal is nothing close to this historical horror. And it is time for the defenders of Cain to stop using it.
True enough, there is at least one liberal celebrity Sean Penn, who accused Tea Party members of wanting to lynch Obama. I think he shouldn't have used that word, either. Wanting a president to lose an election and his political legacy is not the same as wanting to lynch him.
But to be fair, there was an effigy of Obama actually lynched at Christian campus in Oregon in 2008. And even Fox News host Bill O'Reilly had to apologize for saying he didn't want to "go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there's evidence" on his radio show in 2008. So you have at least a couple of unsettling cases where presumed political opponents of the Obamas brought up lynching themselves.
This latest use of the l-word is, of course, a call back to the Clarence Thomas hearings, where the then-nominee to the Supreme Court insisted sexual harassment allegations by former subordinate Anita Hill were a "high-tech lynching." Funny how a guy who always insisted American institutions couldn't help dismantle America's racism suddenly discovered it might be an issue when he was the black man in trouble.
Cain said back in May during a debate he was "ready for the same high-tech lynching" Thomas got, implying Democrats would find a race-based way to attack him. But was that the same Herman Cain who told CNN "I don't believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way" weeks ago?
One could argue this is simply part of an attempt to link the allegations against Cain to Thomas' scandal, which polls show conservatives generally view in the justice's favor. It's a message to the faithful: Distrust the news and remember Thomas.
Poynter Institute writing expert Roy Peter Clark wrote a column about the "dark art of the false comparison," noting that broadcaster Bryant Gumbel's comparison of NBA commissioner David Stern to a plantation overseer ensured no other part of his argument would be heard.
Clark thinks conservatives using lynching metaphors are headed down the same road. "If the political right has a more sophisticated argument about race and gender (in the Cain story), their ineffective use of language will eclipse everything else they have to say," he said.
However this all shakes out, however, I hope we can all agree that connecting the imagery of lynching to a political scandal is not the wisest choice of words. Perhaps we could find a better analogy that serves the situation without distracting from the situation or trivializing history.