The backlash to MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry’s suggestion that Mitt Romney’s adopted black grandson is part of some kind of racist Republican ploy highlights a growing phenomenon. The Virus that targets and destroys conservative free speech and activity based on cynical accusations of bigotry is weakening. And mainstream America is roundly rejecting it.
The Virus can be traced back at least to the dawn of activist political correctness in the 1980s and early 1990s — exemplified by the rise of Al Sharpton in New York City, the Anita Hill-versus-Clarence Thomas sexual harassment case and O.J. Simpson’s racialized murder defense — but it gained new momentum in 2004 thanks to the generous wallet of Hungarian-born progressive billionaire George Soros and his allies.
Media Matters for America, founded by David Brock, and the Center for American Progress’ blog ThinkProgress were just two of numerous imprints that sprang up that year in a well-funded effort to build a progressive activism and media movement to combat the re-election effort of George W. Bush. These propaganda outlets exist to flag Republican and conservative P.C. violations in order to paint the right as the racist, sexist, homophobic half of the country and sow the seeds of hatred and division in primarily young and minority voters. Writer Byron York deemed it “The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy.”
For a while, working in the tradition of former Senator Joseph McCarthy, their tactics were virtually unbeatable. Media Matters, Sharpton and other rage-mongers landed on the cover of Time magazine in 2007 after radio legend Don Imus used the term “nappy headed hos” to describe the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Imus’ firing from CBS Radio sent the message that nobody is off limits — even entertainers — and ushered in a new age of paranoia, intimidation, and fear.
As the Tea Party rose to prominence in 2010, the Virus activated. Washington Post columns lumped anti-health care reform protesters in with the Ku Klux Klan and Timothy McVeigh. Their over-the-top rhetoric gained notice from IRS agents who subsequently targeted tea party groups in a manner that threatened the very fabric of constitutional democracy in this country.
Media Matters managed to force MSNBC’s 2012 firing of Pat Buchanan for suggesting in a book that America’s white majority is statistically declining, working in tandem with groups including Color of Change to pull Buchanan off the air.
“There are elements in our society and they are predominantly on the hard left that say it’s no longer enough to challenge and contradict or defeat or fight these fellas in arguments. We’ve got to smear them, stigmatize them as racists or homophobic and then we’ve gotta silence and censor them and the way we do it is go after the media outlets that put them on the air,” Buchanan warned, adding, “this is un-American what is going on right now.”
Media Matters and other groups forced a boycott of Rush Limbaugh’s advertisers for criticizing Sandra Fluke’s assertion that taxpayers should pay for her contraception – whipping up such an outrage that Fluke earned a prime speaking role at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. And, of course, the media and activist establishment successfully waged a campaign to prosecute George Zimmerman for the self-defense killing of Trayvon Martin, ignoring the epidemic of black-on-black violence in inner cities like Cory Booker’s Newark in order to sell the narrative that white racism is still alive and well in the American South.
So oppressive were these tactics that some influential people on the right started thinking that they needed to play the very same game. The Washington Free Beacon, which initially strove to pull apart the hidden threads of the Soros-funded conspiracy, claimed the political scalp of libertarian-leaning Rand Paul staffer Jack Hunter, a talented writer whose past oeuvre was characterized by the Beacon as racist, despite Hunter’s denunciation of racism in response. Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro’s new outlet Truth Revolt launched with a boycott of one of Al Sharpton’s MSNBC advertisers over accusations of racism, and a full-throated defense by Shapiro of Media Matters’ tactics.
I took some heat from conservatives for criticizing Shapiro, and even I wondered if the Right would adopt the Virus as its own. Sure, these tactics are unlikable and threaten to turn moderates off from giving conservatism a chance, but maybe they’re unavoidable. Maybe the back-and-forth volley of tribalized identity politics is so overwhelming now that both sides will end up fanning the flames of political correctness, creating an indistinguishable echo chamber of accusations in which nobody on either side of the aisle will stand up for sanity and the values of the First Amendment. Maybe the Virus has won. Or maybe not.