Opinion

Stop Calling People Racists Because You Disagree With Them On Foreign Policy

The MSNBC chyron almost writes itself: the 2016 Republican presidential field has neoconservatives and neo-Confederates. Stop the presses!

BuzzFeed reported that a “longtime political adviser” as well as “consultant and pollster” for South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham was editor of Southern Partisan, which the website describes as a “neo-Confederate magazine.”

Graham is exploring a 2016 presidential run. He gave an interview to the “neo-Confederate magazine” in 1999, during the Bill Clinton impeachment saga.

The aide in question is Richard Quinn, who also ran John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign in South Carolina. Quinn told the Associated Press, “I’ve been with [Graham] since he ran for Congress in ’93, and whatever Lindsey does this cycle, I’ll be in his corner.”

Graham reportedly paid Quinn’s consulting firm more than $200,000 during the 2014 campaign cycle.

Quinn called Nelson Mandela a “terrorist,” suggested Martin Luther King led black people into “dependence,” said the King holiday was “vitriolic and profane” and asked “What a better way to reject politics as usual than to elect a maverick like David Duke?”

Well, I could probably think of a few better ways.

But before I continue to “tweak the nose of the establishment” by digging through Quinn’s greatest hits, I should note all the following: Quinn says he no longer believes these things, some of which were written long ago. I have no reason not to take him at his word.

Moreover, I’m quite confident Lindsey Graham doesn’t hold abhorrent racial views (though he does have a strange sense of humor). I just disagree with him about foreign policy, among other issues.

I can disagree with Graham about the wisdom of the Iraq war and express skepticism that his judgement will be any better concerning Iran without pretending he is a racist monster.

It would just be nice if that courtesy was extended to conservatives who hold different foreign policy views.

During the “Southern Avenger” affair, conservatives who disagree with Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul on foreign policy, like liberals who disagree with him on most everything, were confident this discredited everything he believed.

(Full disclosure: Jack Hunter is a personal friend, I write for the website he edits, he’s written opinion pieces for The Daily Caller and I broke the story of his departure from Paul’s staff.)

Paul’s initial reaction to Hunter was similar to McCain’s when the Quinn news first came out.

Many of the conservatives exercised by Hunter were curiously quiet about Quinn. (Though in fairness, some of them were vocal about Steve Scalise.)

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, for example, concluded, “Under Rand Paul’s veneer of respectability is another, far more radical figure, not inside the mainstream of conservatism but one who is ‘playing the game.'”

When a different aide came under fire for, among other things, directing expletives at Graham and McCain, Rubin worried, “Rand Paul sure attracts fringe figures.”

The only mention of Graham after the latest Quinn report was praise for his foreign policy leadership: “former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and former Texas governor Rick Perry have all shown they understand the issues around the world and know where the administration has fallen short.”

If Graham and Paul are going to run for president, Quinn and Hunter’s writings are certainly fair game for news stories.

But let’s not pretend that on the right, at least, this isn’t mostly about foreign policy. In a country worried about ISIS and Iranian nukes, it should be possible for conservatives to debate this topic without sounding like bad liberals.

“But Antle,” you say. “Lindsey Graham is a mainstream Republican and Rand Paul is one of those wacko birds who thinks Murray Rothbard should have traveled back in time to fire on Fort Sumter.”

To which I respond: how many perfectly respectable Southern Republicans have, knowingly or unknowingly, played footsie with groups like one Scalise addressed? Probably a Lott — err, I mean a lot — more than you think.

How many perfectly respectable Northeastern moderate Republicans appeared on shows like Bob Grant’s? Quite a few familiar faces, despite Grant’s frequent ill-tempered comments about race.

We all know people, even friends and loved ones, who hold ugly or misguided views. Fortunately, they sometimes change their minds.

That’s not to say that such views don’t matter or that people in politics — especially members of a political party struggling to win minority support — shouldn’t try to do better. And it’s not to say that inflammatory newsletters aren’t themselves newsworthy.

There should, however, be some perspective. Debating foreign policy is more important than playing a version of the Kevin Bacon game in which you try to determine how many degrees removed your opponent is from a racist.

W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.