Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 6, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

MEChA....Except in passing, I've resolutely tried to ignore both the idiotic Bustamante MEChA story and the equally idiotic Schwarzenegger Oui interview story. Today, however, Tim Rutten wrote an LA Times column about MEChA so puerile that I just have to comment. Thanks to Al Gore's invention of the hyperlink, you can read Rutten's column here, but here's an executive summary to make the line of his argument clearer:

  • Like practically all Latino politicians in California, Bustamante belonged to MEChA 30 years ago.

  • MEChA performs many good works and is mainly a "conventional self-help group."

  • However, MEChA's founding doucments written in 1969 are "the sorts of things that occurred to people who'd read too much Carlos Casteneda and then smoked too much weed while staring for too long at the Che Guevera poster on their dorm-room wall."

  • If you mistranslate it, one of their slogans is "For the race everything. For those outside the race nothing."

  • No normal person takes any of this seriously, but "neonativist organizations that maintain frenetic Web sites and dog the steps of elected Latino officials like hungry coyotes have long displayed a virtual obsession with MEChA."

  • Although these kooks should be ignored, Mickey Kaus and Dan Weintraub have now taken up their mantle. Mickey and Dan are Serious Journalists.

  • "Nobody in their right mind" thinks that Bustamante believes any of this stuff.

  • And now for the logical conclusion: therefore, the race-baiting of the neonativists should be taken seriously and Bustamante should be forced to publicly renounce all this stuff that everyone knows he doesn't believe anyway.

Here is Rutten's penultimate paragraph:

On one side are the neonativists who have seized on this to justify their racist suspicions of virtually everyone with a Spanish surname; on the other end of the spectrum are the few Latino loonies who believe this stuff and use it to rationalize their anti-Anglo and, increasingly, anti-Semitic, rants.

In other words, nobody cares about this stuff except for a tiny fraction of loons, and paying attention to it does nothing except validate their importance by letting them set the campaign agenda: namely, to create an entirely artificial racial cast to the governor's race where none existed before. Doesn't that sound like a pretty good reason for normal people to ignore it completely?

POSTSCRIPT: For all you non-Californians reading this, I should point out some tremendous irony here that you might not be aware of. You see, Bustamante really does have some racial baggage in this race, but it's exactly the opposite of the "identity politics" that Rutten decries. Bustamante's real problem is that he's actually not all that popular with Hispanics: his Spanish isn't too good and he's never been quite hardline enough on Hispanic issues. Tim Rutten, of course, knows this perfectly well.

Kevin Drum 11:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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