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October 17, 2003
VIRGINIA POSTREL and Roger Simon find themselves largely unmoved by Gregg Easterbrook's apology.
I repeat what I said earlier -- a simple blog update could have (mostly) taken care of this flap.
UPDATE: The ADL is unsatisfied, too. But since it's their job to be offended by stuff like this, I'm not quite as interested as I am in Virginia and Roger's reactions.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Josh Chafetz says that Easterbrook isn't an anti-Semite, and that people should let it go.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Tim Rutten has a piece in Saturday's L.A. Times that seems to blame blogging for Easterbrook's remarks. I don't know about that. Anyone can mangle a phrase, and with enough blogging, I suppose that it's a statistical certainty that everyone will eventually say something unintentionally offensive. But (1) Easterbrook hasn't been blogging very long; and (2) I don't really think this falls into that category. (And blogging also lets you fix things quickly, which Easterbrook should have done.)
What troubles me about Easterbrook's remarks isn't that I think that Easterbrook is anti-Semitic in any deliberate or conscious fashion. It's that I think they indicate the way in which anti-Semitic ideas have infiltrated popular discourse in recent years to the point that one needn't be an anti-Semite to start parroting them without realizing it. I think that's the import of Leon Wieseltier's comments, quoted in the article, about Easterbrook not being an anti-Semite but his remarks being "objectively anti-Semitic." (This further comment from Virginia Postrel underscores that point.) I'm afraid that some people want to make Easterbrook the issue here because it's easier and more comfortable than thinking through the implications of that phenomenon.
I think Rutten also misemploys the "some of my best friends" line. Originally, as I've noted before, it meant something different:
The classic example was the white bigot who said he couldn't be a racist because some of his best friends were black -- only to have it turn out that those "friends" were his caddy and his shoeshine guy.
When some of your best friends really are black or Jewish, the import is different. People tend to lose this distinction, but I think that's a combination of laziness and attempt to take unfair rhetorical advantage. As I said earlier, "it's been morphed into an all-purpose way to ensure that white guys can't bring up counterexamples when charged with racism." That's not fair.