Friday, October 21, 2005

Guilt by association

It's clear that as a generic proposition, guilt by association is a dangerous game. Consider the news from Delay's Court Appearance, at which he argued that the judge should recuse himself:

In the motion asking that Judge Perkins step aside, or be pushed aside, Mr. DeGuerin said that Judge Perkins "has made political contributions to causes and persons opposed to Tom DeLay," and that he has "involved himself in political matters, invariably aligning himself in opposition to Tom DeLay and Tom DeLay's political affiliation."
TPMCafe points out that:
While Perkins did contribute to MoveOn, he did so in support of John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, to which he also contributed directly, and not in support MoveOn's campaign against Delay.
So it's true that the judge gave to a group which is opposed to Tom Riddle DeLay, but not true that the judge gave to a group in order to oppose Mr. DeLay. This is the error in guilt by association. The fact that the judge personally votes for and financially supports partisan candidates does not make him partisan in all his acts, nor does it imply that he supports all the statements or acts of those he financially supports.

SImilarly, attending a protest organized by ANSWER in the run-up to the war in Iraq is not an endorsement of Stalinism, Osama bin Laden, or the Taliban. This will surprise some of my commenters, just as it surprises Jim Ryun.

Anyone who belonged to the anti-invasion movement remembers the protests and may have noticed ANSWER's sponsorship of the major protests around the country. As Salon.com described it:

The End the Occupation rally, co-sponsored by ANSWER, a front group for the Stalinist Workers' World Party, and the more moderate United for Peace and Justice, seemed the only game in town. Many apparently decided to pretend that "end the occupation" really means "bring in the U.N.," despite ANSWER's blunt and repeated avowals that it means nothing of the sort.

It was a day full of purposeful misunderstandings. Members of Military Families Speak Out, a group of soldiers' relatives who oppose the war their loved ones are fighting, shared the stage with members of ANSWER, a group that's aligned itself with the guerrillas who are killing American troops and those Iraqis who cooperate with them. Both want to end the occupation, but for quite different reasons.
It was the only game in town, and while ANSWER was wrong, the movement was right. We should have put together a larger coalition, we should have brought UN support, and we could safely have stayed out of Iraq altogether. The fact that Stalinists footed the bill is unfortunate, but irrelevant to the arguments actually represented by the protesters.

Or consider other contemporary reporting:

Most of the protesters, I assume, were oblivious to the WWP’s role in the event. They merely wanted to gather with other foes of the war and express their collective opposition. They waved signs (“We need an Axis of Sanity,” “Draft Perle,” “Collateral Damage = Civilian Deaths,” “Fuck Bush”). They cheered on rappers who sang, “No blood for oil.” They laughed when Medea Benjamin, the head of Global Exchange, said, “We need to stop the testosterone-poisoning of our globe.” They filled red ANSWER donation buckets with coins and bills. But how might they have reacted if Holmes and his comrades had asked them to stand with Saddam, Milosevic and Kim? Or to oppose further inspections in Iraq?

One man in the crowd was wise to the behind-the-scenes politics. When Brian Becker, a WWP member introduced (of course) as an ANSWER activist, hit the stage, Paul Donahue, a middle-aged fellow who works with the Thomas Merton Peace and Social Justice Center in Pittsburgh, shouted, “Stalinist!” Donahue and his colleagues at the Merton Center, upset that WWP activists were in charge of this demonstration, had debated whether to attend. “Some of us tried to convince others to come,” Donahue recalled. “We figured we could dilute the [WWP] part of the message. But in the end most didn’t come. People were saying, ‘They’re Maoists.’ But they’re the only game in town, and I’ve got to admit they’re good organizers. They remembered everything but the Porta-Johns.” Rock singer Patti Smith, though, was not troubled by the organizers. “My main concern now is the anti-war movement,” she said before playing for the crowd. “I’m for a nonpartisan, globalist movement. I don’t care who it is as long as they feel the same.”
My emphasis. Huge numbers of people showed up at these events, but ANSWER itself and WWP, it's founder, enjoy almost no support.

There are three reasons why people would attend an ANSWER sponsored event, or organize people and bring them to it.
  1. They are Stalinists who support all or most of the ANSWER agenda (including opposition to the Afghanistan actions, support for Cuba and North Korea, perhaps even the Soviet invasion of Hungary).
  2. They are aware of ANSWER's other policies, don't endorse them, but wanted to protest the specific event being protested at that event.
  3. They are unaware of ANSWER's existence, let alone meaning, and only wanted to protest the war.
There are also journalists and counter-protesters, etc., but that's not really germane.

If we estimate the proportions, we pretty quickly figure out that it's unlikely that a given protester is actually a Stalinist, or even aware that Stalinists were involved in the protest.

It's as silly and trivial as dismissing anyone who gave money to or voted for Tom DeLay as an advocate of money laundering, or claiming that anyone who attends Notre Dame supports child rape by priests. There are serious issues facing the nation, and dismissing anyone who supports MoveOn.org or Howard Dean harms the nation's ability to find real solutions to real problems.