Ron Fournier is a columnist for National Journal and a cable news mainstay who served as the Associated Press' Washington bureau chief for years. In his new opinion-based role, he's worked to carve out a niche as a 'pox on both houses' purveyor of common sense, a detector of BS, a practitioner of intellectual honesty, and Chief of the Civility Police. In that last capacity, Fournier expended much indignant energy denouncing Rudy Giuliani's acerbic commentary about President Obama's patriotism -- wrongly asserting that Obama would never say such nasty things about his political opponents. Regardless of that particular blind spot, Fournier would likely tell you that he feels obligated to blow the whistle on ad hominem slanders hurled from either side of the aisle, because such tactics are unseemly and poisonous to our politics. Falsely impugning motives isn't acceptable. He recently noted on Twitter that his antipathy runs especially deep for racially-tinged attacks:
.@NolteNC Have not forgotten but welcome the twitter reminder that both parties play race cards -- and neither party deserves my vote— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) March 19, 2015
Playing the race card is terrible, except when it's not. As Sen. Dick Durbin repeatedly invoked Jim Crow-era imagery to demonize GOP slow-walking of Obama's Attorney General nominee (a black woman) on legitimate ideological and tactical grounds, Fournier served up some "real talk." Not for Durbin -- the obvious uncivil culprit -- but for Republicans:
Got a solution for Senate Republicans who don't like being called racists. Confirm Lynch, a qualified nominee Move on http://t.co/MOTx0Mnnki— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) March 19, 2015
Don't like being baselessly slimed as racists? Well, hurry up and do exactly what your cheap, bad-faith accusers demand. Pay that moral ransom, regardless of the principles and outcomes actually at stake, and the meanness will go away. For awhile, at least. The Civility Police have an uneven concept of justice, it seems. Or perhaps Fournier simply has a soft spot for vicious insults that reference segregation. This week, he was beating the drum about how Republicans are wrong in their ongoing efforts to oppose and repeal Obamacare. It's the law now, so everyone should just suck it up and help make it work, he intoned. (Obamacare, I should add, is a law that Fournier himself has conceded was constructed upon a "foundation of lies"). Several conservatives immediately challenged him on this logic, noting that Fournier's "it's-the-law-so-deal-with-it-and-move-on" posture surely doesn't apply in all circumstances. Would Fournier have thrown up his hands and recommended that opponents of, say, the Fugitive Slave Act abandon their convictions? Fournier didn't take kindly to such questions, berating his inquisitors for "comparing" Obamacare to an issue like slavery. That's not what they were doing, of course. They were proving the point that not all laws must be automatically accepted and embraced once they've been passed. Obamacare happens to be a law that has never enjoyed the consent of the governed, has violated almost every core pledge made in its marketing campaign, and that continues to harm far more people than it's helped. When Sean Davis, a writer for The Federalist, jumped into the discussion with a provocatively-worded rebuttal, an exasperated Fournier went straight for the jugular:
@seanmdav Segregation is your gig, not mine.— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) March 23, 2015
Shut up, he explained. Lacking an argument, Mr. Civility went with, "oh yeah, well don't talk to me about segregation, since that's your thing." Appalling, but revealing. In one fell swoop, Fournier effectively walks away from the substantive debate, shamelessly going the racial route as a last-ditch means of bullying his critics into silence. (This is exactly the sort of thing Mary Katharine Ham and I write about in End of Discussion, available for pre-order here). In executing his low class surrender, he also demonstrates how he -- and no doubt many of his mainstream media colleagues -- view conservatives. The self-appointed referees of politics will never call a truly fair game because they see one of the teams as populated by bad, anti-women, racist people. Davis, a thirty-something conservative who was born long after this country's worst racial days, has never breathed a word remotely in support of the rank immorality of racial segregation. But because he's on the Right, and segregation is (note the present tense) the Right's "gig" (never mind the Democrats' sordid racial history), clubbing Davis with this conversation-ending slander was apparently fair game in Fournier's mind.
In fairness, everyone is susceptible to lashing out in anger or frustration occasionally, and Twitter is a venue that sometimes invites rhetorical excess. But even after having some time to reflect on the implications of what he'd said, Fournier adamantly refused to apologize. The Civility Police Chief decided that his casual segregation smear was justified. Lest you think I'm overblowing a single tweet, Mollie Hemingway reminds us that Fournier isn't a stranger to indulging in race card politics. Though he wouldn't condemn Dick Durbin's overt racial demagoguery (and in fact counseled Republicans to capitulate to it), he's invented "problematic" racial angles to GOP stances on other issues -- including their…citation of nonpartisan CBO data regarding Obamacare's negative impact on the labor force. That smacked of racism to Fournier; Durbin's explicit antics received a quasi-endorsement. One can't help but wonder how these sorts of underlying attitudes may have colored the Associated Press' coverage of Washington when Fournier was at the helm. How many others in the establishment media share his deep-seated bias and ugly assumptions about what guides and animates conservatives?
I don't know Ron Fournier, but I have grown to respect him. He is sometimes willing to buck conventional wisdom and take Democrats to task in ways that many other center-Left writers won't touch. See, for instance, his tough takes on Hillary Clinton's conduct. But earning and sustaining credibility across the spectrum doesn't just entail knocking both sides from time to time. It involves respecting people's worldviews enough not to assume the worst about them. If Ron Fournier has decided that racial animus is lurking around every corner on the Right, and is willing to nuke strangers with grotesquely unfair calumnies during public debates, I suppose that's his prerogative. But he shouldn't expect his targets and their friends to continue taking him seriously, which is how I presume he'd prefer to be taken. And he should permanently surrender his Civility Police badge. One final note: Mr. Fournier, if you're reading this, I'd imagine you might be tempted to retreat into a comforting, "if both sides are upset, I must be doing something right" mentality. That aphorism has some truth to it, and it may even apply to you sometimes. Before you congratulate yourself and dismiss this post as just another criticism from an ideologue, however, please consider this specific critique's substance, even if you're inclined to disregard its source.