Partisanship can end a real good discussion

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 2, 2004

Early vacation this summer. So, an early look at reader mail.

We begin with my take on anti-immigrant activists who tried to take over the Sierra Club’s board of directors (they eventually lost), arguing that immigration causes population growth that harms the environment. I disagreed: Restricting immigration merely shifts habitat degradation elsewhere, solving nothing in the end.

Some readers defended the anti-immigrant platform on the wrong grounds. “To say that illegal immigration does not harm the environment is wrong,” wrote a reader from Arizona. “Walk around the desert and mountains and you will see TONS of trash.”

Email newsletter signup

I e-mailed him to point out that the anti-immigrant candidates wanted to keep out [SET ITAL]legal[END ITAL] immigrants, who don’t sneak across the desert. The man graciously wrote back: “I misunderstood. Legal immigrants are more than welcome.”

Less gracious were readers angry over my passing remark about “white supremacist Web site Vdare,” which urged people to join the Sierra Club just to vote for the anti-immigrant slate.

“I AM A WHITE SUPREMACIST who regularly greases the tires of my truck on the backs of the third world crap (latrinos),” wrote someone who should be in prison for murder if he is telling the truth. Like others, he insisted Vdare was not white supremacist. “Go to the website and read Peter Brimelow’s response,” I was urged. “He pretty much handles you himself.”

I checked. Vdare had posted my column without permission, violating copyright law. As to my being “handled,” Brimelow (who wrote the mid-1990s xenophobic screed “Alien Nation”) hurled sophomoric insults in my direction and clarified, “VDARE.COM is obviously not a ‘White Supremacist’ site. … We do publish writers who could fairly be described as ‘white nationalists.'”

Hilarious, isn’t it, that someone is deluded enough to think that normal Americans care about a difference between “white supremacist” and “white nationalist.”

Then there was the column in which I trashed my Viva Bush bumper sticker. “The incompetence of the Bush administration has created a Hawk Syndrome — a weakening of American strength through an excess of go-it-alone resolve,” I wrote. “American power has not been weaker since Jimmy Carter,” when the problem was a “Dove Syndrome, a weakening of American strength through lack of resolve.” And I questioned John Kerry’s own dovish tendencies.

No matter. “John Kerry — the Knight in shining white armor Now More than Ever,” wrote one sarcastic New Jerseyan. “Perhaps you could regale the readers with how better off we would be if we went back to Carter era leadership.”

Geez. Wasn’t my point precisely that Bush and Carter were equally disastrous, and that I feared Kerry might turn out to be Carter II?

When I started writing columns, I was amazed at the volume of letters from readers who did not “get” what I meant. Maybe I wasn’t clear, I thought. Now I know better. Partisanship makes some people see only what they want in a column, even if it isn’t there.

Cuban-born Roger Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

(c) 2004 King Features Synd., Inc.