A Middle River man named Merriam King has been insisting for several months now that I denounce what he calls the "overt racism" of the conservative talk show hosts on WCBM Radio.
Now, you must understand that Merriam is a sweet-talking ol' cuss who has called at least twice a week since June to cajole me into writing what he wants me to write.
"I think you're afraid," he snarled contemptuously during a typical call yesterday. "I think you're afraid to take on the right wing. I think all you media people stick together. Plus, you ought to be ashamed to call yourself a man."
I look forward to Merriam's calls. He really knows how to win friends and influence people.
Anyway, I have never heard WCBM's conservative talk show hosts say anything that struck me as racist. Those hosts -- Alan Keyes, Les Kinsolving and Tom Marr -- are unabashedly ultra-conservative. They are relentlessly hostile to President Clinton, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Congress. And sometimes, to hear them talk, you would think welfare recipients lounge about in lavish luxury, laughing at us poor working stiffs who must foot the bill. In this, they sound fairly typical of the conservative talk show host species -- the most famous of which is Rush Limbaugh.
I disagree with those guys, oh, 90 to 95 percent of the time. But just because they are often wrong, Merriam, doesn't make them racist. Sorry. Call me again next week, though.
Nevertheless, I understand why Merriam finds the conservative spiel that seems to dominate this area's airwaves so disturbing.
From time to time, for instance, Tom Marr will rail against violent criminals. He calls them "hoodlums" and "thugs" and "animals." There exists a suspicion -- often justified -- that some people exploit and magnify the stereotypes that equate blacks with crime. But I have never heard Marr even hint at this. And let's face it, he is right about one thing: A person who commits a violent crime is, almost by definition, a hoodlum and a thug. Referring to senseless killers as animals, though, is an insult to the wild kingdom.
Similarly, Les Kinsolving gleefully referred to the deposed executive director of the NAACP as "Firebomb Ben," a reference to Ben Chavis' conviction on arson charges in the early 1970s -- convictions that eventually were overturned. Using the unkind label, Kinsolving attacked Chavis' defense of Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and other aspects of his tenure at the NAACP. But a lot of other people criticized Chavis, including members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
And Keyes, who is himself African American, often accuses liberal Democrats of fostering a "plantation mentality" in blacks; a vile analogy that does, in fact, border on being offensive. But not even tough characterizations or take-no-prisoners commentary qualify as racism.
Keyes, Kinsolving and Marr reserve their venom for mythical beings they call "liberals." Liberals, in their view, are loathsome creatures who are responsible for most of what is wrong in this society. Liberals want to mollycoddle heinous murderers, rip asunder the traditional family and impose a tax-and-spend big government on hard-working Americans.
Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson used to exemplify this kind of "liberal" in their eyes, but now the conservative talk show hosts have found even juicier targets: The sinister virago, Hillary Clinton, and her buffoonish husband, the president of the United States.
Every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., WCBM's talk show hosts hold the Clintons and their liberal co-conspirators responsible for the growth of violent crime, the faltering economy.
As far as I can see, creatures as vile as these "liberals" do not exist. But truth is not important. WCBM's trio feed public anger at the way things are and then they serve up ugly, stereotypical caricatures as convenient scapegoats.
I believe this is what has Merriam confused: He hears scapegoating and stereotyping and grotesque untruths -- the signature traits of bigotry. But racial minorities are no longer the target. Today's bigotry -- and it is bigotry -- is aimed at a political point of view.