Ignoring radical racialism
The mainstream press has been doing a miserable job covering Cruz Bustamante's ties to the creepy Chicano secessionist group MEChA. This may not be the biggest story of the California recall election, but voters surely have a right to expect some actual information about the leading Democratic candidate's views of a group that is certainly racialist, if not racist.
A MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) slogan translates as "For the race everything. For those outside the race, nothing." El Plan de Aztlan, a founding document carried now on many MEChA Internet sites, talks about the "call of our blood" and the need to reclaim the Southwest (Aztlan) from "the occupying forces of the oppressor." As if the Nazi-like call to the power of blood isn't scary enough, Miguel Perez of Cal State-Northridge's MEChA raised the issue of ethnic cleansing. Once Aztlan has been taken over, he said, non-Chicanos "would have to be expelled" and opposition groups quashed "because you have to keep the power."
Bustamante is no wild-eyed radical. But he has had as much trouble renouncing his connection to MEChA as Trent Lott did in retracting his admiring comment on the Dixiecrats. Bustamante joined MEChA in his college years in the 1970s and has reportedly addressed MEChA groups since. Under heavy prodding at Fox News, he said he would be governor of all the people, but he has offered no direct disavowal of the group.
Now, it's safe to say that if a leading Republican candidate for governor had any ties at all to a MEChA-like group of white supremacists, past or present, 20 or so reporters would charge out of every California newsroom, eager to commit journalism.
Nothing like that has happened. My computer searches haven't yet turned up a serious press examination of the issue. What you get instead is an information-free paragraph or two stuck on the end of a report on farm policy or some other campaign issue. The Los Angeles Times, ever willing to protect readers from the news, tiptoed around the story for two weeks, then ran an article deep inside the paper on a Saturday, when almost nobody reads the paper.
The Times report took the opportunity to clear Bustamante without looking much into the charges. The lead of the article was this: "A Chicano student organization that Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante belonged to at Fresno State University in the mid-1970s has its roots in a nationalistic protest movement but is better known on college campuses for working to recruit and retain Latino students." Citing the slogan "For the race everything. For those outside the race, nothing," the L.A. Times said that it is "not the group's motto, as reported by some organizations, but was used by Chicano activists before MEChA was founded." Well, yes, it isn't the motto, but it is a group slogan that appears on many MEChA sites today, not just before MEChA's founding in 1969. Couldn't those 10 or 15 Saturday readers be let in on this?
Heavy lifting. In the absence of informative print and network journalism, the heavy lifting has been done by bloggers on the Internet. Glenn Reynolds (InstaPundit.com), Mickey Kaus (Kausfiles.com), and two sites new to me (Tacitus.org and Pejmanesque.com) have been reporting on MEChA and analyzing what can be currently found on MEChA sites. (For a defense of Bustamante, go to Ted Barlow's site at crookedtimber.org.)
Tacitus argues that Bustamante's MEChA membership is a socially tainting act that can't be whisked away as a harmless youthful affiliation. He writes: "Former Klansmen and former Nazis don't get a pass unless they spend a great deal of time and energy apologizing for and explaining themselves in a convincing manner."
I agree. Defenders of MEChA portray it as a benign social group now distant from its radical roots. But that portrait is hard to square with the information put out on MEChA sites today. Those sites tell Chicanos not to work outside the bronze race and to condemn "multinational" alliances. And there are hints of violence. El Plan calls for "self-defense against the occupying forces of the oppressors" and mentions "the utilization of our bodies for war."
If this is leftover '60s bluster, why don't MEChA and Bustamante simply disavow it? The group may be harmless on some campuses, but it clearly positions itself as a virulent identity group with no interest in pluralism or tolerance. Why are the press and the Democrats giving a candidate with this kind of background a pass?
This story appears in the September 15, 2003 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.