Lock your doors, load your guns and vote for John Faso. He’ll protect you from gang members, drug dealers and rappers.
That’s not on political posters in the 19th Congressional District yet. But it is the heart of Faso’s quest for re-election, a toxic echo of his previous campaign warning about threats from outsiders.
Faso was earning national attention for his strategy, including an article in The Nation about how odd it was for a candidate in a swing district to “run on classic appeals to white racial anxiety.”
Then Gerald Benjamin spoke up.
He is the best known faculty member at SUNY New Paltz, a distinguished professor of political science whose name will live on at The Benjamin Center created to, among other things, help communities in the region work together and advance the public interest.
Benjamin also is a friend of John Faso, as The New York Times put it, quoting him as saying that when it came to Democrat Antonio Delgado and his previous career as a rap artist, “Is a guy who makes a rap album the kind of guy who lives here in rural New York and reflects our lifestyle and values? … People like us, people in rural New York, we are not people who respond to this part of American culture.”
People like us.
College leaders reacted immediately with understandable alarm.
“The quotes raise the specter of racism and marginalize members of our community, both of which are antithetical to our institutional values of inclusivity and respect,” said the president and chief diversity officer in a campus-wide email.
No one would say if Benjamin would face any disciplinary actions. If the college leaders believe in the freedom of expression and inquiry that should be at the heart of any such institution, they will not censor or penalize Benjamin.
But this is not the end of the story. Benjamin is not just a friend of Faso’s, he is a star supporter.
On June 24, 2016, as Faso first ran, he announced “more than 60 significant endorsements” and singled out only two people — CNBC television host Larry Kudlow, now director of President Trump’s National Economic Council, and Benjamin. When Faso held some public meetings, he chose Benjamin as one moderator while a representative from a progressive group provided balance.
After hearing the reaction to his statements, Benjamin issued an apology about what he characterized as “an unintended offense.”
“I had no racist intent but understand the impact of those remarks, and regret having made them … My remarks were insufficiently precise, my points poorly articulated and my language very insensitive and therefore subject to multiple interpretations.”
So why did he say it?
Benjamin is not some bystander surprised by an aggressive reporter shoving a microphone in his face. He has 14 books in his name. He makes his living lecturing on complex subjects. It is clear that he regrets this now, but he has yet to explain why he would say such divisive things even imprecisely in the first place or why he would support someone whose second campaign is just as devoted to dividing people as was his first.