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Pushing the envelope to the breaking point

<p>It's not always easy to predict when a provocateur's rhetoric will reach a tipping point that carries consequences.</p>
Pushing the envelope to the breaking point
Pushing the envelope to the breaking point

It's not always easy to predict when a provocateur's rhetoric will reach a tipping point that carries consequences. For Rush Limbaugh, it was arguably his attacks on Sandra Fluke -- it wasn't the first time the right-wing host had made misogynistic remarks on the air, but the ugliness and the larger context made the ensuing controversy unique.

For Ann Coulter, her career took a turn after her public condemnation of 9/11 widows. Glenn Beck's downward trajectory on Fox arguably began when he said President Obama has "a deep-seated hatred for white people."

And while John Derbyshire doesn't have as high a profile in conservative media, his "The Talk: Nonblack Version" in Taki's Magazine has similarly pushed a rhetorical envelope to the breaking point. It wasn't the first time the writer has published offensive content on race, but like the Limbaugh/Fluke story, the severity of Derbyshire's racist tirade and the larger context make it more significant.

In the piece, the conservative columnist and National Review writer explained the lessons he has shared with his children about race in America. The list of tips Derbyshire has given his kids include urging his kids to "avoid concentrations of blacks," steering clear of events and locations likely to be "swamped with blacks," and among other things, choosing not to live in communities "run by black politicians."

He added, "The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites. The least intelligent ten percent of whites have IQs below 81; forty percent of blacks have IQs that low. Only one black in six is more intelligent than the average white; five whites out of six are more intelligent than the average black."

Derbyshire later verified that his piece was not intended as satire, but rather, "social commentary."

To put it mildly, this disgusting, racist screed has been widely condemned, including this one-sentence item from National Review editor Rich Lowry last night:

Needless to say, no one at National Review shares Derb's appalling view of what parents supposedly should tell their kids about blacks in this instantly notorious piece here.

First, I'm not sure "needless to say" is the appropriate phrase. Second, Lowry's criticism seems unlikely to quell the controversy. Derbyshire's piece is still being denounced by his National Review colleagues, including this piece from occasional National Review contributor Josh Barro:

[T]his is the problem for Lowry and other conservatives who want to be taken seriously by broad audiences when they write about racial issues. Lowry wrote a column containing advice for black Americans. Why should black Americans take him seriously while he's employing Derbyshire? If Lowry wants NR to be credible on race, he should start by firing John Derbyshire.

We probably haven't heard the end of this story.