The Washinton Post published a piece by Marissa Brostoff which attempts to link white nationalists to the pro-life movement. Brostoff makes the case that some white nationalists have embraced the pro-life movement but much of the piece reads like a vague attempt to insinuate the pro-life movement itself is racist for readers who are eager to believe everything they don’t like is racist and that pro-lifers are cartoon villains. I won’t belabor the point but here’s a sample which comes fairly early in the piece:
For reproductive-rights supporters in the United States, it’s long been easy to see the Republican Party’s hard-line antiabortion politics as a kind of grotesque hypocrisy. How can a political body that has aligned itself against school lunches and for machine guns claim to support “life?” This juxtaposition has been particularly cruel over the past year, as revelations about the imprisonment of migrant children in concentration camps have coincided with a wave of draconian antiabortion legislation.
This is not someone who is interested in making sense of different points of view on any of these issues. She’s merely signaling her moral conclusions upfront so likeminded readers can relax into the challenge-free environment of the remainder of the piece. But Brostoff really outdoes herself in the final paragraph where she suggests that author JD Vance is promulgating white nationalist concerns in public:
As border controls tighten, though, the links between pronatalism and nativism have once again become visible. Inspired by Steve King’s admiring remark about Geert Wilders, Ayla Stewart, creator of a popular white nationalist blog called Wife with a Purpose, issued a “white baby challenge” that went viral in alt-right circles; the mother of six asked audience members “to have as many white babies as I have contributed.” Meanwhile, as replacement discourse enters the conservative mainstream, talk of birthrates comes along with it. “Our people aren’t having enough children to replace themselves. That should bother us,” J.D. Vance, author of the best-selling “Hillbilly Elegy,” told his audience at the National Conservatism Conference last month; earlier this year, he described himself as “appalled” by Democrats’ permissive attitudes toward abortion. Vance did not spell out exactly who was included in the word “our.” He didn’t need to.
Vance is best known as the author of Hillbilly Elegy, a book viewed as sympathetic to rural Americans and conservative in tone. Progressive critics have chided Vance for his emphasis on individual self-reliance. Maybe that’s why Brostoff expected her readers would simply believe he was another right-wing villain without bothering to check if her account of Vance’s speech was accurate. As it turns out, it was not. Here’s the paragraph in question:
There are a lot of ways to measure a healthy society, but the most important way to measure a healthy society is by whether a nation is having enough children to replace itself. Do people look to the future and see a place worth having children in? Do they have economic prospects and the expectation that they’re going to be able to put a good roof over that kid’s head, food on the table, and provide that child with a good education? By every statistic that we have, people are answering “no” to all of those questions. Our people aren’t having enough children to replace themselves. That should bother us.
As Jeryl Bier pointed out, it’s pretty clear who Vance was talking about in that penultimate line: Americans.
Yeah, real mystery who Vance was referring to… same speech, SAME PARAGRAPH: "…whether a nation is having enough children to replace itself."
"a nation" pic.twitter.com/6dB4UhmiXT
— Jeryl Bier (@JerylBier) August 27, 2019
The smear was spread by some people on Twitter but eventually, there was enough of a backlash that the Post noticed. If you look at the story now, the last lines about JD Vance have vanished and there is an Editor’s Note which reads, “An earlier version of this story suggested that the author J.D. Vance lamented a falloff in white births; he was actually talking about American births.” That’s correct, but Brostoff wasn’t happy about the edit:
So that settles the question of whether or not this was an honest mistake. It wasn’t. She knew what Vance was actually saying but didn’t care because in her view what he said was close enough to insinuate he’s a racist. And really, if you read the rest of the piece, that sort of lazy reliance on prior convictions won’t surprise you. But at least some of the people who’d been jumping on Vance based on her piece did back down:
I'm deleting the tweets where I said JD Vance was appropriating the white supremacist Great Replacement theory when he bemoaned the birth rates of "our people," as the Post has removed that section from their article.
I'm adding screenshots of my tweets for transparency. pic.twitter.com/x70ppgVXyj
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) August 27, 2019
But there are still other people, like this former Buzzfeed writer suggesting it’s not quite clear what Vance meant. Notice that this tweet is not compatible with the actual editor’s note which says it is clear what Vance meant (because it really is).
The Post pulled JD Vance’s “our people” because it wasn’t clear he was speaking about Americans and not just white people. While there is an obvious distinction between those two things, nativist rhetoric like this is still problematic https://t.co/w5pp0uEgmR pic.twitter.com/msFHlTH0Iu
— john r stanton (@dcbigjohn) August 27, 2019
I suspect this will become an asterisk which progressives will forever attempt to pin on Vance despite the fact that it’s obviously false. Given her reaction to the correction, Brostoff may even be proud of this dubious accomplishment.