In praise of a double standard for Donald Sterling

Not Spike Lee.
(Image credit: (Getty/Stephen Dunn))

Of all the defenses of Donald Sterling circulating, and surprisingly, there are many, one interests me the most. It's that Sterling is being held to a different standard for his racist remarks. Liberals who have said things just as bad will never come under the same degree of scrutiny that Sterling's remarks have subjected him to. Larry Elder, a popular radio host here in Los Angeles, complained today that director Spike Lee, the court-side presence at New York Knicks games, has said stupid, crazy, and weird things, even racially polarizing things, and never gets taken to account for it. At the very least, Elder says, the two should be held to the same standard.

I disagree. I write in defense of double standards. Not always, not often, but when warranted, using double standards allows us to be faithful to other values that are often more important than the value of fairness. We like to treat people the same way because it is fair to do so. It is enshrined within the political traditions of our country that people ought to be judged the same way, lest factions prefer their own kind. In many arenas, like the law, and in the voting booth, single standards for all is the most important value we can uphold. But in others, it isn't. If we aren't ever allowed to treat two things differently, then we're bracketing other very important principles.

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Marc Ambinder

Marc Ambinder is's editor-at-large. He is the author, with D.B. Grady, of The Command and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Marc is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ. Formerly, he served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. Marc is a 2001 graduate of Harvard. He is married to Michael Park, a corporate strategy consultant, and lives in Los Angeles.