Archive for the ‘Race’ category

On Money, Power, and How John Roberts Forged One More Link In The History Of White Supremacy In America

April 17, 2014

Yesterday  an essay I wrote appeared over at the Atlantic’s joint. (Originally on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog, the editors there moved it over to Politics after a bit.)  It’s attracted a fair amount of comment over there, including severe disdain from some folks that I infer are somewhat more right of center than your humble blogger.

In it I argue that the McCutcheon decision eliminating some campaign finance limits shows how White supremacy operates in a post slavery-post-Jim Crow-post-Civil-Rights-era environment:  not by targeting race explicitly, but by constraining the paths on which African Americans could engage and acquire power.

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Here’s a taste:

A drastically shortened version of Coates’s analysis is that white supremacy—and the imposition of white power on African-American bodies and property—have been utterly interwoven through the history of American democracy, wealth and power from the beginnings of European settlement in North America. The role of the exploitation of African-American lives in the construction of American society and polity did not end in 1865. Rather, through the levers of law, lawless violence, and violence under the color of law, black American aspirations to wealth, access to capital, access to political power, a share in the advances of the social safety net and more have all been denied with greater or less efficiency. There has been change—as Coates noted in a conversation he and I had a couple of years ago, in 1860 white Americans could sell children away from their parents, and in 1865 they could not—and that is a real shift. But such beginnings did not mean that justice was being done nor equity experienced.

Once you start seeing American history through the corrective lens created by the generations of scholars and researchers on whose work Coates reports, then it becomes possible—necessary, really—to read current events in a new light. Take, for example, the McCutcheon decision that continued the Roberts Court program of gutting campaign-finance laws.

The conventional—and correct, as far as it goes—view of the outcome, enabling wealthy donors to contribute to as many candidates as they choose, is that this further tilts the political playing field towards the richest among us at the expense of every American voter. See noted analyst Jon Stewart for a succinct presentation of this view.

I then go on to cite a study that analyzed just who belongs to the exclusive club directly affected by McCutcheon — the about 1,200 people who brushed up against the limits in dispute.  After going through the predictable demographics – the group is overwhelmingly white and mostly male, I added this:

People of color are almost entirely absent from the top donor profile, and none more so than members of the community that white Americans enslaved for two centuries:

While more than one-in-six Americans live in a neighborhood that is majority African-American or Hispanic, less than one-in-50 superlimit donors do. More than 90 percent of these elite donors live in neighborhoods with a greater concentration of non- Hispanic white residents than average. African-Americans are especially underrepresented. The median elite donor lives in a neighborhood where the African-American population counts for only 1.4 percent, nine times less than the national rate.

…This is why money isn’t speech. Freedom of speech as a functional element in democratic life assumes that such freedom can be meaningfully deployed. But the unleashing of yet more money into politics allows a very limited class of people to drown out the money “speech” of everyone else—but especially those with a deep, overwhelmingly well documented history of being denied voice and presence in American political life.

That seems to me to be pretty obvious — but what really got me going, and what seems to me the crux of the matter, is that McCutcheon isn’t a stand-alone judgment:

combine…decisions [on campaign finance] with the conclusions of the court on voting rights, and you get a clear view of what the five-justice right-wing majority has done. Controlling access to the ballot has been a classic tool of white supremacy since the end of Reconstruction. It is so once again, as states seizing on the Roberts Court’s Voting Rights Act decision take aim at exactly those tools with which African Americans increased turnout and the proportion of minority voters within the electorate. There’s not even much of an attempt to disguise what’s going on.

Add all this to the Roberts decision to free states from the tyranny of being forced to accept federal funds to provide healthcare to the poor. When John Roberts declared that Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion would be optional, the decision sounded colorblind—states could deny succor to their poor of any race— [but] in practice, that is to say in the real world, this decision hits individual African Americans and their communities the hardest, as Coates wrote way back when.

I’d add to that the last step in the syllogism: make money the measure of political speech and inhibit the ability of one group to accumulate not just wages but capital…and that’s a denial of the rights of citizenship just as much as any direct attack on access to the voting booth.

White supremacy as a social reality isn’t (any more) a matter of folks in white hoods or politicians standing around with axe-handles at the ready.  It comes cloaked in elaborately distanced language, through actions that appear on the surface to be aloof from any consideration of race.  Surely campaign finance law would seem to have no connection to civil rights jurisprudence.  Perhaps as a matter of abstract argument, of judicial logic-chopping (and very selective historical memory) it doesn’t.  In the real world, it does.

I’m not arguing that Roberts and his four co-conspirators are racists. I don’t know or care what they feel or how they perceive themselves. The matter is rather, do the actions of the Roberts Court support an ongoing use of power that has a racist outcome?  That question, I think, answers itself.

A nation that can elect Barack Obama is not John Calhoun’s America; it isn’t even Strom Thurmond’s.  It’s ours, and for all the changes I’ve seen in 55 years lived between our two shining seas, it’s one that continues to tell the old story of white-erected obstacles to African Americans seeking to exercise political power.  Again, you can check out the full piece over there.

Image: Anthony van Dyck, Portrait of the Marquesa Elena Grimaldic. 1623.

Yup. Holder Goes There. (About Damn Time Too)

February 11, 2014

Here’s Eric Holder on the systematic elimination of political rights from millions of Americans:

“It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values.” [Via TPM]

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And just who might be disproportionately represented among those barred from giving their consent to their governing?

African-Americans represent more than a third of the estimated 5.8 million people who are prohibited from voting, according to the Sentencing Project, a research group that favors more liberal sentencing policies. And in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, more than one in five African-Americans has lost the right to vote. [link in the original]

And the last question in this mockery of a catechism, what lies behind the desperate push to of keep ex-cons from resuming full participation in our polity? The question answers itself:

Studies show that felons who have been denied the right to vote are far more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. In 2002, scholars at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University concluded that the 2000 presidential election “would almost certainly have been reversed” had felons been allowed to vote. [link in the original]

In Florida, the state that tipped that election, 10 percent of the population is ineligible to vote because of the ban on felons at the polls, Mr. Holder said.

Denying those who’ve completed the sentences the law requires for their acts the right to vote is nothing new.  It’s just the latest in a guerrilla campaign running more than a century now, one aimed at reversing the results of the shooting war that only nominally ended in 1865.  Bad enough that African Americans could no longer be bought and sold, but heaven forfend that they actually exercise the essential rights of any citizen.  Or, as Holder put it in terms suited to the meanest understanding:

“Although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African-Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable” he said….

The sad truth is that Holder and the Department of Justice can’t do much here.  States retain the right to set election law, and, as the Times noted,

The question of how people vote is contentious, particularly since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act last year. That decision allowed states to pass voting laws that would otherwise have needed federal approval.

But still, good on him for getting this out there, and in the terms he used.  Racism isn’t a residue of times gone by, eroding with each passing year.  It’s not a state of mind, something that is or isn’t in someone’s heart.  It inheres in the actual decisions made, consequences sought and embraced, that result in harm done to specific individuals and groups.  It lies at the heart of the choices being made right now, overwhelming by one political party, the GOP, as it attempts to return to the pinnacle of power.

Holder’s making that clear in surprisingly  (to me) uncompromising language.  Good.  This is how both Overton Windows and, over waaaaay too much time, actual policy shifts.

Image: Vincent van Gogh, Prisoners Exercising, 1890. (Yeah. I’ve used this one before. You gotta problem with that?)

Today in GOP Sociopathology

December 20, 2013

We’ve got two headliners today.

First up, child labor cheerleader Jack Kingston, a congressman from Georgia now looking for a promotion to the Senate, claimed that he’s no hater of the poor for saying this:

“Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money,” Kingston said at a Jackson County Republican Party meeting, according to video surfaced by the Huffington Post. “But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”

But nah, that wasn’t aimed at shaming and constraining the poor, swears Kingston (R-eternally misunderstood).  Rather,

“This is not targeted to any one group,” Kingston said. “It would be very helpful for kids in any socio-economic group to do chores and learn the work ethic….I never did say poor kids.”

Over to you, M. Anatole France:

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The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

And then there is that noted scholar of the Civil Rights era, Ian Bayne, a Republican candidate running for the nomination to challenge Rep. Bill Foster, an actual smart person and a Democrat representing Illinois’s 11th district.  Mr Bayne identifies the ties that bind two characters most observers of lesser penetration would never have uncovered:

“In December 1955, Rosa Parks took a stand against an unjust societal persecution of black people, and in December 2013, Robertson took a stand against persecution of Christians,” Bayne wrote in the email. “What Parks did was courageous.”

Bayne added in the email that “what Robertson did was courageous too.”

That would be Duck Dynast Phil Robertson, who, as we all know, is convinced that African Americans with whom he worked in the pre-Civil Rights era were, as he put it “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”  And who says in the context of a current civil rights struggle, that gay men and women are bound not for equality before the law, but for Sheol:

“Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers–they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right. [via Ta-Nehisi Coates]

So, let’s recap:  Rosa Parks risks jail, bodily harm, quite possibly death to secure the minimal rights of citizenship for Americans who have been subjugated through a reign of terror for a century since the end of outright chattel slavery.  Some guy spouts hate at blacks and gays.

Just the same.

Ladles and Jellyspoons:  Your modern GOP.  A party that does not vomit out such characters cannot be allowed anywhere near the reins of power.

Or, as my man Cato would say, Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est

Image: Thomas Kennington, Orphans,1885.

No Country for Old Pundits

November 12, 2013

It’s only Tuesday, but this week’s I Am Not A Racist sweepstakes may just have a winner.  Ladles and jellyspoons, I give you Village Media Star, Washington Post columnist, and inexplicably influential Richard Cohen:

People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children.

I’m going to try to be fair to a man who seems conspicuously challenged when it comes to writing about race.  That sentence comes in the context of explaining why many members of the Republican Party may have trouble getting behind Chris Christie. Cohen’s not suggesting he personally has a problem with the De Blasio marriage, not even for its yet more outré (to him?…perhaps slightly more “conventional” than even he wants to own?): “(Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?)”

But reading more deeply doesn’t help.  Here’s the context Cohen provides for his claim that “conventional” types might have trouble with inter racial stuff.  The paragraph in which that quote comes begins like this:

Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled –

About what, you might ask? Cohen kindly answers:

 – about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde.

How convenient.  Nothing about the current occupant of the White House, nor….

Oh hell, let’s get on with it. Next up, the assertion about the nausea induced by the De Blasios.  Cohen then finishes his “thought” here:

This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

But no:  Southern Republicans, the Tea Party, cultural conservatives are not racist.  They’re just “conventional.”

Cohen’s no stranger to … awkwardness … on race.  Just last week he wrote that it took the movie 12 Years a Slave to help him grasp that,

 …slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks.

Well, yeah. Better late than never, to be sure.  But 2013, and seventy-two tours around the sun is damn late indeed to be figuring that one out.

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To be clear:  I do not think Cohen holds any racial animus against New York’s mayor-elect and his family; I doubt he’s troubled by interracial relationships; I don’t actually care whether or not “in his heart” Richard Cohen has trouble with people of color.

But words matter.  When Cohen asserts that the bluntest kind of old-school racism, the rejection of the possibility of two people of different colors loving each other, is “conventional,” he gives aid and comfort to that view.  He mainstreams it:  what could be more down the middle of the discourse than something “conventional?”

To put it another way: we know Cohen is clueless* — there’s no other explanation for his self-described late aspirations to wisdom on the matter of owning other human beings.  But mere obliviousness still can’t excuse malice — and that’s what flows with granting any respect at all the view that the sight of a white man and a black women sharing their lives in marriage should make one gag.

To put it yet one more way: this is Cohen’s argument stripped naked:  Thesis one:  the GOP is not racist. Thesis two: a key element of the Republican Party is racist. Conclusion three: well, maybe the GOP has a racism problem it’s OK (sort of) because those nice conventional folks are simply mourning the fact that most Americans no longer tolerate such crap.

How does that add up?  What kind of mind writes that paragraph and doesn’t go “Wut?” … and try again.

Last question:  Cohen is a terrible columnist, a weak thinker, a man suffocating in swaddling of past-its-sell-by-date received wisdom and second-hand knowledge.  But the Post chooses to employ him and you’d think they’d have the compassion, (not to mention the self interest) to protect him from himself.  Shorter: Don’t they have any editors down there any more?  Who the f**k let that “conventional” slip by?

*One more in the annals of general cluelessness.  In this column Cohen goes on to argue that the reality for the GOP is that its core recoils from modernity and is now spasming in its rage. To drive the point home, he writes this:

As with the Dixiecrats, the fight is not over a particular program — although Obamacare comes close — but about a tectonic shift of attitudes.I thank Dennis J. Goldford, professor of politics and international relations at Drake University in Des Moines, for leading me to a live performance on YouTube of Merle Haggard singing “Are the Good Times Really Over.” This chestnut, a lament for a lost America, has been viewed well more than 2 million times. It could be the tea party’s anthem.

Uh, Richard. In these dayz of the intertubes, two million views over five years is…not impressive.  Hell, I’ve been listening to some Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros lately (now there’s a band on the zeitgeist, right?), and the official video of their folk-groove song “Man on Fire” has scored over three million hits in the last eighteen months.  You want to talk about music at the point of cultural confrontation that Cohen’s talking about? Well then, how about Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s hit “Same Love feat. Mary Lambert” (which features and interracial gay couple, btw)?

Almost 95 million views on Ryan Lewis’ channel alone, and many more millions elsewhere.

It’s not that Cohen’s wrong on the basic point. Running through the GOP’s current turmoil there is a profound rejection of the whole broad politics and culture that flows from (inter alia) the real advances in civil rights we’ve seen in this country.  But this business of making cultural commentary about a Youtube video isn’t about that argument.  Instead, this is a question of whether or not Cohen is up to his job.  Here, he doesn’t seem to have the basic contextual understanding he needs to draw any inference from a data point like 2 million Youtube views.  It’s not just the “conventional” racists who don’t recognize this country.  Cohen’s making heavy weather of it too.

Image: Charles Towne, Old Billy, a Draught Horse, aged 62, 1823.

Annals of Post-Racial America, Ch. (n)

August 7, 2013

via TPM, here’s the latest from The Arizona Republic:

Obama foes at one point sang, “Bye Bye Black Sheep,” a derogatory reference to the president’s skin color, while protesters like Deanne Bartram raised a sign saying, “Impeach the Half-White Muslim!”

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Many on both sides wore red, white and blue and carried small flags.

“It just kind of happened naturally,” said Michael Pomales of how the opposing sides separated. Pomales, an 18-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident who graduated in the spring from Desert Vista High, said he decided to join the protesters side “to spread a little love” as the crowds began shouting at each other.

Pomales said his response to people yelling for Obama to go back from where he came from is simple: “He’s a great man. He cares about what I care about, education, jobs. He’s our president. He’s an American.”

Deanna Bartram, a 17-year-old University of Arizona student from Black Canyon City, lashed out at people who call her racist for not supporting Obama. She believes Obama supporters use the “race card” against her because they disagree with her political message.

“Obama is ruining American values. He is ruining the Constitution. He needs to go back to where he came from because obviously, he is a liar,” she said. “I am not racist. I am part Indian. Obama’s half Black, half White.”

“He’s 47 percent Negro,” shouted Ron Enderle, a 77-year-old Chandler resident who said that he and his son served as Marines and his grandson is currently serving in the Marines.

But it’s all good.  John Roberts has told us we live in a post-racial America, and John Roberts is an honorable man.

Image: Anonymous painter, Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, Moorish Ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I, 1600.

Outreach Update: Credit (not much, but still) Where Credit is Due Dept.

June 21, 2013

Yesterday I brought to your attention the dulcet stylings of one Jim Allen, Montgomery County (IL) GOP chair, who slimed a fellow Republican primary challenger (Erika Harold)  to the fellow (Rodney Davis) he supports thusly:

Rodney Davis will win and the love child of the D.N.C. will be back in (expletive)-cago by May of 2014 working for some law firm that needs to meet their quota for minority hires….Now, miss queen is being used like a street walker and her pimps are the DEMOCRAT PARTY and RINO REPUBLICANS…”

In my post on this, I wrote that the significance isn’t so much that one guy from downstate is a hateful moron, but that the real issue is that he is part of an institution with a culture and a leadership that permits, some would say even nurtures, such utterances (and beliefs):

 …I’m not suggesting, for example, that John McCain or Mitt Romney or Mitch McConnell or John Boehner or whoever are sitting behind their desks saying to themselves daily that Barack Obama as a N*clang!, or Nancy Pelosi as a pimp or whatever.

But they and others are leaders of a party that — with seemingly growing intensity since 2008 — has tolerated within its ranks the use of grotesque racial and sexist crap that garners, most often, only the weakest of pro-forma rebuke coming from the actual voices that could shape the culture of the party.  If party NCOs (and Allen’s hardly the first) feel comfortable enough to spout as above, it’s in large measure because the Republican party — their own tribe — hasn’t made it clear that there is no place for such words and such beliefs in the party of Lincoln.

Shorter:  if you want people who don’t look exactly like you to think that you don’t hate them, you have to make sure your folks don’t say out loud how much they, in fact, do despise the other.

Today we learn two things. First, that someone managed to get it through Allen’s impressiveJim Allen has been well and thoroughly taken to the woodshed, and he got the message:

Allen didn’t return calls seeking comment Wednesday or Thursday, but he issued an apology via the Springfield (Ill.) State Journal-Register.

“My comments are very inappropriate and wrong, and I apologize to Miss Harold and her campaign and her supporters,” Allen told the newspaper.

Second, some of the leadership of the Republican Party I called out yesterday responded with the kind of condemnation words like Allen’s should earn:

As national media picked up on the comments, Davis and other Republicans — including [Reince] Priebus, the GOP national chairman — called for Allen’s resignation from his county GOP chairmanship.

“Chairman Allen’s astonishingly offensive views have no place in politics. He should apologize & resign immediately,” wrote Priebus, who has launched a $10 million minority outreach project for the national party.

Masaccio-Banishment

Allen followed that diktat, resigning yesterday.

So — I’m glad I was at least partly wrong in what I wrote yesterday.  Public condemnation does not eradicate racism, sexism or any other hateful diminishments of “the other” — certainly not from any individual already mired in such wretchedness.  But it does assert a cultural claim, especially on those who affiliate with or feel tied to leading figures who express such condemnation.  We need more Republicans to be willing to speak as bluntly as Priebus did in this instance.

Given that why do I suggest I was only partly wrong?

Because the last several years have seen too much filth fly by, too much dog-whistling (Newt Gingrich, anyone?  Mitt Romney joking about his birth certificate?  All the sh*t Nancy Pelosi ignores every damn day…and so on).  Allen makes the current marketing push by our friends on the far side of the aisle less effective.  He’s one of 102 county chairmen in a red district of a reliably blue state.  He’s expendable.  When Preibus and other national figures anathematize a sitting member of Congress or a candidate in the GOP 2016 primary for saying stuff that passed as perfectly acceptable in their circles, then I’ll believe that the Republican Party actually means it when they say race-signalling and sexist crap have no place in their politics.

Still, complaining about reactions to provocations yet to come shouldn’t obscure the credit due here. Allen’s email was the outrage in front of them, and a major Republican figure has responded appropriately.

Good.

Image:  Masaccio, The Banishment, before 1428

Outreach

June 20, 2013

Via TPM…I guess the Reagan Rule doesn’t apply if you are Republicaning while Black*:

From: Jim Allen <jimallen@consolidated.net>
Sent: 06/18/13 10:59 PM
To: [Doug Ibendahl]
Subject: 13th Congressional District reply

Rodney Davis will win and the love child of the D.N.C. will be back in Shitcago by May of 2014 working for some law firm that needs to meet their quota for minority hires.

Yup, that’s the actual first line of an email about Erika Harold, a Republican mounting a primary challenge — from the Montgomery County’s Republican party chairman, Jim Allen.  You can find the complete text here. PSA:  it doesn’t get any better from its opening.  One more choice little number — it seems that Ms. Harold is not just someone born out of wedlock and all that, she is, to Mr. Allen, something else:

Now, miss queen is being used like a street walker and her pimps are the DEMOCRAT PARTY and RINO REPUBLICANS…These pimps want something they can’t get,,, the seat held by a conservative REPUBLICAN

L_Fontana_Gesù_appare_Maddalena

Ladies and Gentlemen: your modern GOP. Treasure it.

I got just two thoughts to add to a message that I think speaks just fine for itself.

First, there is one detail you should know: Allen actually sent his email to a journalist, Doug Ibendahl, the editor of Republican News Watch, the site linked above.

Now, in general (and even before the NSA revelations) it’s a good idea to assume any message on which you press “send” is essentially a public utterance.  But to write to a ink-stained wretch?

Oy.

Even if, to steal Molly Ivins’ immortal phrase, you are in fact so dumb they have to water you twice a day, c’mon!  You have to know you’ve just shouted whatever it is from the rooftops.  If Allen represents the best Montgomery County Republicans have to offer, then…

…hell, fill in your own disaster du jour.

The only other thing I have to say follows from the above.  I’m guessing that in fact Mr. Allen can tie his own shoes, navigate a knife and fork and all that.  He’s stupid — mind numbingly, catastrophically moronic — but only in a narrow way.  Whatever internal circuit that might have suggested to him that the message above might not be a wise thing to say has been deactivated.  And that’s really the issue, at least in a political sense.

Here’s the thing:  obviously what Allen wrote is hateful, racist, scummy, craptastic…I’m wishing now I knew one of those languages whose vocabulary of invective was much richer than my own.  (Yiddish!  I wish I really had Yiddish in my bones.  See, e.g. this one — relevant to the need to vet those who may speak for your team: Dos hitl iz gut nor der kop iz tsu kleyn — The hat is fine but the head is too small.) But the truly amazing thing to me is not that he thought such vile thoughts, but that he was willing to say so in a very public way.

This is what makes this little glimpse of nastiness something more than just an insight into one crappy excuse for a human being.  That Allen didn’t have enough sense to realize that what he was saying should have been un-sayable tells you that the environment in which he lives and breathes does not view such sentiments as out of bounds.  Calling a young African American woman taking part in the political process a bastard and a whore is OK where Allen lives…

…and, of course, his home is inside the Republican party.

Now, disclaimer:  I’m not suggesting, for example, that John McCain or Mitt Romney or Mitch McConnell or John Boehner or whoever are sitting behind their desks saying to themselves daily that Barack Obama as a N*clang!, or Nancy Pelosi as a pimp or whatever.

But they and others are leaders of a party that — with seemingly growing intensity since 2008 — has tolerated within its ranks the use of grotesque racial and sexist crap that garners, most often, only the weakest of pro-forma rebuke coming from the actual voices that could shape the culture of the party.  If party NCOs (and Allen’s hardly the first) feel comfortable enough to spout as above, it’s in large measure because the Republican party — their own tribe — hasn’t made it clear that there is no place for such words and such beliefs in the party of Lincoln.

Shorter:  if you want people who don’t look exactly like you to think that you don’t hate them, you have to make sure your folks don’t say out loud how much they, in fact, do despise the other.

Hence how much this one, brief email tells you why the current incarnation of the Republican Party must, and likely will, immolate itself.  For the rest of the country?  We just have to hope is that the GOP does not manage its exit by murder-suicide.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

*It’s important to note one more thing:  for all of Allen’s racial code-talking, Erika Harold is, as reported here, about as 21st century American as it’s possible to imagine: “Harold’s heritage is complex—her mother is African American and Native American while her father is Greek, German, and English.”

That comprehensively rich heritage — to me, at least — makes Allen’s zeroing in on Harold value as quota-bait for “minority hires” even more grotesque, if that were possible.  I’m betting I’m not the only one hearing the “one drop” dog whistle.

Image:  Lavinia Fontana, Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene, 1581.

Political Correctness Wins Again ;)

May 10, 2013

I’ve a few things to get off my chest following the news that I got via Dave Weigel, that Dr. Jason Richwine, our favorite race(ist)/IQ/no-Latino-immigrants need apply scholar aca-hack, has “resigned” from the Heritage Foundation.  Richwine, recall, was the co-author of Heritage’s now roundly ridiculed immigration study released earlier this week.

George_Romney_-_Refugee_Group_-_Google_Art_Project

Weigel asked what Heritage knew and when they knew it about Richwine’s dissertation and public statements asserting his race-IQ connection.  Heritage declined to reply, but earlier in the week, Heritage vice president of communications Mike Gonzalez posted a disclaimer that read, in part, like this (via):

The dissertation was written while Dr. Richwine was a student at Harvard, supervised and approved by a committee of respected scholars. The Harvard paper is not a work product of The Heritage Foundation. Its findings do not reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation…

It falls to Heritage to answer (to itself, perhaps?) the degree to which Richwine’s views were the reason he was hired…but as to whether they knew about them before they brought him on board?

There really are only two choices here.  Either they didn’t, and the folks that hire over there are so incompetent that it might be wise to remove all silverware more dangerous than spoons from the staff lunchroom.

Or they did…and to the limits of inference, they sure did know what was behind door number one.  Why do I say this?  Because of what Richwine tells us in the acknowledgements to his dissertation:

I am indebted to the American Enterprise Institute for the its generous support, without which this dissertation could not have been completed.  In particular, I must thank Henry Olsen, vice president of AEI’s National Research Initiative for bringing me to AEI and supporting my research. The substance of my work was positively influenced by many people, but no one was more influential than Charles Murray, whose detailed editing and relentless constructive criticism have made the final draft vastly superior to the first.  I could not have asked for a better primary advisor.

I take two things from that passage.  First, it reminds us of the degree to which AEI is a dog-whistling race shop — as Charles Murray himself confirms in his  reaction to Richwine’s firing decision to resign:

Thank God I was working for Chris DeMuth and AEI, not Jim DeMint and Heritage, when The Bell Curve was published. Integrity. Loyalty. Balls.

Second, in the real world, anyone who’s done any hiring knows that the person doing the intake finds out what the potential employee did in his last job(s).

Richwine may have been getting his degree through Harvard (and that’s a post for another day) but the attempt to hide behind that institutional affiliation is a text-book baffle-with-bullshit moment.  His diploma may read Harvard, but the work was, by his own admission, essentially part of the AEI pipeline advised intensively by one of AEI’s  best known members.

And here’s the thing: the Potemkin village of wingnut  DC policy shops is not exactly some humongous impersonal word factory.  It’s a village. If AEI has some hot shot graduate student breaking old ground on the inherent wonderfulness of white people, then the folks at Heritage had to have known about all that when the newly  elevated Herr Doktor comes calling for a job.

I mean, you can believe otherwise, and I can’t say for sure…but in my decade or so as a small businessman, I called the last couple of places would-be interns had worked for just to see what I might be getting into.  It strains waaaay past my willingness to suspend disbelief that name-brand purveyors of right wing propaganalysis wouldn’t have done at least as much.

So, is the Heritage Foundation a racist shop?  Maybe. Perhaps. Maybe not — there could be more economical explanations for the determined comforting of the comfortable that is the constant theme of the right-wing policy racket.  And wondering whether the whole place, or Jim DeMint, or even Jason Richwine — excuse me, Harvard Dr. Jason Richwine — is personally a bigot is on some level the wrong issue.

Rather, the proper question is what to do with an institution and a movement who can muster no better arguments, and no better arguers to advance their radical agenda?

At a minimum:  Scorn, ridicule and public humiliation is my prescription…repeat as necessary.

Oh — and serious mobiliation for 2014 and beyond.

Image: George Romney, Refugee Group, undated (before 1802).

Have You No Sense Of Decency, Sir?

November 5, 2012

That was the question Boston attorney Joseph Welch put to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954.

I ask it now, as rhetorically as Welch did then, of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.

Why?

The “revenge” nonsense of course:  McRomney’s last-ditch, last moment attack on President Obama for having asked his supporters not to boo Mitt Romney, but to vote, because, as the President said living well voting is the best revenge.

Every sane American knows that joke; Mitt Romney does too.  But to Romney the candidate, suddenly, this is a sudden moment of clarity about the President.  Obama’s voters seek revenge!

It’s hardly a dog whistle anymore.

Rather, the message comes through loud and clear to anyone who cares to listen.  Romney’s crowds know what is being said:  there’s an angry black man over there exhorting his angry black voters (and their fellow travelers) to seek revenge on proper Americans.

A digression — but not really.  I’ve just started to read Gilbert King’s harrowing new book, The Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. It tells the story of four young African American men, falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1949, and the terrible events that flowed from that lie.  One lesson to draw from that story:  the civil war between white Americans ended in 1865.  The civil war that pitted American whites — under the cover of law, often prosecuted by uniformed agents of the state –  against American blacks did not cease until the early 1960s.*

Mitt Romney was seventeen years old when the Civil Rights act was passed.  He was thirty-one when his church finally abolished its race-based restrictions.  He was a young man through the great civil rights struggles of the 1960s.  He knows — or should — the consequences of racial hatred and division.

Another digression:  I don’t have a lot of time for John McCain.  He’s responded to his defeat in 2008 with none of the honor, gravity or dedication to country that men like George McGovern or Jimmy Carter displayed in like circumstances– or as George Romney did, for that matter.  But I’ll give him this:  to a great extent he resisted the pull of race-baiting in the last presidential campaign.  His running mate wanted to go there, and so did much of his party, but he didn’t.  And that’s something, and not a small matter either.  So:  compare and contrast.

On the Republican side this year there has been an almost ceaseless background drone:  Obama is not quite a “real American;” he apologizes; he doesn’t get what this country is about.  The theme, blunt and gross at the Limbaugh end of the GOP noise machine, modulated and disguised just enough when it’s Clint Eastwood talking to a chair, is clear enough to anyone who’s lived in these United States long enough to reach the age when it is possible to buy a drink legally, or vote.  And I guess I’ve experienced what happens with any kind of constant white noise:  it kind of fades into the background, neither (quite) unheard nor consciously noticed.  That’s how it works best — a constant presence that never rises to the level that draws a direct reply.

But this last, this “revenge” idiocy, is one provocation too far, at least for me.  Mitt Romney knows what he is doing.  He’s telling this country that there is a guy over there, the President, who does not legitimately hold his office, who seeks not the best for America, but the revenge of some Americans on others.  It doesn’t matter that the claim is risible on its face, that it clearly morphs beyond recognition the actual meaning of Barack Obama’s words.  The trope sends a message that Romney wants to deliver.  It’s what you say when you can’t shout Ni-Clang! anymore; it’s how you play on the notion — as Politico would have it — that only white Americans can confer– or enjoya true mandate to lead.

Here’s the thing:  the easy path is to say that this is just what they do.  It’s been the GOP line since 1968, and it will continue to be so until we finally salt the fields of that no-longer-Grand, way-too-Old Party.  But I can’t leave it there, however much I understand that the hunger for power trumps all else.  Mitt Romney isn’t a party.  He isn’t a movement, or an institution, or anything but one man.  He owns his acts, his words, his choices.  And he has chosen to close out his campaign with a moment in his stump speech that plays on the worst impulses in American history.

Has he no shame?

At this sorry end of a seven year pursuit of the White House, the question answers itself.

*You could argue that it hasn’t ended yet — but I would say that there is a difference between sporadic acts and the sustained and legally protected violence of the pre-1964 era.  But even so, the fact that this is still even a discussion is something to fuel both anger and despair.

Image: Alfred Dedreux, Pug Dog in an Armchair, 1857 (Yeah.  I do know I’ve used this before.  But it works, OK?)

How To Spot A Bad Parent: Romney Family Case Study (1)

October 19, 2012

You know you have a problem when even the first runner up in the John McCain Get Off My Lawn Steeplechase — Tommy Thompson — has a better handle on setting standards for his kids than does the Party of Family Values nominee for president, W. Mitt Romney.

I know that the Thompson fils “apology” for going birther on the President was weak sauce indeed, but still, Thompson père was sufficiently engaged to assert a family norm:

Later, however, the campaign sent a statement: “The Governor has addressed this with his son, just like any father would do. Jason Thompson said something he should not have, and he apologizes.”

Flash forward to aspiring punk Tagg Romney, and that now-familiar bit of macho posturing (via GOS):

Bill LuMay, WPTF talk radio:What is it like for you to hear the President of the United States call your dad a liar?

Tagg Romney: Well, you want to jump out of your seat and rush down to the debate stage and take a swing at him.

Before getting into the meat of the parenting failure here, let me point you to a completely imagined footnote to capture my contempt for the kind person who utters such utterly safe, after-the-fact macho stylings.*

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has been killing it on his blog lately, nails the brute fact that lies behind Tagg’s stated desire to beat down that African-American guy who had the temerity to speak to his father without the requisite deference.

It’s worth trying to imagine any black man associated with a credible black candidate for the presidency, joking about beating down the incumbent president of the United States. Racism isn’t just in what you do and don’t say, but in the terrain you walk. It is baked in the cake — a fact which is hard to understand when you are the party of white people.

In a follow up post, Ta-Nehisi allows Romney’s defenders to make his point. Katrina Trinko, writing at National Review, presented an alternative argument to rebut claims of racism.  Her take: lighten up, everyone. It was just a joke.  Both sides do it:

In Wisconsin, I asked her [Michelle Obama] if she was offended by Bill Clinton’s use of the phrase ‘fairytale’ to describe her husband’s characterisation of his position on the Iraq war. At first, [Michelle] Obama responded with a curt ‘No’. But, after a few seconds, she affected a funny voice. ‘I want to rip his eyes out!’ she said, clawing at the air with her fingernails. One of her advisers gave her a nervous look. ‘Kidding!’ Obama said. ‘See, this is what gets me into trouble.’

Ta-Nehisi’s response:

To point out the obvious, the phrase “black man” was not accidental. In America black men, specifically, enjoy the stereotype of being hyper-violent — one which regrettably spans the political spectrum. Michelle Obama is many things. “Black man” is not one of them.

Obviously (at least I hope so) I’m with Ta-Nehisi here.

Tagg’s bluster comes directly out of that haze of untouchability and unchecked agency that is the point of secure privilege.  Only those with unencumbered access to power get to say stuff like that — and the “boys will be boys” line of those making excuses for the insufferable Tagg is exactly the form in which privilege maintains the world view that makes such unearned goods available to those on top.  One can’t imagine a black man getting away with bragging about wanting to strike a white president because to do so violates all we know in our bones about the way power and authority is divided in this society…which, of course, is exactly what makes Obama so important, and so threatening to those for whom the end of the assumption of white privilege is unacceptable.

There’s more than just race at play, to be sure.  Class is a big thing here, at least as I see it.  As I say below, we’ve all encountered a Tagg — all noise and fury after it’s wholly safe to bluster. But there’s more than just barroom courage here (or, in deference to Tagg’s beliefs, I guess I should say soda-fountain fortitude).

Tagg Romney has never had to face a moment of material uncertainty — much less want — in his life.  He spent his life in the company of those similarly fortunate, or those who defer to his material and status advantages.  He gets to think that whacking someone — anyone, not just the President — is perfectly routine reaction to his frustration because no one in his charmed circle has ever dared to school the young prince.

You don’t get this kind of nonsense unless the speaker is at some critical emotional level unaware of the meaning his words — and such obliviousness is born of the bubble in which class advantage secures and imprisons you.

And that’s where the Romney parents’ failure comes in.

I known some seriously wealthy people, and count as good friends some of their number.  I know their kids.  I’ve seen what you do when you want them to grow up right.

The essence of the lesson:  manners.

Simple as that. (And yeah, I know I’m channeling my inner fogey.  Live with it.)

Regard for others; awareness of the debt of gratitude and obligation of respect due to those whom you encounter along the way; acceptance of the duty of courtesy you owe both strangers and your own — hell, just remembering to say thank you for the most anonymous of services, the busser filling your water glass or whatever.

The purpose is not simply to reward a favor done, nor to recognize some stranger momentarily encountered, nor even to inculcate an awareness of the degree to which you depend on, say, those who clothe you and feed you and keep you warm (though all of these are damned important).

Rather, the ultimate reason parents try to teach their kids the basics of social interaction is the same behind the instruction in basic training:  the sergeant puts you through the repetition of drill not because troops in combat use parade-ground manoeuvres, but because the system aims  to create a world view, a set of mental reactions that don’t have to be thought; they’re just part of who you are.  And as a parent, you — I! — want my kid just to know that other people matter, and never have to step through to the understanding that those folks out there are real, and that they exist in relationships to him that impose obligations on everyone involved.**

Tagg somehow missed that lesson.  The words are his, and he owns whatever scorn and disgust he earns with them.  But Tommy Thompson understood at least this much:  that it was his job to say both that his son’s words were not acceptable: not as public discourse, and — crucially — not as part of his own family culture.

Mitt’s reaction to Tagg’s tantrum?

[Crickets]

I’ll leave it to others to decide what this tells us about a man who would be president.

*Here it is:  anyone who’s been out and about even a little has run into a guy like Tagg.  He’s the fellow with store-bought abs who’s watched the entire Mel Gibson filmography who when he gets really, really mad, throws his chest out, spreads his arms wide, fists forming, bends his elbows — ready to grab — and tells his friends “hold me back!”

And then again:  “really guys, I’m ready to go for him, better hold me back.  Hold me.”

And then his makes his  strain and his face twists.  He shouts something and his buddies tug a little on him.  He shrugs, as if breaking a way — but not too hard; never too hard. And then he lets himself be led away, telling anyone in earshot how that other fellow was lucky, lucky, that the gang wouldn’t let him get into it.

Chickenhawk, in other words. Coward, in a party that seems to thrive on an endless supply of those hollow men who talk the talk but never walked the walk.(Why yes, five-deferment-shoot-your-friend-in-the-face-Dick Cheney, I’m looking at you. Why do you ask.  And at your codpiece too, Mr. Bush.)

Tagg’s a punk, and all I can think when I look at his image is how much I’d like to take his lunch money.

****An aside:  my son came home from school yesterday telling me about how he and his best friend were trying to get a couple of other kids they know to stop taunting and goading their classmates.  He was upset that the teachers monitoring recess weren’t on the case, but he wasn’t letting it slide to them either.  I couldn’t have been more proud. (Though my wife did send off an immediate email to the proper folks, of course.)

Images: Thomas Eakin, Between Rounds, 1899

J. W. M. Turner, The Slave Ship, 1840.  I think I’ve used this painting before, but hell — it’s a truly great work of art, and I believe it’s important to remember as best we can the sustained, lethal violence at the heart of the history of race in America.  Turner’s picture does that better than any words of mine could.  So you get to look at it again.


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