RETURN OF A FAMOUS OLD CULT! As pundits failed to explain an offense, we thought of that famous old cult: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JANUARY 12, 2010
History starts today: Well, not exactly. But at this link, were launching a new site, How he got there. The new site will be devoted to a deeply important episode in our recent history.
Youll have to read the material to learn who he is. And to learn where he got.
Most of the basic work for that site is done. (The site will present a book.) But completing the story-telling will take us the better part of the year. Appendices and chapter-length footnotes will surely take us into the next. At present, we expect to add a new chapter every two or three weeks. Today, weve posted the Introduction and Chapter 1 of this new sites book.
Weve continued to bang and hammer, constructing this new sites sprawling campus. That in mind, we will ask you, each day this week, to consider contributing to these efforts. We promise to be better this year, over here at THE DAILY HOWLER. And well continue developing the historical material at that other site.
Weve never asked for contributions before. After 11.8 years, we do so now. See the helpful button over there on the left. It lets you contribute electronically, or by check.
Our suggestion, if youre inclined to help: Just decide what you think is fair. Then multiply by 11.8unless you just round off to 12.
Where do sacred days come from: In this mornings New York Times, Richard Goldstein remembers Miep Gies, headlined as The Last of Those Who Hid Anne Frank and Her Family. In our view, every part of this obituary is packed with meaning. But well single out this:
Where do sacred days come from? Goldstein gives us another chance to reflect on the life of Miep Gies.
Krugman, bis: For a second day, well strongly recommend Paul Krugmans new column, in which he shoots down a much-bruited claim about the woes of Old Europe.
Old Europes an economic basket case! It has long been a standard sound-bite, pumped to unsuspecting ears by cable and radio talkers. But it just isnt true, Krugman says in his piece. And alas! In this way, this talking-point aligns with so many others!
If we lower our tax rates, we get extra revenue! National health care has failed everywhere its been tried! Social Security goes bankrupt in the year [fill in blank]! Over and over, citizens are exposed to such bogus talking-pointsand they rarely hear rebuttals, or warnings about the dissemblers behind them. Over time, these talking-points come to rule our world. As in last years health care debate, they limit what can be achieved in our political battles.
Yesterday, an e-mailer made a request for an important discussion:
We think those are very good requests. How can liberals work, in organized ways, to undercut these potent bits of deception? We expect to return to this topic.
But that column is tres important. We recommend it again.
Return of a famous old cult: Last night, pundits continued to tear their hair about Harry Reids years-old comment. Almost everyone seemed to know that Reids comment was wrong, very wrong. But we were struck once again by a curious fact: Very few pundits felt the need to explain why Reids comment was wrong.
What exactly was wrong with Reids comments? Pundits didnt seem to agree, to the extent that they bothered to say (see below).
What exactly was Reids offense? In this mornings hard-copy New York Times, Jeff Zeleny characterizes Reids comments this way, at the start of a White House Memo (link below):
In Zelenys account, Reid made a racially insensitive remark. But what about his remark was insensitive? Which part of Reids comment did Zeleny mean? Zeleny never makes this clearbut as he continues, he does say the following. In the process, he almost seems to suggest that Candidate Obama made racially insensitive remarks too, much like Reids remark:
Say what? According to Zeleny, Reids racially insensitive remark is not so different from things Obama said on his way to the White House! We would tend to agree with that statement; Zeleny goes on to offer a sensible review of certain aspects of Obamas pre-White House career. But in the passage quoted above, the vagueness of the charge against Reid takes on a slightly comical aspect. In Zelenys treatment, it almost seems that Obama made racially insensitive remarks about himself during his rise to the White House!
Or something. But then, this has been a fascinating debate, in which few complainants get around to defining the offense which has them so upset. Indeed, different pundits seem to be offended by different parts of what Reid said. Everyone agrees to be upset. There just seems to be little joint idea of what theyre upset about.
Consider the analysis by Tricia Rose, chair of the Africana Studies Department at Brown University. Rose discussed Reids comments last night on the Maddow Show.
Rose gave a perfectly sensible analysis of the situation, to the extent that she escaped a tendency toward the dialect known as academese. Example: In this, the opening Q-and-A, Rose became the first person in the history of the Nexis files to use the word situatedness:
According to Rose, Obama had (appropriately) contextualized Reid by considering the situatedness! But please note: Fairly clearly, Rose seemed to feel the issue concerned Reids use of the term Negro. By way of contrast, other pundits have seemed to feel that Reids use of the term dialect is the real problem here. (Norah ODonnell shrieked and wailed at considerable length about that term on todays Morning Joe.) Rose didnt seem to see it that way. Later on, she herself seemed to use the term dialect in the same way Reid had done:
Rose seemed to use the term dialect in much the same way Reid had done. Ten hours later, ODonnell was weeping and moaning and describing her shock at having been forced to hear such a term, a term she had never heard in her life, a vile term which now has her reeling.
(By our count, five of six on the Morning Joe panel agreed they were shocked by what Reid said. They also agreed theres a double standard on this in the mediaeven as they, big media mavens all, took turns slamming Reid for his comment.)
But so it can go in such pseudo-discussions: Everyone agrees theres been an offense; in this case, Reid has used racially charged language, language that sets us off. (Has made a racially insensitive remark.) But various observers cant seem to agree which part of his language is troubling.
Why is that? Well continue discussing the topic all week, since the topic will surely drive ratings on our cable pseudo-discussions, thus distracting the nations attention away from other topics. And by the waysome of those abandoned topics may be more serious than this Pundit Topic of Choice. Throughout her segment, Rose made an excellent point: We tend to talk about proper language more than about the real offenses which may characterize the real role of race in our real society. In this extended passage, we revisit part of what we quoted above:
Rose makes a perfectly good point here. Our current Shrieking Pundit Discussion seems to be focused on proper language. But its very hard to get these pundits to talk about structural inequalitythe real issues, affecting real people, which may define race in America.
Our pundit discussions are like that, of course, as weve observed here for years. But that curious problem continues apace in this new Discussion of Choice. Maddow and Rose seem to agree that Reid has used racially charged language, language that sets us offthough Rose made clear, all through this segment, that she agrees with the things Reid said or implied. (She agrees that lighter-skinned blacks tend to be societally advantaged. She agrees that blacks can be reduced in the wider societys estimation because of their dialect.) What then was wrong with what Reid saidwith, apparently, his use of Negro? Maddow and Rose never quite said, this extending a curious trait seen all over cable.
Should people be troubled by Reids remarks? For ourselves, wed suggest that the answer is nothat other things are much more important, that the joyful cadging of a single remark is not a good window into the soul. But our current public discourse tends to be driven by episodes like this. Pundits grasp at tiny matters, and proceed to shriek and wail and moan. As they do, they tend to ignore the larger issues in the society.
What was wrong with what Reid said? Very few pundits have tried to explain; wed have to include Maddow and Rose in their number. In this curious ongoing discussion, have we seen the re-emergence of a famous old cultThe Cult of the Offhand Comment?
What Zeleny said: Zelenys piece doesnt appear on-line as it appears in the hard-copy Times. For a version of Zelenys piece, go ahead: Just click this.
Tomorrow: That famous old cult