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WE SEE RACISTS! Reasoning wildly, we liberals keep finding a wonderful way to lose: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 12, 2009

Professor’s daughter: Yesterday morning, the Washington Post published a truly remarkable op-ed column. For our money, the most remarkable words in the piece appeared at the end, in the “author identity” line. The following words create a paradox about the state of intellectual culture:

WASHINGTON POST (8/11/09): The writer is the UPS Foundation Professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.

Those words create a troubling paradox about the state of our culture.

The piece was written by Danielle Allen, a 38-year-old professor at one of our most famous institutes. (Ignore the part about UPS.) Her glittering resume can be pondered here. If you believe the gatekeepers of the academy, Allen is exceptionally brilliant—a MacArthur Foundation “genius,” in fact. That brings us to the heart of the problem.

We’re going to wait a couple of days to comment on Allen’s piece. For today, we’ll strongly recommend this TNR post, in which a thoroughly bollixed Jonathan Chait struggles to limn the professor’s meaning. For ourselves, we saw Chait’s post at TNR before seeing Allen’s actual column. We mistakenly assumed he was talking about Charlotte Allen, so odd did his excerpt from Allen’s column seem.

After reading a bit further, we thought Chait’s post could be enhanced by a note about who Allen is. Again: Read the words we’ve excerpted above . For our money, they are the most significant words in yesterday’s column.

Over the years, we’ve often asked a question: Why have the professors failed to serve you over the past several decades? Why didn’t the professors (in this case, the logicians) step forward to provide some clarity during the endless Medicare confusion of the mid-1990s? When Gore was destroyed by two years of bad paraphrase, why didn’t the professors help us understand the logic of that crucial practice?

Why haven’t the professors stepped forward? Allen serves at the Institute for Advanced Study—Albert Einstein’s former crib. Go ahead. Read what she wrote in yesterday’s Post. Our thoughts were drawn to another professor, one we’ll name by the end of the week.

Maureen Dowd’s glorious threefer: Today, for Dowd, it’s a glorious threefer. She wastes the first half of her New York Times column mocking Hillary Clinton’s marriage. But darlings! It was simply heaven! She got in a shot at Cheryl Crow too! And this bull-roar aimed at Pelosi:

DOWD (8/12/09): Instead of a multicultural tableau of beaming young idealists on screen, we see ugly scenes of mostly older and white malcontents, disrupting forums where others have come to actually learn something. Instead of hope, we get swastikas, death threats and T-shirts proclaiming “Proud Member of the Mob.”

President Obama has proven quicksilver instincts, but not in this case. You would think that a politician schooled in community organizing and the foul balls of a presidential campaign would be ready to squash this kind of nuttiness. (Like it or not, Speaker Pelosi, that’s democracy in action.) Instead, the president’s overconfident Harvard Law Review side, expecting a high-minded debate, prevailed.

Let’s see if we’ve followed this correctly. First, Dowd trashes the “malcontents” who have been “disrupting forums where others have come to actually learn something.” After trashing “this kind of nuttiness,” she turns around and hiss-spits at Pelosi—for having criticized the very same conduct!

But darlings, it was simply heaven—the chance to spit at Pelosi, Clinton and Crow! ! (Also Palin, but that’s assumed. For the background on Crow, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/25/09.) Simple cultural point: Other newspapers had the good sense to dump their “women’s pages” long ago. But Gotham’s great Times had a better idea: They folded their “women’s page” (Dowd, Collins, Warner) in with their op-ed columns. Truly, this choice is astounding.

What really counts from Congo: Dowd’s column teaches a lesson today in the meaning of “tabloid” journalism. Before pretending to discuss something important, Dowd burns up half her piece with Clinton’s briefly awkward moment. Cable “news” has had a ball with it too. It’s what these imbeciles live for.

Yesterday, Jeffrey Gettleman had a different idea. In this fascinating news report in the Times, he discussed Clinton’s actual diplomatic efforts in Congo. (Headline: “Clinton Presses Congo on Illicit Minerals.”) Many human lives were at stake, which explains why Dowd didn’t care. In our hard-copy New York Times, there wasn’t a single word about Clinton’s brief, embarrassing moment. On-line, we see that the Times has added one paragraph, right at the end, presumably from a later edition.

Today, Gettleman continues his serious reporting. (Headline: “Clinton Presents Plan to Fight Sexual Violence in Congo.”) One passage—one of many:

GETTLEMAN (8/12/09): After the camp, [Clinton] spoke with two rape survivors, including the woman who lost her fetus and nearly bled to death in the bush. Mrs. Clinton then talked with a group of doctors and advocates who specialize in treating victims of sexual violence. Many said they felt abandoned.

“Children are killed, women are raped and the world closes its eyes,” said one woman.

Children are killed and women are raped? Trust us. Dowd doesn’t care.

Not for the first time: Margaret Carlson behaved very similarly in her 2003 memoir, Anyone Can Grow Up. At one point, she recalled a trip Hillary Clinton took to South Asia in 1995. In real time, Joe Klein had played the Gettleman role, reporting the serious issues involved in Clinton’s trip. Eight years later, Carlson posed as Dowd. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/12/03. Until we find a way to change it, this is the heart of our political culture.

Special report: Getting our keisters kicked!

PART 3—WE SEE RACISTS: Are liberals getting our keisters kicked in the current health care debate? Presumably, it’s too soon to say. That said, recent polling on health reform hasn’t been all that great—and, on Sunday’s State of the Union, Dick Durbin seemed to semi-walk away from a public option. Of course, single-payer was a no-go right from the start; in recent months, we liberals have even stopped saying that a public option might lead to single-payer. (Having said this for several years, we now pretend this is just another absurd pseudo-con invention.) And we’re still stuck with the groaning goal Obama voiced two weeks ago at his press conference (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/24/09). Yesterday, the president clarified something he said that night:

OBAMA (8/11/09): So we want—if I'm a customer, if I'm a consumer, and I know that I'm overpaying $6000 for anything else, I would immediately want the best deal. But for some reason, in health care we continue to put up with getting a bad deal. We're paying $6000 more than any other advanced country, and we're not healthier for it—$6000 per person more, per year! That doesn't make any sense. So there's got to be a lot of waste in the system. And the idea is to have doctors, nurses, medical experts look for it.

We’re paying an extra $6000 per person per year? We’re fairly sure that can’t be right, although it’s amazingly hard to tell. (Brilliant though we admittedly are, we liberals rarely stoop to the point of developing hard information.) But if that’s what Obama meant at his press conference, we now better understand the embarrassing goal he sketched that night: Obama says that, if we legislate well, we can reach a point where we only waste four thousand dollars per person! That is the less-than-inspiring state in which we liberals are found.

Adding to what the president said: “We [liberals] continue to put up with getting a bad deal.”

In one way, it’s odd to think that we liberals may get our keisters kicked again. It’s odd because our side is so brilliant, while the other side is such a gang of laughable wing-nuts. We liberals love to point this out, often failing to ask ourselves how it is that the gang of nuts keep beating the gang that’s so brilliant. In the matter of health care, we’ve had fifteen years since the last time we failed to get our talking-points and frameworks together. But we keep playing the grasshopper on our side, as the ants on the other side keep beaming out their messages. Very few citizens understand how crazy our health care situation really is. They’re satisified with their own health care, which makes reform hard. In part, they’re satisfied because we’ve never told them about the degree to which they’re being looted.

We liberals are brilliant, but we somehow forgot to tell them over the years. Now, too late, Obama tells them. (The last fifteen years are not his fault.) But even Obama still can’t seem to get his basic data straight. (Is it really $6000 extra per person?) And he rushes through this point. When we rush through basic points this way, we ensure that our points will not register.

In short, we liberals have done a miserable job over the past fifteen years. But we remain very good at one thing; we’re very good at telling everyone else how stupid and foolish they are! Those who disagree with us are “wing-nuts”—and now, they’re “tea-baggers” too. We call them names every chance we get, then marvel at the wing-nutty way they reject our advanced ideas.

Let’s face it: This has always been the principal “joy of liberalism.” Among a certain type of white pseudo-liberal, the very point of being a liberal is the opportunity it gives us to name-call working-class whites. This is our one undeniable skill—and it reaches its fullest flower when we get to call them racists. Indeed, a certain type of white pseudo-liberal lives for the pleasures this practice provides. It’s the only political play we seem to know. We’re like a football team which runs off right tackle every play—then wonders why it can’t score.

Are we getting our keisters kicked (again) in the current health care debate? We’re not sure, but you can’t get dumber than to argue your case in the manner defined by this groaning piece in last Thursday’s Post. In this piece, the dumbness of the white pseudo-liberal is put on display for all to see. And yet, we love to “argue” this way. It’s the joy of pseudo-liberalism!

As you read the Phillip Kennicott piece, you see the way pseudo-liberal politics tends to fail. Candidly, this is your liberal movement on maybe ten college credits.

Kennicott was helping us see (what else?) that those who oppose us are racists. The theme was announced in the gentleman’s headline, which topped the front page of Style. “Obama as The Joker,” the headline said. “Racial Fear’s Ugly Face.” Below that, we found a monumentally stupid bit of “analysis.” This is one of the ways we libs fail.

Kennicott was eager to prove a rather difficult point. A poster had appeared in LA in which Obama was portrayed as The Joker. Kennicott knew the rules of his tribe: By law, such posters are racist. And yet, he was faced with a difficult case; as he admitted, there had been a famous illustration of President Bush as The Joker, just last year, in Vanity Fair. To some observers, this might raise the distant thought that a president can perhaps be mocked as The Joker without it being a racist attack. But in our tribe, such thinking is incorrect. To see how dumbly we’re willing to “reason,” go ahead—read Kennicott’s piece.

But then, even our very brightest people are drawn to this line of critique. And yes, we mean our very brightest—in this case, even Paul Krugman. Last Friday, our smartest top-end player considered the spectacle of recent town halls. He reached a familiar conclusion:

KRUGMAN (8/11/09): Now, people who don't know that Medicare is a government program probably aren't reacting to what President Obama is actually proposing. They may believe some of the disinformation opponents of health care reform are spreading, like the claim that the Obama plan will lead to euthanasia for the elderly. (That particular claim is coming straight from House Republican leaders.) But they're probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they've heard about what he's doing, than to who he is.

That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that's behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama's citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don't know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn't be surprising if it's a substantial fraction.

And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.

Does this sound familiar? It should: it’s a strategy that has played a central role in American politics ever since Richard Nixon realized that he could advance Republican fortunes by appealing to the racial fears of working-class whites.

We’re not sure how many people at town hall meetings don’t know that Medicare is a government program. It would be interesting to know such things, but we liberals rarely develop information; we’ve never seen a liberal journal or organization attempt to develop information about the depth of the public’s cluelessness. But the American public is deeply clueless, about all manner of factual issues. “They may believe some of the disinformation opponents of health care reform are spreading?” Trust us: In many cases, these people believe all the disinformation. But Krugman goes from these voters’ cluelessness to a claim about racial bad faith. We have no idea why he rushes there so eagerly, when we recall the crazy things people believed about the last Democrat found in the White House. Here, once again, is a lunatic sampler. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/5/09:

Those beliefs were every bit as crazy as the current beliefs about President Obama. And trust us: President Clinton was white. We’ve seen the gentleman up close, several times. We’re quite sure about that judgment.

Uh-oh. Many people believe crazy things about President Obama. But the same thing was true about President Clinton! And many people believed lunatic things about Clinton’s health plan too. Indeed, some of the lunatic claims about Clinton’s plan were dreamed up by the very same people who are dreaming up lunatic claims about Obama’s proposal today. (If we’re so smart, how can this happen?) And yet, we liberals are thoroughly sure that this year’s crazy claims just have to be racist. We liberals can feel it deep in our bones. It sends a thrill up our legs.

Let face it: A certain type of white liberal loves to call white working-class people racists. For a certain type of white pseudo-liberal, this is the principal joy of liberalism. After that, we tend to get our keisters kicked by the people we’ve been name-calling. But the joy of name-calling comes first.

Is opposition to Obama driven by race? In some cases, so it would seem, as we examine voting patterns in some states from November 2008. We’ve rarely seen these data discussed; we liberals rarely stoop to the point of developing actual facts. But if exit polls can be believed, Obama’s vote among whites in some southern states fell well below the level recorded by John Kerry. Is some opposition now driven by race? We would assume that it is. Luckily, we had Cynthia Tucker on last Friday’s Hardball. She could intuit percentages:

TUCKER (8/7/09): Well, let me start out by saying, Chris, there is absolutely no way to prove that people have racist motives. There’s no way to know what`s in people’s hearts and minds.

Famous last words! When liberals offer disclaimers like that, you know where they’re going next! By the way: It’s a novelty to see Matthews playing the fool on our side, after seeing him play the vicious fool for two years to get Bush into the White House. “With no evidence whatever” should be his program’s motto:

MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Yes, when they say the guy is from Mombasa, OK, that’s how you can tell, with no evidence whatever. When you say—

TUCKER: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: —he’s from some other country and he’s also from a Muslim country, make him as foreign as possible, that suggests motive to me.

TUCKER: Or, or when you hear people at—these tea party protesters say, “This is America, this is no longer the country that I grew up in, this country is changing.” Well, that suggests to me—

MATTHEWS: They don`t like it changing.

TUCKER: Exactly that—that suggests to me that race is part of this. Can I prove it? Absolutely not. Do I believe it is? Absolutely. Do I think that’s all it is? No, I want to be very careful about that. I want to be precise in my language. Some people are just upset about health care reform. They’re well informed about it. They don’t like it.

MATTHEWS: So you accept the fact that there’s a mix of motives?

TUCKER: Absolutely.

It’s amazing what words can suggest to Tucker—especially since those very same words have been voiced at all kinds of previous junctures. Despite Tucker’s desire to be “very careful,” we soon got our percents:

MATTHEWS: So any one of these rallies, these people...Put all of these 100 people in a room, strap them into gurneys, inject them with sodium pentothal. How many of them would say, “I don`t like the idea of having a black president?” What percentage? What would you say? What percentage?

TUCKER: Oh, I— I’m just guessing. This is just off the top. I think 45 to 65 percent of the people who appear at these groups are people who will never be comfortable—

MATTHEWS: OK.

TUCKER: —with the idea—

MATTHEWS: Well, OK—

TUCKER: —of a black president.

On Hardball, “just guessing” has always been fun! For liberals, it can also be a way of getting our keisters kicked. But Matthews’ reinvention to the side, we liberals simply love this play. On last night’s Countdown, Keith Olbermann played tape of Rep. Dingell (D, Michigan) fondly recalling the 1960s, his great days confronting the Klan. (“The last time I had to confront something like this is when I voted for the civil rights bill and my opponent voted against it. At that time, we had a lot of Ku Klux Klan folks and white supremists and folks in white sheets and other things running around causing trouble.”)

Having enjoyed the very expansive Dingell as he compared this week’s town hall participants to the Klan, Olbermann called in Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell for some predictable musings. Like Tucker, she and Olbermann voiced disclaimers—a sure sign of where things were headed. “It isn’t everybody at these meetings,” Olbermann grandly allowed:

OLBERMANN (8/11/09): Again, this isn’t everybody at these meetings. We have no idea to what degree that—that it is this people, but they’re there. And when racism becomes blatant and it’s no longer even hidden behind euphemisms, how much greater is the danger not just to the conversation but to people’s safety?

HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, certainly, I think the greatest danger to people’s safety is people coming armed obviously to these meetings and the biggest problem in terms of conversation is the shouting. And I think, you know, you and I both know that talking about race and labeling individuals as racists is the fastest way to shut down a conversation about what’s really going on around questions of race. And it shuts down quickly because people start saying, "Well, I’m not racist. You know, I have black friends,” or “I’ve never used the N-word."

So, I think what we want to focus on here is exactly what Congressman Dingell was focusing on, which is the fact that these tactics and these strategies have been used by the same groups, these hate groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, heck, even by southern governments during the civil rights movement, these same strategies of massive resistance against change.

And so, what we want to see is that these similar tactics have been used by those who are clearly racially biased.

“We have no idea to what degree?” Racistly, Olbermann rejected Tucker’s carefully guessed percentages. Meanwhile, Harris-Lacewell didn’t want to label individuals as racists! Instead, she found a ludicrous way to compare these people to the Klan. Apparently, the Klan is best remembered now for shouting out during public meetings. To state the blindingly obvious, liberal groups did the same sorts of things—sorry, “used these similar tactics”—all through those tumultuous years.

Let’s be candid: Our side simply can’t help this. We run off tackle every play; it’s the one play we deeply adore. And oh yes, one other thing. This is one of the ways we admittedly brilliant players tend to get our keisters kicked. We’ve done this, and lost, since the dawn of time. We just keep doing it now.

Tomorrow—Part 4: This is your ass getting kicked by tea-baggers.