Daily Howler logo
THE JOY OF RACE/THE JOY OF CLASS! “Lowlife rednecks” come to TV—and the great New York Times cheers: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2005

THE JOY OF RACE: All good liberals will be upset with Richard Cohen this morning. Bush is incompetent, not a racist, he says, in his Washington Post op-ed column. Ugh! Some of the “evidence” Cohen cites is standard Washington issue:
COHEN (9/20/05):Bush is not cut from that [old southern racist] cloth. He is a contemporary Republican, a person of another generation who, you may have noticed, has a black woman as secretary of state and had a black man before her.
Condi and Powell prove it! Other evidence is somewhat more visceral:
COHEN: I don't know George Bush personally. But in his first presidential campaign, I traveled with him and tried, as he might say, to look into his heart. Conveniently enough, he sometimes wears it on his sleeve—never more so, as I discovered, than when he talks about poor kids and racial and ethnic minorities. His feelings for them—especially for poor kids—are genuine. This is what I believed then and this—his incompetent performance regarding Hurricane Katrina notwithstanding—is what I believe now.
As a general matter, we think scribes are poorly-advised when they “try to look into” major pols’ hearts; it’s easy to imagine, and hard to know, what is actually in there. (Beyond that, of course, it’s possible to care about poor black kids and have a disdain for their parents.) For what it’s worth, though, Joe Klein has gone into more detail about Bush’s feelings about black children. Here he is praising Bush on the Russert show during Campaign 2000:
KLEIN (5/6/00): You know, one of the reasons why I do this, why I've been doing it for 30 years, it isn't to tear [candidates] down or to watch them stumble, but it's for the moments when they act courageously and in, in an inspirational way.

Let me tell you a story about George W. Bush. In the midst of the South Carolina primary, which was one of the most scurrilous campaigns I have ever covered, I go to see George W. Bush at a town meeting in Hilton Head, South Carolina. And a guy gets up and says to him, “What about all these unwanted”—and I hope I can say this word—“bastards who are being brought into the world by these welfare mothers, and all they do is commit crimes and do dope and rob us?” And the guy rants like that. And I've seen Republicans and more than a few Democrats answer this question a certain way for a long, long time. But Bush looked him straight in the eye and he said—and he was really angry—and he said, “Sir, the first thing we must remember is that we have to love all the children.” And then he began to talk about some of the programs that he favors—faith-based social programs—that'll give these kind of kids the love and support that they need. And this happened in the midst of the most unlikely campaign where his people were doing these terrible things to John McCain. And so these moments happen all the time.

Was Bush “really angry” about what that man said? We don’t have the slightest idea. Indeed, if we were asked the current poll question—“Did race play a part in response to Katrina?”—we’d give the smart answer: Don’t know. But Klein was convinced that he’d seen Bush’s heart, and he has pimped this anecdote many times. (Below, we’ll show you how he and Russert moved on that day to scripted, inane attacks against Gore.)

How does Bush feel about race? At THE HOWLER, we don’t have the foggiest. But Cohen makes one intriguing claim—a claim he only mentions in passing. “Bush, in this case, was an equal opportunity bungler,” he says, of the Katrina relief efforts. That may not quite be true of Bush, but it seems to be true of Bush’s FEMA. Indeed, here is Harry Shearer’s most recent post about the agency’s failure to show up, to this day, in major white jurisdictions:

SHEARER (9/19/05): St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens, interviewed on WDSU-TV, continued the Parish's assault on state and, particularly Federal, authorities, for their lack of response to the parish's near-demolition by Katrina. Complaining that his force's entire supply of tactical equipment had been wiped out by the storm, Stephens recounted examples of significant assistance to his parish being vetoed by a FEMA bureaucrats. An example of his renunciation of diplomacy: "I'm gonna find out the name of that son-of-a-bitch, and I'm gonna make him famous.”
St. Bernard Parish, just southeast of New Orleans, is 88 percent white, 7 percent black. (Bill Clinton on Sunday’s This Week: “Now, there were a lot of poor people in St. Bernard Parish who were white, who were also were hurt.”) Indeed, all over the gulf coast region, FEMA has failed to show in jurisdictions which are heavily white—and which vote for Bush. On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough has savaged Bush and the Bush Admin for its failure to show in storm-ravaged Mississippi. For whatever reason, it does seem that FEMA has been “an equal opportunity bungler” over the course of the past three weeks.

To judge from much of the evidence, it’s been black and white abandoned together. Has the odd response been related to race? It can feel quite good to say so—but we’re not sure it’s working that way.

PARSING THAT POLL: Pundits have thrilled to the “OJ divide” found in that exciting new poll question. Blacks and whites see this thing so differently! Here are Chris Matthews and Evan Thomas reciting conventional “wisdom” on Hardball:

MATTHEWS (9/15/05): But, you know, if you look at the numbers between white and black America, “Was race a factor in the lack of urgency in the response:” Seventy percent of black Americans polled in our Wall Street Journal/NBC poll say it did a role.

THOMAS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And only, what, 30 percent of whites agree with that. So, whoever is right, whoever is wrong, there`s a difference, a total difference in perception here.

THOMAS: Yes.

“There’s a total difference in perception here,” the excitable talker predictably said. But here’s another way of viewing those figures: Kerry voters tend to say yes to that question, and Bush voters tend to say no. Kerry got about 44 percent of white voters; about 30 percent of whites answered yes. Meanwhile, Kerry got about 88 percent of black voters; about 70 percent of blacks answered yes. The ratios there are fairly similar. In other words, if those “yes” responses came from Kerry voters, black and white Kerry voters responded at roughly the same rate. When we factor in the partisan divide, the racial divide tends to wither.

For ourselves, we voted for Kerry, and our answer would be this: We don’t know.

THE JOY OF CLASS: Then, of course, there’s the joy of class. In today’s Times, Alessandra Stanley swoons about NBC’s “offbeat and utterly charming” new sitcom, My Name Is Earl. See if you can spot the joy of class in her capsule summary:

STANLEY (9/20/05): Jason Lee plays Earl, a lowlife redneck who loses a lottery ticket and becomes convinced while watching Carson Daly on television that his luck won't change until he makes amends for all his bad deeds.
As a general rule, our antennae go up when Manhattan pseudo-highbrows write about those “lowlife rednecks.” Soon, Stanley notes the pleasures of Earl’s “backwoods drawl”—and lays out his amusing life-style:
STANLEY: Mr. Lee (''Mallrats'' and ''Almost Famous'') begins the pilot with a voice-over narration. ''You know that guy you see goin' into the convenience store?'' he says in a pleasant backwoods drawl. ''Sort of shifty looking fellow who buys a pack of smokes, a couple of lottery scratchers and a tall boy at 10 in the morning? The kind of guy you wait to come out of the convenience store before you and your family go in? Well, that's me. My name is Earl.”
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Yes, we find it hard to believe that this new show is actually funny; in today’s Post, Tom Shales savages My Name is Earl for its dumbness, witlessness and derivative nature. But for a certain brand of Manhattan pseudo-highbrow, flaws like these can be ignored—as long as a show mocks “lowlife rednecks.” Nor are these attitudes always absent from modern pseudo-liberal politics—which helps explain why so many lowlife rednecks currently vote for George Bush. What’s the matter with Kansas? This is.

THE WAY THEY WERE: After praising Bush for his racial good faith, Klein and Russert began trashing Gore. Incredibly, this continued directly:

KLEIN (continuing directly from above): The concern I have about the Gore campaign is that he has learned one lesson and he's kind of becoming a one-trick pony.

RUSSERT: Attack. Attack. Attack.

KLEIN: Attack. Attack.

RUSSERT: Governor Bush put forward a Social Security plan calling for a partial privatizing, and he attacks, saying that is risky. The fact is, President Clinton proposed taking parts of the Social Security trust fund and putting them in the stock market in his State of the Union message just, just a year ago. Yesterday, you had Pat Moynihan and, and Bob Kerrey and John McCain all coming out, saying, “Let's have a commission and this is an idea worth looking at.” Why, why, why does Gore just auto—almost knee-jerk attack, attack, attack?

KLEIN: Well, because it's—it's, you know, scaring people about Social Security and Medicare has worked for the Democrats since time immemorial.

The pompous pair just couldn’t imagine why Gore would reject Bush’s marvelous plan. Meanwhile, how scripted was “attack attack attack,” the phrase they recited again and again. To see other shills as they pushed this—yes—“attack,” see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/2/04. For a fuller look at Russert and Klein’s amazing performance, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/11/05, and understand how George W. Bush made his inept way to the White House.

While you’re at it, ask yourself this: Why do you read this history here—and nowhere else? Why don’t your fiery liberal heroes ever discuss this astonishing chapter of recent history—the chapter of history that gave us Iraq, along with that response to Katrina?