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PATRICK’S FULLER STORY! Barnicle asked Governor Patrick about opposition and race: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2009

When given permission, we say we don’t know: In its new national poll, the New York Times/CBS News threw an important wrinkle into the health care discussion. (To review the full poll, just click here.)

At the Times, the new poll is discussed on this morning’s front page. And uh-oh! The following crucial question is highlighted in a graphic (click this):

NEW YORK TIMES/CBS NEWS QUESTION: Do you mostly support or mostly oppose the changes to the health care system proposed by Barack Obama, or don’t you know enough about them to say yet?

Uh-oh! Normally, pollsters don’t give us rubes the option of saying that we “don’t know enough yet.” But by God, when they give us that option, we take it! This was the response to that question:

Mostly support: 30 percent
Most oppose: 23 percent
Don’t know enough to say yet: 46 percent

Holy moley! After all those speeches and prime-time pressers, the biggest chunk of the public, by far, doesn’t know what they think yet! But then, this pattern will sometimes emerge when pollsters give respondents “permission” to admit that they don’t really have an opinion.

We discussed this point long ago. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/1/99.

In that instance, a group of respondents were asked if they favored or opposed charter schools. A second group was asked the same question—but they were give a third option: “I haven't heard enough about that to have an opinion.” Sure enough! The polling numbers massively changed when respondents got that third option. Among the first group of respondents, 62 percent said they favored charters. Among the second group, only 23 percent signed on.

Back to the present: In this new poll, 46 percent say they don’t know enough to have a view about Obama’s proposals. This important dynamic rarely emerges from more traditional questioning.

If you build it, we will come. And if you give us express permission, we’ll admit that we don’t really know.

Also taken to be important: The good news! By a large margin (65-26), respondents said they would favor “the government offering everyone a government-administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans.”

The bad news! In that question, respondents weren’t given the option of saying they don’t really know enough. Nine percent said “don’t know” or “no opinion” anyway.

The conundrum: For an unexplained reason, the reported answers only add up to 90 percent. In four previous polls, these three types of answers (yes/no/no opinion) had always totaled 99 or 100 percent. (Question 57.)

Conundrum correction: Ignore that correction! We added wrong.

Special report: Liberals [HEART] race!

PART 4—PATRICK’S FULLER STORY: Is opposition to Obama based on race? Presumably, some of it is. But certain liberals seem able to conjure no other thoughts about our politics—and progressive interests really aren’t served when such analysts dumb us all down. Example: The third part of Gen Robinson’s triad last Friday was as about dumb as dumb gets (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/24/09):

ROBINSON (9/18/09): Of course it's possible to reject Obama’s policies and philosophy without being racist. But there's a particularly nasty edge to the most vitriolic attacks—a rejection not of Obama's programs but of his legitimacy as president. This denial of legitimacy is more pernicious than the abuse heaped upon George W. Bush by his critics (including me), and I can't find any explanation for it other than race.

[...]

I'm talking about the crazy “birthers.” I'm talking about the nitwits who arrive at protest rallies bearing racially offensive caricatures—Obama as a witch doctor, for example. I'm talking about the idiots who toss around words like “socialism” to make Obama seem alien and even dangerous—who deny the fact that he, too, is as American as apple pie.

Really? When Obama’s critics toss around words like “socialism,” Robinson can’t find any explanation other than race? Sometimes, we liberals love the smell of racism so much that we’re willing to dumb ourselves way, way down in pursuit of its novelized stories.

“Socialism” and “socialized medicine” have been buzz words in our politics for a very long time. But when Robinson hears such words thrown at Obama, only one thought comes to mind.

Robinson is very bright—but race can bring out the dumb in us all. Two weeks ago, South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson yelled, “You lie,” at Obama. Wilson’s statement was foolish on the merits—and stupidly rude on the etiquette. But then, what could be dumber than the reaction of Margery Eagan, a columnist at the Boston Herald? When it comes to Flat-Out Dumb, We Irish can surely match any known group. Eagan got herself a good snootful, then set out to prove it:

EAGAN (9/13/09): Dingbats. Crackpots. Wing nuts. Just plain nuts. That seems to fit much of South Carolina. We're the cradle of liberty. They're the cradle of secession and, until 2000, flew the Confederate battle flag over their Statehouse.

South Carolina brought us slavery's great apologist, Sen. John C. Calhoun. South Carolina congressman Preston S. Brooks, in a legendary 1856 attack beat Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner so viciously that Sumner couldn't return to the Senate for three years.

This behavior continues. South Carolina's junior senator, Jim DeMint, has urged his fellow GOP-ers to “break” Obama by frustrating any health-care reform. “If we're able to stop Obama on this,'' he said, “it will be his Waterloo.”

That passage is so dumb it hurts. But that’s the way We Irish “think,” even when we’re Stanford graduates, once race—and the white south—get drawn into the tale.

Headline: “Why blame Joe Wilson? His state is just South of civilized.” (Not making that up.)

Is South Carolina full of dingbats, crackpots and just plain nuts? We’re entirely sure that the state has its share—and it has a gruesome racial history, of course, a history full of violent crime and vast suffering. (Eagan may not know it, but the racial history of our shared “cradle of liberty” is nothing to brag about either.) But crackers! Jim DeMint’s plea concerning Obama closely matches a similar plea made by Bill Kristol in 1993—concerning the health plan of a white Democratic president, Bill Clinton. But so what? To Eagan, this has to be a racial plea—the equivalent of beating poor Senator Sumner! But then, Frank Rich believes that “crazy people” will take their cues from what Joe Wilson did—that Wilson’s stupid shout, “You lie,” was “tantamount to yelling fire in a crowded theater.”

We liberals do get worked up.

In short, there can be many strains of crazy when we start discussing race. Eagan was exhibiting a secondary, but journalistically significant strain—the craziness We Irish can sometimes exhibit when talking about the white south. Within the press corps, We Irish played an outsized role in the decade of war against Clinton and Gore. If you think that wasn’t partly driven by our dim-witted regional narratives, you may not understood how foolish We Irish can actually be.

Good God! Chris Matthews has even been playing the fool of late, posing as racially lofty! Everything he did to Clinton and Gore now offends him when done to Obama!

But then, race can bring out the dumb in us all. We Irish can be very dumb in this area—and we white pseudo-liberals can be even worse. We love our pleasingly narrow constructs—and to drive them, we tell pleasing stories. In the past few days, we’ve even been telling stories as dumb—and disrespectful—as the one which follows, concerning Bill Sparkman’s recent death. Allison Kilkenny posted this garbage at—where else?—the Huffington Post:

KILKENNY (9/24/09): As details continue to emerge, investigators claim they are trying to determine whether the death was a killing or a suicide, and if a killing, whether the motive was related to his government job or to anti-government sentiment. Lucindia Scurry-Johnson, assistant director of the Census Bureau’s southern office in Charlotte, N.C. said law enforcement officers have told the agency the matter is “an apparent homicide” but nothing else.

Setting aside the fact that this would be the mother of all bizarre suicides, Johnson seems oddly confident that this was not a political killing considering the word “Fed”—short for “Federal”—is a loaded label that usually indicates anti-government sentiment. “Federal” means “Big Government,” and the word has taken on a derogatory meaning in right-wing circles where fear and paranoia reign supreme. I agree with Johnson that this seems like an apparent homicide, but it’s not “nothing else.” By utilizing the branding “Fed,” the killers were clearly trying to make a political statement, namely “Obama: Stay Out.”

The word definitely packs an ideological punch, but not only is it anti-government, it’s anti-Obama.

The “killers” were clearly trying to do that! That’s so dumb it hurts. It’s also deeply disrespectful of the nightmares of race—and of the life of Sparkman, which is just the latest narrative toy in the hands of people like this. In our view, Rachel Maddow has been working almost this hard in the past two nights, trying to make this unfortunate story fit the pre-approved form we pseudos would vastly prefer.

Why did Bill Sparkman die? At this point, no one seems to know, except his presumed “killers.” (Or killer. If he was killed.) Many possibilities obtain, not just the one for which Kilkenny prays. But then, why did Wilson yell, “You lie?” That’s hard to determine too. But silly hacks like Eagan/Matthews/ Kilkenny/Maddow will happily hand you the novelized tales which make thrills run up liberal legs. In the process, they work to dumb the liberal world down. Most likely, they hurt progressive interests:

Their type frequently do.

We had planned to talk today about Gene Robinson’s other statement from last Friday—his statement about the improving racial interaction he sees in his native South Carolina (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/24/09). We saw and heard similar things when we spent some time in South Carolina in late 2007. (We were very struck by some things we saw and heard.) We liberals rarely mention such societal progress. We prefer to stick to the pleasing tales in which our tribe alone stands out.

That said, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick spoke to similar issues on last evening’s Hardball. People who actually care about race will perhaps try to tell complete stories. People who actually hope for more progress will perhaps understand that loud, promiscuous racial name-calling is only one way to achieve it. Like Obama himself, Patrick (he’s black!) knows another way—and a fuller story. He spoke with guest host Mike Barnicle:

BARNICLE (9/24/09): You know, speaking about the national debate, race has been injected into several elements of it, the national debate, most recently by former president Carter...What’s your take on former president Carter’s take on it, on race in American politics with regard to the president? What’s your personal take on it?

PATRICK: Well look, race is with us in this country. And I think we always struggle to strike a balance between acknowledging the extraordinary progress we’ve made in this country, much of it during my lifetime—I’m 53, really incredible transformations—and at the same time acknowledging that we still have work to do. That is a balance that we, I think, in this country struggle to acknowledge, that there are people who say nothing is happening, and there are other people who say it’s all over. We still have work to do.

I think that there are high and broad emotions on both sides of the health care debate, and I’m not at all convinced that all of that is driven or even much of it is driven by race. I think that it has to do with—a whole lot to do with the unknown, and that for many people, we’re talking about stepping out into new territory.

As Patrick notes, a lot of people have done and said the right things in the course of our lifetimes. Not all such people are liberals. Later, Barnicle tried again. Patrick kept showing his deeper insight, telling that fuller story:

BARNICLE: One last question. On the “coming together” thing, we keep hearing every time something occurs—the election of Barack Obama, your election, your campaign for reelection—that when race is discussed, everybody says, you know, “Well, it’s going to be nice because now we’re finally going to have a good national conversation about race.” I don’t think we’ve ever had one. Do you? Do you think we’ve ever?

PATRICK: Well, not really. Not really. I mean, in some ways, we—you know, we’re hungry for it, and in other ways, we’re not entirely ready for it. But it’ll come. I think the most important thing is to acknowledge that race is with us, but it doesn’t explain everything that goes wrong in my life, private or political, or in the lives of other people of color. And people of color know that, by the way, and I think most of the general population does as well.

People of color know that, Patrick said. Many white pseudo-liberals don’t. We love our self-flattering tales about race—tales in which we alone belong to the one good, pure, moral tribe.

We live in the cradle of liberty. They live in the cradle of secession. It rarely gets much brighter than that. Do you really think that sh*t helps?

Dingbats? Crackpots? Just plain nuts? People! Look who’s talking!