Worrying Race Like an Old Bone

September 14, 2009 at 11:18 am (By Amba) (, , )

The discussion between me and my bro continues, although I don’t know that either one of us is saying anything new or different, prompted by MoDo’s column and James Pinkerton’s response to it.


See, I think there’s a difference between shouting “racism” — which I agree these days is little more than just a sharp object to throw under the tires of your opponent — and realizing what it is and actually, quietly doing something about it.

There’s a difference between pointing at someone who’s intolerant and shouting Bigot!, and recognizing what you’re up against and either negotiating with it or (preferably) kicking its fucking ass.

There’s a huge problem, which I identified (a couple of days before Dowd): there’s a significant minority in this country that may just be too uncomfortable with a black man in the White House. You don’t shake your head and tsk-tsk at that, but you do have to either proceed carefully in tacking huge, ambitious projects with a narrow majority, or you have to kick ass and take names. Obama has vacillated somewhere in the middle, which I think has emboldened conspiracy theorists and wingnuts who now see themselves as the base of the Republican Party.

I think Obama missed a golden opportunity to kick ass, right then and there. He looked almost as shocked as Pelosi behind him did (I loved how Biden just looked down and shook his head in disgust).

I wish he’d looked at Wilson and said, “No, Congressman, I’m not lying. I’m telling the truth. And later in the speech I’m going to talk about ways to approach this significant issue without losing sight of the civility needed to reach a positive solution. I hope you’ll pay special attention to that portion of my talk.”

Or something like that. Call the bastard out! Be the velvet hammer! Then come out swinging in the aftermath of the talk.

Because if you don’t, you lend credence to people who cloak fear of The Other in all kinds of other goofy shit.

The only reason that discussion of racism would be useful would be to call the collective bluff of people who think a black man in the White House must be sinister. Go after their bullshit and compel them to – er – call a spade a spade.


Heh heh.

What’s really upsetting me is that it’s interfering after all, with his ability to function as President.  Others can refuse to deal with him because of it, and he can take cover and be failure-proof behind it.  In my opinion, it was a huge mistake (and pure Chicago-style politics:  whatever might give you a hold over your opponent) to ever use it, even by implication, to discredit opposition to the health plan.  The health plan is scary to conservatives ALL BY ITSELF and would be equally so with a white big-government-friendly liberal pushing it.  Implying with a broad brush that racism is behind the opposition (which a lot of Obama’s supporters are resorting to, even if he isn’t) drags race into the foreground instead of giving it a withering look and banishing it to the background where it belongs.  Frankly, I don’t give a shit whether, what, as much as 20% of the country can’t stand having a black man in the white house (sexual implication intended), as long as the Secret Service keeps them and their guns far away from him.  He should be ignoring them, writing them off as hopeless dinosaurs, and having an honest discussion (as he keeps claiming he’s having) with the people who have an honest disagreement with him.  But he is a Democratic machine politician, beholden to a base that wants a public option badly enough to force it on the near-half of the country that doesn’t.  Race aside, his mandate isn’t big enough for that and he’s going to have to compromise, or else things are going to get even worse than they already are.

It’s the failure to recognize the legitimate (even if you think it’s misguided) opposition to the health plan per se — in the belief that it is NOT gonna be deficit-neutral, for starters, no way — that I find dishonest and politics as usual.  Racists should be IGNORED, not used as human shields.  All this talk of race is a DISTRACTION from that and those who treat it as anything else are guilty of helping to inflame it.  I even think the convenience of that could be one reason the backroom boys and girls of the Democratic party decided to elect him.


Or, it could be repeatedly used as a smokescreen by far-right Republicans (or Whatevers) behind which to hide a determination to make him fail at the good he could really do — not because he’s black, but because he’s a Democrat.

I really do think in a weird way that the invocation of race as an issue is something that the right is encouraging, because they see it as drawing the scared to their side — regardless of how kooky the scared may be. After all, what does it matter who’s on your side, as long as there’s more of you than there are of them?

There’s nothing more cynical than a machine politician. Problem is, machines come in all colors. I don’t think Republicans are focused on the evils of a public option — where were they over most of the past quarter century, as this problem was getting worse and worse? W’s prescription benefit was the only attention health care really got from Republicans — until now. That they missed their chance to craft reform without a public option — especially after the 2002 mid-term elections — and to create a new era of fiscal responsibility, has now caused them to want to undermine, at all costs, the only, or best, hope we’ve had at some kind of reform, in our lifetime.

Now it’s not gonna happen — not in any meaningful way. And if it’s not meaningful, it means it won’t keep the problem from getting worse.

But of course, if it gets worse on a Democrat’s watch, that’s OK.


This is why the people in what’s so often called, with contempt, by both sides, “the mushy middle” should not be written off.  They’re the only ones who care more about getting something done that everyone can live with than about beating the other side.

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Race: Danger or Distraction? Bomb or Bomb Scare? [UPDATED AGAIN]

September 11, 2009 at 12:54 am (By Amba) (, , , , , , )

Tonight on MSNBC I heard a parade of Democrats, including Ron Reagan, saying solemnly that they thought Joe Wilson’s “outburst” last night was about race, that such incivility would not have been directed at a white President.  (Bush II was booed in the same chamber.)  I had to turn it off.  I blew my stack on Twitter, because it seemed to me they had all received their talking points and were setting up a story line in which opposition to Obama’s health care plan could only be motivated by racism.  Makes me nuts.

(UPDATE II, Sunday the 13th:  James Pinkerton nails Maureen Dowd doing her duty for the cause:  “Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.” Pinkerton comments:

The cultural elites can’t have it both ways: They can’t simultaneously trash the middle class–labeling reasonable skepticism of Obamacare as “racism”–and then expect that same middle class to simply take the elites’ word for it that Obamacare is a good idea.

And I agree with Pinkerton’s terse prognosis:  “bad politics. It’s not going to work.”)

This led to a fascinating conversation with my brother David (True Ancestor), that I’m reproducing here, starting with Twitter.  (Still can’t bring myself to say “my tweets.”  I’d prefer a George Carlinesque “brain farts.”)

Sometimes I wonder if Obama was elected largely because his race is such a convenient way of ending an argument and silencing debate.

Tremendous barrage of “it’s race, it’s race” on the Left’s pet channel MSNBC today. A concerted campaign–this is how they plan to pass HC??

To get back to the subject of liberal Dems browbeating on “race” theme–I am disgusted beyond measure. This is exact flip side of Birtherism

My own bro falls for & perpetuates the “it’s race” meme re: Joe Wilson http://tinyurl.com/ljsvnt I bet a very liberal white prez wd get same

Here my bro’s so right tho: “I see signs all around me that people are pissed off and paranoid, self-righteous and self-absorbed.”

Please pause here and read David’s post.  It’s a very good and very thoughtful expression of the alarm that is the theme that has sincerely gripped many liberals (and David, as you can see, is no ultraliberal), just as alarm at loss of freedom to an overweening State is the theme that has sincerely gripped many conservatives.

I would have been astonished no matter who called the President a liar, and no matter who the president happened to be. But because Barack Obama is an African American man, in a room populated mostly by white men, it seemed to me that a little bit of mob mentality spilled over the decorous bounds inside of which presidential speeches have always been safely held. The fact that Joe Wilson hails from South Carolina added to the chill in my blood.

I don’t consider rough politics out of bounds. I don’t consider Barack Obama beyond reproach. I don’t consider all Republicans bad people (I vote for them sometimes). But moments like this disturb me deeply. It makes me wonder anew whether the animus against Barack Obama is heightened because many cannot stomach the thought of a black man being president.

I commented:

On the other hand, Obama’s race is very convenient for Democrats. No one can criticize his policies without being suspected/accused of racism. (I’m not suggesting that Joe Wilson’s incivility was legitimate criticism. I doubt it was a spontaneous outburst either. More likely it was a bid to be on the 2012 ticket.) That’s THE big theme on MSNBC today (as much a propaganda organ of the L as Fox is of the R). That so sucks — it’s one of the tactics that makes people feel like something’s being put over on them by trickery, thus aggravating the paranoia.

A lot of conservs on Twitter, and NOT crazies, are saying Wilson shouldn’t have apologized (in their wishful fantasies at least), because they believe the president WAS “lying” (illegal immigrants WILL be covered de facto because there’s no test) and somebody had to say it. These people are in a sincere (if well-fanned) panic about “statism,” and I think THAT has zero to do with Obama’s race.

David responded:

First of all, saying that Obama’s race is convenient for Democrats takes nothing away from the very real peril of racism, and the very real possibility that it may be playing a role in the way Obama is confronted, and the way he was confronted last night.

Furthermore, all leadership, in all eras, in all countries throughout time, have sought to take advantage of the convenient. That this is no different doesn’t make it less real or any less ominous. To merely view it cynically is to deny that racism occludes sensible judgment of Obama — judgment that could help mount a more effective opposition, that could lead to better legislation, and that could do less damage to the perception and the effectiveness of leadership in Washington. Racism is a flame that can be fanned. Last night, I felt the heat. Like a fever, it was a heat that chilled.

My concern was not aroused by any talking head on any network with an ulterior motive or an agenda; it arose as I watched the event unfold in real time, unadorned by commentary. Not only that, in what little commentary I watched afterwards (a bunch of talking heads on CNN, followed by Larry King’s interview of John McCain), the issue of race was never brought up.

Second, the non-crazy conservatives to whom you refer believe the president was lying; I believe they are wrong. There are reasonable interpretations on both sides, pointing to the fact that weaknesses in the legislation could allow illegal immigrants to be insured. Most of the CNN panelists I saw, and stuff I’ve read today, said they felt that could and likely would be addressed in upcoming negotiations. Whether or not Obama was lying does not make what Wilson did OK, any more than yelling invective at Bush, Bush II or Reagan at a similar (or any) occasion would have been OK.

If “somebody had to say it,” that somebody could have done much more good for their cause by saying so in a more intelligent way at a more propitious time. I don’t mind that somebody had to say it; I strenuously disagree that that was the forum and the moment in which to do so, and there seem to be many — including about $300,000 worth of South Carolina Democrats, and virtually every leader on both sides of the aisle in both the House and Senate — who agree with me.

I answered (warning:  I get a little vulgar):

To merely view it cynically is to deny that racism occludes sensible judgment of Obama — judgment that could help mount a more effective opposition, that could lead to better legislation

It’s not a matter of viewing it “cynically.”  Of course there is racism out there.  What’s frustrating is that no one can criticize Obama without being accused of it!!  That makes him, in a weird way, bulletproof (I know how ironic it is to use that metaphor, and I’m still worried about assassination attempts myself).  And he and Democrats are willing to take full advantage of it.  It means that his being black is, after all, an obstacle to his being an effective president, because of variants of race-ism on both sides.

I believe that while one edge of the hysteria about Obama is racist, much more of it is ideological, and that part would be much the same directed at a white liberal.  Christ, look at the insane attempts to destroy Clinton, who wasn’t even that much of a liberal.  Just a Democrat.

Which leads to the insight that Republicans are just as willing to fan fringe racism to get power back as Democrats are to fling accusations of it [to hold on to power].

In this climate, those who are, in fact, trying to mount a sane and civil opposition (Gingrich, Pawlenty, some of the others with counterproposals to the public option) can hardly even get heard.  Everyone’s walking around with a (metaphorical) hard-on, with adrenalin in full flood.  It’s very scary.  But Democrats are fanning the flames in their own way, because it will let them off the hook if Obama fails.  You must consider how creepy it is to have legitimate policy disagreement blamed on racism.  Wouldn’t that make you paranoid if the roles were reversed?  It would look like a diabolically clever way of silencing debate and ramming through an agenda.  Even if you believe in that agenda, getting it done that way will have too high a cost.

I’m scared sick too, I just think there’s blame to go around.  Dangerous times.


If “somebody had to say it,” that somebody could have done much more good for their cause by saying so in a more intelligent way at a more propitious time. I don’t mind that somebody had to say it; I strenuously disagree that that was the forum and the moment in which to do so, and there seem to be many — including about $300,000 worth of South Carolina Democrats, and virtually every leader on both sides of the aisle in both the House and Senate — who agree with me.

Jeez, I’M not arguing that “somebody had to say it,” or that the president was lying!  I’m trying to tell you why Wilson might have been angling to be on the 2012 ticket!  Some people were saying he was a hero (until he apologized), and that’s not about race at all!  The hysteria about immigration and “statism” was in full cry on the Right before Obama was a gleam in the Democratic party’s eye.  The point I’m trying to make is that the Democrats are so fixated on getting the public option (and I’m not sure Obama is, but he’s captive of the base) that they are going about this in a way that feeds into it and aggravates it, as extremes so often do incite each other.

David replied, in response to my first just above:

Yeah, you hit on it. It’s the whole hard-on for battle that’s got me a little on edge. It seems there’s almost a bloodlust. How can you can negotiate when you just want to murder the person across the table.

Do you really feel that “no one can criticize Obama without being accused of” racism? I feel like he’s been roundly, and in large part justifiably, criticized for his handling of this issue, among others. His approval ratings haven’t been bulletproof, nor should they have been. I don’t read as much as you do, but I simply haven’t seen any “legitimate policy disagreement based on racism.” In either direction. (Remember when Clarence Thomas referred to his confirmation hearing as a “high-tech lynching,” and the opposition just withered on the spot? That, to me, was a classic example of what you’re referring to.

I’m still naive enough to believe that if you have real debate, you will not be able to stymie it with fear. But you don’t have to look too far back in history, or too far afield, to see how naive that belief might be.

And in response to my second:

I see your point. And I’ll predict this right now: he’ll [Joe Wilson] narrowly lose his reelection bid; he’ll claim to have been bullied by Emanuel into making his apology; he’ll become a champion of the victimized right; and he’ll wind up on the 2012 ticket. It may all have been choreographed, soon after Obama became that gleam in the eye you mentioned.

So I said:

Wilson’s already claiming that his own party’s leadership made him apologize, that it wasn’t from the heart!  “Grassroots” Republicans are as mad at their own party’s elite as they are at Democrats.  People like Peggy Noonan who disdained Sarah Palin are toast, with them!

No, I don’t mean that no one legitimately criticizes Obama without being accused of racism, but if you listen to MSNBC (the left’s Fox), today they paraded one person after another pushing that line — including Ron Reagan.  It’s as if they got their talking points/marching orders, just like on the R when everyone starts parroting whatever Rush said that day.  Wherever it’s coming from, it’s a stupid ploy, because it makes reasonable people feel like they’re being had.  It’s a huge diversion/distraction from the question of what kind of healthcare policy we should have, and what better kind we can manage to get to given our disagreements.


Remember when Clarence Thomas referred to his confirmation hearing as a “high-tech lynching,” and the opposition just withered on the spot? That, to me, was a classic example of what you’re referring to.

Oh, definitely!  Definitely.  Nothing was more cynical than his appointment.

There are people who are doggedly (blue doggedly?) trying to have a real debate; they’re just being drowned out.  Too many people don’t have a taste or a hunger for substance any more, only for emotion.  To continue the hard-on metaphor, lots of people are looking to be jerked off.

And David (thankfully changing the metaphor) said:

That’s what happens on the eve of a conflagration. The tinder is dry. A few sprinkles here and there are no match for the lightning.

UPDATE: The plot thickens: David sends “more on Joe Wilson” (presented as evidence for the prosecution?):

Allegedly member of a far-right group called Sons of Confederate Veterans, and one of only 7 SC Republicans who went against his own party and voted to keep the Confederate flag flying over the Statehouse.

(If you follow the link, you’ll see that the SCV is actually split into two warring factions, one that is innocuous and one that is virulent.  No word on which one Joe Wilson is or was a member of.)

Does that change the equation?  It does change the 2012 equation, I think.

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