Saturday, September 12, 2009

I guess they think it's a dark day for America.

As regular visitors will know, I'm always skeptical about allegations of racism (to be clear: the standard, white-on-black kind). I tend to think such allegations are too easily made, especially in scenarios that find demagogues complaining about, or attempting to alibi for, some cultural skew where blacks are disproportionately represented in a bad way or disproportionately unrepresented in a good way. Although there may well be racism at work in such phenomena, the mere fact of a statistical aberration does not in and of itself demonstrate that racism. Otherwise we'd have to accuse the sickle cell of being racist.

However—and call me an idiot for being perhaps the last sensate person in America to realize this—I do think that racism may have something to do with the way some folks have been treating our new president. (Shameless confession: I admit that I say a lot of what follows on the basis of having watched Bill Maher again last night, just in case some of you who also watched find the timing suspicious and want to accuse me of a form of "plagiarism.") It occurs to me that a lot of people simply don't accept the legitimacy of an Obama presidency, and I'm not just talking about the so-called birthers or the outright nut-jobs. For example, even as brilliant* as Obama manifestly is, there's a certain paternalism in the way some of our other elected officials relate to and respond to him, a disinclination to afford him the respect or small areas of ceremonial privilege that American presidents, rightly or wrongly, have always enjoyed. And before any Dubya partisans in the audience start reminding us about the clownish, disrespectful way in which folks came to depict him, with all those snide jokes about his intelligence (or lack thereof) as well as the more sinister elements of what conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer labeled "Bush derangement syndrome," let me just say that those pejoratives, for the most part, were outgrowths of the Bush presidency. They evolved in response to the manner in which he actually conducted himself over the course of several years in office. Maybe Bush wasn't an imbecile, but his facility for mangling language and getting caught up in his own ideas did give one pause. Incidentally, I don't recall hearing of any outrage over the reading lesson he was giving in that Florida school on the morning of 9/11. Where were all the folks bemoaning "political indoctrination" then?

So I ask myself about those GOP types and aggrieved parents who rebelled at the idea of Obama talking to their kids in school: Were they really worried about indoctrination? Or did they just not like the idea of some uppety black dude lecturing their kids on how to behave? And that South Carolina congressman, Joe Wilson, who shouted "You lie!" during Obama's speech to the joint session of Congress: Would he have shown such contempt to a white president? Or had he and some of his colleagues from below the Mason-Dixon line been bristling at the very idea of getting summoned to the Hill and having to sit there while a man who's just a few generations removed from working their crops tells them how things are gonna be?

I'm not saying I know the answers to these questions. I'm saying I don't think that the questions are as off-base as I might have, some months back.

* Add this to the ever-growing category of "things I shouldn't have to say, but...." I am not in any way implying that Obama's brilliance is related to his political agenda. Lord no! Let's not forget that I am basically a conservative at heart, as is demonstrated by my considerable body of work for The Wall Street Journal. There is obvious brilliance on all sides of the political spectrum. Brilliance is not partisan.


RevRon's Rants said...

I'd suggest that Obama's "race" (remember... despite his appearance, he's just as "white" as he is "black") merely exacerbates the partisan rancor directed toward anyone to the left of DMoTV. He's alternately viewed as a socialist, a nazi, a Muslim, etc. And he's "black," to boot. These [inaccurate] descriptors are, IMO, borne of the resentment felt by those who crave power, yet realize that it is slipping - has slipped - away from them.

And for the record, I grew up well south of the Mason-Dixon line, and the racism I saw was much less malignant that that which I observed on the east coast. In Texas, the attitude toward minorities was one of distancing and a degree of suspicion. When visiting my grandparents in New York, however, the attitude most typically expressed was much more virulent. And even that attitude paled in comparison to that which I encountered when stationed in Philadelphia. It might be called the "city of brotherly love," but in the neighborhoods not dominated by blacks, there was active hatred for the "brothers." Any black who had the misfortune or bad judgment to wander into the south Philly neighborhood where I lived could count on being beaten to a pulp or worse. He'd have been closely watched in Texas, and perhaps even harassed by police for suspicion of being black in a white neighborhood, but he would rarely face the kind of threat that was so common in a similar situation up north. As a matter of fact, the first time I ever heard the phrase "damn nigger" was from my paternal grandfather, who lived in Flushing. And I've gotta tell you, his outburst really confused me.

Steve Salerno said...

I hear ya, Ron. First of all, as for Obama's mixed (or non-)racial heritage, you above all know that I fought that battle for many months before finally acceding to the general will. People just don't want to converse in post-racial terms.

As for the malignancy of racism (or any sort of generalized rancor, for that matter), I often don't know which is worse: the in-your-face attitudes that you describe, or the quieter hatred that simmers just below the surface and expresses itself mostly in what today's social psychologists would probably call "passive-aggressive" ways. When I worked Harlem (roughly 1973-1979, a period of tremendous urban unrest), I didn't mind so much when a local militant would get in my face and tell me what he thought of me and my race; I figured he got it off his chest and that was that. But the residents who just sort of looked at me with an odd expression on their faces, and/or were sometimes even polite in that exaggerated way that borders on insolence, if you know what I mean--those were the people I worried about.

Anonymous said...


George Bush was booed during his State of the Union Address on February 2, 2005. As I recall, Bush was white at the time.

Also, Bush read books to little school children at individual schools; he did not address the whole county during class time, and he didn't have his office send out questions for teachers to ask the students. And there were no Hollywood stars in videos pledging their support for Bush.

Obama is half-white and half-black. He grew up in a white culture household. His apologists have no traction with the race card.

The simple fact is Obama's administration has been disappointing so far. The economy is still shaky, and health care is not the reason why.

Steve Salerno said...

As I recall, Bush was white at the time.

Yes. But he was also Bush at the time. As I noted in the post, by the end of his administration he'd lost all credibility with everyone except those who (a) would've voted for a wildebeest for president as long as it was a Republican wildebeest (see under "Sarah Palin") and (b) those who get down on their knees to say prayers five or six times a day and are convinced that Jesus Christ talks to them directly through Rush Limbaugh.

His apologists have no traction with the race card? Are you freakin' kidding me? Now, you and I may be in agreement that the guy ain't black...but tell that to the sorts of people cited in that one link I provided in the post (see under "nut-jobs"). Come on. If he were to walk through the deep South for just one week without Secret Service escort, he'd never make it to Wednesday...

Steve Salerno said...

(Hell, if Obama were to walk through parts of Congress without Secret Service escort...)

Anonymous said...

Steve, take a look at this white crowd (today in DC).

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz, I don't know that any tight-focus film snippet is conclusive/probative, but it'd be interesting to see whether there was indeed any correlation between race and attendance at this event. (No, really. I'm serious.) In any case, playing devil's advocate, I'm sure they'd tell you that the decisive factor here is "a commitment to real American values" and the idea of rugged individualism--which of course is in direct opposition to the welfare state--not race, per se.

Anonymous said...

Of course, Steve. We all tend to rationalize our (mis)behaviors, even more so when they are completely irrational and socially unacceptable.

No racist when called on his/her racism ever directly admits to it. Not in these post-plantation days. They always have "legitimate" reasons for cultivating their bigotry.

I keep searching for a black parent or educator who objected to Obama's speech to schoolchildren on Tuesday. No success so far.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz, well now, again, let's be fair regarding that last comment of yours. If you have trouble locating a "black parent or educator" who objected to Obama's speech, couldn't that be explained in terms of reverse-racism? You know that I argued and voted for Obama, and despite some of the ensuing action, I'm still glad he won. But I don't delude myself one bit about why he got the support of men like Colin Powell.

Anonymous said...

OK, Steve, let's be fair.

The fact that I cannot find (so far and in my admittedly amateurish research) a black parent or educator who objected to Obama's speech could be also well explained by the fact that black parents and educators did not see anything threatening in the President's speech to children.

What's more, it appears that those black parents and educators who did speak up considered it a good idea (as in, a useful message and a good example to follow).

Which, IMO, would be a rational approach to this non-issue.

Steve Salerno said...

It's a fair point, Eliz...and the explanation that I'd prefer to see as true. It's just, well, you know me: I dislike racial/ethnic/gender identification in any form, pro or con.

Anonymous said...

I know how you feel about group identification of any kind, Steve.

But (yes:) it seems to me that to claim a prejudicial -ism (say, reverse racism, sexism, etc.), you would need evidence of, well, prejudice and harm it is causing those who are prejudiced against.

It is hard for me to see how one could make the case for prejudice and any possible harm in relation to Obama's speech directed at children. That white uproar over it smacks of racially tinged hysteria, as do most of the birthers/teabaggers/etc. protests and proclamations.

Speaking of which, I'd like you to take a look at this article from "Intelligence Report" by TSPLC (the excerpt is long, and I apologize for it):

The Second Wave

By Larry Keller

In Pensacola, Fla., retired FBI agent Ted Gunderson tells a gathering of antigovernment "Patriots" that the federal government has set up 1,000 internment camps across the country and is storing 30,000 guillotines and a half-million caskets in Atlanta. They're there for the day the government finally declares martial law and moves in to round up or kill American dissenters, he says. "They're going to keep track of all of us, folks," Gunderson warns.

Outside Atlanta, a so-called "American Grand Jury" issues an "indictment" of Barack Obama for fraud and treason because, the panel concludes, he wasn't born in the United States and is illegally occupying the office of president. Other sham "grand juries" around the country follow suit.

And on the site in Lexington, Mass., where the opening shots of the Revolutionary War were fired in 1775, members of Oath Keepers, a newly formed group of law enforcement officers, military men and veterans, "muster" on April 19 to reaffirm their pledge to defend the U.S. Constitution. "We're in perilous times … perhaps far more perilous than in 1775," says the man administering the oath. April 19 is the anniversary not only of the battle of Lexington Green, but also of the 1993 conflagration at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the lethal bombing two years later of the Oklahoma City federal building — seminal events in the lore of the extreme right, in particular the antigovernment Patriot movement.

Almost 10 years after it seemed to disappear from American life, there are unmistakable signs of a revival of what in the 1990s was commonly called the militia movement. From Idaho to New Jersey and Michigan to Florida, men in khaki and camouflage are back in the woods, gathering to practice the paramilitary skills they believe will be needed to fend off the socialistic troops of the "New World Order."

One big difference from the militia movement of the 1990s is that the face of the federal government — the enemy that almost all parts of the extreme right see as the primary threat to freedom — is now black. And the fact that the president is an African American has injected a strong racial element into even those parts of the radical right, like the militias, that in the past were not primarily motivated by race hate. Contributing to the racial animus have been fears on the far right about the consequences of Latino immigration.

Continue here.

Dave said...


I have to echo Ron's comments about the difference in racism in the south and other parts of the country. I too grew up in the south, and guess what, I never owned slaves, nor did any of my ancestors own slaves. It aggravates me more than a little when folks lump all of us "good ole boys" together and assume that just because we're from the south, we want to keep minorities oppressed. Please give it a rest. Joe Wilson may be a racist, or he may just be rude. I have no idea, but just being from South Carolina really has no bearing on either.

Steve Salerno said...

I have to say that, having now seen coverage of the "million (angry) man march," I'm tempted to reconsider my initial response to Eliz. My God, that is one white crowd! No matter which angle you examine--and I've seen everything from still shots to running video of several minutes' duration, shot here and there and everywhere--it's just an unending sea of white faces. Can that be mere coincidence?

And then the signs, e.g., "I voted for the real American."


RevRon's Rants said...

"just because we're from the south, we want to keep minorities oppressed. Please give it a rest."

I never got that kind of feeling from Steve's posts. He might be a Yankee, and I ain't never hunted or got drunk with him, but he's a good old boy, nonetheless. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

In fairness, on this north/south thing: We've got a reasonable number of people in these parts--a rural-ish northwest suburb of Philly--who ride around in trucks with confed flags on the front. I can't say automatically that such a proclivity = racism. For public consumption, such people usually argue that they're just broadcasting their southern heritage, which is their right. And I think some folks are extra-inclined to show their confederate colors just because they feel, in their own way, persecuted; they know that others frown on it and consider it un-PC, so their sentiment is along the lines of, "Who the hell are you to tell me what I can and can't display?" Still, this is an integrated neighborhood--certainly both Allentown and Philly are highly integrated--and everyone knows full well how blacks feel about such displays and are apt to react to them. Thus it strikes me that flying the Southern Cross is at best insensitive, and likely worse. Personally I find it hard to believe that a majority of such people aren't bigots. In fact, I sometimes wonder if all the folks who fly such flags are of southern descent to begin with--or if they're merely "making a statement."

I could always be wrong, of course.

Anonymous said...

"But he was also Bush at the time..." It was OK to boo Bush because he was Bush, and we didn't like him any more.

Obama is Obama right now, and he is lying about the health care plan, so he deserves to be called out on it. Whenever Obama says "If you like your current coverage, you can keep it. We won't make you change." He's not speaking the truth.
- If you have a Health Savings Account (HSA) plan - it will be outlawed. You must change.
- If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan - Subsidized supplemental insurance for Medicare folks - that will be ended and you will have to change.
- If your employer gives you an hourly amount to go out and get your own individual plan - I am such an employer - that will end and you must change policies.
- If you have a high deductible plan, it will change because Obama is capping the deductible limits.

Tens of millions of people fall into those four categories. They will have to change their insurance based on the current plan.

Will any of you Obama apologists prove my four points wrong, or will I just be blasted with nonsequitors passing for logic?

If pointing that the president is not telling the truth to millions of currently insured Americans makes me a racist, then we have redefined "racist" to mean "someone who does not support the president".

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 5:11, I normally try to be objective and middle-of-the-road--I truly do, at least more than most people--but in Bush's case, I find myself honestly wondering about the sanity or motives of people who remained loyal to him (and even his party) to the end. Something very, very wrong happened during that administration, and whether it was intentional or not--and whether we ever know the whole truth or not--that doesn't make it any less unpalatable.

As for your comments on Obama's plan, the sorts of objections you raise are not what he means and you know it! And incidentally, the only reason any of these nitpicky issues exist at all is because of politicking and lobbying and related concerns. If those on the Left could say what they really want to say, it would be along the lines of this: "Starting tomorrow you all have federal health coverage. health-insurance companies as we know them have ceased to exist. So have major hospital systems and private practices. The whole healthcare industry is now working for the federal gov't. It's been nationalized. End of story." But they can't say that, and we all know why they can't say that, so we're left with one of these "zebra is a horse designed by a committee" situations.

RevRon's Rants said...

I'm not a "Obama apologist" ... Don't even know that such a thing exists outside the minds of those who hate the man (typically for partisan reasons more than policy reasons). Now if his deceptions even began to rack up a body count like the last guy, I certainly wouldn't apologize for him... I'd want him out, just as I did Bush 43.

And for the record, my dislike for Bush was based upon his actions, rather than some projection as to what he *might* do if he got the chance, although given what he was able to do, that is a pretty worrisome thought in its own right.

Anonymous said...

Steve, it is totally unreasonable to argue that opposition to Obama and his obvious agenda, which *is* socialist in nature, is racist in nature. Could it be that the people who march on DC are people who worked hard for what they have in life and don't want it just taken away at his late date and handed to others as part of the redistribution of wealth that this man clearly represents? Let me even be more blunt, if I have $100,000 and I don't want you to take it and give $10,000 apiece to 10 different people from the inner city who don't have money, you can call me selfish or whatever you want to say, that is your right, but to call me racist is totally unwarranted. Like many Americans, I believe that I am entitled to do with my money what I want to do.

If I want to pay as little as possible in taxes, again you can call me all kinds of names but "racist" shouldn't be one of them because it has nothing to do with race! It has to do with my view of America, which is that the money you make by doing what you do is YOUR MONEY and no one else's. If I want to give to charities, which I do, that's one thing but you don't just walk in and take it! And you don't set up all kinds of insanely costly federal programs that rely on the fact that when push comes to shove, you can drain more money from the people who have it.

And let's face it if you don't see a lot of black faces marching in these movements and tea parties, it's because historically they're the ones who benefit from all the programs that redistribute wealth. So why should they march now!

There was a time when most Americans believed what I believe. I find it sad that's no longer true.

RevRon's Rants said...

"There was a time when most Americans believed what I believe. I find it sad that's no longer true."

To mangle a phrase, one man's sadness is another man's delight. The reason so many abandoned such a personally isolationist approach is that they finally realized that we ignore the powerless in our culture at great risk to ourselves, both morally, and over the long term, economically.

For the record, nobody's remotely considering "taking everything and giving it away," except perhaps the folks who know they can't win any other way than through spreading fear through misinformation.

If one truly rejects anything that smacks of even a hint of socialism, they must remember not to call a cop if they get mugged, not to mail any letters via the USPS, and certainly not to seek any medicare for elderly parents. Simply put, a complex society cannot function without some essential functions either run or regulated by a central government.

Anonymous said...

Ron, the government provides for the common defense. That's part of its mandate. That isn't socialism. You seem to take the position that you're either for socialism or you're for anarchy and complete rugged individualism with no gov't and no services. That's a red herring. You can be a capitalist society and still have basic aspects of infrastructure centrally administered. There's a difference between having an army and having a socialist view of life creep into so many of the *financial* elements of daily living.

As for the post office, I don't think I've used it for anything important in 20 years.

By the way, my verif word, I kid you not, is PAYLIN.

RevRon's Rants said...

Roger, it's certainly not an "either / or" situation we're talking about. I don't favor a socialist system over a capitalist one by any means, but I think the intelligent - and humane - approach would be to take the best from both systems. It would seem to me that defending the citizen's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would include defense against all who would do us harm, whether their weapons be bombs or predatory credit practices.

I've seen in Hong Kong the kind of free-market economy that some have called for, and it certainly isn't consistent with the values upon which our country was supposedly founded.

The real irony, as I see it, is that so many who define the US as a Christian nation believe that those inalienable rights they so cherish should be afforded only to those who are wealthy. We allow millions of people to sicken or die, or to see the fruits of a lifetime of hard work disappear as a direct result of our government's having protected the "right" of a select few to obscene profits.

If we are to be the beacon of hope that we so typically claim to be, that hope cannot be a scarce commodity.

a caring human being said...

Roger, rarely does one see such a blatant, unapologetic rationale for selfishness and unconcern for his fellow man. Tell me, did you actually think people would read something like you wrote here and feel better about conservatives and their motives? Think again, my friend.