Saturday, August 18, 2007

Baiting with the Burka

Glenn Greenwald and Talking Points Memo have been worrying about the extent to which conservatives believe that there is going to be an Islamic takeover of the United States in the near future.

This exchange between Naomi Wolf and Melanie Morgan is what Greenwald and TPM have in mind.
Wolf: It gets back to what I was saying earlier about the nature of lying. Let's not forget that they got us into this war on the basis of a series of lies.... This weaving out of lies was a pretext for an invasion that served their own political purposes. In the wake of the invasion, they were able to terrify the American people, subjugate the American people, drive through a series of laws that dismantled key checks and balances, allowed overreaching executive power, and completely eviscerated what the founders set in place, thus weakening America.

Morgan: Keep attacking, keep attacking Naomi, because you're going to look great in a burka. You're going to look super in a burka.

Greenwald stresses the extent to which the fear of an Islamic takeover highlighted by Morgan's comment about burkas is an actual fear that [conservatives] have -- not a theoretical fear but one that is pressing, urgent, at the forefront of their worldview." It's surprising to see Greenwald, who is usually aware of the tremendous dishonesty of contemporary conservatism, be this naive. But TPM is no better. Steve Benen approvingly cites Greenwald, then Josh Marshall prints a reader comment about how this kind of fear of Islamic takeover is part of the "generalized fear of the other" that characterizes places like West Texas.

But the "Islamic takeover" meme is pure sham. The context of the Melanie Morgan/Naomi Wolf exchange is significant here. Melanie Morgan isn't any more afraid of an Islamic takeover than Glenn Greenwald, but she is eager to bait a liberal feminist like Naomi Wolf. There are times when I think that the no. 1 priority of conservatives is sticking it verbally to liberals--driving liberals crazy, making liberals "outraged," upsetting liberals, confusing liberals, or making them sputter. In this case, Melanie Morgan was seeking to wrong-foot Naomi Wolf by saying something that was both preposterous and bigoted while needling Wolf as a feminist critic of fashion (in The Beauty Myth). Saying that Wolf would "look good in a burka" was a "three-for" for Morgan and Morgan probably began working up the provocation the minute she heard Wolf would be on the show.

Conservative activists like Melanie Morgan, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh don't see radical Islam, Islamic terrorism, al-Qaida, Mexican immigrants, gays, or criminals as the primary "other" in their lives. They see white liberals as their primary enemy or other and have devoted themselves to baiting liberals since the McCarthy era. Martin Luther King's "content of our character" line, the analogy between Saddam Hussein and Hitler, bullying treason accusations, and images of Republican political omnipotence have just been a few of the things with which the right has been trying to bully white liberals into states of anger, political disorientation, and a sense of impotence.

But these kinds of baiting lines all have relatively short half-lives before liberal commentators begin to catch up. So, conservatives have to keep coming up with new modes of baiting and embarrassing liberals. Having seen right-wing posters at work as posters in Slate's Fray, I can say that conservatives actually work at coming up with new insults, accusations, and baiting lines. It's interesting to see.

But the right now has a special problem. With the failure of the Iraq War, failure of the Bush administration, failure of the surge, and upcoming failure in the 2008 election, the American right is encased in failure. As a result, all of the old attack lines have been neutered and conservatives are even more desperate than usual to come up with new ways to bait their liberal enemies. Yesterday, Melanie Morgan employed the image of American women wearing burkas. Tomorrow, it might be pedophilia, black guys watching too much television while in prison, French strikers, or Hillary.

True, there are probably a number of conservatives in West Texas or Western Kentucky who have bought the Islamic takeover idea. They're the same people who get upset about "family values," gay marriage, urban crime, putting the Ten Commandments in public schools, and any number of other right-wing hobby horses. However, the activists who manipulate these fears for a living will soon be promoting new anxieties and convincing new suckers.

Obviously, liberals should be willing and able to debate all these points. Conservatives are very good at making it seem like they care about these things. It's important to remember, however, that the most important priority of conservatism is attack and defeating liberals.

A Comment on Zinya's Childrearing Post

I've picked up on something that's reinforces Zinya's argument about the political implications of child-raising techniques. In the red states I've lived in, many of the people I've met have a lot of contempt for self-discipline. The people I've met in Kentucky and North Carolina talk a lot about "work ethic," but they don't particularly respect the day-to-day slog of things. They really like extravagant emotional expression, big exercises in self-indulgence, and the sporadic risk-taking of heavy booze consumption, drugs, and dangerous recreations. Obviously, there are lots of exceptions, but I've been struck by the way that Southerners prefer the sporadic to the regular, emotional expression to emotional self-control, and violence of various kinds to working things out.

As Zinya shows, red-staters in general believe much more in spanking their kids than people in Connecticut. However, my experience is that Southerners also believe much more in indulging their kids than blue-staters. "Daddy's" spoiling their "little girls" is an especially prevalent image in Kentucky but I bet it's the same all over the South. It was hard for me to take my daughters into stores without somebody making a comment about spoiling my girls. I imagine the same indulgences apply to boys in ways that I'm not aware of. Expressions of family loyalty and love are also more prevalent and intense in the South than I remember in the North. In this sense, the emphasis on spanking in particularly and shaming in general would be evidence of wider swings of family emotional life than people might find in Connecticult, California, and urbanized areas in other blue states.

To the contrary, the urban professionals I've encountered in Philadelphia put an enormous emphasis on self-control and manners. Where Southerners cultivate a dramatic emotional expression, the professional blue-staters I know tend to view heightened emotional expression as bad manners, ignorant, or stupid. As a result, the range of polite expression tends to be much more narrow among blue state professionals than Southerners. The same is the case with the pockets of Northerners and Californians I know in Kentucky compared to the more local types. I think the greater emphasis on self-control among blue staters correlates with child-raising techniques that emphasize self-control. I know that my wife and I are cultivating internal self-control and self-discipline mechanisms in our daughters and that we both talk to them a lot about "how they think" in relation to their behavior rather than just their behavior.

How does this correlate with disciplinary strategies and attitudes toward punishment? In relation to Zinya's analysis, I would claim that blue-staters don't believe in spanking so much because they believe in cultivating internal self-discipline more than they believe in punishment. Conversely, red-staters (especially Southerners) believe in "external" punishments like spanking because such punishments are the primary means for controlling behavior. Not believing in self-discipline (at least to the extent of blue-staters), Southerners rely heavily on punishments like spanking as a way to keep children in line (when they're not indulging them). That's one of the underlying reasons why Southerners believe more in corporal punishment in schools and worry so much about "order" in schools in general. They don't have as much sense for self-discipline as those in blue-states. The preference for punishment over self-discipline also might be one of the reasons why Southerners believe more in imprisonment for crimes and war as an instrument of national policy.

What's my preference? I have to admit that I don't like either and tend to be as discomfited by too much in the ways of manners and self-control as I am by a lot of emotional extravagance. As a result, I break in both directions. As an academic, I exercise the self-discipline needed to define my job and and get my work done according to my own schedule rather than a given work schedule. However, the fact that I've married two women (one from North Carolina and another from Queens) who are more in the emotional extravagance mode means that the "Southern" mode has appeal as well. To the extent that my own child-rearing techniques reflect my views, I find that my second wife and I put a lot of emphasis on self-control in raising our daughters. In general, I think that some sort of balance is a good thing here.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Are The Bushies Torturing Gen. Petraeus?

It appears that the Bush administration is going all out to prevent Gen. Petraeus from doing any public speaking or writing in relation to the "Petraeus Report" that's due in September.

But once again, the Bush White House has failed. Don't they fail at everything? This time it's because of leaks. First, it got out that the White House would be writing the "Petraeus Report" rather than Petraeus. God knows why they want to write it themselves. It's not as if the White House has successfully managed a public relations campaign since the 2004 election. What could Petraeus have said to make the Bush administration look worse than they already look themselves? But that's what the White House wants and George Bush is still commander in chief. So, what the public will get will be the DOA (Dead on Arrival) White House version of the Petraeus Report.

Now it appears that the White House also sought to keep Petraeus from giving public testimony before a Congressional committee as mandated by this year's Iraq funding legislation. Another really smart move. Didn't the White House think the Dems would be eager to report that little nugget. But that also makes you wonder what Petraeus is reporting from the field that makes the White House so leary of having him appear before the public. If Petraeus was close to the Bush line, the White House would be eager to have him testify in public. An "on message" Petraeus would have hundreds or thousands of little war anecdotes at his fingertips to fend off the poorly informed questions of bloviating Democratic politicians. He'd be even an even better spokesman for the Republican view than Ollie North was during Iran Contra.

But now that the news has leaked out, it is likely that Petraeus is going to have to testify in public.

How, then, is the White House going to ensure that Gen. Petraeus keeps to the president's line on the success of the surge?

There are two overriding realities concerning the testimony of Gen. Petraeus from the Bush administration's point of view. Of course, Bush's people would have to view Petraeus' testimony as a matter of the highest national security priority. If the testimony of Gen. Petraeus runs too far against Bush administration views, it might result in Republican members of Congress caving in to Democratic demands for a withdrawal from Iraq and all the disastrous consequences the Bush team sees as flowing from that, including genocide in Iraq and another 9-11 attack on the U. S.

At the same time, it is highly likely that the Bush administration would follow conservative talk show hosts and the right-wing blogosphere and at least view Gen. Petraeus of having treason in his heart. It's important to remember that the right-wing, including the Bush administration, views opposition to the war as treason in the sense of "aiding and abetting the enemy." Ann Coulter's most recent column refers to war opponents as "the treason lobby," people like Newt Gingrich and Frank Gaffney have called for military tribunals to try dissenting politicians, and conservatives routinely refer to Bill Clinton as a traitor for leading anti-war demonstrations in London during the Vietnam era and John Kerry for testifying against the Vietnam war. If Gen. Petraeus spoke against the war in Iraq, people on the right would be obligated to treat that as treason as well. Given the stakes involved in any Petraeus testimony, they would also be obligated to treat him as a potential traitor. Perhaps it's the potential treason of Petraeus that has made it necessary in the minds of the Bush administration for them to prevent Petraeus from communicating to the general public.

But even if Gen. Petraeus intends to commit what the right views as treason, he is still the commanding American general in Iraq and the Bush administration will likely be forced to at least let him testify before a congressional committee.

The problem then is how to ensure that Gen. Petraeus tells the Congressional committees that the war is going much better now, that the U. S. should keep troop levels in Iraq at 160,000 for at least another six months, and that he much prefers the Republican position on the war.

Given that Gen. Petraeus is just as important in the Bush administration's mind to preventing another 9-11 as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was to pulling off the first 9-11, it seems likely that the Bush administration has already decided to hold Gen. Petraeus as an enemy combatant and to torture him until they can be sure that he'll give the "right" testimony before Congress. My understanding is that the Bush administration claims the right to hold anybody in the world who they suspect of collaborating with terrorism. Why couldn't Petraeus be held as a potential public collaborator with global terrorism? Maybe Petraeus is already in Guantanomo or Romania?

But how to get him to say the right things when he testifies. At most, there's only six weeks until Petraeus testifies. As a result, there isn't time for the 43 months of nearly complete sensory deprivation inflicted on Jose Padilla. Too bad. Given that Petraeus is not a Muslim, it's not likely that smearing menstrual blood on his face, making him wear women's underwear, forced nudity, or setting dogs on him will work either. Of course, interrogators could use "Palestinian hanging" (a crucifixion technique), hypothermia, or make Petraeus stand for hours at a time. But these techniques are oriented toward getting people to testify about things they know. They don't seem forceful enough to get someone like Petraeus to testify to a series of statements that he doesn't believe.

Perhaps the most favorable torture technique for guaranteeing the testimony of Petraeus is waterboarding. The technique is executed for short periods and is very intense. Consequently, all the Bush administration would have to do is to get Petraeus to understand that certain terms like "ten years to victory," "limited accomplishments," and "some progress" will be associated with further waterboarding and that more positive language will be associated with freedom from torture. It's a simple kind of negative reinforcement.

As for results? Look how well it's worked on Dick Cheney.

Rove Falls Flat on Hillary

I'm still going with yesterday's idea that Karl Rove is being rolled out as a Republican uber pundit for the 2008 election, a one-man guardian of the Bush legacy. From the White House point of view, Rove will show the American people what a wonder place the Bush White House is, cheer on the Republican candidates for keeping the cause alive, and make the Democrats pay for their criticisms.

And Karl Rove will be a big help in defeating Hillary Clinton in 2008.

But let's go back to the real world.

In the real world, the American public doesn't care whether Karl Rove was happy in the White House, hasn't been impressed by the legendary reading contest waged by Rove and Bush while Iraq was falling apart in 2006, and believes that George Bush is a disaster as president.

Moreover, rolling out Republican anti-Hillary attack lines in 2007 isn't going to help the GOP presidential candidate in 2008. The attack lines will be stale by that time.

More important, Rove's attack lines on Hillary are so weak they'll probably be popping up on Protein Wisdom pretty soon. To boil down Rove's views, he's criticizing Clinton for opposing the Bush administration's political agenda of the surge, medical savings accounts, and warrantless wiretapping.

In the real world, Bush is among the least popular and least respected presidents in American history and Hillary's opposition to the Bush agenda is going to be a plus for her in the general election.

As I've said before, Karl Rove's a genius. But he's yesterday's genius and Rove's roll out as a pundit is going to blow up in his face like most of his other current schemes.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Beans on Karl Rove's New Career?

It looks like Hugh Hewitt is spilling the beans on Karl Rove's intended new career as a political commentator and Republican uber pundit.
George Stephanopoulos, Tim Russert, and Chris Matthews are all former senior aides to successful (sort of) Democratic politicians --Bill Clinton, Mario Cuomo, and Jimmy Carter respectively. Karl Rove is easily as well read and informed as these three, and as funny as Russert can be when he's on.So which network will put its ratings ahead of its ideology and give Rove the Sunday Show that would quickly draw an audience larger than any of the other three?
Part of my instinct is to be all for it. Why shouldn't the networks just fire Stephenopoulos, Russert, and Matthews, and replace them with ideological figures like Karl Rove on the right and Michael Moore on the left? The reigning ideal for the American media is a moderate Republican like John McCain or Joe Lieberman who can translate conservative positions into a kind of secular moderation. But if there is a declining force in American society, it's political moderation. Why not have people like Rove represent the positions of the right without the distorting function of the media? Put the Michael Moores, Jon Stewarts, and Arianna Huffingtons out there from the left as well.

In the final analysis though, the fictional moderation of the mainstream media may still have a claim on us. As unsatisfactory as the mainstream media is to both those on the right and people like me on the left, it still represents the primary claim to a national political culture in the United States. Because of the decline of moderate liberalism and moderate conservatism, the claim of the mainstream media to being the focal point of a national political culture has grown thin. But that claim is still real and the mainstream media still serves a useful function as a semi-legitimate meeting place for the claims of right and left.

In that context, the reason why Tim Russert have made the transition from Democratic staffer to big-time media figure is that he was willing to make "moderation" his primary reference point. So, if Karl Rove wants a Sunday talk show, he needs to start talking as if Arlen Spector really represented the "sensible middle ground" in American politics.

Otherwise, he should just stick with his guest appearances on Limbaugh.

Petraeus Loses First Battle

A BAD RELATIONSHIP? It turns out that Gen. Petraeus is not going to write the long-awaited Petraeus Report. It's going to be written by the White House instead. It seems that the White House has been learned anything from their crash studies in Failied Presidency 101. Otherwise, they would have known that any involvement by the Bush White House would make the Petraeus Report about as valuable as Saddam Hussein memorabilia.

Even worse, White House authorship means either that the Bushies don't trust Gen. Petraeus to stay on message with White House talking points or that they already know that Petraeus wouldn't stay on message. Anthony Cordesman came back from Iraq talking about how the surge had failed and why Congress should allow the American military to adapt a strategy of "strategic patience." It looks like the Bush White House didn't have much patience with strategic patience.

SUPPRESSING THE REAL REPORT. According to TPM, the White House's September document on the surge will be written with "input" from Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. That means that Petraeus' input is the "real" Petraeus report. If some reporter could get a copy of a document reflecting Petraeus' "real" opinion, that would be a sure Pulitzer if Petraeus was more pessimistic than the President. As a result, one of the dynamics of the September reporting will be whether the White House decides to release Petraeus' report to them.

TODAY'S TERRORIST ATTACK. Between 250 and 500 members of the Kazidi sect have been killed by a terrorist attack on a village alongside Iraq's border with Syria. General Petraeus treats the attack as a predictable part of a terrorist onslaught to influence American public opinion in response to the Petraeus Report. I wish the inability of the American military to stop this kind of attack hadn't been so predictable as well. If Iraqi terrorists are going to succeed in the series of spectacular attacks they supposedly plan for September, it's pretty obvious that the surge has had no effect on terrorist capabilities.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Right Tells You How To Be a Man

This is from "Blue Texan" (via Glenn Greenwald) quoting Helen Reynolds, the wife of Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame.

"I have seen this fear of manliness in many modern husbands and fathers. Some men today are afraid of appearing like their own fathers, whom they thought of as unfair, controlling or condescending to women—the son swears he will not act the same way. Unfortunately, he often goes to the opposite extreme of letting his wife or others run all over him. These men are often doing dishes, watching the kids and earning much of the money all the while feeling guilty if anyone is unhappy with them. If you think this may be your problem, I have a couple of suggestions. Pick up a copy of How To Be a Man by John Birmingham and learn how to gain more self-confidence in being a man. In addition, get The Dangerous Book for Boys and build a treehouse, make a go-cart or learn to engage in fun activities that will make you appreciate how much fun it is to be a man. Ignore the societal pressures and male bashing and practice carrying yourself with pride until it feels real."

Blue Texan thought this so embarrassing that he didn't comment. Needless to say, I don't have those kind of scruples. Mrs. Instapundit conflates "the fun of being a boy" in building go-carts or tree-houses or playing football or playing video games, with the "fun of being a man." Of course, "being a man" was not a tremendous amount of fun in the traditional idea of manhood in which the father of a family sacrificed himself in a factory, mine, or office in order to sustain a wife and children at home. As analyzed in Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb's classic Hidden Injuries of Class, traditional manhood was almost as unsatisfactory to men as traditional femininity was to women.

People like Helen Reynolds think that traditional manhood failed because of the relentless attacks of feminism. Actually, it traditional manhood failed because men didn't like it that much either. It just took feminism to push traditional manhood over the edge.

Speaking from a male perspective, good riddance!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

David Frum Capturing the Genius of Rove

David Frum is on the right track about what Karl Rove accomplished for the Republican Party and why he had to be such a gifted person to get it done.

But it has been apparent for many years that the Democratic base is growing faster than the Republican base. The numbers of the unmarried and the non-churchgoing are growing faster than the numbers of married and church-going Americans. The nonwhite and immigrant population is growing at a faster rate than that of white native-borns. The Democrats are the party of the top and bottom of American society; the Republicans do best in the great American middle, which is losing ground.

Mr. Rove often reminded me of a miner extracting the last nuggets from an exhausted seam. His attempts to prospect a new motherlode have led the Republican party into the immigration debacle.

Frum's explanation of why the Republican base isn't growing is not very good. By mixing their social conservatism with their warmongering, the Republicans have shrunk their base to rural areas, the White South, and paleo-con racists, homophobes, and anti-immigration bigots. Consequently, the white suburban vote (in the North), gay voters, and hispanics have fallen into the laps of the Democrats in the same way as the black vote. None of these groups are all that enthusiastic about the Democrats, but they've started voting Democratic because they find the Republicans so repulsive.

However, "extracting the last nuggets from an exhausted seam" was a good image for Rove accomplished as a political operative. To me, it took real "consultant genius" on the part of Rove to fit the "compassionate conservatism" brand on George Bush and then sell it around the country in 2000. It took even more ingenuity to rebrand Bush as a right-wing partisan for the 2004 election. Most of us on the left have blamed the Democrats for being weak, feckless, and spineless, but it was more the case that Rove took the political game up another notch and the Democrats couldn't respond in kind. At least at first.

However, things have changed. Because of the general failure of the Bush administration, the Democrats have regained an edge. In fact, it looks like the major Republican candidates for 2008 are in a box where the Republican base is so loyal to the war in Iraq, social conservatism, and confronting the Democrats that the only way to get Republican votes is to promise to "out-Bush" even Bush. But if the GOP wants to promote this view in the general election, they're going to need a bigger genius than Rove.

Life, And All That Jazz

I was reminded of that line from the movie All That Jazz today, but pretty much in the opposite way of the movie.

1. Being a teenager. Perhaps the biggest thing is that my oldest daughter has her first performance with the school marching band at the county fair this evening. With nine hours of practice per day during band camp and another three hours of playing in the heat last week, marching band is pushing her in a way she hasn't been pushed before.

Not that she's really noticed herself, but her first performance with the band tonight at the fair will be its own rite of passage.

Sort of brings a tear to my eye.

2. Becoming a FUD. That's what one of my friends derisively called me when I got my Ph.D. at UNC-Chapel Hill. And I accepted the derision. Becoming a professor meant a lot because it was an avocation I had long worked for, and long longed for as well. But receiving my Ph. d. was just another step on the road.

Not so with my colleague who defended her dissertation today. That woman definitely had her doctor on when she called after her defense!! Mega-Congrats.

3. Sometimes the light shines brightest. While on my way back from lunch, I saw a friend who's been fighting ovarian cancer for the last two years or so. Gotta love her. She's always been a big personality but her light seems to shine even brighter with her illness. It's like she's putting even more energy into being here.

Well, the lovely Mrs. RSI just came home and it's time to go to the fair.

Monday, August 13, 2007

RSI--1, Protein Wisdom--0

I decided to replace this post next to Goldstein's original response. In relation to that, I've collapsed all the comments into one.

Introduction--Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom and I seem to have concluded the first round of our debate over racism and oppression. I put up three posts on the topic and Goldstein replied to one of them. But there hasn't been any further posting for a week. So, I'm assuming that the lull in the action means that round one is over. And the first round was definitely mine. I attacked from the outset, put Goldstein on the defensive, and scored point after point as I went along. For his part, Goldstein seemed to have lost much of his hip mojo and ended up reciting his talking points in uncertain and unconvincing ways. In fact, there were some points that Goldstein didn't seem to understand. Of course, George Bush was barely able to get through his talking points in 2000 and 2004 and he still got elected President. But the collapse of the Bush presidency and the broad rejection of neo-conservatism, the religious right, and conservative talk radio have put the entire right-wing under just as much a cloud as the left. And Goldstein is going have to do a lot better if he's going to convince anybody other than the dittoheads who constitute the Protein Wisdom Collective.

Framing. Goldstein is completely wrong about my framing of my initial response. He writes that I think of him as someone who "affects a pretense of hipness." To the contrary, I sincerely believe that Protein Wisdom "is funny, ironic, intellectual, and upscale." I view PW's hipness as an achievement rather than a pretense.

Likewise, I don't view Goldstein "an annoying lightweight, and not really worth much of [my] valuable time." True, I don't view Goldstein as having a lot of academic gifts, but there are many kinds of talent in the world and Goldstein has a lot of ability and energy for re-packaging the standard views of the right-wing in "funny, ironic," and "hip" ways. Of course, given that traditional right-wing views on war mongering, race, gender, sexual orientation, and other issues are morally abhorrent, Goldstein's efforts to re-package these views in more attractive ways is also morally abhorrent. This is especially the case because right-wing institutions like the Bush administration, the Republican Party, evangelical churches, conservative talk-radio, and prominent conservative spokespeople like Ann Coulter have lost whatever intellectual and moral credibility they had. Thus, Goldstein (and other bloggers on the "fluff right") are particularly insidious because they're trying to find ways to repackage views that deserve the broad condemnation they're currently getting in American society.

Far from believing that I'm wasting my time with Protein Wisdom, I believe that it's important to engage and counter the Protein Wisdom point of view as a way to oppose the destructive (or cancerous) influence of the right-wing on American society. Obviously, satirizing Goldstein as a "really cool guy" and his views as "the fluff right" is a way to contest the thing the core of the evil that Goldstein is purveying--the idea that right-wing views are hip.

Given that Goldstein completely misunderstood my framing devices, I thought it was necessary to explain this in some detail.

Goldstein, King, and Racial Moderation. Goldstein doesn't do any better with Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and he writes like he knows it. Like other right-wingers, Goldstein wants to quote King's "content of their character" line as if that was the only thing King ever said. However, he starts hestitating and prevaricating as soon as I began to go deeper into King's ideas. Here's Goldstein huffing and puffing about King's relative relevance:
So while yes, the piece remains poignant — and while it in many ways serves as a constant reminder of what we, as a society need to guard against — acknowledgingpoignancy and social relevance is far different than pretending that Dr King’s decades-old letter is a revealed text to be taken as scripture by the Church ofthe Always Well-Meaning Liberal Democrat.

Here, Goldstein is trying to have King both ways. While acknowledging King's continued moral authority ("serves as a constant reminder"), Goldstein also tries to throw off that authority by treating King's work as merely "poignant" as opposed to anything that might claim our attention in dealing with real racial issues. That's why Goldstein sounds so labored and mealy-mouthed in this passage (like John Kerry saying he was for a bill before he was against it). Of course, the reason Goldstein sweats so much in his efforts to throw King off is that King's writing in "Letter from Birmingham Jail" applies to Goldstein in powerful ways that he finds unwelcome.

Much as King condemned the crude bigotry of people like Bull Connor or George Wallace, he emphasized in "Letter from Birmingham Jail" that he thought that Southern moderates were even more of an obstacle to overcoming segregation.

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action . . . "

As I've pointed out previously in my correspondence with Protein Wisdom, there is a strong analogy between the Southern moderates King condemns here and advocates of color-blindness in contemporary society. Much as Southern moderates said they agreed with the efforts of blacks to overturn racial segregation, advocates of color-blindness say they want a color-blind society which I take to mean a society that is so bereft of racism that there is no racial discrimination, no racial stereotyping, no racial profiling, and no racial violence. However, just as Southern moderates opposed King's civil disobedience and every other method for opposing segregation, the current advocates of color-blindness oppose any method for rectifying either the legacy of segregation or the evils of contemporary racial discrimination.
The advocates of color-blindness have a clever way to justify their refusal to do anything about contemporary racial oppression. They say that policies like affirmative action, school busing, etc. are morally wrong because they are "race-conscious." However, the advocates of color-blindness are just as committed to the status quo of contemporary white supremacy as the Southern moderates of King's day were committed to segregation. And that commitment is revealed when they also oppose the efforts of black activists and white liberals to rectify job discrimination against blacks, consumer discrimination against blacks, racial profiling of blacks, and police harassment of blacks. In the final analysis, color-blind rhetoric is just a way to re-package racial hostility toward blacks for a post-segregation era.

For King, moderates were worse than crude racists because they were a greater obstacle to overcoming the racial oppression of the segregation system. The same is the case with Goldstein and other advocates of color-blindness. They are more morally culpable than the crude racists because their campaigns against almost all efforts to rectify contemporary racial oppression are more of a barrier to racial justice than the less sophisticated bigotry of the crude racists.
Goldstein knows just as well as I do that the Martin Luther King of "Letter from Birmingham Jail" would authoritatively condemn the rhetoric of color-blindness as it's used by contemporary conservatives. That's a major reason why Goldstein's effort above to diminish King's moral authority while still acknowledging that authority is so weak.

Goldstein just keeps flopping around the race-rhetoric boat in an attempt to escape King's categorization of whites as oppressors. It's hard to say which of Goldstein's flops is the weakest, his claim that "some" whites were segregationists or his attempt to define segregation exclusively in terms of race consciousness. They're both pretty bad. Anyway, when King writes that "[w]e know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed," he refers to whites as "the oppressor" group and blacks as "the oppressed." Goldstein embarrasses himself by saying that "segregation was a moral sickness of some white people (my emphasis)." As King emphasizes, the vast majority of white Southerners whole-heartedly supported segregation. True, King named most of the Southern whites who wrote in favor of the civil rights movement and referred to those whites who marched with him, but those rare exceptions to the white supremacist beliefs of the vast white Southern majority did not detract in King's mind from the fact that whites were an oppressive group. In fact, he viewed civil disobedience as a technique for lifting whites out of the moral and social sickness of racial oppression.

"[W]e see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood."
Another way Goldstein flops around on the issue of racial oppression is his claim that segregation was primarily a matter of "race consciousness." According to Goldstein, segregation was a matter of "state-sanctioned race consciounsess" in the sense that segregation would have been a matter of dividing people by skin-color. In Goldstein's words, ". . . both these whites, and the Blacks who followed Dr King, were appalled at the kind of state-sanctioned race consciousness that . . . gave “cover” or lent legitimacy to segregation." This formulation gets two things badly wrong. First, "the race consciousness" of southern whites was not a matter of "dividing people by race" as Goldstein suggests when he characterizes civil rights activists as finding it "morally or legally problematic that a government would presume to separate people on the basis of skin color." Instead, the race consciousness of segregationists was a matter of white supremacy in which whites defined themseles as fully human (rational, moral, self-controlled, healthy) and blacks were defined as inferior to the point of not being seen as human in any strict sense of the term. Segreration did not "separate the races," it created a racial hierarchy.

The other bad mistake Goldstein makes is to view "race consciousness" as more important than the practices of segregation that white supremacy legitimized. Goldstein writes that people like me are being vaguely deceptive when we are careful "to reframe . . . segregation as based on power-relations." Obviously, I am "framing" when I claim that segregation was a system of power relations in which the white population oppressed the black population. At the same time, the claim that segregation was based on power relations is a completely accurate way to view segregation. Of course, the denial of voting rights, exclusion from jobs, exclusion from state universities, segregation of public services, the various personal humiliations, and lynching all involved a consciousness of white supremacy, but they were also exercises of power by the white population as a whole (as a matter of state constitutions and statutory law), groups of whites, and individual whites. In "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King captures the exercise of power by whites over blacks with unequalled moral and force in his one-sentence account of lynching, police brutality, exclusion from public services, and the disgusting personal humiliations blacks endured from Southern whites.

Given that segregation was a system of power relations instead of being mainly a form of consciousness, Goldstein is particularly foolish when he writes that "for Dr King, skin color was merely shorthand for the peculiar beliefs of the segregationists of his time. To wit, King used “Negroes” and “whites” because it spoke to the stark contrasts between the “races” King wished to see legally obliterated." It's hard to believe how obtuse Goldstein's "color-blind" attachments make him here. For King, "Negroes" or black people were a "people" rather than merely a rhetorical device and specifically they were his people as a result of both sharing the history and suffering and mutual aid of black people under slavery and segregation, and sharing the effort to overthrow these forms of white oppression. Being a "Negro" was neither simply a rhetorical device nor a matter of skin-color (as DuBois pointed out in The Souls of Black Folks, black people have a wide variety of skin colors), it was a matter of common bonds forged in difficult circumstances.

Finally, Goldstein trips himself up many times on the issues of guilt vs empathy. In one of his posts, Goldstein infers that my interest in racial issues was motivated by "white guilt." I've seen the racist idea of "white guilt" being the only possible motivation for whites supporting efforts to promote racial justice before and responded by wondering why Goldstein didn't have any empathy for blacks. This threw Goldstein into a flopping frenzy that began by deceptively portraying me as believing that I had experienced the same things as blacks. Of course, that's nonsense and Goldstein knows it. To ask oneself, "what would I have felt if I had been in that position" is not the same as saying "I was in that position." Goldstein himself has a burst of empathy. As a white person, he was "repulsed by what some whites were doing" during the segregation period and "heartened by what other whites were doing to combat the bigotry of those whites who remained committed to legalized segregation." But then, he isn't really white himself outside "certain strained empirical standards and certain conventional descriptors."
Conclusion. One of the things I've learned from black writers like bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, and Patricia Williams is how important it is to evaluate the current racial situation in relation to the history of segregation. Goldstein flopped this way and that way in response to my first post on "race and oppression" because any semi-informed discussion of segregation punctures a lot of the myths that color-bline rhetoric is built on. Segregation was a system of racial oppression rather than just a manifestation of color consciousness. Martin Luther King did think in terms of race and was proud to do so in relation to African-Americans. Moreover, King condemned the kinds of positions that Goldstein takes as being more of a barrier to racial justice than those of the hard-core racists.

Goldstein is emphatic that he is "not joined to southern white Democratic segregationalists of the 60s — or paleocon Republican white supremacists today — simply because I happen to look outwardly like I could belong to their group, and so could share their beliefs." Of course, Goldstein isn't allied with the segregationists of the sixties and "Republican white supremacists today" because he looks white. He's allied with white supremacy because his politics is so hostile to the efforts of black people to pursue racial justice for themselves in the United States. And Goldstein is pretty clear that he would have opposed those efforts just as much in 1957 as he does in 2007. According to Goldstein:

From there, Caric takes wing on a bizarre flight of fancy, speculating that, had I been a Black man in, say, 1956, I’d be content with my oppression — that, while he would take his condition seriously and die fighting for his freedom, I’d go find a group of likeminded blacks and, with any luck, become their leader. Kind of an Al Sharpton type, say. Because, you see, it is only those who are most ostentatious about their suffering who can truly be said to be suffering. The rest? They probably enjoy it.

A reminder: if you’re being raped, don’t forget to cry the entire time. No need for anyone to get the wrong idea in retrospect, you see.

What's significant here is Goldstein's intense hostility to anyone who complains, protests, or campaigns against oppression whether it's Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, rape victims, or the feminists who have strived for tougher rape laws, organized "take back the night" marches, and work to get the police to take sexual assault more seriously. But, really, wasn't that who Martin Luther King and the civil rights activists of the 1950' and 1960's were, the people " who were most ostentatious about their suffering" and the people who constantly complained about the deprivations of segregation. Looked at from Goldstein's kind of conservative perspective, King was just whining about his 6 year old daughter being excluded from "Funtown."

Evidently, Goldstein would have been just as opposed to "agitators" like Martin Luther King in 1957 as the conservatives of that time. It's just that he's using color-blind rhetoric rather than white supremacy for the purpose of his conservativism.

In terms of this debate, that makes Goldstein a loser.

Protein Wisdom's Original Response to RSI

Goldstein's comments are in bold

The first two rules of holes
award-winning Professor Ric Caric — who days ago deigned to drop by and discourse on how it is that I’m some kind of super-racist (given my sly proclivity for legitimizing the views of unreconstructed racists, if only by nature of the people my political policy recommendations attract) — responds to at least one of my challenges, offering the beginnings of an argument in support of the “color-blind racism” trope that Stanley Fish, among others, popularized a decade and a half ago.

I’m going to repost Caric’s response — he doesn’t respond here, naturally — along with my rejoinders.

Reply to That Really Cool Guy Jeff Goldstein, Part I INTRODUCTION.

I was hurt–hurt–by Jeff Goldstein’s reply to me last night. He seems to think that I believe him an unreconstructed racial bigot like the guys who murdered and mutilated Emmett Till or the white townspeople pictured celebrating the latest lynchings. Or maybe he believes that I think he follows Ann Coulter’s indulgence in racial stereotypes and anti-black cheerleading.

But that’s not true at all. How can I think that after I’ve seen all the testimonials to Goldstein’s wit and really cool guyness? Tonight’s hymn of praise was from John Cole of “. . . the best blog in the world is now back after a lengthy hiatus.” And didn’t somebody refer to Goldstein as the “funniest guy on the internet” last night? Humble as well.

Who am I to disagree? Goldstein’s Protein Wisdom is funny, ironic, intellectual, and upscale all at the same time–kind of like the internet version of Fox’s big hit “Gutfeld and Friends.” I sum all that up with the term “The Fluff Right” which I of course mean as a term of endearment. Goldstein is such a Really Cool Guy he couldn’t be a racist.

Three paragraphs, no substance — thought that doesn’t mean Caric isn’t working. Rhetorically, what he’s is trying to do, in his opening three paragraphs, is frame both the combatants and the debate. Unsurprisingly, Caric sets himself up as the bemused and slightly put upon professor-hero who has been compelled by circumstances (presented as nearly beyond his control) to answer criticisms by someone who affects a pretense of hipness, but who, Caric intimates, is rather an annoying lightweight, and not really worth much of his valuable time.

After all, intertextually, we now know that for Caric, blogging is but a “hobby,” and he likes to keep his academic writing separate from his activism.

I’d add that he appears to like keeping his thinking separate from his blogging, as well, but that would be ungracious of me.

And any rate, Caric’s framing — like so much else we’ve read from him — is not only disingenuous and self-serving, but it is also easily undercut by any quick look at our exchanges. Which, I suppose, is why Caric chose to create a separate space for the debate — one that he hopes will bracket out the actual history of our encounters, replacing it with this newly framed simulacrum of that history.

But let’s be honest: It was only after Caric leveled his accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., against me that I challenged him to argue his positions in more detail. Because from where I stood, all that Professor Caric had done was cobble together a list of stale assertions that he then whisked together with a huge dollop of self-righteousness and several cups of smug self-satisfaction to form the kind of rhetorical tar that fits perfectly onto an extra broad brush.

Quickly, Caric’s positions, made into a kind of handy ideological theorem: conservatives are a cancer on the body politic; everyone who supports a few key particular policy positions (the Iraq war; an end to race-based affirmative action; an opposition to same-sex “marriage” — though not to civil unions with state benefits) is a “conservative”; cancer is bad; conservatives, therefore, are bad.

Simple, really. But as you can see, really nothing more than several assertions that track backward from a central, unproven premise. Which is why I challenged Dr Caric to debate the merits of his positions, or to attack the merits of mine.

Back to the professor’s response:

And besides Protein Wisdom practically held a parade for me a couple of days ago. Even last night, my name and affiliation were featured at the top of Goldstein’s reply post. You just can’t buy publicity like that.

Another paragraph, still no substance. Just a further attempt to frame the debate: affecting ironic bemusement, Caric attempts to suggest that my having paid him some attention is, at once, favorable in terms of publicity (something I’d dispute, given his performance thus far; your mileage may vary, timmy), and all so much ado! He is but a humble professor with a hobby blog. Why, pray tell, should so much attention be paid him? Is it his prodigious intellect that attacks the conservative moths to his fiery brilliance? His ability to deftly fend off the strained advances of his “weenie boy” opponents — even as he takes in a fine Kurosawa double feature?
Why, Ric can’t quite sure — though we’re left with the impression he feels it’s some combination of all those things.

Humbly, of course.

But the truth is, Caric himself is useful only as an example of a type we’ve come across here rather too frequently — the progressive professor who, for reasons one can hardly begin to imagine, is eager to place on display his own bigotries, biases, and anti-intellectual posturings.
He is, for better or worse, an example of just how impervious to substantive criticism many academics feel, having surrounded themselves with like-minded ideological fellow-travelers, and then — once entrenched in their departments and protected by the self-selection of the hiring committees they form — have taken to systematically redefining the parameters for what comes to count as academic “thinking.”

The rest is just “hate speech” relegated to “free speech zones,” lacrosse parties, and Campus Republican meetings.

For my part, I find it instructive to point to such creatures — much like I once pointed to monkeys at the Baltimore Zoo and noted how, if you squinted just so, they almost seemed just like us. Having left the academy myself — and having become increasingly disappointed with its growing anti-intellectualism (particularly in the humanities and social sciences) — I feel like I have a responsibility to shine a light onto its substance, which is generally hidden behind slick marketing brochures, fine brick buildings, and the carefully staged “diversity” of the student body.

But enough of my reasoning for wanting to draw Caric out; after all, I explained why I wished to do so earlier, and if Caric was unwilling to acknowledge my express intentions then, I have no reason to think he’d do so even were I to explain it to him a thousand more times. Instead, he’ll simply repeat the same “re-imaginings” of my intentions — presented in hamfisted musings and faux-solicitousness — without ever letting the points of fact puncture his rhetorical bubble.
So. How about some meat, Dr Ric?

Of course, I guess one could think me ungrateful for referring to Jeff’s “color-blind” ideology as being worse than crude racism. But let me see if I can make my case again at much greater length and detail.

Really, the whole issue revolves around oppression. So, I want to discuss oppression at some length both during the civil rights era and today. My argument will be that “color-blind” rhetoric functions as a rationalization for contemporary racial oppression and the refusal to develop remedies for racial oppression.


But, first, I want to discuss segregation at some length.

Oh. This must be the “context” we knuckledragging proles / sinister oppressors will need to understand Caric’s argument (which, as I noted in an earlier post, is an argument of such vintage that, had it knocked up another argument when if first became famous, it would today be proud papa to a teenaged argument readying itself for a driver’s license).

But please, do thrall us, professor:

SEGREGATION AND OPPRESSION. In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” MLK wrote in the context of his discussion of civil disobedience that “[w]e know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” For King, white people are “the oppressor” and blacks are the “oppressed” who are demanding freedom. He follows up with an detailed account of the ways whites oppressed blacks–the lynching and drowning of black people, police beatings, the “airtight cage of poverty” blacks lived in, the refusal of services at hotels, restaurants, the segregated drinking fountains and bathrooms, and the personal humilitations of never being addressed with a title of respect like “Mr.” or “Mrs.” Needless to say, such a recitation is far from doing justice to the poetry of King’s writing and the way that he brought the violence and moral sickness of segregation home to his readers in one of the great sentences of American writing.

True. It also doesn’t prognosticate: which is to say, what King wrote in his letter to fellow clergymen in advance of the the Civil Rights Act is a tremendously effective rhetorical broadside against the civil rights abuses Dr King was fighting in 1963. What it is not, however, is a carved tablet revealing how race relations will always be — particularly after 44 years of governmental attempts to ameliorate past injustices.

So while yes, the piece remains poignant — and while it in many ways serves as a constant reminder of what we, as a society need to guard against — acknowledging poignancy and social relevance is far different than pretending that Dr King’s decades-old letter is a revealed text to be taken as scripture by the Church of the Always Well-Meaning Liberal Democrat.

King also emphasized the enormous psychological and spiritual damage inflicted by segregation, lamenting the “ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in [his daughter’s] little mental sky,” and the “inner fears and outer resentments” and “degenerating sense of nobodiness plaguing adults.” If segregation was a moral sickness of white people (King referred to whites as living in “the dark depths of prejudice and racism”), it worked to distort the personalities and maim the souls of blacks as well.

That’s an enormous and pivotal (though rather quietly introduced) “if.” I’m certain that a desire to see enforced governmental segregation was a moral sickness of some white people, but let’s not forget that there were whites who marched along with Dr King, whites who fought for the abolition of slavery, whites who protested Jim Crow, whites who refused to accept the moral sickness of enforced governmental segregation — and they did so, presumably, because they found it morally or legally problematic that a government would presume to separate people on the basis of skin color. Content of one’s character, not the color of one’s skin and all that nonsense, you see.

Or, to put it another way, both these whites, and the Blacks who followed Dr King, were appalled
at the kind of state-sanctioned race consciousness (growing first from slavery, then from “one drop rule,” Jim Crow laws, and other racialist legislation) that, to borrow Dr Caric’s formulation, gave “cover” or lent legitimacy to segregation.

Of course, there are other complexities at work here, as well — from federalism to the right of free assembly — that, taken together, complicated certain legal questions regarding when and how the federal government could act in the role of social engineers, and when they instead were directed, constitutionally, to to lay back and allow cultural perceptions to change, and the marketplace of ideas (counted among which are the shames that attached themselves to racial intolerance) to affect a shift in cultural attitudes.

The professor’s summary of King’s position — “If segregation was a moral sickness of white people (King referred to whites as living in “the dark depths of prejudice and racism”), it worked to distort the personalities and maim the souls of blacks as well” — is therefore a gross oversimplification, one that intentionally obscures King’s motives by misidentifying Kings allies and enemies. And it is an oversimplification that Caric and his ideological fellow-travelers use to to re-segregate whites and blacks on the basis of skin color — though they are careful to reframe that segregation as based on power-relations. Whereas, for Dr King, skin color was merely shorthand for the peculiar beliefs of the segregationists of his time. To wit, King used “Negroes” and “whites” because it spoke to the stark contrasts between the “races” King wished to see legally obliterated. Today, people like Caric use those designations to maintain stark contrasts and actually prevent the very obliteration of legal difference King was striving for.

Jeff Goldstein seems to believe that my reference to racial oppression is a matter of “white guilt.” I’m surprised that a cool guy like Jeff wouldn’t think that sensitivity to oppression would be a matter of empathy, of reading materials like “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and thinking about what he would think or feel if he had been subject to the physical and psychological violence of American racial segregation. Or why he wouldn’t be disgusted, repulsed, or nauseated by what whites were doing. Or why he wouldn’t deny that he was white and start thinking of himself strictly as an individual. “Guilt” would seem to be a refuge for the over-wrought here.

Sensitivity to oppression is a matter of empathy. But the oppression has first to be shown to exist before I rush to empathize. All Caric does is show that such oppression once existed — a claim that no one here, least of all me, disputes. So yes, I can read “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (in fact, I taught the essay for years in classes on rhetoric and persuasion) and imagine what I would think or feel had I been “subject to the physical and psychological violence of American racial segregation.” But my imagining it — and even empathizing with it — is not the same as experiencing it, and in fact, by claiming that I can practically feel that oppression through King’s words, I am cheapening the suffering of those who actually did experience it. At the end of the day, I can put the essay away and go on about my business. Whereas at the end of the day in 1963, some southern white Democratic sheriff might loose some dogs on me, or strike me repeatedly with a club after soaking me with a fire hose.

Caric — rather predictably — goes for the emotional appeal here, and from there attempts to claim a moral high ground. But there is nothing necessarily moral about being sensitive to imagined oppression — and in fact, I would argue that when sensitivity to a social phantom leads to agitating for policies that lead to actual discriminatory practices, then the sensitivity to which Caric clings like a medal is in fact wrong-headed and immoral.

Caric writes: “I’m surprised that a cool guy like Jeff wouldn’t […] be disgusted, repulsed, or nauseated by what whites were doing. Or why he wouldn’t deny that he was white and start thinking of himself strictly as an individual.” To which the easy response is, I’m NOT surprised Caric would put forth such assertions with no evidence whatever to back them up, but then, that’s because I’m becoming increasingly familiar with his method of argumentation.
The fact is, I am of course repulsed by what some whites were doing. Similarly, I am heartened by what other whites were doing to combat the bigotry of those whites who remained committed to legalized segregation.

But note that we’re talking here about how I feel now about what happened in 1963. Does Dr Caric really expect us to believe we’re still living in that same racial climate? Someone should inform Dr Ric that just because you can buy “The Outer Limits” on DVD doesn’t mean that every time you watch an episode, you’re actually in 1963 all over again.

And of course, I don’t deny that I’m “white” by certain strained empirical standards and certain conventional descriptors. But so what? Acknowledging that racial categorizations exist and have existed is not the same thing as arguing that they should exist, or should be used to set certain social policies. And in fact, I have consistently argued that, inasmuch as they are based on bad science, they should have been relegated to usage for nothing other than bookkeeping years ago (this is, incidentally, one of the uses for race that Kennedy notes in his recent concurrence, the significance of which I’ve written about here).

I linked all these arguments in my last response to Caric. So at this point, I can only assume that his mis-characterizations of my positions are either intentional, or else he really is as dim as his arguments make him appear.

Bottom line: I simply deny that “what whites were doing” in 1963 has anything at all to do with what whites must necessarily be doing today, because “whites” is simply a convenient way to group disparate individuals who share nothing essential but a (lack of) pigmentation. Surely Caric’s obvious contraction — this ludicrous feint to the transitive property of equality — is not the kernel belief that drives his worldview. Because such utter simplicity — based around a view that skin color acts as a sort of decisive connective tissue between generations, when it comes to establishing individual identity — cannot possibly be a position held in earnest by a person who teaches “Comparative Racial Thought.” Unless, of course, Caric commits to bringing in guest speakers, I suppose.

His formulation, shorn of its emotional trappings, goes like this: sensitivity to oppression is a matter of empathy, and thus, a virtue; one can empathize with the oppressed, having vicariously experienced their oppression (in this case, through reading Dr King); having vicariously experienced that oppression, one is committed to feeling disgust; and because one happens to resemble — in pigmentation — those who at one point in time were the cause of that suffering and oppression, one must necessarily take responsibility for the actions of those who resembled him; only after one has embraced one’s “identity” can one lay claim to being an individual.
This last part is, of course, absurd: after all, why would Professor Caric have us take possession of the historical attitudes of “whites” who supported segregation and not of those who fought against it? Or were the whites who fought against segregation somehow “Black” for having identified with the oppressed group? The calculus, you have to admit, is quite tricky, if not completely arbitrary.

For Dr Caric, that is. For my part, I don’t run into those kinds of problems because I don’t subscribe to such magical, phenomenalogical leaps: I am not joined to southern white Democratic segregationalists of the 60s — or paleocon Republican white supremacists today — simply because I happen to look outwardly like I could belong to their group, and so could share their beliefs.

Call it “passing.”

For his part, Caric feels the need to turn his “empathy” into political activism because he identifies as white. He claims it is overwrought for me to point out that he seems to be acting out of guilt. And perhaps he’s right.

But you have to admit, when you watch someone engaging daily in acts of public contrition for sins that belong to others, it is fair to conclude that they either have a Jesus complex, or else they truly believe that they are guilty. The trick, for Caric, is to paint such a combination of hubris and faux-humility as a virtue worthy of emulation — and further, to condemn all those who fail to follow suit.

Continues Caric:

Of course, it might not be “funny, ironic, intellectual, and upscale” to be emphatic to those who are suffering oppression. If that’s the case, I might not have any of those qualities because I can say in good conscience that I would have been so pissed off about segregation if I was a black guy that I probably would have done something to get myself killed. But who knows, maybe Jeff would have been happy with segregation if he had been a black guy and I’m sure he could find some black people who were pleased with their lives under segregation if he looked. King even refers to “Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation.”

In case Dr Ric has lost you on his rush to turn me into an Uncle Tom, rhetorically, he sets it up this way: having determined, with no evidence (and by mere assertion) that I am unsympathetic to the oppression of those who are oppressed (and let’s avoid, for the time being, any talk of the middle east and how that plays into this battle of empaths), Caric then strains to tie the tone of some of my blog posts to that same unsympathetic part of my nature that prevents me from feeling for the oppressed quite so strongly as does he. In short, my moral worth is determined and subsequently betrayed by the tone of some of my blog posts — whereas Ric? Well, he just blogs “as a hobby.” SO HOW DARE YOU JUDGE HIS WORDS!

From there, Caric takes wing on a bizarre flight of fancy, speculating that, had I been a Black man in, say, 1956, I’d be content with my oppression — that, while he would take his condition seriously and die fighting for his freedom, I’d go find a group of likeminded blacks and, with any luck, become their leader. Kind of an Al Sharpton type, say.Because, you see, it is only those who are most ostentatious about their suffering who can truly be said to be suffering. The rest? They probably enjoy it.

A reminder: if you’re being raped, don’t forget to cry the entire time. No need for anyone to get the wrong idea in retrospect, you see.

Oh, and Mr Twain? Please turn in your moral bona fides. Huck Finn might have helped humanize blacks, but it also made me chuckle. So, you know, no soup for you.

The Issue with Color-Blindness. There are two questions that come up in relation to the current racial situation. Can the current situation be characterized as racial oppression and what role does color-blind rhetoric play in relation to contemporary race relations?

To the extent that there is racial oppression in contemporary American life, it is not the same as the racial oppression that prevailed under segregation. Thinking in King’s terms, lynching and other racial murders of blacks are relatively rare compared to the fifties; fewer blacks live in an airtight cage of poverty; services are not often outrightly refused at restaurants, hotels, and car dealerships; and blacks occupy prominent positions in politics, business, and entertainment that they would have been excluded from before. I’ve heard many African-Americans say that “nothing has changed” and I have also heard some of my white students in Kentucky say that whites are as racist as they think they can get away with. Given the horrific conditions for African-Americans were in the 1950’s, I would have to say the situation has improved for African-Americans in the United States.

Thanks for that. Had you done so during the first half of your silly argument, you would have saved me some trouble — but I appreciate the reprieve nevertheless…

However, the burden of racial oppression on African-Americans has been lightened and shifted rather than eliminated. African-Americans are still subject to arbitrary and capricious actions by police, judges, and the lawyers assigned to defend poor blacks. These include police shootings and beatings, “stop and frisk” campaigns targeted on young black men, racial profiling in traffic stops and arrests resulting from traffic stops, and differential sentencing. Even professional black males have to put up with a fair amount of police harassment as they drive to and from work, in their suburban neighborhoods and the like. Needless to say, blacks are also subject to relentless stereotyping in the news media and entertainment outlets. They often receive slow and negligent service at restaurants and hotels, find themselves followed by security in retail outlets, and have to pay higher interest rates on various kinds of loans. Blacks also have a difficult time getting their professional credentials recognized by white clienteles.

To be black is to be subject to arbitrary and capricious white authority, forced to pay a higher price for housing and other amenities to white owned institutions, and vulnerable to both big and small humiliations perpetrated by white people. It adds up to oppression and there are a large number of African-American writers who portray blacks as an oppressed or persecuted group.
[my emphasis]

And there is the gist — one that, in its own long-winded and studied way, completely ignores my argument, which concerns what is the best way to ameliorate any remaining racial discrepancies.

Even were we to accept Caric’s litany as adding up to oppression based on race (and I think there is plenty of ground to argue that in many of the instances he notes, race is not the determining factor, or — perhaps better put — bigotry based on race is not a determining factor), the professor’s next move is going to be to show that, by trying to “ignore” race, “color-blind racists” simply wish to keep this status quo.

Which, had he read any of my arguments, he’d know is not the case. In fact, it is precisely the status quo against which I find myself constantly fighting — and it is against Caric and people like him who set the policies and foreground the animus that sustains the current status quo that I continue to fight.

Caric, again, is relying on emotional appeals: the fact that disparaties exist, he suggests, must mean that they are the result of institutionalized racism. And in a way, he’s right — though the institutionalized racism that sustains such disparities has less to do with the kind of racism Caric imagines is harbored in the black hearts of conservatives, and is more properly tied to policies that continue to keep the country focused on an artificially sustained “racial divide” under which progressive policy makers and those committed to identity politics feel entitled to try to micromanage outcomes rather than allow that equality of opportunity, once finally divorced from an entrenched (and persistently reinforced) victim mentality, to prove the long-term answer to the demystification of race.

Or, to put it more simply, he is condemning himself.

How does the rhetoric of color-blindness relate to the contemporary situation of blacks? Have to link up and finish the rest tomorrow.

Sure. Or you can just go back and read the Stanley Fish article I linked to in my last response to Caric — to which I’ve already responded.

Childrearing & Politics: Red State, Blue State, Purple Butts

I'm not quite sure what all to make of it [though i'm about to make a lot of it anyway], and maybe I'm the only one only now belatedly seeing this, but I just google-stumbled [googlumbled?] on a nationwide survey on childrearing practices taken in August 2005, where 600 adults (18 and over, half male, half female) in each of the 50 states (i.e., a total of 30,000 adults) were phoned, random sampling, by SurveyUSA of Verona NJ with the following 3 questions:

1. Do you think it is OK to wash a child's mouth out with soap?
2. Do you think it is OK to spank a child?
3. Do you think it is OK for a school teacher to spank a student?

If this survey made the news back in 2005, I've forgotten, but you'd think it's just the kind of thing that would garner a blip on the screen on CNN or Fox (unless - hm - what was Paris Hilton up to that day?). Since SurveyUSA uses media anchorpeople to pose their questions, one would think the results must have gotten at least televised airplay.*

What really caught my attention, given that they coded each state as "red state" or "blue state" on the 2004 Presidential results, was this surely-too-divisive-to-be-coincidental finding:

On question #3, with the highest statewide "Yes" response being 53% (Arkansas) and the lowest "Yes" response being 8% (New Hampshire), and the weighted average (factoring in population) for all 50 states was 23% saying "Yes," here is the kicker:

When you rank the states by response to question #3, every single one of the "top" 25 states -- half the nation -- saying "Yes" to this question was a "red state." Every one.

Maybe this isn't surprising given how we stereotypically think of cultural variants -- and especially the right wing stereotype of the left wing as "soft on crime," etc -- and the right wing decidedly leading the death penalty charge, etc. There is often also glib talk (mostly by Republicans, to my knowledge, seeking by this characterization to praise their own toughness) of Democrats wanting the "Mommy state" vs. Republicans seeking the "Daddy state" by which is generally meant seeing government as 'soft' (e.g., welfare, education, health-oriented) vs. 'hard' (going to war, defending, punishing criminals).

But what I think this lends its bit of confirmation to -- in a broad-based nationwide set of statistics -- is just how much political ideology begins in childrearing. I'd argue that "spare the rod, spoil the child" is a philosophy of life that spreads far beyond the issue of spanking and beyond what fosters adults who then believe in capital punishment. Those who grow up knowing and coming to believe in swift (and potentially abusive) retribution also grow up as the -- ironically -- most 'Darwinistic', if you will, amongst us, the ones whose 'survival-of-the-fittest' ideology tells them to fight taxation as if the devil, to let others sink or swim (which leads to literally sinking in the Mississippi when a neglected bridge goes out from under you), to rationalize a view of other countries as spoils for being a superpower with the "savvy" to have fostered the world's mega-CEOs with the 'skill' to know how to exploit, etc.

While the word "discipline" actually comes from Greek meaning "learning," these "Yes" respondents exemplify the bulk [?] of American parents who use and think of the term "discipline" to mean punishment. They see those who privilege reasoning with children as "soft on crime" already in preschool-level terms. They come as adults to see diplomacy -- talking out differences and problems -- itself as "soft on crime" -- and support going to war instead.

Psychoanalytically and factoring in cognitive dissonance, a big part of this is because children typically grow up most importantly wanting -- sometimes alas desperately, in the face of much contradictory evidence -- to believe they are loved, first and foremost by their parents. Thus if their parents spank them (which isn't necessarily abusive per se but also arguably 'teaches' very little except to fear authority and thus obey not out of learning right and wrong but out of fearing consequences) or even go so far as to be inarguably abusive, children as we know will come to rationalize to themselves exactly what the parents typically say as they are abusing "I'm doing this for your own good" (or variations thereon)... See Alice Miller's seminal book "For" Your Own Good."

The fact that every one of the top 25 states to show the greatest support for the idea of teachers spanking students voted in 2004 for Bush is, to me, startling even if somehow unsurprising.

And it says to me that the psycho-emotional-cultural engrainedness of beliefs in 'strong' vs. 'weak' implementation of authority, translated (rightly or wrongly - i think wrongly) into notions whereby "strong" means physical intervention rather than verbal communication, start in childrearing experience (most parents falling, wishfully or not, into applying the same disciplining responses they themselves received as kids).

What is curious and was my first line of thinking upon seeing this survey is that, of the 3 questions posed, this 3rd question was the most clearcut in terms of red-state-blue-state divisions. On the 2nd question, spanking one's own child, a blue state or two crept into the top 25 state rankings. On the 1st question, washing kids' mouths out with soap, five blue states were among the top 25 saying "OK." Clearly red states are decidedly more OK overall with these physical punishments of children, but the single best 'marker' of red-state vs. blue state childrearing socialization practices was on the matter of having teachers spank students.

Hunh. A bit surprising, I thought, that that question would be more decisively red-state than matters of parents' own punishment tactics. Teachers are (for the most part) government employees. Don't Bush voters, I pondered at first, disdain government intervention? Aren't Bush voters the ones most guarded about insisting that parents should be the ultimate authorities over how their children are 'governed'? But, no, this finding would seem to "explain" the willingness of the same Bush voters to put government into bedrooms and snooping into phone conversations. Of course, these self-same Bush voters would surely tell you that it's those other parents' kids who need spanking by their teachers, not their own kids. Those other parents are the "soft on crime" ones who they want to see overridden by a tough-enforcement school, given too that they see schools indeed as being "Mommy government" -- i.e., soft on crime -- and "voting" in this survey for those schools to crack down more, in such ways as spanking kids.

(There's also the fact that a surely greater proportion of Bush voters are the ones opting for and clamoring for vouchers to put their kids in private schools where conceivably they think teachers are more task-mastery in ways consistent with the notion of spanking unruly kids. They are, perhaps above all, prioritizers of 'order' far above all else. And with very concrete notions of how order is best achieved.)

What I think this survey points to is how much those notions of order are grounded in how they view (and experienced) childrearing. I do not think this is a chicken-or-egg question. It's not people's politics per se that determines their childrearing beliefs. It is definitely the childrearing beliefs that arise first. What I think this survey shows is just how determinatively they may be 'dictating' subsequent adult politics... through, of course, a circuitous individual life path of beliefs which get applied to notions of governance, but I think it's plausible to suggest that it may all begin with whether they believe in spanking or not.

A further ramification of this set of findings is that a strong case can be made to see each of these childrearing practices as being, even beyond the physical punishment (whether to a level that's abusive or not), part and parcel of a view of children as appropriately being shamed. These are very shaming responses to children, in the case of #3, not just private but also public humiliation. It's long struck me that what the GOP has come to tap into -- at least since the era of Reagan realignment of the Republican party (e.g., the "Southern strategy" which Nixon introduced but really took hold by the 80's) -- has been a very shaming notion of political strategizing. It's not coincidence that the first recourse of the Bush administration and all the GOP pundits and politicians at every turn has been a blatant effort to shame dissenters as "unpatriotic" and "weak" at a time of war. It seems to me it's not just the patriotism per se which is called upon here. If it were, then rational argument would seem to stand a better stead to deflate the attacks on the grounds that indeed caring enough about one's nation to dissent is a hallmark of patriotism. But it's the sinister emotional appeal of the indictment, whether orchestrated by Ashcroft or Cheney or Bush or his press secretaries or whoever, that I think taps into shaming that is far more insidious, harder to pick out for what it is and argue against ... And this "belief" in shaming as rightful tool of authority-imposing government strikes me as a direct outgrowth of a belief in shaming children as similarly appropriate swift-kick response.

If this topic strikes your interest, you'll see that you can actually get much much more detailed demographic data on survey results state-by-state. Link on any given state in the survey results, by question, and see the breakdown of replies among the 600 interviewees by gender, by age, by race, by political party, ideology, religion, and churchgoing. It's a lot of data to make generalizations from but i've checked these data for numerous states and so far it's not just the red-state-blue-state categorization: on every measure I've checked so far in several of the states, the Republicans phoned favored these three practices more than the Democrats did. And, perhaps even more intriguing, even on such seeming apolitical questions as these, on every state-level breakdown of demographics I've checked so far, Independents always placed somewhere between Republicans and Democrats in their state in the degree to which they approved of these childrearing practices.

Well, that's it from this armchair 'analyst' for the time being here, raising this issue to see what others might make of this interpretation or any other, also realizing since this survey is 'old news' I'm just now seeing, it might be a case of 'been there done that'.

It does seem that the consequences of any such linkage as I'm making here go a fair ways to accounting for how this nation has voted itself into thirst for retribution at any cost, lives, treasury, privacy, liberty. "Order" employs shaming and physical boundary-crossing aggression (if children -- all of us as individuals -- can be seen to have boundaries to our physical being, an 'airspace' around us not to be violated either by spanking hands or shoving soap bars or big-brother-infiltrations) and one of the reasons misbegotten retributive wars and governmental invasions of privacy find popular appeal -- and shame bystanders into acquiescence -- grows out of an engrained sense of rationalized response that divides red-state from blue-state thinking along the lines of purple butts.

Given the apparent 'crisis of faith' among Bush voters now in Bush himself -- and, as I proposed in another post here replying to Joe over the weekend, perhaps even a crisis among GOP voters in terms of changing their priorities toward ones of compassion with a track record -- I for one will be curious to see whether any of these "top 25" belief-in-punitive-childrearing states will have turned from red to blue.

It does, alas, seem to me that in fact the way to a more truly compassion-based and diplomacy-based politics (not just bumper sticker lipservice like Bush gave) starts way 'down' at the level of how children are raised and how they come to see the appropriate dynamics between authority, power, and people, what kinds of physical boundaries they grow up early on believing are inviolate or to what extent they learn to see traversing physical and private boundaries as being "for your own good" kinds of necessary signs of 'strong leadership'. I'm afraid that as long as pluralities learn early to accommodate their belief systems to these everyday practices in handling 'crime and punishment', the uphill battle for Democrats in particular is still a long-shot appeal to reason that's still vulnerable to the on-a-dime reversal of fortunes wrought by a threatening dose of shame.

That seems to be how the new FISA bill just got passed.


* For an interesting discussion of the SurveyUSA methodology/rationale using anchors as phoners compared to major media polls, which employ third-party interviewers, check" here.]

Guest Blogger: Zinya

I'm very excited to have a guest post today from Zinya, a friend of mine from my days posting on Slate's Fray. Because Z's from the great state of California, I'll be changing the name of the blog to Red/Blue Impressions whenever she visits.

Karl Rove's Legacy

Karl Rove, the political genius behind George Bush's two presidential campaigns, is resigning from the Bush White House at the end of the month.

The Wall Street Journal describes Rove as "arguably the most influential White House aide of modern times."

And that's a good place to start discussing Rove's legacy.

1. Electing an Unqualified President. As "the architect" of the Bush 2000 presidential campaign based on "compassionate conservatism," Rove was the person most responsible for bringing George Bush into the White House. Bush had little knowledge of either domestic or foreign policy. As a result, policy responsibility in the Bush White House was divided between Rove himself and Dick Cheney and both of them have exercised power in such irresponsible and disastrous ways that the country will take years if not decades to recover. In this sense, most of Rove's legacy will be a long, tedious effort to deal with the after-affects of Bush incompetence.

2. Forging a Permanent Democratic Majority. As a superficial student of history, Karl Rove liked to compare himself to Mark Hanna, the GOP fixer who ushered in a long era of Republican domination by getting William McKinley elected. Actually, the results were almost exactly the opposite. Rove's relentlessly divisive version of conservatism was the single most decisive factor in energizing the Democratic blow-back. By promoting the war as a partisan issue, Rove guaranteed that any initial support of the war by the Democrats would be halting and resentful, single-handedly spurred the mushroom-like growth of the liberal blogosphere, and gave the Bush administration no margin for error if the war didn't go well. Now, the Democrats who have an opportunity for long-term political domination if they can take advantage and they'll have Karl Rove to thank for that.

3. The Rove Consulting Tree. Part of Karl Rove's legacy with the Republicans will be the proliferation of Rove proteges as Republican campaign managers, consultants, and strategists. That means that the Republicans might be running campaigns around gay rights, gun control, and religious extremism for decades to come. By that time, Idaho might be the only reliably Republican state in the country.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Smearkrieg No. 3--The Desperate Need to Smear

Why are Republican presidential candidates so eager to engage in smear campaigns against their Democratic opponents. If Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination, the purpose of his smear campaign will be a desperate attempt to create a "moral equivalence" between himself and the Democratic nominee.

Of course, Giuliani already has been playing the sleaze game hard for his entire career and it will take a lot of smearing to make up for his ties to the uber-corrupt Bernard Karik, his marriage to a second cousin, and his press conference announcing his intention to divorce Donna Hanover (wife no. 2).

But there's more.

According to Talking Points Memo (linking to a Village Voice article by Wayne Barrett), Giuliani used "the city's emergency-command center in the World Trade Center" as a love-nest for his then mistress Judi Nathan.

I hope that Republican smear-artists are going to be paid overtime. They're going to have to sling an enormous amount of poo to make any Democrat look as bad as Giuliani actually is.

Hope their arms don't get sore.

Here's the excerpt:
The 7 WTC site was the brainchild of Bill Diamond, a prominent Manhattan Republican that Giuliani had installed at the city agency handling rentals. When Diamond held a similar post in the Reagan administration a few years earlier, his office had selected the same building to house nine federal agencies. Diamond's GOP-wired broker steered Hauer to the building, which was owned by a major Giuliani donor and fundraiser. When Hauer signed onto it, he was locked in by the limitations Giuliani had imposed on the search and the sites Diamond offered him. The mayor was so personally focused on the siting and construction of the bunker that the city administrator who oversaw it testified in a subsequent lawsuit that "very senior officials," specifically including Giuliani, "were involved," which he said was a major difference between this and other projects.

Giuliani's office had a humidor for cigars and mementos from City Hall, including a fire horn, police hats and fire hats, as well as monogrammed towels in his bathroom. His suite was bulletproofed and he visited it often, even on weekends, bringing his girlfriend Judi Nathan there long before the relationship surfaced. He had his own elevator.

I'm sure Judi Nathan was impressed. Otherwise, she might not have become wife no. 3.