Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The historical times, they are a-changin'

I was working on a Wikipedia article on an obscure historical figure yesterday and I encountered a very odd but illuminating thing.  I was able to read what was basically the same account from the same scholar about the same figure repackaged three different ways, for a 1970s scholarly paper, a 1980s introduction to a book from a university press, and a 1990s entry in a specialized encyclopedia.  It was interesting to see a glimpse of how the sausage is made, how the same scholar repackages and re-updates the same material for multiple audiences.  It also brought to mind more complicated issues, of race and politics and changing times.

I don't want to be more specific about this scholar or this historical figure for two reasons:  I don't want to reveal my Wikipedia identity by discussing the specific article, and I don't want to call out this particular scholar, even though he is deceased, permanently on the internet for some obscure points in some obscure writings, when what I'm really interested in discussing are general trends that have nothing to do with this specific individual or the historical figure he was writing about.

This historical figure, though a northerner, spent over fifteen years as a newspaper man in the antebellum south, vigorously penning partisan attacks (he was a Whig) by the ink barrel.  This included eagerly participating in the racist attacks against Martin Van Buren's Vice-President, Richard Mentor Johnson, who had a slave, Julia Chinn, whom he openly treated as his common law wife, and two mixed-race daughters by her who bore his last name.  Slave mistresses were common, a relationship like this, even if Chinn was barely black (she was an octoroon, 7/8ths white), was enough to outrage the racist establishment.  This particular editor shouldn't be singled out for "vent[ing] his racist spleen" and laying "on his lash with a generous hand" on this topic, as he was one member of a large chorus, but it was a favorite topic of his and thus perhaps deserves more space devoted to it than a mere three sentences.  The same with this editor's anti-Catholic position.  Anti-Catholic "nativism" was common in the 19th century, to be sure, but again, a mere sentence is devote to his "participat[ing] actively in the nativistic movement".  

The fact that these things are mentioned at all I suppose is an improvement.  With all the fuss about revisionist history and social history at the university level, much of this doesn't always filter down to the regional level, where figures of minor or local importance are talked about in terms of being a pillar of the community, or a successful businessman, or what offices he held.  Monticello aside, and even there if you don't tour the slave quarters, many historical homes are a tedious exercise in hagiography and antique wainscoting.  What a person stood for, what he advocated, how he contributed or fought against human progress, goes largely unremarked.  Politics that stirred people to hate and kill each other become, through the soft focus lens of this kind of history, become apolitical bullet points in a resume.

I suppose it comes from a reluctance to "judge" a person in the past.  When you bring up things like this, the kneejerk reaction is often to say that someone is a "product of their time" and that you cannot judge them by our contemporary standards.  But presenting the facts is not judging.  Pages and pages of discussion of someone's newspaper career, the details of partnerships and foundings and closings, but almost no discussion of the content of those newspapers?  That's judging that the content of those newspapers is unimportant, and that certainly wasn't the case for those viciously partisan papers which fought each other tooth and nail.   It isn't revisionism to say that these things are important, it's revisionism to say that these things don't matter, when the certainly did to the people at the time.

The practice of history has changed, even if it hasn't filtered all the way down to local and regional history, which is often practiced by enthusiasts and amateurs.  But this is an experienced, celebrated historian we're discussing here, albeit one whose career started well before the civil rights movement.   But even here, we see the changing times.  This newspaper editor wrote favorably something like (definitely paraphrasing here) "wherever the Anglo-Saxon foot trod, progress followed".  In the 1970s the historian presents this man's life as triumphant evidence of this statement of progress, in the 1980s this statement is mentioned, but not as triumphantly, and in the 1990s, it is entirely absent.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Election 2012 - candidates

Newspaper endorsements

UPDATE:  If you are curious about the amendments, I concur with the conclusions here:


If you haven't made up your mind by now, maybe you should skip this one.


Bill Nelson's done a reasonable job as a centrist Senator since 2000.  He hasn't become a preening Blue Dog using his position as a means for self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.  Connie Mack IV brings nothing to the table other than his legacy admission to politics as son of another Florida Senator.   An easy choice, even if you don't factor in potential party control of the Senate. 

US House District 14

Kathy Castor is one of my favorite politicians, a Democrat who takes reasonably liberal positions instead of lukewarm ones.   I'm tired of having to vote for the lukewarm ones.  A campaign worker for her opponent, "EJ" Otero, came to my door and while I listened politely I tried to explain that he wasn't telling me anything that would make me switch, and wasn't telling me much of anything about Otero other than he's conservative and Latino. 


David Gee is running unopposed.  I'm skipping this vote because I'm opposed to unopposed races. 

Property Appraiser

Ronda Storms has long been an  embarrassment to Hillsborough County and to sentient life.  She has long flaunted her inexperience, lack of knowledge, homophobia, and power in public and private settings.  Yet East Hillsborough has elected her again and again because Jesus.  If you are not familiar with her work, there's plenty of examples in the local newspapers.  The conservative Tribune reluctantly knocks her "self-discipline", but the subtext speaks loudly and hilariously. The Times is more blunt: "Storms regularly belittled people outside her circle — from urban residents to gay residents. Her slash-and-burn style was a principal reason the commission was described as dysfunctional by other elected officials — and by commissioners themselves. And her demeaning approach would hardly instill a culture of teamwork". I suspect she will win because the name of her opponent, Bob Henriquez, is foreign sounding to those fine, salt of the earth eastern voters, but I will relish finally being able to vote against her.  

Supervisor of Elections

This is an office I've long thought should be a professional post and not an elected, partisan one.  Here's the chance to vote a non-politican in, or at least as close to that as we are going to get.   Craig Latimer is the obvious choice.  He runs the office now as chief of staff and is widely praised and endorsed for his job of turning the office around from the dark days of that self-promoting charlatan  Buddy Johnson.  Rich Glorioso,  a State Representative, is endorsed mostly by other party politicians, supports right-wing voter suppression efforts, and is one of those Florida Republican politicians who jumps from public office to office to office, complaining about government the whole time.  An easy choice here. 

County Commission District 6

Kevin Beckner is a first term incumbent who defeated the widely-hated Brian Blair.  Now that we've finally gotten rid of Blair, here comes Blair-endorsed Tea Party nut Margaret Iuculano, bringing a history of homophobia and personal tax problems.  Beckner's done a reasonable job, so this is an easy choice too.

Supreme Court and District Court Judges

There is a right-wing effort to oust these judges and replace them with far-right Rick Scott/wingnut acolytes.  Regardless of your political orientation, a political effort to sway the justice system in either direction should be opposed by voting to retain all of these judges and justices.

School Board

In the primary election, incumbent Carol Kurdell faced four challengers of varying degrees of competence and sanity, including a former teacher.  So who do the voters pick to face her in the run off?  Tea Party bigot Terry Kemple.  Good show, Hillsborough.  Kemple has gained attention for his anti-Muslim crusades and his claims that CAIR has terrorist ties.  The Times says: "He has distracted the district from its mission with bigoted campaigns against gays and Muslims, and he made the county a laughingstock in the process. He shows no genuine commitment to public education."  Couldn't have said it better myself.  The choice of Carol Kurdellis an obvious one. 

Soil and Water Conservation Board

This one is tough, because the newspapers didn't bother to endorse or cover these races this year and two of the candidates don't even have web pages.  I'm voting for Shane Holman over Sharon Collins because at least I can read about his stands on the issues and he is endorsed by the Sierra Club.  Judging from LinkedIn, Sharon Collins has experience, but she's also endorsed by numerous wingnut voting guides, and that makes me nervous.  The same thing with nursery owner Roy Gene Davis, who is in the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame and obvious has a lot of background in agriculture.  But I also dug up newspaper articles with him regurgitating the typical right-wing complaints about bureaucracy, regulation, federal "harassment", etc. No web page or stands on issues I can find, but lots of wingnut endorsements.  So I'm going with Joe Wendt's quixotic libertarian crusade to abolish the very board he's running for. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Picks for Tuesday's local primary

Every election I plan to dig into all of those down ticket races and make intelligent decisions about judges and school board posts, etc. Now that I am gifted with some free time on the eve of the election, here goes.

Times endorsements:
Tribune endorsements:

US Senator

Bill Nelson has been a decent enough Senator. Far too conservative for my tastes, but you need to be conservative in Florida, and he’s nowhere near as conservative as he could be. He could easily have become a preening Joe Lieberman Blue Dog type, but he didn’t, and for that alone he’s pretty much earned my vote. Regardless, I looked into his primary opponent, Glenn Burkett, anyway. He describes himself as a “Hybrid Democrat” willing to take ideas from either party. A nice idea, but it seems an empty one as he’s given no indication of what kind of ideas he would take or where he stands on most issues. His website doesn’t give much info about that, and he doesn’t appear to have held any public office. The throw the bums out strategy may get you lots of nods of agreement, but won’t get you many votes. I’d vote for him for something like state senate, though, so he might set his sights a bit lower.

Supervisor of Elections

According to both local papers, current Supervisor of Elections Office Chief of Staff Craig Latimer deserves a lot of the credit for rebuilding the office after the tenure of self-promoting narcissist Supervisor Buddy Johnson. It’s an office that shouldn’t be a political one in any case, an opinion that was definitely cemented in my mind after Jeb Bush inflicted that sower of human misery Johnson on our county.  Thomas Scott served ably on the city and county commission, or at least I don’t recall any particular scandals. But I’m going with Latimer because I don’t think a politician should be in that post.

13th Circuit Judge 

Mark Wolfe is an experienced judge whom both papers describe in flattering terms. Johnnie Byrd is a former Speaker of the state house who was the most divisive, polarizing, controversial, and scandal ridden figure in that office until the next guy the GOP installed. This one is a no brainer.

County Court

Both papers describe incumbents Ann Ober and Matt Lucas as able justices whose opponents offer no compelling reason to replace them. Ann Ober’s opponent also has a history of DUI arrests. The other Judge race features three non-incumbents who appear to all have quality resumes. Both papers endorse Frances Maria Perrone but neither one really puts together an open and shut case for her, so I’m undecided.

School Board

I’m not sure where to come down on the Susan Valdes/Eddy Calcines race. Susan Valdes has popped up in the news frequently during her three terms, but I’m not sure if she’s blameless or a drama queen. Calcines seems like a decent fellow but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between them, policy wise. I don’t like this potentially burdensome guest speaker notification policy that Valdes is supporting recently but I’m not sure that minor issue is enough to justify booting out an experienced incumbent.

The other Board race on my ticket is a six-way, with five challengers against incumbent Carol Kurdell. First to cross off the list are Terry Kemple, a homophobic and Islamophobic Tea Party-type, and Carl Kosierowski, a former bus driver who calls himself Captain Carl. Robert McElheny is a truck dealer who promises to bring business solutions to the school board, which always spells trouble. Both papers describe Joe Jordan-Robinson as an activist, but in unflattering terms. There is an actual teacher (and former CIA agent), Michael Weston, in the race, so I decided to give his platform a closer look, and I’m impressed with what he has to say about testing, technology, the arts, and extracurricular activities, so I’m going to vote for him. Both papers endorse Kurdell and describe her in very flattering terms, so you probably couldn’t go wrong voting for her instead.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Welcome to the party, Eric Cantor

No, not the Democratic party, of course.

First, some background. A few weeks ago we learned that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virgina) was in the doghouse with his own party. Cantor donated $25,000 to an anti-incumbent PAC to support Republican primary challenger Adam Kinzinger in his race against longtime House incumbent Don Manzullo. (Kinzinger went on to win the primary.) The was quite a bit of squawking about this because the only thing House Republicans hate more than Obama are those who challenge their incumbencies, and it was quite odd for the House leader to be working against his own rank and file. Cantor, of course, dodged and weaved, appeared to lie about it, and blamed it on another Republican, Aaron Schock. We enjoyed a bit of schadenfreude at Cantor's expense, chalked it all up to court intrigue, and went on with our lives.

Now things are getting a little more interesting. Politico reports that Cantor may have had a personal motive for unseating Manzullo:
Manzullo — according to more than a half-dozen Republican sources — once said Cantor, a devout Jew, would not be "saved." The remark occurred several years ago, when Cantor was serving as chief deputy whip, the sources said. Cantor allies were put off by the comment, Republicans said.
And here is Cantor being asked about antisemitism by Politico's Mike Allen. He hems and haws about it but does acknowledge that antisemitism and racism exist in America, contrary to pretty much everyone else on the right-wing, who have long and loudly insisted that racism is nonexistent, other than "reverse racism", of course.

Cantor is widely known for his stupidity, but he clearly knows he's in a tight spot. The GOP tent is wide open for minorities, as long as they know their place and tow the GOP line. But when a minority even acknowledges some concern of his or her racial or religious group that runs contrary to the GOP white ideology, the knives come out. Herman Cain was the great black hope of the GOP, until he reminded the GOP that it was "insensitive" to casually throw around the n-word. Colin Powell was once the GOP's darling and longed-for presidential candidate, a faithful right-wing soldier for decades who threw away his credibility to support Bush's fraudulent war, but when he stepped out of line none of that kept him from becoming a wingnut punching bag. There are, of course, plenty more examples of this phenomenon, and Cantor surely must know he will become one of them if he too steps outside the bounds of acceptable GOP discourse on race and religion.

Frequently, some thick-headed conservative will write something lamenting the fact that blacks or Latinos or women or Jews or even Muslims aren't clamoring to get into the GOP's big tent. After all, they write, this group would find a natural home with the GOP because of one or more of their core beliefs matches up with the GOP platform. The ideology of these myopic conservatives prevents them from discovering the cause of this phenomenon, which is stunningly obvious to everyone else. If they can't even acknowledge that racism exists, then they obviously can't see that their own big tent is segregated.

In the GOP's big tent, and in America, no matter how loyal or assimilated you are, eventually you will be reminded that you do not belong. Cantor may think that it's limited to a few idiots like Manzullo, but the only difference between Manzullo and the others in the House GOP is that Manzullo was the one who opened his big fat mouth. In public, conservatives insist that racism is dead while keeping most of their racism private, when they think the ears are receptive and in agreement. I see this all the time in the small town where I work. Many times, young employees who grew up here tell me about the things they hear from other employees or even strangers when people like me are out of earshot and it's just the folks in the Secret White People Club. Today's conservatives give lip service to diversity in public and they keep their racism private. But eventually, nothing remains behind closed doors. There's always a Manzullo to remind you that you are not one of them.

Obama's election was a wake up call to a lot of people who thought that racism was a thing of the past, wiped out like polio and smallpox everywhere except for pockets of rednecks lurking in the hills of Appalachia and or the mountains of Montana. But we haven't cured the disease yet; Obama's election was just a reminder that it's still an epidemic.

A lot of us have had their personal revelations, too. As a light-skinned Latino who was born in this country, speaks perfect English, college educated, and hidden behind a desk in a suburban library, I thought I was insulated from the problem of racism in this country. After all, cops weren't pulling me over and tasering me every day, so everything's okay, right? Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor was what reminded me that things were far from okay. She was everything I was and far more: she went to Yale and Princeton on full scholarships, graduated summa cum laude, was widely published and accomplished in her field. And yet she was widely slandered as an unaccomplished, temperamental, radical "Affirmative Action Baby". At the time, Matt Ygelsias, who is an even whiter Latino than I am, had similar thoughts at the time:
But for all that, I have to say that I am really truly deeply and personally pissed off my the tenor of a lot of the commentary on Sonia Sotomayor. The idea that any time a person with a Spanish last name is tapped for a job, his or her entire lifetime of accomplishments is going to be wiped out in a riptide of bitching and moaning about “identity politics” is not a fun concept for me to contemplated. Qualifications like time at Princeton, Yale Law, and on the Circuit Court that work well for guys with Italian names suddenly don’t work if you have a Spanish name.
The Sotomayor outcry from the right showed me and many other Latinos that no matter what accomplish or how you act, they will always remind you that you are not one of them and that you do not belong in their version of America.

Eric Cantor seems to have had something of a similar revelation. We'll find out the full extent of what happened one day when Cantor publishes his memoirs. Susie Madrak wonders if Cantor will have "the guts" to leave the GOP. He's not going anywhere. He's too stupid and rich to switch sides, and the left is too far ideologically removed from his brand of wingnuttery. This is, after all, the guy who wants to raise taxes on the poor. Instead, one day we'll read about his regrets in that memoir, which will be about as useless as Lee Atwater's deathbed apologies. Like Atwater, Cantor will keep making money making this country a worse place for everyone. But at least he sees something of what the rest of us are going through. And to that, I only have one thing to say:

Friday, April 13, 2012

In the heat of Mark Judge's night

You probably have already heard about the horrific travails of Daily Caller writer Mark Judge, which were firing up the blogosphere early this week until the arrest of another great conservative martyr, George Zimmerman. Judge sets the stage for us:
I was at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., for the Stations of the Cross — the pre-Easter Catholic ritual of recounting the events that happened to Jesus on his way to crucifixion.
Like Jesus, Judge made a great sacrifice, losing a treasure of great value and significance to him, so we could learn the many errors of our ways as we have strayed from the path of righteousness and truth. What was this traumatizing event that happened to this brave, selfless man?

If you don't recognize the above image, and you might not unless you have lots of online time to waste on cat pictures and amusing YouTube videos, it is a famous internet meme. The image is from an innocuous training scene from the video game Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!!, coupled with a fake caption and transformed into a racist stereotype. Like the meme, Judge transformed an otherwise normal and everyday event into a racist parable, casting himself as a two-wheeled Rosa Parks, riding into the sunset of racial justice.

Of course, racism for conservatives is "reverse racism". "Black pain is no different than white pain," Judge writes, which really means "I'm so tired of hearing about Trayvon Martin, let's talk about me and my bike some more."

But his bike, "a sharp silver-blue hybrid from L.L. Bean", wasn't the only thing Judge gave up on that brave Good Friday. Just like Jesus died on Good Friday, so did Mark Judge's "white guilt". His piece is called "The End of My White Guilt".

Okay, hold on a minute. "White guilt?" The white part is true, but I don't believe a word of the rest of this. Most of the bloggers reacting to this have focused on how offensive Judge's piece was, but I don't think anyone has challenged the veracity of the claims he makes about himself. This guy is a conservative Catholic writer for Tucker Carlson's wingnut online magazine, and I'm supposed to believe he had white guilt? This guy, who has hit every conservative dog whistle from the Amistad (slavery, angry blacks killing whites) to Touré (elitist media figures) in this piece, grew up on a diet of Norman Jewison movies? If he still clung to any white guilt, he gave it up pretty quickly. Last year he wrote this piece imagining the deathbed conversion of militant atheist Christopher Hitchens. In it, he mentions he's working on a biography of Whittaker Chambers. I doubt you could find a dozen young Republicans who even know the name Whittaker Chambers, but Judge aspires to be his biographer. Judge's conservatism is fervently religious and it is old school. And yet, we are to believe that he has white guilt?

While bits of it may be true, I don't think what Judge has written here is strictly a factual account. Instead it is a conversion narrative, a Christian genre which tells how once wicked and wayward souls make their way onto the path of goodness and right, like Paul falling off his horse on the road to Damascus. No doubt Judge, who mentions he studied at nearby Catholic University, is familiar with this genre. Conservatives have also transformed it into a political genre. They're fond of the saying "A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged", and Judge's bike mugging is his conversion narrative, detailing how he fell off his bicycle of lingering white guilt, abandoning it for the true path of righteous conservatism. Never mind that any self-respecting modern conservative likely abandoned any white guilt after the third viewing of Sean Hannity's show.

We all know that Fox-era conservatives are not shy about bending the truth, and conservative narratives bend the truth all the time to further their goals. One example that I remember fondly was a message board discussion about Pat Buchanan's presidential run. Now this was a message board we had started up to accompany an alternative campus publication, and it was brand new so there couldn't be more than twenty or thirty people on this board. When I argued that no black people were supporting Buchanan's candidacy despite his odd selection of obscure African-American activist Ezola Foster as running mate, suddenly a black Reform Party voter appeared on this obscure message board on an obscure college campus to accuse me of racism. That was about as plausible as Judge's narrative.

In a particularly implausible section, Judge writes:
When I got home I vented to my friends. I told them I was going to scour those neighborhoods until I found the bike. In reply, a liberal friend gave me a lecture about profiling and told me to just forget about the bike. “That person needs our prayers and help,” she said. “They haven’t had the advantages we have.”
I'm skeptical for several reasons. I don't know much about how Washington works, so maybe Daily Caller wingnuts actually do have liberal friends. If this liberal friend actually said this, however, I think Judge has misinterpreted his friend's remarks. It doesn't seem to me that the alleged liberal friend meant that blacks have blanket permission to steal from whites or that whites should be "leaving valuable things like a bike in a vulnerable position in a black part of town because you didn’t want to admit that the crime is worse in poor black neighborhoods." Maybe there are some extreme Quakers who feel like this, but I haven't met any of them. Instead, it strikes me as a statement of acceptance, trying to find a silver lining and rationalizing things when the universe has violated you in a meaningless way. It was a way of telling Judge to move on with his life instead of dragging himself through the negro streets at dawn looking for his missing bike.

Having things stolen from you, especially things you prize, is hard. I emphasize with his anger while I mock and criticize his misdirected overreaction. And this is where a lot of racism comes from, misdirected anger. Many people become racists when they are the victims of a violent crime at the hands of a person of another race. (Though in Judge's case, of course, the crime was non-violent and he only assumes the perpetrator is black.) I still remember when my house was broken into when I was a kid, but it was the stoner next door who did it, and I didn't start hating whitey as a result.

Racists like Judge don't differentiate between people of other races. They're all one dangerous undifferentiated mass to them, while white people are divided into friends and enemies, good people and assholes. It would be nice if a supposedly educated professional like Judge could realize a simple fact: the guy who stole his bike, if he was black, wasn't a representative of the NAACP, he was just some random asshole. In that, Judge and the thief have something in common.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hey liberals, Mississippi is all your fault!

Today I’ve been reading the back and forth on Andrew Sullivan’s blog about the above video by filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi which recently aired on Real Time with Bill Maher, where the citizens of the poorest state in the nation flaunt their prejudices and their lack of teeth. According to Sullivan, the wing nuts are going “ape-shit” over this. I don’t need to go dumpster diving in the right-wing blogosphere to verify this. After all, this is just the perfect storm to set right-wing spittle flying: the daughter of San Francisco Liberal Nancy Pelosi and that atheist Hollywood libertine Bill Maher making fun of the poor, humble, hardworking folk of the American heartland.

It’s not just the right-wing who react when someone shines airs the dirty laundry of the South; moderates and liberals like the dissenters quoted by Sullivan leap to the defense of aggrieved southerners whenever someone besmirches their honor. Because they know a few gays or progressives or minorities and frequent a nice vegan restaurant in town and don’t know a single person in the Klan, they claim that accusations of racism of their fellow southerners are unfounded. Often the violent reaction to Martin Luther King’s visit to Chicago is trotted out as an example of how the North is just as bad, or even worse, than the South. Never mind that this argument is undercut by the fact that the South directed violence against African-Americans for a hundred years prior to King’s visit to Chicago, or that King himself was murdered in Tennessee.

“It is the manifestation of why the Democratic Party, and left-leaning politics in general, are so totally irrelevant to many of the people who should, by all rights, be its base,” one of Sullivan’s dissenters writes about the video. If only liberals would stop being such meanypants about the South! If we would abandon our prejudices against the hard-working, toothless masses of places like Mississippi, then those voters would abandon their prejudices and begin voting in their economic interests. Really? I fail to see how this is anything but fantasy, powered by the perennial American myth in the essential goodness of common folk. Is it the prejudices of liberals that caused 52% of Mississippi GOP voters to think Barack Obama is a Muslim or 46% of them to think interracial marriage should be illegal? Is it the prejudices of liberals that caused members of the Southern Mississippi University band to chant at a Puerto Rican basketball player on the opposing team “Where’s your green card?’

If Mississippi didn’t have the lowest high school graduation rate in the nation, they might know that Puerto Rico is part of the United States.

The dissenters claim that we must respect the South and are ignorant of the ways of its kind, hard-working folk. The dissenters never insist the reverse; that southerners respect and learn about other places, such as knowing that Puerto Rico is a territory of the US.

An anecdote from neighboring Alabama: You may have heard of gifted scientist Douglas Prasher, whose work helped three others win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, while he ended up driving a courtesy van for an Alabama car dealership. A profile in Discover highlighted his interactions with some of those southerners:
“We’ve been teaching Douglas about the real world,” he said. Jim, another body shop worker, listed some of the things they had educated Prasher about. They all happened to be local culinary delights: “mountain oysters” (hogs’ testicles), fried moon pies, Goo Goo Clusters. I asked Jim if Prasher had taught them anything in return—say, about DNA. “DN who?” Jim asked, smiling.
This respect, this learning, this open-mindedness demanded of liberals is not a two way street. While we have to learn about the “real world” of eating pig testicles, they can remain wholly ignorant of the entire world outside their state. We have to endlessly praise them as the “heartland” of this country and listen to them attack the rest of us as wicked, evil, and corrupt. We are subsiding their rural lifestyles with our money while they demand that taxes and government services be cut even further, except for stuff they like, of course, which doesn’t really count.

I’m sure there will be some responses that echo the dissenters above, that I’ve unfairly tarred all southerners with the same brush, that I’m reinforcing mean liberal prejudices, etc. It may surprise you to learn that I live in a southern state that has also often been a national laughingstock. When my state is attacked, I don’t cling to some sort of stubborn regional pride and complain that we’ve been unfairly maligned. I realize that the attacks are accurate. After all, we elected as Governor a guy who defrauded Medicare of millions because his opponent, a former Bank of America executive, was a socialist or something. Yes, there are racists and toothless idiots in Florida and Illinois and Pennsylvania and Oregon, but there are a hell of a lot of them in Mississippi, and you aren’t being unfairly maligned just because we are pointing out what you already knew. Yes, Mississppi is the home of William Faulkner and Eudora Welty and B.B. King too, but you can be damn sure they knew what their neighbors were like, so there’s no sense in you denying it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pete Hoekstra and the Yellow Peril

In a 1998 episode of The Simpsons, Krusty the Clown appears at a comedy festival along with some comedians who aren't prehistoric vaudeville throwbacks. Krusty's act is, to him, classic "A material" and it leaves him baffled when it fails to elicit hysterical guffaws, while the audience is dumbfounded at Krusty's juvenile and obviously racist buffoonery.

It wasn't their intent, but the writers of The Simpsons have provided us with a metaphor for looking at some of the GOP's most virulent hate speech. We are the confused and alienated audience confronted with immature bigotry while wingnuts are rolling on the floor laughing at what is, to them, the Funniest Thing Ever. We've seen it again and again: Obama Bucks, a GOP candidate calling Energy Secretary Steven Chu "Steven Chow Mein"... And then there's this:
No doubt you've already heard of this, which immediately became the Most Racist Super Bowl Ad Ever.

Hoekstra's ad is racist, but it's a mistake to write it off as stupid, as it is a brazen act of Machiavellian animal cunning. The ad was, of course, immediately denounced as racist, and attacking as racist won't work, as many commentators have already noted, because that is exactly what he wants. Hoekstra's already refused to apologize and now he gets to play victim and complain about political correctness. It was clearly a calculated act designed to elicit a negative response. He's already sent out fund-raising mail stating "the liberals are doing what they always do - crying racism." And the wingnuts, who are already rolling on the floor laughing at the cleverness of Hoekstra's minstrel ad, don't see what all the fuss is about. They will turn to each other and say things like "the liberals are doing what they always do - crying racism" and nod sagely at each other in agreement. After all, in their world, the only real racism is when Chris Rock can use the n-word and they can't, which is a violation of Martin Luther King's dream or something.

This ad reminds me of the late 80s and early 90s, back when Japan was the terrifying foreign economic enemy. Hysterical complaints about the Japanese buying up American real estate like Rockefeller Center were rampant. Films and books were filled with cyberpunk dystopias of yakuzas and hackers stalking crowded city streets lit with neon Kanji. And conservative reactionary Michael Crichton captured the zeitgeist in Rising Sun by depicting the Japanese as sinister scheming businessmen out to bury our gingers in concrete tombs.
And of course we all know how that turned out. I for one honor our current Japanese overlords. Oh, wait... This suggests another line of attack. Instead of the being drawn into the racism trap, as a number of commentators have already suggested, Hoekstra and his ad should be attacked on the basis of the content, namely his flimsy scapegoating of the Chinese economic menace. James Fallows quotes a Republican strategist:
The more interesting angle is one of hypocrisy. Hoekstra voted for permanent MFN for China in 1999, and China's creditor status vis-à-vis the U.S. simply reflects all those good-paying union jobs Hoekstra shipped there (yes, I know international economics is more complicated than that, but would certainly put Hoekstra on the defensive.)
Instead of playing by the script, hit him hard on sending jobs overseas. Get his position on Solyndra on the record and then hammer him for capitulating to China on green jobs. Of course, all of this will draw complaints about how the Democrats don't support "free enterprise" and are engaging in "class warfare", but those are the complaints you hear when you have a winning message.