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.