With the recent arrival of MLK Day, it's time once again for doctrinaire conservatives to pretend that liberals are racists and if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today, he'd be a conservative. Think I'm kidding? Check out this year's assessment of such rhetoric by Mister Leonard Pierce of Sadly, No! Meanwhile, Rick Perlstein provides some welcome historical perspective on past opposition and this attempted appropriation. (Roy has a slightly different take.)
Of course, if conservative pundits had any integrity, they'd also have called out Jonah Goldberg for his noxious piece of disingenuous, revisionist crap, Liberal Fascism, weeks ago, and Goldberg himself would have actually responded to the "serious" criticism he claims he welcomes. Not content to level the ludicrous accusation that progressives are the real descendents of fascists, Goldberg recently accused them of being the real racists, as well. It's all the more striking given that Goldberg works for the National Review, which had a long history of supporting segregation (and check out the vintage Goldberg Roy linked in the post linked above).
Still, "let's pretend" is the essence of the wingnut welfare system of conservative think tank "scholars." Thus, for them, liberals can be denounced with a straight face as both fascists and racists. It's their accepted gospel that the poor are poor due to a lack of character, or the poor actually have it very good, and anyway, the worst evil possible is to help them, as that Jesus guy once said. But then, we're talking about a system that offered to pay a scientist $10,000 to deny global warming. Merit, integrity and empirical truth don't exactly play an active role.
The big problem with bad-faith, conservative "let's pretend" games is that the mainstream media happily plays along, granting such conservatives undeserved legitimacy. And the media doesn't just play along with conservatives — it often spread the same crap. Liberals are of course not completely free from all prejudices, and certainly not all conservatives are racists, but it ranges from silly to appalling to accuse the Democratic Party of being the party of racism. It's not as if the massive shift in party alignment among southern white males in the 60s due to the Civil Rights Movement is some big secret. That movement belongs largely to the Democrats, and MLK, LBJ, and the Kennedys certainly do, while the Republicans own the Southern Strategy of Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes.
To be fair to the media on its recent obsession with race and gender issues, supporters of the Obama and Clinton campaigns, or the campaigns themselves, raised said issues in the form of attacks (check out Bob Johnson and Jesse Jackson, Jr., for two examples). But the media certainly hasn't elevated the discourse since, and the campaigns have wisely agreed to bury the hatchet — albeit only on those lines. (Notice, too, how Edwards is pushed out of the race in most press narratives, and also in most of Hillary Clinton's rhetoric, and to a lesser degree Obama's).
The truth is, America could use much more good discussion on race, gender and, even more importantly, class and power. The problem is, our national public discourse is still managed by shallow pundits, and on even the most important of subjects, they insist on having their shallow way. The current hackdom commemorating MLK Day is a feature, not a bug. Looking over the past couple of weeks, two patterns emerge. One, conservatives have ramped up their habitual attacks on Democrats using race and gender. Two, the mainstream media has done the same, and ignored that pattern number one is happening.
When Russerts Attack
If you missed the hoopla over Hillary Clinton's statements about Martin Luther King and President Johnson, and how they were extremely poorly reported, out of context, read Greg Sargent's "New York Times Keeps Running Truncated Version Of Hillary's Quote About Martin Luther King" (follow-ups here and here). A similar distortion occurred when Bill Clinton referred to Barack Obama's representation of his stance on invading Iraq as a "fairy tale." Although Bill Clinton's statement can be fairly challenged as inaccurate, he was clearly talking about Obama's views on war with Iraq back in 2002, not on Obama's entire campaign, as numerous reporters and pundits chose to misrepresent it. In other words, Clinton's words were challenged, but on the wrong grounds. The media — shockingly! — choose to sell a sensationalistic, bogus, gossipy storyline, which not incidentally obscured the far more serious issue of the illegitimacy and folly of pre-emptive war.
Bill Moyers, a fine journalist and former press secretary to President Johnson, provided a valuable perspective on MLK and LBJ and the “tempest in a teapot" over Hillary Clinton's comments.
In contrast, Tim Russert, a shameless hack, conducted a hatchet job on Hillary Clinton from the get-go on Meet the Press on 1/13/08. (Just to be clear, I'd like to see all the candidates grilled, but on substance.) This show may be a new low even for Russert, a powerful media figure the Republicans know can be counted on to help them "control [the] message." Most blatant of all was Russert saying "This is exactly what President Clinton said in Dartmouth," and then running a deliberately truncated clip obscuring context. (Did he think no viewers would notice?) Russert continued to attack Hillary Clinton, citing the reactions of "neutral" black political figures to Bill Clinton's statement. Russert ignored that they were all responding to a misrepresentation of Bill Clinton's statement, whether their own, or more likely, the mispresentation spread by Russert and many of his colleagues in the mainstream media. Hillary Clinton had already set the record straight quite well, but Russert had his "gotcha" assault all lined up, and there was no way in hell he was going to abandon his manufactured scandal. ( I was happy to see Media Matters pick up the same thing.)
Russert quoting Bill Clinton out of context was pretty blatant, but Russert was even more shameless during the same stretch. By proxy (quoting someone else is how this game is played), he accused Hillary Clinton of "taking cheap shots at, of all people, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." and cited a particularly loathsome op-ed, saying:
A writer in the Washington Post today, a black woman said it's as if you are minimizing "I Have a Dream." That you're saying it's a nice sentiment, but it took a white president to get blacks to the mountaintop.
If you think any of this is any of this behavior is unusual from Russert, and that he really didn't know better, I have an unnecessary war with Iran to sell you. Russert's record is pretty damning (this recent Daily Howler post just touches on some of it; Bob Somerby promises more is to follow, but there's plenty of good past critiques from DH and elsewhere). But you don't even need to do that. Let's see what the first few questions were from Tim Russert and Brian Williams at the Democratic Debate in Nevada on 1/15/08 (you can read the transcript here or watch most of the debate thanks to this YouTube user).
Here's question #1 of the debate:
Williams: As we sit here, this, as many of you may know, is the Reverend Martin Luther King's birthday. Race was one of the issues we expected to discuss here tonight. Our sponsors expected it of us. No one, however, expected it to be quite so prominent in this race as it has been over the last 10 days.
We needn't go back over all that has happened, except to say that this discussion, before it was over, involved Dr. King, President Johnson, even Sidney Poitier, several members of Congress, and a prominent African-American businessman supporting Senator Clinton, who made what seemed to be a reference to a party of Senator Obama's teenage past that the Senator himself has written about in his autobiography.
The question to begin with here tonight, Senator Clinton, is: How did we get here?
To be fair, as Williams noted, some of the debate time was designed to address issues of race. However, I suspect "shallow campaign gossip masquerading as a discussion on race" wasn't what the co-sponsors had in mind. Here's question #2:
Tim Russert: In terms of accountability, Senator Obama, Senator Clinton on Sunday told me that the Obama campaign had been pushing this storyline. And, true enough, your press secretary in South Carolina -- four pages of alleged comments made by the Clinton people about the issue of race.
In hindsight, do you regret pushing this story?
Here's Russert's two follow-ups to Obama:
Russert: Do you believe this is a deliberate attempt to marginalize you as the black candidate?
Russert: In New Hampshire, your polling was much higher than the actual vote result. Do you believe, in the privacy of the voting booth, people used race as an issue?
Question #3 (re-capping part of question #1) and its follow-up:
Russert: Senator Clinton, in terms of accountability, you told me on Sunday morning, "Any time anyone has said anything that I thought was out of bounds, they're gone. I've gotten rid of them."
Shortly thereafter, that same afternoon, Robert Johnson, at your event, said, quote, "When Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood, that I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in his book," widely viewed as a reference to Senator Obama's book,"Dreams From My Father" from 1995, where he talked about his drug use as a teenager.
Will you now not allow Robert Johnson to participate in any of your campaign events because of that conduct?
Russert: Were his comments out of bounds?
Question #4 was finally addressed to mystery candidate John Edwards. How nice to get the over-inflated Clinton-Obama feud settled, and superficial questions about important issues behind us. But wait!
Natalie Morales: Thank you, Brian.
And this is a question for Senator Edwards. It comes to us from Margaret Wells from San Diego, California.
Senator, she's asking, "The policy differences among the remaining candidates is so slight that we appear to be choosing on the basis of personality and life story. That being said, why should I, as a progressive woman, not resent being forced to choose between the first viable female candidate and the first viable African American candidate?"
Morales: Senator Edwards, as a follow-up to Margaret Wells' question, what is a white male to do running against these historic candidacies?
Well, surely we'll be done with shallow issues by question #5:
Williams: Question for Senator Obama. You won the women's vote in Iowa, but Senator Clinton won the women's vote in New Hampshire, and there probably isn't an American alive today who hasn't heard the post-game analysis of New Hampshire, all the reasons the analysts give for Senator Clinton's victory. Senator Clinton had a moment where she became briefly emotional at a campaign appearance.
But another given was at the last televised debate, when you, in a comment directed to Senator Clinton, looked down and said, "You're likable enough, Hillary."
That caused Frank Rich to write, on the op-ed page of the New York Times, that it was "your most inhuman moment, to date." And it clearly was a factor and added up.
Senator Obama, do you regret the comment, and comments like that, today?
Maybe they were just having a bad start to the night! (I mean, it's not like they write these questions down beforehand or anything.) Let's try question #6:
Williams: And one more question about that last televised debate, Senator Edwards. Afterwards, Senator Clinton said it was as if you and Senator Obama had formed a buddy system against her. Senator Clinton put out an Internet ad that was entitled "Piling On."
Looking back on it, the campaign for New Hampshire in total, do you admit that it might have looked that way?
Need I tell you that the vast majority of questions were as lousy and superficial as these? Race returned, but mostly in shallow ways:
Russert: Senator Clinton, one of your pollsters was quoted in The New Yorker magazine as saying this: "The Hispanic voter has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates."
Does that represent the view of your campaign?
Russert: Let me ask Senator Obama. Do you believe there's a history of a decision, where Latino voters will not vote for a black candidate?
Oooh, stir up a fight if you can! There was one more question on race, notably from one of the co-sponsors versus the NBC savants:
Morales: This one is to Senator Obama. This comes to us from one of our co-sponsors of tonight's debate, the 100 Black Men of America.
They ask, "To what do you attribute the disproportionately high dropout of black males at every level in our educational process, and what would you do to stem the tide of black men exiting the educational system?"
This last one was easily the most serious, if not the only serious question on race in the entire debate. Very few questions dealt with policy, and nearly all of those started as a "gotcha" about some vote. I didn't even include Russert's lame, attempted gotcha questions about withdrawing troops and ROTC programs (fodder for another post, perhaps). The candidates actually offered some thoughtful responses at times, but that was largely despite the questions, not because of them. (NBC does get credit, though, for refuting the "Obama is a Muslim" rumor and tailoring a question to let Obama address it.)
While a campaign spat provided the excuse, Russert and Williams were off to the races with this one, pressing Democrats on their racism and sexism. Perhaps I just missed it, but I don't remember them or any debate moderators pressing the Republican candidates on the implicit and sometimes explicit racism and bigotry of many of the GOP campaigns when it comes to immigration or the Middle East. Thompson, Giuliani and McCain have all claimed that America has the best health care in the world, and that universal health care would lower the quality of American health care, but I don't remember the media fact-checking them, pointing out that those claims are highly questionable if not outright false (more in a later post). I don't remember McCain, Romney and the rest being challenged on their ludicrous claim that cutting taxes always raises revenues. That, too, is highly deceptive at best, but essentially false, yet apparently voters don't need to know that, either. The list could go on, but the press as a whole consistently apply a different, harsher standard to Democrats. But then, as the Democratic candidates themselves show, theirs is the party of racism, sexism and classism, so it's only fair.
(As an aside, when the MSNBC announcer said the debate was co-sponsored by "one hundred black men," I had to laugh. The "announcer voice" delivery made it funny, and it sounded like it was actually one hundred black men versus the organization, "100 Black Men of America." Mainly, though, I laughed because I imagined "one hundred black men" being intoned at a GOP debate, and the number of conservatives who would crap their pants.)
A Roundup of Claptrap on Race (and Gender)
Race predominates over gender in this collection, but lest one think any of Russert's shtick is isolated, glance over the following.
"Confirmed: Barack Obama Practiced Islam" (1/7/08): Yes, you thought this silly rumor was long ago slain, but you reckoned without the awesome, err, reasoning of Daniel Pipes, whose discovery was hailed by many right-wing bloggers. Let me turn it over to Sadly, No!, who in turn linked Dum Pendebat Filius' debunk, and let's throw in Media Matters' "Daniel Pipes relied on disputed LA Times article to revive Obama-Muslim falsehood" for good measure. Never let the truth get in the way of a good smear, I always say!
Here's the key element to watch: Pipes claims Obama was raised Muslim (a lie), even though he's now Christian, but further argues that because Obama was raised Muslim, the Muslim world will view him as an apostate and try to assassinate him should he become president. (Presumably, he'd be even less popular with the Middle East than George Bush, I guess.) It's really a pretty compact job of hackery, smears and projection, wrapping up all sorts of bigotry and calumny in one little disingenuous article. I guess that's what a doctorate can do. Several right-wingers have spread Pipes' crap since, and it just keeps going and growing.
"Jonah Goldberg and Glenn Reynolds warn of "social unraveling" if Obama loses" (1/5/08): Glenn Greenwald takes on the racially-tinged concern trolling of two right-wing stalwarts.
"They Blinded Me With Violence" (1/7/08): Sadly, No! adds some snark and examines the fears of Canadian blogger Adam Yoshida over a "negro and Islamic homo uprising." (I bet it'd make a great movie.)
"Great (American) Expectations: Barack Obama shows why foreigners consider us naive" (1/8/08): Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal basically argues that Obama's success in Iowa proves that we don't need to celebrate that success. I was tempted to dissect the multi-layered hackdom of this one paragraph by paragraph, but Roy and Digby already skewered it in wittier and pithier fashion.
"The Clintons' One-Two Punch" (1/10/08): Robert Novak attacks the Clintons, as well as those dopey women who were "naïve" enough to be taken in by Hillary Clinton pretending to cry (she didn't cry). He also spreads the lie that Bill Clinton denounced Obama's entire campaign as a "fairy tale." (I do wonder if anyone takes Novak seriously.)
"Karl Rove sends out the Dogs of Racism with his WSJ op-ed on Obama": John Amato of Crooks and Liars examines Karl Rove's 1/10/08 WSJ op-ed attacking Obama.
"Of Hope and Politics" (1/12/08): In The New York Times, Bob Herbert runs with the misrepresentation of Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" comment, and accuses Hillary Clinton of "taking cheap shots at, of all people, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." (This is the first of the two op-eds Russert quoted.)
"Will They Play the Race Card?" (1/13/08) In a Washington Post op-ed, Marjorie Valbrun argues that because it's possible, "the mean Clinton machine" will attack Obama along racial lines. She also talks about how "scary" Bill Clinton was in a speech and how Hillary insulted MLK. (This is the second piece Russert quoted.)
The Daily Howler of 1/14/08 critiques both the Herbert and Valbrun columns nicely. Somerby also links a good Josh Marshall piece on Bob Johnson's smear against Obama and Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" comment.
"Could Race Destroy the Democrats?" asks Michael Duffy of Time magazine on 1/14/08. (Bet you can't wait to find out his answer! Hint: it has nothing to do with racist conservatives!)
"Sexism, Racism: Which Is More Taboo?" asks David Crary of the AP on 1/14/08. (Via Melissa McEwan.)
"Columnist Prelutsky: Obama "sort of reminds me of David Duke"": Media Matters looks at a 1/14/08 column appearing at Townhall.com and WorldNetDaily.
"Obama's Farrakhan Test" (1/15/08): Taking bigotry in another direction, Richard Cohen discovers that the newsmagazine of Obama's church honored Louis Farrakhan, notes that Obama doesn't seem to be anti-Semitic at all, and also notes that Obama's campaign says he disagrees with his minister about Farrakhan. Cohen then proceeds to insist, at length, that Obama needs to denounce Farrakhan more vehemently. Many in the liberal blogosphere took Cohen to task on this, and Jewish leaders have taken a more general stance against such nonsense. In an online chat, Eugene Robinson also offered a good response. (Cohen's attacked Obama over trivial nonsense before.)
"A Hand the Clintons Aren't Showing" (1/15/08): Eugene Robinson takes on the race issue as well. Notably, he correctly notes the context of Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" remark, but questions an aspect of his Sister Souljah remark back in 1992. (I generally find Robinson very insightful on race, and think this is a more substantial piece than the others, but judge for yourself.)
"A Race About Race" (1/15/08): Howard Kurtz samples comments chiding the Democrats, including pieces accusing the Democrats of exploiting race. He quotes Valbrun's loathsome piece, as well as Joe Klein citing Shelby Steele. He even lowers below his usual Malkin standard to include Riehl World View and Bull Dog Pundit. But not to fear, Malkin herself weighs in here, too, attacking Democratic "race-hustlers"! Ouch. That's some fine 'journalmalism.'
The Daily Howler dissects a NYT article from 1/15/08 about the spectre of assassination over Obama.
The Daily Howler dissects a NYT column from 1/16/08 about the spectre of assassination over Obama. (I'm sensing a trend here.)
"Shelby Steele on Michelle Obama's 60 Minutes comments: She was "facilitating her race's manipulation of the American mainstream"" (1/16/08): Media Matters examines a distortion by Steele in his latest book. (Funny, it's a distortion similar to those used in those two NYT pieces!)
"Investor's Business Daily: "Would Obama put African tribal or family interests ahead of U.S. interests?"" (1/16/08): Media Matters dissects a particularly noxious op-ed, which incidentally cites the earlier Pipes piece.
"Clinton's 'Vetting' Attack" (1/17/08): Robert Novak attacks both Hillary Clinton and Obama, mainly on race.
"Misstep in a Liberal Minefield" (1/17/08): George Will notes that Hillary Clinton's MLK comments were misconstrued, but he's gonna pile on anyway, because it serves liberals right for rubbing his face in race and gender issues for all those years.
Mickey Kaus is a polydolt, that is, an ignorant, poorly-reasoning ass on a wide variety of subjects, so pointing out that he's said something asinine and/or counterintuitive on race is a bit like complaining, oh, that Pauly Shore or Dane Cook told an unfunny joke. Still, dnA at Too Sense takes on some recent idiocy by Kaus. Then there's this 2007 Too Sense post, with an update relating Kaus saying, "I don't quite understand why it's offensive to call Sen. Obama a "halfrican."" Umm, we know you don't, Mickey. Or there's this 2007 Kaus post where he complains, "I'd certainly be more comfortable with a presidential nominee whose main spiritual man… in general wasn't so obsessed with race…" (Kaus' emphasis, and that is but item 4 of 4). Funny, I'd be more "comfortable" if Kaus wouldn't blather on about race.
"Conservatives Can't Stop Fantasizing About Obama Assasination" (1/17/08): dnA at Too Sense recaps some of the trends.
"What's Gotten Into Bill?" (1/18/08): Eugene Robinson takes a more sustained shot at Bill Clinton. (I like Robinson most of the time, but have to agree with Bob Somerby's critique on this one).
"Black Dreams, White Liberals" (1/18/08): Charles Krauthammer builds on his reflexive sneers against Democrats to accuse white liberals such as the Clintons of keeping the black man down (and liberals have it coming too, for calling him a racist in the past!).
" Are Democrats over 45 Racists?" (1/20/08): Digby examines the silliness of a CBS story.
"Clinton, Obama crossfire continues" (1/22/08): Beth Fouhy of the AP continues the MSM narrative! Not only does this keep everything nice and superficial, this piece mostly shuts John Edwards out of the race. (Of course, all that "rebuttal" time at the debates does a nice job of that, too.)
"Breaking: Obama Says He's Not A Muslim! " (1/24/08): Greg Sargent takes a look at conservative site NewsMax.com's creative re-titling of an AP story. (Funny, isn't this how we started?)
I'm sure there's much more out there. But hey, now might also be a good time to revisit Fox News' progressive attitudes on race!
Keeping our Eyes on the Hardball
It's important for liberals to recognize the game being played. As Digby wrote in relationship to a certain infamous MSNBC program and its host:
The takeaway "insight" from this Hardball was that the Democratic race is now a battle between the racist old bitches and the sexist African Americans. Fabulous. (White men like Chris, you'll notice, are the only ones voting purely on the merits in this little scenario.)
As Digby's since noted, "Don't listen, campaigns. They only want to hurt the ball club." She also links Jane Hamsher's "Is The Press Out to Destroy the Democrats?" Like Jane, I have to say, um, yup. The "liberal media" is largely a myth, but in addition to any partisanship or double standard, there's the commercial motivation and personal vapidity. Attacking the Democrats makes good copy and good theater for them.
I'll say it again: America could use much more good discussion on race, gender and, even more importantly, class and power. The problem is, our national public discourse is still managed by shallow pundits. When it comes to presidential races, they always try to play kingmaker, and their judgment is unfailingly disastrous (Bush not once, but twice?!?). It's a mistake to put too much trust in any politician, and think that he or she will do the right thing without getting kicked in the ass consistently by the citizens he or she supposedly represents. Politicians and citizens often have different true interests. It's likewise dangerous to trust that that press, supposedly the citizen's advocate, have the general public's best interests in mind. As Mitt Romney, who saw his father march with Martin Luther King, might say: don't believe the hype.
(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)