Sunday, September 20

You Say "Puh-Tay-Toe", I Say "There's Nothing Like Being Lectured On The Grand Sweep Of US History By A Man Who Denies It Had A Labor Movement".

David Brooks, "No, It's Not About Race". September 17

WELL, with all the Hoosier-flavored excitement this week, getting the Old, Unglued Mitch Daniels back (Friday the State Bar Association objected to his tirade; Sunday the Indianapolis Racist Beacon treated that news with a gag headline and the distinct air of someone who'd wound up at the bail bondsman's for the fourth time due to his roommate's drunken antics); the panegyric for fallen Mall Developer Mel Simon, whose ritualized amnesia naturally ignored his Pacers holding up the city for an extra $15 mil a year, the better to treat him as a sort of Albert Schweitzer called to live among the pagan Cinnabon franchisees (the local news hairdos reported the day before his funeral--attended by Bill Clinton, by the way--the possibility that George Hamilton would attend. Reader, imagine living in such a world!); a proposal by the Airport Authority to help pay for its $1 billion experiment in whether "boondoggle" or "butt ugly cathedral-slash-warehouse" was the greater insult to a new terminal building now mired in Terminal Red, by--you'll never guess--selling off, I mean "leasing for twice the lifetime of anyone able to read", its assets; and the "restructuring" of Mitch's old slushing grounds, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, which is the Fourth Sign of the Indianapolcalypse, it's been difficult to focus on national "news", even if Jimmy Carter did say something.

(We suspect, by the way, that like us Carter has passed beyond anger at the fact that everything he ever says publicly--no matter how perceptive or bland or familiar--is treated simultaneously as the sui generis ravings of a street-corner Sterno bum and as though it had the legal force of an ill-considered Presidential directive, passed beyond anger, we say, through boredom, and into a sort of fascination with the process, like watching a bruise turn every color of the visible spectrum.)

Is Carter wise enough of the ways of such things that he realized, even intended, to goad David Brooks into one of those moments of phony self-deprecation which are in reality a transparent exercise in Slate-style doublereverse counterspin self-aggrandizement? David Brooks jogs! (Okay, he says "runs", but I'm not buying it.) I mean, can you believe that? David Brooks? The man's such an intellectual you wouldn't think he had time for physical exertion, let alone the inclination! Anyway, Jimmy Carter interrupted David Brooks' cardio routine:
Then, as I got to where the Smithsonian museums start, I came across another rally, the Black Family Reunion Celebration. Several thousand people had gathered to celebrate African-American culture. I noticed that the mostly white tea party protesters were mingling in with the mostly black family reunion celebrants. The tea party people were buying lunch from the family reunion food stands. They had joined the audience of a rap concert.

Because sociology is more important than fitness, I stopped to watch the interaction. These two groups were from opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum. They’d both been energized by eloquent speakers. Yet I couldn’t discern any tension between them. It was just different groups of people milling about like at any park or sports arena.

Okay, now, assuming this has any relationship to what other, old-fashioned thinkers call the truth (this is the guy, remember, who couldn't find a way to spend $20 on a meal in Franklin County, PA, but could find the salad bar at Applebee's), let's note the uni-directional nature of the social osmosis, and its stereotypicality: your 21st century White teabagger does not mind if the Black Man cooks for him, or entertains him with his remarkable musical abilities! Yes, we've truly come a long way.

Meanwhile, and I'm not sure if Mr. Brooks is quite aware of this, but the reason you didn't report on the number of African-American Cultural celebrants drifting the other direction, drawn by the redolence of Burkean freedom, faux-hillbilly music sung through the noses of Music City millionaires, and bologna on white bread with yellow mustard--apart from the obvious reasons, I mean--is that African Americans, as a group, generally stay th' fuck away from crazy people and unleashed curs.
And yet we live in a nation in which some people see every conflict through the prism of race. So over the past few days, many people, from Jimmy Carter on down, have argued that the hostility to President Obama is driven by racism. Some have argued that tea party slogans like “I Want My Country Back” are code words for white supremacy. Others say incivility on Capitol Hill is magnified by Obama’s dark skin.

Well, Christ, Dave, it's a big fuckin' country, and prismatic viewers are sold on every street corner where they're not just given away. A lot of people insist on seeing every conflict through the prism of Post-War European power struggles, Monarchist versions of the French Revolution, and the Divine Right of People With Money to short-change everyone else. They are typically termed "conservatives", around these parts, anyway, and the principal distinction between them and the sort of people who are typically charged with "seeing everything through a prism of Race" is that the former have actually held real political power for much of the last sixty years.
Well, I don’t have a machine for peering into the souls of Obama’s critics,
Y'know, Dave, I bet the IT department could recalibrate the one you use for peering into the souls of Democrats.
so I can’t measure how much racism is in there.
You could always embark on another fact-finding trip.
But my impression is that race is largely beside the point.
Now there's a shocking conclusion. Will you be having the Salad Bar with that?
There are other, equally important strains in American history that are far more germane to the current conflicts.
Do tell. Y'know, if you'd like to tell us now which ones were specifically excluded by Jimmy Carter when he said an "overwhelming portion" of the animosity aimed at the President was due to racism, I'll be sure to take notes. (By the way, I peeked ahead, so if you'd like to go ahead and actually list more than one other contributing strain while you're at it we won't mark off for grammar.)
The populist tendency has always used the same sort of rhetoric: for the ordinary people and against the fat cats and the educated class; for the small towns and against the financial centers.

And it has always had the same morality, which the historian Michael Kazin has called producerism. The idea is that free labor is the essence of Americanism. Hard-working ordinary people, who create wealth in material ways, are the moral backbone of the country. In this free, capitalist nation, people should be held responsible for their own output. Money should not be redistributed to those who do not work, and it should not be sucked off by condescending, manipulative elites.
All right, class, someone returned a copy of My American History Reader with the years 1865 through 1942 ripped out, and no one leaves for summer vacation until he comes forward.
Barack Obama leads a government of the highly educated. His movement includes urban politicians, academics, Hollywood donors and information-age professionals. In his first few months, he has fused federal power with Wall Street, the auto industry, the health care industries and the energy sector.
Which had all gone begging previously.

Krishna H. Vishnu, where were all the Teabagging Populists when the Silver-Spoonfed Cowboy and his Hench-President were handing over energy policy to the Oil Companies, and war profits to their cronies? Or when the Poor marched off to fight yet another Rich Man's war? It's all because Barack Hussein Kenyatta Obama is educated? Please. That's not Jacksonian common-man democracy. It's the bullshit anti-intellectualism the Republican party has been fertilizing its fields with since the 50s, when it began losing every issue on facts and was left with appeals to emotionalism. Those millions gathered in DC a week ago don't give two shits about populism, not any more than the people organizing the things--who are the precise definition of Hamiltonian fat cats, by the way, Dave--do. How popular was the dirt-poor born, kick-the-lazy-bums-off-Welfare reformer Bill Clinton with that bunch? How many fucking times did we hear that George W. Bush, the uneducated man's Winston Churchill, was our nation's first MBA-wielding savior? If they now pay lip service to the "non-elitism" of Sarah Palin, it's not because she's a Woman of the People, but because she's so plug-ignorant despite a college education that you can't pretend it took.

Look, I'm sorry, really, that your youthful fad-following was never adjusted by a later adult reflection, probably because spouting Friedmanisms paid so well and kept you so busy. But to you, and Andrew Sullivan, and everyone else who expresses a temporal mild distaste for the racist dumbasses your party expressly cultivated in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, the better to keep your own white-gloved pinkies clean: Fuck you. You were happy to use the race card to denounce your opponents back when you were on top, and you were happy to declare racism Over rather than work for a more just society, but when you get called on this it's the fault of toothless hillbillies who aren't actually racist, really, so far as you can see from Georgetown. What Carter said was simply self-evident; pretending otherwise, pretending that this ugly stain doesn't exist, or that you don't see it, pretending that I Want My Country Back is just a paean to the barefoot days of Bush/Cheney, pretending, above all, that because the Right has been batshit crazy for forty-years it hasn't been racist as well, y'know, I suppose if it helps you sleep at night we can just add it to the Pile.


ckc (not kc) said...

The idea is that free labor is the essence of Americanism. Hard-working ordinary people, who create wealth in material ways, are the moral backbone of the country. In this free, capitalist nation, people should be held responsible for their own output.

...why all the complaints, then, about other free, capitalist nations stealing jobs with their (next-to) free labor?

StringonaStick said...

It's, well, not funexactly, but at least instructive to watch these guys try to tut-tut away the obvious racism. Having grown up with people for whom a really disgusting racist joke is jes'funnin', I know better.

If Obama happened to be white, all the same shit they are flinging would still be flung, but the fact that he's black adds just one more avenue for directing their hordes of low-information voters and drooling rednecks, and with these groups, it is also a very easy avenue to take.

Brooks should consider another prarie aphorism: stop pissing on my leg and telling me it's raining.

LKT said...

"You were happy to use the race card to denounce your opponents back when you were on top, and you were happy to declare racism Over rather than work for a more just society, but when you get called on this it's the fault of toothless hillbillies who aren't actually racist, really, so far as you can see from Georgetown.

Reading this blog is inevitably one of the high points of any day. You are an inspiration, sir.

Anonymous said...

I get the reference 'cos I saw the poem once:

You say "potato". I say "potato".
I say "tomato". You say "tomato".

Potato! Potato!
Tomato! Tomato!

Let’s call the whole thing off.

But what does it mean?

isabelita said...

Whew. You are world-class. The beloved spouse and I marvel, and chortle in appreciation, over your prose on a regular basis.

MaryF said...

wow. "The idea is that free labor is the essence of Americanism."

Yes, much of american exceptionalism is built on free labor. Free, as in, when you paid for it by the carcass, on an hourly basis, it works out to pretty darn near free.

Nope, never heard of racism having any intersection with the idea of free labor.