It is nice to be needed, so I will get to work and resolve some of the problems. To warm up this week, I started reading some popular political blogs, and even commented on them (and guiltily admit to cleaning up the typos in them reprinted here). I don't read them much, but I haven't really watched the news in a few weeks. Many of these blogs were about President Carter. Let's visit his most recent error in judgment. Here's the exact controversial quote:
An “overwhelming portion of the intentionally demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man; that he is African-American.”
For the first time in this column, I say, - Seriously?
Sure, there's too much racial prejudice in the world today. Maybe there always will be during my lifetime, and long thereafter (I have hope - someday). The fantasy that prejudice is no more is a conservative one, but the fantasy that there are still substantive legal impediments to certain races or ethnic groups is a liberal one (in fact, it is by law weighted the other way).
But there has been a tremendous improvement in race relations the past half century to which I can personally attest. I know through experience that some people might read the previous sentence and believe I wrote - There is no racism anymore - but I've also learned that they cannot hear much else, such is their sensitivity to the subject, and so I will let it go. But, gone are the Jim Crow laws of the South, a large part of the animosity towards black/white couples, and many other of the badges of slavery that continued for a century after the Civil War. Even in my conservativism soaked little Southern town, where there seems to me far more racism than I would like, both conscious and un-conscious, a black and white couple could walk up and down the streets unmolested by anyone. Even in the north, where I still know people against inter-racial dating, they say nothing when in the presence of such a couple, nor would they have a problem inviting them to a wedding or a barbeque. It's undeniably better than it was.
Of course, the fact that we have a bi-racial president who identifies himself as black, speaks the proverbial volumes as to the change in our culture. Many people thought it could not happen. Indeed, until about two months before the election I admit I thought we would have a small percentage of people who would even say that they would vote for him but would not and that might make the difference - but it didn't seem to happen, at least in any measurable way, and it wouldn't have mattered much anyway.
Carter's rhetoric is inflammatory and meant to say, if you disagree with my side, then you can't have a good reason we can discuss and therefore it must be a product of racism. It is because of statements like this that he has so often played the fool the last few years. He hasn't done President Obama any favors with these comments and maybe he doesn't care. Ex-presidents often think they are still relevant, and for a few weeks he will be. That's because cable news needs something to talk about.
The real flap is mostly, of course, over health care, which dominates the political scene. I offered my own solution a few months ago; use the power of charity, augmented by increasing its tax benefits, to fuel non-profit organizations to supplement various medical needs. Part of that plan has now arisen in the idea that a not-for profit insurance company would be a good way to force for profit companies to compete harder. I have no problem with a not for-profit-insurance company competing with for profit companies in health any more than in other industries. I do have a problem if it is subsidized by the government, because then it's not really competition, it's destruction, followed by government takeover. But, perhaps I'm a racist for thinking so.
Last week, after Joe Wilson's unfortunate outburst during Obama's speech, Maureen Dowd - who - sorry liberal haters - is a great writer (no worries, though, so is Ann Coulter) - took aim by writing that even if it was "unfair" to say so, that when Wilson said, "You lie," he meant, "You lie, boy." I commented on the New York Times page as follows:
Seriously? You are not going to castigate him for calling Obama a liar during his speech, you are going to make believe that he added "boy"?
It's not "fair or unfair," it's just plain unfair. Especially because you know that people will read it and just remember the "boy" part, not that you made it up. Wilson was rude, unprofessional and even, idiotic. But to target people as racist because of where they live - well, I live in the South too. I guess that makes me a racist.
The other day I commented on a Jonah Goldberg piece where his defense of birthers was that people who believed the government was involved in 9/11 were even more nuts. We get the same ridiculous, over the top, nonsense from both sides.
If you folks can't write about something that actually happened, why do you have these big jobs?
p.s. I usually like your column, and you are a great (although biased) writer, but this was just silly. Come on.
However, if one of Dowd's points is that there is still a lot of prejudice in the South, I'm not going to argue too much. For example, The Daily Kos reports a poll showing that “birthers” are a regional phenomena. 69% of them are born in the South. The suggestion is that because the South held onto Jim Crow so long, this is a holdover of racism. Maybe so. Living in the north of the South, it seems to me that there is a little more racism here than in New York, where I spent most of my life. However, this is purely anecdotal, and I can’t be sure that this is so, and admit a bias to believe it given U.S. history. Also, I’ve met any number of people down here who are anything but racist. But it is also a place with a strong history of anti-federalism and state’s rights, not exactly the Obama administration’s strong point.
It is no more fair to decide that Joe Wilson was rude because Obama was black as it is to believe that Obama is being less than honest because he was black. In fact, put Clarence Thomas up as even the Democrat candidate and see how many conservatives would happily vote for him. Most.
Now maybe Wilson had a knee-jerk conservative reaction to Obama. That I buy (although I do agree with his point that Obama was not telling the truth, at best, being slippery, but he was rude and that doesn't serve his side at all, any more than the Pink Ladies influenced debate by interrupting congressional hearings). But Dowd has knee-jerk liberal reactions every week.
Calling someone racist without good grounds is almost as bad as being racist, some might think exactly as bad. It certainly happens much too often.
A number of times during the presidential election I was asked with incredulity – HOW I could vote for McCain? I had a list of reasons which even my political accusers agreed were, at least, reasons. I won’t bore you here with it as I already lost that one. But one reason I voted for McCain definitely was not that Obama was black. I, and I know many others who voted against him (even, I think, John McCain), who thought it was a significant moment in our history that a black man was elected. But one of the few personal faults of Obama that bothered me during the election was the too frequent race cards thrown by Obama’s staff or supporters, particularly in the primaries. He stayed out of it for the most part and still does. I appreciate that. But, I thought he should have actively countered it during the election and he failed in that.
Obama can’t control Carter (no one can). But, he could, in passing, say, "I disagree with President Carter’s belief. Racism does exist. But most of my political adversaries have principled positions that differ from mine. Let’s have a debate about the best thing for America." That would impress me. His press secretary, Gibbs, has pretty much said so, and Obama gets his chance this Sunday on the news shows.
Speaking of Jonah Goldberg, here was my comment on his absurd little piece on the birthers, defending them on the basis that "truthers" who believe that the towers went down as part of a U.S. government plot. Admittedly, it sounds suspiciously like my comment to Dowd, as I wrote them close in time:
That's your argument? Birthers are nuts, but truthers are more nuts? You should have mentioned the "flat earthers" and the "no moon landers". That would make birthers look even better. Come on. You are better than that.
And speaking of birthers, they are out of their evalovin’ partisan minds just the way the liberals who thought Bush was going to declare martial law if Obama won were out of theirs. People don’t like it when others disagree with their politics and they tend to make up stuff and believe almost anything about their “enemy”. I laugh when I read that some society, like Iraq, for example, is susceptible to rumors and myths, as our own culture is awash with them.
One of my favorite myth/rumor busters is John Stossel, who has been commenting for years on the silly things Americans believe and demolishing them with facts. He recently announced his move from ABC to FoxNews where he felt he will have more time to explore his libertarianism, which I find to be an elastic term difficult to pin down. I have my libertarian instincts, and if you put a a gun to my head and said pick an -ism to describe yourself, I might just settle on that, although I would be very unsatisfied with the answer and greatly prefer the even more amorphous independent/moderate. In response to Stossel's online request for suggestions I wrote as follows, venting my usual anti-partisan rant:
I picked up one of your books one day (never saw your show as I never watch network news) and recognized a sympathetic soul - the fears Americans have, the things they believe, are often absurd. And you nail them, one after another.
However, although I hope you continue your approach on Fox, please do not fall under the Fox spell that everything left is wrong. We have too much tunnel vision on tv - whether on the networks, Fox, CNN or MSNBC. In my humble opinion, partisanship makes everyone a little bit crazy and both sides believe things that aren't true as articles of faith. Bust all myths, not just liberal ones (and they both have plenty).
For example, conservative radio and tv hosts' claims that it was conservatives who gave us the the civil rights acts are just so much nonsense. That comes from mixing the concepts of Democrat/Republican with conservative/liberal. If you read the votes on the acts, you can see, the split was not so much Democrat/Republican as it was North/South. The southern Democrats were primarily conservatives, the Northern Democrats primarily liberal, but whether Republican or Democrat, the push for civil rights came primarily from liberalism.
In other words, be the same maverick you were on network tv on Fox. If you were going to MSNBC, I'd be asking you to do the same, but in the opposite direction – bust liberal myths too. Vex your bosses and you will draw fans like me.
Politicians change over time. Often they mellow with age. Pat Buchanan is one of them. He was for a while the leading extreme Republican. At least since he started working for MSNBC and spending a lot of time with Republican moderate Joe Scarsborough, Pat Buchanan has way mellowed. He was so hated on the left that it took me a while to convince a couple of liberal friends that he really was cuddly and grandfatherly. They came around after they saw him a few times.
That doesn't mean he became a liberal - far from it. One of the more distasteful aspects of his early rhetoric for me was the belief that diversity is bad for America. There was a time when his feeling was quite intense, but he states it more gently now. Recently, he posted an opinion piece where he blamed the increase in partisanship and uncivility to diversity. I commented as follows:
I admire Mr. Buchanan's knowledge and experience, but this is just hooey, as he must know given the depth of his historical knowledge. First, America was always a diversified country - what it wasn't was a country where power was shared among different ethnic groups. There were always blacks, Hispanics (speaking Spanish), Protestants, Catholics (at the beginning very few), Indians, etc. and their cultures always intermixed. Take something that seems as solid and fixed - classical music. It itself comes from the contributions of people all over Europe whose people and governments were often at each others' throats during that same time period it was being developed. Where do you think Jazz came from? It didn't pop out of Benny Goodman's clarinet and Bing Crosby's throat - it developed primarily from Black music - Whites liked it and contributed to it. There was always old music and new music; there was always a mix of languages (I'm for one official language - English - for government, law and school). You could go on endlessly. That's what great about America. Diversity can be unsettling, but eventually, when given time, develops into culture we all think of as "ours". America does have big problems (always will) and two political cultures at odds with each other. But, as I'm sure Mr. Buchanan knows, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were battling away in the very first cabinet. My advice - relax; try and get together on what we can; be fairer to the "other side" than you perceive they are to you; and read history. People like Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann are popular among their fans because they are extreme and often just absurd, but there are other more moderate voices out there. Mr. Buchanan used to be an extremist, in my view, but has grown into a more balanced position. He used to be one of the verbal bomb throwers, and I'm glad to see he has less patience for it.
I think the national Republicans are without honor, ideas, or courage.
I couldn't help but write back as follows reporting on my previous evening with a group of conservatives here in town:
Oh, now I get it. It's the Republicans who are at fault. See, I was confused because I had heard that about the liberals last night, although I believe they used "mentally ill," "without a clue" and "without morals". I was also told that "you moderates" (meaning me, not you) are the problem. That I expect. No one likes the guys who point out that both sides behave the same way. It ruins the illusion of good and evil, right and wrong.
Had enough? Giving up your partisan ways? Fine, I'll stop for now, but I will be watching.