Sunday, September 13, 2009

MoDo tries to write about racism: a painful thing to see

Maureen Dowd in Boy, Oh, Boy New York Times Online 09/12/09 tries to write about a serious subject. I think. But even when she criticizes somebody obnoxious - in this case neo-Confederate Congressman Joe Wilson - she still can't tell the difference between reality and the voices in her head. She thinks Obama has a hard time figuring out his opposition because he never got beaten up as a kid for being black. (!?!) Seeing MoDo try to write about racism is as painful as when she tries to write about any serious subject.

I'll give MoDo some credit: she did manage to provide some information on Joe Wilson's background. I wonder how much of that she got from someone like Dave Neiwert at Crooks and Liars in Obama heckler Joe Wilson a member of neo-Confederate SCV, fought to keep Dixie flag flying in South Carolina 09/10/09. Dave is the editor for C&L, where they practice an arcane art generally alien to MoDo, called "journalism". But she at least managed to work in a couple of sentences giving readers an idea of Wilson's dubious background.

But this is MoDo, so you have to be careful. Dave Neiwert and Blue Texan both note that he was one of seven legislator in South Carolina in 2000 who voted against moving the Confederate flag off the State Capitol grounds. Both of them source the claim to this post by Jeff Quinton 01/19/2008. But MoDo writes that Wilson "led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol." This BBC News report of 11/03/1999, Americas Confederate 'swastika' under attack does show Wilson's photograph and quotes him saying, "The Southern heritage, the Confederate heritage is very honourable." My point on this is that I don't trust MoDo's embellishments.

Why do so many American voters and consumers not know that the other wealthy countries of the world spend much less per person on health care and get comparable or better results while covering everyone? Because celebrity pundits like MoDo are too busy focusing on sideshows like Wilson instead of doing some kind of useful reporting on critical policy issues.

And even doing a bad job of that. To take one obvious example, look carefully to see the part where MoDo explains what part of Obama's speech was the occasion for that outburst, i.e., whether undocumented immigrants are eligible to participate. And also look to see whether she explains the actual facts of the underlying issue. The closest I saw of any of that was an obtuse reference that Obama wasn't lying.

But MoDo knows that Wilson called out "You lie!" during Obama's speech Wednesday. Although the voices in her head tell her that what he really meant was "You lie, boy!" or maybe she was directly reading his mind, however she does that. What she actually says is, "But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!"

Racism didn't end when Obama was elected. And much of the criticism is related to white racism. But alleged liberals like MoDo are being dumbly superficial in how they adduce that:

I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer — the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids — had much to do with race.

I tended to agree with some Obama advisers that Democratic presidents typically have provoked a frothing response from paranoids — from Father Coughlin against F.D.R. to Joe McCarthy against Truman to the John Birchers against J.F.K. and the vast right-wing conspiracy against Bill Clinton.

But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted "liar" at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.
So, let's take MoDo at her word for the moment on this. She thinks Wilson is a racist because ... he showed bad manners! And because she (or The Voices) telepathically heard him say - "fair or not" - "You lie, boy!"

This actually says far more about the groupthink among our Pod Pundits than about Wilson's racism. Health care reform bores our star pundits to death. One of the funniest Saturday Night Live skits in 2008 was a spoof of the debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in which moderators Brian Williams and the late Tim Russert were so obviously hostile to Clinton. The skit starts off with with the Brian Williams character complaining about painfully boring it was to hear Clinton talk about health care reform. They would rather find almost anything to talk about other than what health care reform actually means. They muster more outrage over the idea that torture perpetrators might be prosecuted than over the torture program itself. But bad manners at a Joint Session of Congress? Bring out the smelling salts! This isn't ideological, or a symbol of the dreaded Liberal Press. These people are just strange. Mark Shields and David Brooks were in high dudgeon over this shocking, shocking breach of protocol on Friday's PBS Newshour, too. I was particularly intrigued by this comment of Brooks, since I assume many of his associates are fellow pseudo-journalists:

And it was just -- I know a lot of people who, frankly -- this is the company I keep -- but they don't pay -- they're not going to watch the speech. They don't pay that much close attention. They don't know about comparative effective new research, but they do know about Joe Wilson now, and they do know what that Republican did. [my emphasis]
I can't read minds like MoDo and her Voices. But I'm just sayin'.

Personally, I don't much care that this neo-Confederate jerk Wilson yelled out an obnoxious comment at a moment where there was a lot of applause. I looked at my recording of the tape at that point, and I had to rewind a couple of times before I could make out the words "You lie!" And I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have much noticed it, if at all, if I hadn't read about it beforehand - since I had a hard time making it out even when I was listening closely for it. The pomp and circumstance around the President in circumstances like that is way overblown and frankly has an undemocratic element about it.

I'm going to be posting more about this issue of what role white racism may play in the current Republican reaction to Obama and the Democrats. But we shouldn't just keep the history of the 1990s stuffed down the proverbial memory hold. Glenn Greenwald has an important article on this in Is the Right's attack on Obama's legitimacy new or unprecedented? Salon 09/12/09:

In 1994, Jesse Helms, then-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, claimed that "just about every military man" believes Clinton is unqualified to be Commander-in-Chief and then warned/threatened him not to venture onto military bases in the South: "Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He better have a bodyguard." The Wall St. Journal called for a Special Prosecutor to investigate the possible "murder" of Vince Foster. Clinton was relentlessly accused by leading right-wing voices of being a murderer, a serial rapist, and a drug trafficker. Tens of millions of dollars and barrels of media ink were expended investigating "Whitewater," a "scandal" which, to this day, virtually nobody can even define. When Clinton tried to kill Osama bin Laden, they accused him of "wagging the dog" -- trying to distract the country from the truly important matters at hand (his sex scandal). ...

This is why I have very mixed feelings about the protests of conservatives such as David Frum or Andrew Sullivan that the conservative movement has been supposedly "hijacked" by extremists and crazies. On the one hand, this is true. But when was it different? Rush Limbaugh didn't just magically appear in the last twelve months. He -- along with people like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Bill Kristol and Jesse Helms -- have been leaders of that party for decades. Republicans spent the 1990s wallowing in Ken Starr's sex report, "Angry White Male" militias, black U.N. helicopters, Vince Foster's murder, Clinton's Mena drug runway, Monica's semen-stained dress, Hillary's lesbianism, "wag the dog" theories, and all sorts of efforts to personally humiliate Clinton and destroy the legitimacy of his presidency using the most paranoid, reality-detached, and scurrilous attacks. And the crazed conspiracy-mongers in that movement became even more prominent during the Bush years. Frum himself -- now parading around as the Serious Adult conservative -- wrote, along with uber-extremist Richard Perle, one of the most deranged and reality-detached books of the last two decades, and before that, celebrated George W. Bush, his former boss, as "The Right Man." [my emphasis in italics]
Here's a brief account of a typical sort of thing that was going on back then, from Joe Conason's and Gene Lyons' book, The Hunting of the President (2000). The late Jerry Falwell was, then an up until his recent death, an influential figure on the Christian Right. In 1994 he broadcast on his weekly Old-Time Gospel Hour weekly TV program an infomercial that featured this little bit of melodrama:

Toward the end of the thirty-minute infomercial, Falwell interviewed a figure in silhouette, identified only as an "investigative reporter."

"Can you please tell me and the American people why you think that your life and the lives of the others on this video are in danger?" the reverend asks.

"Jerry, two weeks ago we had an interview with a man who was an insider," the dark figure replies. "His plane crashed and he was killed an hour before the interview. You may say this is just a coincidence, but there was another fellow that we were also going to interview, and he was killed in a plane crash. Jerry, are these coincidences? I don't think so."

The silhouette's voice was recognized by investigative reporter Murray Waas [who is still around in 2009 doing good work], who finally got Pat Matrisciana [an entrepreneur who promoted films and other materials for Christian Right groups] to admit he was the mystery man. "Obviously, I'm not an investigative reporter," Matrisciana confessed, "and I doubt our lives were actually ever in any real danger. That was Jerry's idea to do that. ... He thought that would be dramatic."
This was a cheap scam, of course. But like the ravings of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck today, they were very influential for Republican audiences and fed their paranoia of the evil Clintons' And that was less than a year-and-a-half into Clinton's first term. As silly and flimsy as it is, Sarah Palin's "death panel" charges was just as dishonest and fraudulent. But we've seen that the Republican Noise Machine makes maximum use of just this kind of sleaze. And it's been going on for at least two decades.

But instead of being pilloried as a fraud and liar, Falwell up until his death was a respected figure in the Republican Party and among the national press. Here's the obituary for Falwell by David Molpus on 05/15/07 that appeared last year on the NPR Web site, Televangelist, Christian Leader Jerry Falwell Dies. Molpus reports that the Rev. Falwell was "a pioneer among televangelists who later became a leading voice in the national debate over Christian values." Molpus gives an example:

And Falwell's legacy of spurring religious conservatives into political action has hardly abated. One example: Christian protesters and their allies in Congress forcing the nation's attention on Terri Schiavo.

Falwell added his voice to that debate, referring to the Schiavo case as part of America's "death syndrome." It started, he said, with the "legalization of abortion — now euthanasia."
He was falsely accusing Democrats of murder in 1994. And he was accusing Democrats of promoting "euthanasia" in 2005. This is a big reason that the "death panels" nonsense was so persuasive to many Republicans. Anti-abortionists have been saying for years that legalized abortion would lead to euthanasia, and they were making accusations about euthanasia around the Schiavo case in 2005.

This stuff is not new for the Republicans. However much Maureen Dowd and her Beltway Bubble colleagues may like to pretend so. It's easier to spin the events of the day into fanciful stories concocted by herself and The Voices if you arbitrarily pretend that the relevant past events just didn't happen.

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