Thursday, 15 July 2010

Top marks for imagination

The NAACP accuses the Tea Party movement of having racists and bigots within its ranks, whom its leadership should repudiate. This sounds pretty reasonable - but how can one be sure that these 'racists and bigots' exist to any significant degree?

This is how the official spokesman and former Chairman of Tea Party Express (a leading organiser of rallies in support of the Tea Party agenda), responded to the NAACP's call:
"You're dealing with people who are professional race-baiters, who make a very good living off this kind of thing. They make more money off of race than any slave trader ever. It's time groups like the NAACP went to the trash heap of history where they belong with all the other vile racist groups that emerged in our history," Williams said.

So, part of the Tea Party leadership believes that slave traders were no worse, really, than a civil rights-inspired lobbying group? The NAACP seems to have been seriously understating the problem they'd identified.

Here's another story from today, which describes how leaders of the North Ohio Tea Party regretted placing an image of Obama next to one of Hitler. They said it 'just totally wiped everything else and it misrepresents the tea party movement'. Part of the everything else that it 'just totally wiped' was an image of Lenin on the other side.

It's true that the anti-war left compared Bush to Hitler during the last administration. That was nuts too - but it didn't seem so popular.

Last night when I read Richard Cobb describe the American reading public as 'possibly the most unimaginative, certainly the most ignorant in the world', I was inclined to dismiss it as the product of particular a streak of anti-Americanism sometimes found in that generation. I still think in one respect he's definitely wrong: there's nothing 'unimaginative' about this particular portion of the American public. If anything, their imaginations run away with them.


Vern said...

I fear your memory fails you if you think the Bushitler 'meme' was unpopular. Au contraire, it was everywhere and even spouted by a Congressman to no great censure.

Hysteria is the default setting of American political rhetoric, on both sides, now and forever, Amen.

Vern said...

... see, as a shining example, the career of one Andrew Sullivan Esq., who even as a respected commentator nevertheless persists in his birther nonsense regarding Trig Palin; the venerable Jesse Jackson, who compared the chief of LeBron James' former team to a slave owner, and so on and so on.

Blithering shit comes from the mouths of all parties, at all times. Even Ben Jealous, the head of the NAACP, in his preamble to the vote denouncing the Tea Party cited fictional racist signs ('Lynch Barack Hussein Obama') as his reasons.

Now real objectionable signs do exist, but the specific ones he cited have never been spotted as far as I am aware, although a similar (fictional) meme has been popularised by the noted racist and Jew basher Louis Farrakhan.


Hey Skipper said...

So, part of the Tea Party leadership believes that slave traders were no worse, really, than a civil rights-inspired lobbying group?

I think you lept past what the TP spokesman said to what you assumed he meant.

He said that the NAACP (as an organization) makes more money off race than any (individual) slave trader.

Whether one can meaningfully compare the value of money 150 years ago to that of today is debatable, but there is no denying that there are professional race baiters -- Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton, in addition to the NAACP -- who do very well in terms of power and income by perpetuating and aggravating racial grievances.

I also think you neglected to include the final sentence in the quote, where he wishes the NAACP join all the other vile racist groups in our history.

More importantly, though, is that the left is engaging in wholesale ad hominem attack.

Let's take as given for the moment that the Tea Party contains racists.

So what, unless the Tea Party platform itself is racist.

It isn't.

The left is trumpeting this canard because it cannot compete in terms of ideas.

Gaw said...

Vern: But I do think that given the context nutty white racism is scarier.

Skip: I think a broad equivalence was being established:

(1) Today's 'professional race baiters' (not the NAACP as an organisation) make more money off race than any slave trader ever (first and second sentences);

(2) In doing so their racism is similarly 'vile' (the last sentence in the quote).

(3) They deserve the same fate - being sent to 'the trash heap of history' - implying their 'crimes' are worthy of the same punishment.

Regardless of what you think of the NAACP today, it's undeniable (though I may be surprised) that they were a force for good in the fight for civil rights for blacks. It's really very sick to suggest their motivations were pecuniary in the same way as those of slave traders, that they were motivated by a similarly vile racism and that they deserve the same fate.

With someone like this as a prominent spokesman and leader I'm persuaded that racism is a significant motivation behind the Tea Party agenda. The focus is probably on preventing black Americans from enjoying benefits funded by taxes. I note that the Tea Parties don't oppose Medicare with the same passion as medical insurance coverage for the poor.

And as for competing in terms of ideas? If 'Obama = Bolshevik' is winning that race the US really is in trouble.

sean said...

Dont be so daft Garth, your feelings are getting in the way of common understanding.

Actions speak louder than words and intentions are more easily identified.

Gaw said...

Sean, I find it difficult to understand how you (or Skipper) manage to come to a different understanding of that quote than me.

I've provided an instance where actions and words can share the same construction.

sean said...

Nope! its the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that sounds racist to me. Is not White a colour Garth? do they mean "black" people?

Cant say ive been watching US politics too much of late,but if you take a peek at the signs in the tea party crowd you get the message.

"It doesn't matter what this sign
says. You'll call it racism, anyway!"

I think the American left are just pissed that Bam has blown it, and America knows it. I think the Dems will dump on him and dump him for 2012.

Gaw said...

Turns out you don't need to look too hard for racism when they condemn themselves from their own mouths (that dickhead certainly did - as does anyone who still associates with him).

You know what role the NAACP had in civil rights, don't you? They defined themselves as coloured people as that was the term of art when they were founded. And they really didn't come up with the idea of defining people on the basis of colour.

By the way, being a racist isn't always something that someone sets out to be. They can just end up that way through a large portion of ignorance and a lack of imagination (or perhaps sometimes too much).

Brit said...

On the one hand that Hitler/Stalin Tea Party poster is preposterous and undermines their ability to be serious. As Vern says, hysteria is the default setting.

On the other hand, I understood that quote the way that Sean and Skipper did.

Talking of Sean, do I detect a pattern here whereby the 'Garth' is wheeled out when he disagrees with you?

Gaw said...

Brit, in what way is lumping the NAACP together with slave traders as 'vile' 'racists', both similarly fit for the dustbin of history, not a form of strong equivalence? Is 'vile racist' Rosa Parks destined for the same circle of hell as a slave trader?

sean said...

"Garth" if I had a pound everytime someone said/called me "nazi", "racist", and my fave "did you get your wife by mail order" I would have enough to buy Lewis Hamilton's new boat.

Usually its a sign the debate has reached bottom and they have no where to go, in this case the protagonist have no where to go, they are beaten. And its so easy to find racism in most people and most things to make yourself look better than they are.

Is it not the NAACP that wants to keep poor kids in crap government schools? keep your customers stupid and needing your fix, seems to be the business plan.

Brit said...

It's absurdly sweeping rhetoric of course, but the way left-wing groups bandy about accusations of racism for political reasons is just as nonsensical.

Them Americans are crazy.

Gaw said...

Sean: My point wasn't directed at you. I hope you don't think it should have been.

Brit: By the way, this sort of equivalence is a rhetorical move that's been used by supporters of slavery, the Confederacy and segregation across the last couple of hundred years. It's a form of 'whatabout-ism' that seeks to get slavery, etc. off the hook. I think I'm drawing the reasonable conclusion when it's wheeled out again.

Hey Skipper said...


I think a broad equivalence was being established

I agree he was making a broad equivalence; however, if anything it is unfair to slave traders.

Yes, I know that sounds unspeakably morally obtuse.

It isn’t. One of the thing I have been taught from participating in discussion threads is that it simply isn’t cricket to judge the actions of our ancestors by today’s standards. It isn’t fair to judge Catholicism of the 1600s through the lens of modernity. Two hundred years ago most, if not all, Europeans viewed Africans as being a sub species of human, and thereby treated them like nothing more than particularly trainable beasts of burden.

Now we know better. We know that humanity is not discountable based upon geography.

Yet despite knowing better, the NAACP and other professional race baiters continue to act solely in terms of morally reprehensible terms of race identity. And while it is not fair to judge our ancestors by contemporary standards, it is certainly fair to judge our contemporaries.

By that judgment, today’s judgment, not that of forty or 200 years ago, the NAACP needs adding to the ash heap of history, just as all other theologies and ideologies that impose upon people the putative characteristics of their group, rather than treating them as individuals.

Of course the NAACP made significant contributions to civil rights for blacks. No matter what the professional race baiters say, though, that war has been won, hands down. No one in the US, other than those with palpable mental defect, say, or think, that African Americans (or any other group) do not deserve equal treatment before the law. And you will search in vain for any element of Tea Party philosophy that suggests otherwise.

That is how I come to understand that quote differently than you. The tag line provides context, and current events provide cause.

What makes it worse, though, is that the NAACP continues to advocate group preference policies that, in addition to being repellant on their face, produce horrible results.

Practically speaking, Americans simply do not view black racism the same way as white racism. That is why the quote seems so incendiary when it really says nothing of the kind. It is one version of the bigotry of low expectations.

Gaw said...

Your history isn't right there: two hundred (and more) years ago slave traders were beyond the pale for a good portion of society. Even many slave owners found they couldn't defend slave trading. A number of countries including Denmark, Great Britain and the US had banned the slave trade by 1810.

Conor Cruise O'Brien wrote a very good book on Thomas Jefferson (The Long Affair) which, in part, analysed the guilt felt by enlightened slave owners.

We live in liberal societies (I use liberal in its traditional sense) and our values were defined in opposition to people like slave traders. We should judge comparisons like this Tea Party person's from the perspective of liberal society and to do so condemns the comparison.

As I said above, relativising slavery and segregation is a well-worn trope, which in the past has been used by racists to establish moral equivalence.

Vern said...

Ranking members of the NAACP denounce ideologically dissenting blacks as Uncle Toms, in those precise words, lots of footage of that. Kind of racist, definitely unsavoury. Not as noble an organisation as it used to be, here it is acting as a wing of the Democrat party seeking to get out the black vote in order to minimise the bloodshed come November. It's essentially fear-mongering with this resolution, because the Big O's agenda is sinking like the lead turd it is. That is the context in which to understand why the NAACP did what they did.

Tea Party contains some idiots, is much given to hyperbole like everybody else in US politics but is obviously not a racist organisation unless one believes in false consciousness, in which case let us apply said theory to NAACP & organisations of their ilk also. Anti- war marches in the UK are awash with jihadis and anti -Semites but this does not make anti war marches jihadist or anti Semitic. Small govt, etc is what they are about, as they say over and over again. Plenty of blacks have addressed Tea Party crowds without being lynched, egged or spat on which is a fact, pure and simple.

Evil Republican right wingers appointed the first black chief of staff, the first black secretary of state, the first female black secretary of state, the first black supreme court justice. Evil Republicans also sponsored and passed an amnesty for immigrants back in the 1980s. The recently deceased Robert Byrd (Dem) however was a cyclops in the KKK. I am not a Republican.

The primary race-baiters are those on the 'left' who toss the term around with wild abandon. If you lived here GAW old boy you would hear it flung about like it was nobody's business, usually by Dems seeking to demonise their opponents. You say Stalin, I say Hitler, let's call the whole thing off. It's not really working however.

Hey Skipper said...


Two hundred years ago most, if not all, Europeans viewed Africans as being a sub species ...

That is the history I am standing by; and that attitude was widespread until well into the 20th century.

Which highlights the fundamental problem: attributing to the individual the putative characteristics of the group.

Gaw said...

Vern: Aren't you engaging in whataboutery? There are certainly evil and/or stupid people on the other side (and I've posted on the ones we have over here a few times). Why should the bad behaviour of some provide a cover for others? This Mark Williams bloke is racist scum in my view as are Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Tancredo, etc. The mask doesn't fall off often but in this instance it did. The fact that the NAACP may be intolerant, ideological and corrupt is beside this particular point.

Skip: We're talking about the admissibility of comparing someone to a slave trader. Your point (even if one takes it as having some truth) is not relevant here. Regardless of one's attitudes to other races you can still think slave trading is an evil.

Hey Skipper said...

Yes, of course one can -- must -- view the slave trade as evil. However, as a morally culpable thing, it has to be seen in the context of its time.

Take a more recent example. In the US forty five years ago, a great swath of legislation collectively called The Great Society was enacted, with all the best intent.

Many of the consequences were unintended, but evil in effect. No moral culpability attends those who promoted that legislation, because they didn't know.

However, to do the same thing today would be immoral.

That is why the NAACP is, whatever it once was, immoral because its actions foreseeably have evil consequences.

I think it is possible to make a case that his comparing today's race baiters to slave traders is over the top, but there is simply no way to get from there to a charge of racism.

Last night I was channel surfing and happened upon this very guy (a Mr. Miller, IIRC) getting a critical, but not unfair, questioning on CNN.

He apparently has written things far more inflammatory than what you quoted here.

All of which amounted to satire -- self admitted as heavy handed at times -- upon the whole business of institutionalized racism.

Hardly the qualifications one would look for in a racist.

Vern said...

I hope not. My point was that the NAACP is not what it was (in the same sense that Al Sharpton is obviously no MLK, not even a Malcolm X), it has lost much moral authority, and thus to slag it off nowadays is not to piss on the brave deeds of Rosa Parks et al. I would not place NAACP 2010 in anything like the same league as NAACP 1968, although maybe we're getting off track.

However because it has lost a lot of its moral authority, batting about the term racist like a shuttlecock has ceased to have much effect. You would not believe the name calling that goes on in the states. Almost all the 'left' ever does us shout 'racist', it's unbelievably tedious, negative and counter-productive. again the NAACP is simply (and cynically) acting as a wing of the Democrat party, fear- mongering to get out the black vote in November, end of story.

N.B. Glenn Beck may be many things, but he is not a racist, just as he is not a Republican:

This is the best piece I have read on the whole brouhaha, and from a 'liberal' outlet no less:

Mark English said...

I've just come across this post+comments. And I suspect it's a bit late to put in a new voice. I'm always impressed by the way GAW manages to attract intelligent interlocutors. I did a post on this general topic on July 5 (Racism and the right). One comment. Come over to my place anybody who still wants to talk when this thread winds up!

Gaw said...

I guess I'm seeing the NAACP as like the little boy who cried wolf.

The wolf exists. To take the Glen Beck example, when he describes the extension of medical insurance as 'reparations' he's inflaming racial sentiment to motivate opposition to health care reform. Suggesting that this is a vengeful expropriation of whites is bound to whip up racial hatred. What's more, this might not be a by-product, it might be the object.

The next step (which is where Mark Williams went) is to argue that not only is it a form of reparations but such reparations are not deserved. This is when arguments which normalise things like slave trading begin to be used.

Have you seen Williams's latest missive? It's a satirical letter to Lincoln arguing against the Tea Parties as they'll deprive blacks of welfare. It includes this paragraph:

Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government "stop raising our taxes." That is outrageous! How will we coloreds ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?

Yes, it's supposed to be a joke. But it's following the same line as Beck: the federal govt under Obama wishes to expropriate whites for the benefit of blacks. These guys are playing with fire (perhaps literally, given the history here).

This reasoning has been used off-the-peg by racists since Reconstruction. But putting whatever policy objectives the Tea Partiers claim to have to one side, this sort of language seems deliberately directed at inflaming racial tensions. In my book, this makes it racist. Dangerous, too.

And thanks for the tip, Mark.

Hey Skipper said...


That quote you cited was precisely the one I fortuitously saw Miller defend on CNN.

Taken as a whole, the point of the quote becomes clear: the actions of the federal government over the last forty or so years have created a culture of dependency and consequent social decay. Underlying all of that is, arguably, the bigotry of low expectations.

It just occurred to me that what Miller wrote is purely Swiftian in intent, if not in execution.

The next step (which is where Mark Williams went) is to argue that ... reparations are not deserved.

The whole notion of reparations is problematic. Forcing people who weren't perpetrators to pay people who aren't victims is a tough sell.

On top of that, it is very safe to say that the recipients of any reparations are better off than if the slave trade had never existed in the first place.

(That was upshot of a book written by a descendant of slaves after he visited his ancestral homeland a half dozen or so years ago. Wish I could remember the title or author; I heard about it during an interview on PBS radio.)

I would be more receptive to the notion of reparations for Great Society policies that destroyed the African American family, and the consequences drug prohibition.

Except that those reparations would only make the dependency problem worse.

Gaw said...

I'm dead set against reparations. My point is that to impute it as Obama's motive for extending medical insurance is a way of stirring up racial hatred.

More generally, I don't mean to defend state intervention here. I'm just pointing out what I think are destructive ways to oppose it.

Murr Brewster said...

Even your comment thread demonstrates how
"their imaginations run away with them." If only they could. Alas, those folks are still here.

Gaw said...

Welcome Murr. Ingenious as well as imaginative, you've got to admit.

Hey Skipper said...

Fair is fair.

Today James Taranto, who I think makes good sense almost always, took a look at this same quote.

And comes to the same conclusion you did.

Not that your opinion is suddenly gaining credence only on account of Taranto says so.

Rather, when two people whose opinions you respect are going the other way, perhaps there is something in it.