Weenie roasting and white resentment

 

Why is the passage of moderate health care reform being denounced as socialism?  Why is president Obama (a pragmatic centrist by all accounts) being called a Marxist?

It is beginning to dawn on our more astute columnists that this really isn’t about health care.  In a weekend column, New York Times columnist Frank Rich had this to say:

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

Rich is making essentially the same argument I made to a roomful of Baylor undergraduates last week.  

Imagine, I said, that you are a white person living in Mississippi in 1964.  Over the past decade, the Supreme Court of the United States under Earl Warren, the Department of Justice under Bobby Kennedy, and the White House under Lyndon Johnson have weighed “the Southern way of life” in the balance and declared it to be illegal, immoral and unconstitutional. Things you were taught as a child to see as good are being called evil and things you held to be evil are being called good.

What do you do?

You could admit the error of your ways and adapt to the New America, but for most white southerners this wasn’t an option.

Alternatively, you could reach out to whoever was reaching out to you—even if he called himself a Republican. It is hardly coincidental that Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 presidential campaign at Mississippi’s Neshoba County Fair, just a few miles from the place where the three civil rights workers had been murdered during the Freedom Summer of 1964.

The civil rights coalition was broad and diverse, but the foundation was laid by people like Martin Luther King, Diane Nash, Fannie Lou Hamer and Rosa Parks. These people were on fire and everyone else (to use a metaphor suggested by professor Lydia Bean) was just roasting weenies.

The conservative revival played out in precisely the same fashion.  White southerners traumatized by the civil rights movement were on fire and conservatives of every stripe have been roasting weenies on that fire ever since.

The John Birch Society has been returning to the spotlight.  The “Birchers” opposed the civil rights movement as viciously as they opposed communism.  In fact, it was an article of faith among arch-conservatives that civil rights and communism were virtually identical.   Glenn Beck, the conservative guru du jour, isn’t from the South.  The product of a broken home in Washington state, Beck spent most of the 1980s and 90s in a fog of drugs and alcohol before stumbling upon the writings of W. Cleon Skousen in the late 1990s.  Skousen’s blend of racism, anti-communism, conspiracy theory and Mormon eschatology eventually became an embarrassment to mainstream conservatives.  But now, with the election of Barack Obama, Skousen is back.  Texas Governor Rick Perry is a big fan and Glenn Beck tells his followers that his mentor’s writings were divinely inspired.

Glenn Beck and Rick Perry are simple men who have never had an original thought in their lives.  They are merely roasting their weenies on somebody else’s fire.

Folks like W. Cleon Skousen (pictured at the left) would be mere historical footnotes were it not for the raging fire created by the perceived success of the civil rights movement.  What did the civil rights movement achieve?  It gave black Americans the vote, integrated public schools and struck down the laws enabling Jim Crow segregation.  Did the movement change the economic realities of American life?  Not really.  Was capitalism undermined?  No.  Were white folks forced to associate with black folks?  Not at all.  In fact, the phenomenon of white flight left America (her schools included) even less integrated than she was in 1954.

The legislation passed last week will change the shape of American health insurance in significant ways, but there is nothing radical or particularly liberal about the new policies.   So why are people shrieking as if the sky was about to fall?

Eliminate the racial element from the ultra-right agenda and popular enthusiasm would collapse.  Black and Latino Americans have no discernible beef with capitalism.  Non-white Americans demonstrate little enthusiasm for socialism, communism and Marxist economic theory.  But you won’t see these folks rubbing elbows with the lily white crowds at a Tea Party demonstration.

20 thoughts on “Weenie roasting and white resentment

  1. One of those on fire persons you failed to mention is Reverend James L. Bevel, who was the husband of Diane Nash and co-author with her of the Selma Right-To-Vote Movement. He served as Director of Direct Action and Nonviolent Education for SCLC. He was the behind the scene man organizing, teaching and engaging the peope. He was the motion and Martin Luther King, Jr. was the second or vice versa. the same with Diane Nash.

    see The Luthers, James Luther and Martin Luther, Luther Bevel and Luther King, Edmond Publication, release date Fall of 2011.

  2. Myeka:
    Yes, I mention James Bevel in a couple of posts concerning the civil rights movement in the Mississippi Delta; one post dealt with the Greenwood movement (https://friendsofjustice.wordpress.com/2009/09/01/the-greenwood-movement/) and the other covered Bevel’s role in rescuing Fannie Lou Hamer and her fellow activists from the County Jail in Winona Mississippi: (https://friendsofjustice.wordpress.com/2009/12/18/sheriff-patridge-has-a-problem/).
    I look forward to seeing the book. Diane Nash once told me she was writing a book, but I haven’t seen anything yet. Hopefully she will tell her story.

  3. The Tea Party I observed in Lake Charles, Louisiana was no lily-white event, but was attended, to be sure by many whites, but also by blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Maybe they didn’t get the memo to stay away so that the nanny-statists could cast the whole movement as “racist,” as the highly ridiculous Frank Rich of the New York Times has tried to do.

    This particular event was clearly not the Republican Party, whose chairman is Michael Steele, who also happens to be black. Most of the speakers were Libertarian (my sole friend who is a Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) libertarian happens to be black) or Constitution Party. U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-La.) sent a pretty young woman to read a cheerleading letter from himself, but the crowd gave her the cold shoulder; she left the stage amid silence. None of the Lake Charles Tea Party speakers were black, but at the September 12, 2009 mega-event at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., some of them were: Dineen Borelli’s speech, for one, was enthusiastically received. The Tea Party is nothing but a series of events, not a political party. As with Democratic Party events, there is little control over who shows up or how they act, but I saw no bad behavior.

    The common thread of the Tea Parties, notwithstanding the laughable Frank Rich thesis which I have to doubt he himself really believes, is concern over the expansion of the federal government beyond constitutional bounds, of the federal debt, of the federal deficit, and of tax burdens on individuals and businesses at every level, as the federal government gobbles up more and more of the economy, accrues more power, and erodes individual rights. This tight focus allows for a broad umbrella, and many people who probably disagree on a large number of other issues nevertheless gather for these events.

    As for the deficit alone, it is unsustainable; just look at the graph: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2009/03/21/GR2009032100104.html That’s from a year ago (March 21, 2009) and now the Congressional Budget Office says that the effect subsequent legislation will be to make it worse than the administration claims: http://moneynews.com/Headline/US-Budget-Deficits/2010/03/08/id/351910?s=al Ordinary people of all kinds see this, and they are very concerned about it, as they should be. They know that there is no Keynesian magic, that government should be run as we have to run our family budgets, that the piper (or China, the leading purchaser of our Treasury bills) will ultimately have to be paid, and that this doesn’t bode well for our children and grandchildren. The orgy of spending must end. The irresponsibility and nonresponsiveness of Congress are what the Tea Parties are about, and really nothing else.

    Readers of these pages know that I am in the trenches fighting racist attitudes and racially disparate effects in the criminal justice system wherever I find them, but at times I disagree with Dr. Bean on where they are. The Cambridge Police episode with Prof. “Skip” Gates was one. I believe that there are plenty of cases where this evil is more than clear, that we have to pick our battles, and that it doesn’t help matters, or our credibility, to be too quick to see racism where it is not.

  4. King:
    Thanks for sharing your views. I am not a libertarian, so it is natural that you and I will disagree from time to time. I am sure that the angst about the balooning federal debt is genuine, among Tea Party people and within the general population. No one is arguing that we should let the debt expand indefinitely. But ask yourself how many of the Tea Party folk were complaining about the deficit when the Republicans were cutting federal income by introducing draconian tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and sending American troops to Iraq.

    True, Ron Paul opposed the military adventure in Iraq, but outside Libertarian circles he was a lone voice crying in the wilderness.

    Moreover, the same folk who are now concerned about the deficit were calling for the impeachment of Bill Clinton long before Monica Lewinsky entered the picture. And we all know that the debt was actually shrinking during Clinton’s administration.

    The Skip Gates affair was complicated by the professor’s somewhat arrogant reaction; but the simple facts aren’t that complicated. The fact that white America didn’t see anything wrong with officer Crowley’s behavior and decision making is a sign of the problem. Most upper middle class Americans would have reacted as Gates did because they share his sense of entitlement. On the other hand, white folks generally lack Gates’ nuanced understanding of the racial history of America–an understanding that fueled his response.

    I am surprised to hear you bring up Michael Steele. Steele holds his position because the Republican Party is so thoroughly monochromatic. He is there so people can point to somebody and say “Look, we’ve got at least one black guy so you can’t call us racist.”

    The Tea Party phenomenon is a complex brew, as you suggest. Christian fundamentalist apocalyptic and John Birch conspiracy theory are part of the mix. Then there are plenty of small government conservatives and libertarians in the crowd. But what fuels the anger, the excesses and the gross oversimplification? Why are the birthers so much in evidence? And why have we seen so much overt racism in recent days?

    Obviously, I don’t see anything laughable about Frank Rich’s analysis.

    You are living proof, King, that not everybody who attends Tea Party rallies is a racist. But I predict that if you move further into the core of leadership within the movement (and every movement has leaders) you will find yourself in very strange company.

  5. Lest anyone think otherwise, I want to clarify that I am not of the Tea Party movement. One such event took place within walking distance of my office, so I went to see what was going on, and I have reported what I saw. My reaction to Frank Rich’s article is far from unique. It appears to me, and to quite a few others, that there is a concerted determination to demonize that movement in order to avoid debating its issues on the merits. Today Jonah Goldberg rebuts Frank Rich and others on this theme, while criticizing overheated rhetoric on both sides. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2010/03/31/the_hostility_follies_104993.html

    Call me a supply-sider, but I don’t equate lower tax rates with reduced federal revenue, up to a point. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laffer_curve One of my economic criticisms of the left is its tendency to see the relationships between taxation and revenue, and between the haves and the have-nots, as a zero sum game– that it is necessary to take from one in order to assist the other. Obviously the Laffer curve has a downside as well as an upside, and Republican administrations, particularly, have abused the concept.

  6. Your post seems to indicate Ron Paul is black. From his pictures and seeing him on TV I would not think so. Can you clarify this particular sentence: “Most of the speakers were Libertarian (my sole friend who is a Rep. Ron Paul (R. Tex.) libertarian happens to be black) or Constitution Party.”

  7. Charles, no, sorry if I was unclear. My friend is black, who subscribes enthusiastically to the views of Rep. Ron Paul.

  8. Well, there is little evidence that the Bush tax cuts created a great surge in economic activity. There is, however, ample evidence that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. This is either because the poor aren’t trying hard enough or because the capitalistic system, left to itself, tends to create severe levels of wealth inequity. True, progressives have a tendency to see the economy as a zero-sum game. Captitalism is very good at fostering entrepreneurial zeal which is, on the whole, good for job creation and wealth creation. Few public figures have a problem with this, least of all Barack Obama. But capitalism isn’t good at fairness and unfairness is ultimately a drag on the economy because poor people don’t buy stuff. Moreover, property crime rates are much higher in poor neighborhoods which creates costly public safety issues. Government can save capitalism from its own excesses. Too much government can, I admit, stifle economic growth; too little government leads to the difficulties we are currently experiencing. And that’s all I have to say about that.

  9. Some leading lights of the Tea Party movement are William Grigg, Dr. Thomas Sowell, Dineen Borelli, and Kevin Jackson, all black. How does Frank Rich answer this? Surely he must do better than unfunny comedienne Janeane Garofalo (“they all have Stockholm Syndrome”).

  10. King:
    The culture war has produced some strange dynamics. Talented African-Americans are often recruited by partisans on both sides of the divide. Progressive organizations tend to be white-dominated so they hire a few people of color to buff the image. Conservative groups have no real minority constituency which creates the impression of bias, so conservatives often recruit conservative people of color and elevate them to positions of importance. Sometimes the people caught up in this game understand the game but play along because the pay and the perks tend to be outstanding. Sometimes they are sincere dupes.

    I am not suggesting that there are no sincere conservatives in the minority community because we both know there are. My point is that the mere presence of black faces on stage at a Republican convention isn’t significant if there are only a smattering of black delegates in a crowd of 20,000.

    Michael Steele may be a sincere conservative; but he is also a pawn in a cynical game.

    It is very hard for any public figure, white or minority, to resist the blandishments of culture war pimps on both sides of the cultural divide.

  11. There is a tendency in fallen humanity, due to different degrees of intelligence, ambition, and opportunity for wealth to migrate upward until an overwhelming percentage of the wealth is controlled by an exceeding small percentage of the population. As onerous as it may seem to the top, it is necessary to have some means of redistribution of wealth downward. Thus the Jubilee Year in Ancient Israel (which may was probably not practiced on any consistent degree) and the sabbatical manumission of slaves and forgiveness of debts. Thus the estate tax in the USA, which IMHO, should remain, periodically adjusted for inflation and deflation. I call to mind the prophet, “Woe to you who join house to house and field to field . . .” (see Isa. chapter 5) and the poet:
    “Ill fares the land, to hast’ning ills a prey,
    Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.”

  12. Juan Williams weighs in: “There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.” htttp://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304252704575155942054483252.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read

    The following badly-titled article sets out with devastating factual support the House leadership’s transparent (and utterly failed) attempt to draw Tea Partiers into a racial gaffe outside the capitol. Frank Rich’s article can be seen as part of the ensuing concerted onslaught meant to cement the lie. But even a $100,000 reward could not coax forward any proof despite the hundreds of professional cameras and thousands of camera phones present. The double standard is also shown by comparing this one to other notorious incidents of racist accusations.
    http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/abreitbart/2010/04/02/barack-obamas-helter-skelter-insane-clown-posse-alinsky-plans-to-deconstruct-america/

  13. It is refreshing when redistributionists admit their agenda. The only moment of such candor we had from Candidate Obama was his unscripted response to an impromptu question from Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher aka “Joe the Plumber.” The reason for keeping this conviction largely under wraps was the necessity of getting elected, but I think it is better to win hearts than to deceive minds.

    Tax reform is indeed a valid approach to the problem. It rankles me to know that the very rich pride themselves in paying none, letting the burden fall on the middle and working classes. Also, anti-trust must have a renewal. Too big to fail is too big to be, and capital investment paced at risk must be truly at risk, and never bailed out by the taxpayer.

  14. The problem with Juan Williams comment is that it assumes that most people arrive at their conclusions independent of cultural context–that folks are free thinkers. In reality, most of us don’t have the time or the intellect to think original thoughts. Instead, we embrace the views common in the culture we are a part of. This is true of everyone (myself included) to some extent, but for the average person, independent thought isn’t really a luxury. Therefore, if you are getting your ideas from a Glenn Beck, and Glenn Beck is getting his ideas from deeply racist people, you are being influenced by racist dogma even if you don’t realize it. The issue, therefore, isn’t whether all the people at the Tea Party event are self-described racists. Where did the ideas being expressed come from and what is the historical source of the passion behind these ideas? How can you free the idea from its ideological lineage? Ideally, it can be done, but in the real world folks imbibe the zeitgeist whole.

  15. Therefore, if you are getting your ideas from a barack obama, and barack obama is getting his ideas from his lifelong communion with deeply marxist, communist & socialist tutors, you are being influenced by totalitarian dogma even if you don’t realize it.

    How can you free the idea from its ideological lineage?

    “The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.” -Aldous Huxley

    Which is what you’re doing here. You participate in and spread false propaganda designed to create hatred towards an entire group of millions of people. It’s a way to avoid the real issues – because this isn’t about the issues – it’s about creating a diversion so that the real issues do not get discussed.

    The current effort to paint the right as racists is a bald faced lie meant to derail legitimate discussion. It will backfire in the end.

    “Propaganda is a soft weapon; hold it in your hands too long, and it will move about like a snake, and strike the other way.”
    —Jean Anouilh, L’Alouette, 1952

    Racism used to mean someone who hates black people. Now, with this redefinition by the left, it apparently ONLY refers to someone who doesn’t approve of the obama.

    And by that definition, it means nothing.

  16. Thanks, KCPOPPS for a thoughtful comment. Some great quotes. Racism is generally defined as prejudice plus power. Propaganda is a weapon weilded by the powerful. The word “racist” can be overused, and I rarely use it. It do, however, make regular reference to race and racism because, if you take the time to read the propaganda produced by southern conservatives after Brown vs. Board you will find that race was the central concern. My contention is that these folks were embraced by the Republican Party for the same reason they had earlier been embraced by the Democrats–they were a large and motivated constitutuency that could swing elections. Southern conservatives never hated black people, per se, they just wanted to deny black people certain civil rights and they didn’t change their minds in 1965.

  17. I’ve commented on your excellent blog before. Do you know the man behind the lists and the books? I have an expose about Cleon Skousen on my home page for the weekend. You may want to add The Glenn Beck Review to your blogroll if you want.

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