Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Power of The Tea Party Imaginary: Why is This Man Crying While He Sings the Star Spangled Banner?

When you figure out why this man is brought to tears by the Star Spangled Banner, you will finally understand the appeal of the Tea Party GOP.

Moreover, when you figure out why this man is crying you will begin to grasp the difficulties faced by appeals to reason and empirically driven reality in trying to beat back the emotion, faith, and fear based nationalism of the Republican Party.

While it is easy to mock, scorn, and point out the odd mix of Constitutional Fetishism and love of dressing in Colonial era clothing that is common among the Tea Party brigands, the faux populist imaginary of the New Right is actually quite compelling, and thus, it demands a bit of critical attention.

We know a few things about the Tea Party GOP. They are an astoturf organization driven by corporate money working in the interest of austerity policies and the shock doctrine. The Tea Party is made up of Republicans on steroids, and their members' policy positions are simply more extreme versions of Conservatism writ large. Racial resentment and fear of non-whites, immigrants, and any Other drives the Tea Party GOP's political imagination.

In sum, while allowing for these facts there remain two points that have gone relatively uncommented upon.

First, the Tea Party is easily lampooned; however, their songs, folksy misspelled posters, embrace of ignorance as authenticity, and love of costumes are a type of political theater. Consequently--and this is a point that many in the pundit classes and other professional bloviators seem to miss--"the show is the thing." Or as good ol' Jim Ross from the World Wrestling Federation is fond of saying, sometimes "you got to sell the sizzle and not the steak."

Consequently, reasoned discussions of policy and good governance are made secondary to a sense of belonging. For folks who feel alienated, scared, and "want to take their America back" (from "the blacks, the gays, the atheists, the Socialists, the liberals" etc.) a sense of belonging is a powerful salve for alienation and anomie. 

A key point. When the ghouls in the audience at the last three Republican debates howled for murder, death, and in support of hatred towards Americans who happen not to be straight, they were marking out the boundaries of their political community. Their cheers were not those of outliers; they were the id of a community that stood silent in complicity and agreement.

Second, and as I argued elsewhere, the Tea Party with its hostile faux populism is a cult-like organization whose ethos has infected the Republican Party as a whole. Emotion trumps reason. Faith has been mated with ideology to create a worldview that is immune from critical interrogation and intervention. Heretics are burned at the proverbial stake of Right-wing talk radio and Fox News. And ideological orthodoxy is the prime directive, even if it means destroying the U.S. economy (as was seen during the debt ceiling hostage taking by the Tea Party GOP), or believing in fictions such as cutting the federal budget in a time of the Great Recession will magically create economic growth.

The connective tissue of these two observations is as follows. The Tea Party GOP effectively marshals emotion, nostalgia, faith, anti-intellectualism, and sentimentality. They in turn mate these elements with themes of "American exceptionalism," nationalism and "patriotism." This brew is reinforced and sustained by the Right-wing echo chamber and its modus operandi of epistemic closure.

This is a potent mix for reactionary conservatives because the political opponents of the Tea Party and the New Right are effectively swinging at air. How do you land a body blow on ether? To political fictions driven by emotions that are only reinforced by their opposition's appeal to empirical reality? In all, how do you fight an idea...however wrong headed and ill advised it may be?

President Obama's rediscovery of populism will do nothing to reach the extreme ideologues on the Right. That is a given. However, the chaff and distractions that the Tea Party GOP and their puppet masters have created, ones of false equivalence and a magically infused faith based politics that extends beyond the walls of the church and into public policy as a whole, is damnably challenging because of how it mucks up and befouls the public discourse.

How do we reach the low information swing voters who are not equipped to navigate this morass? In the Age of Obama do liberals, progressives, pragmatists, and reasonable conservatives even have the capacity and will to spin effective narratives with which to counter the fictitious, faith based, emotion infused appeals of the Tea Party GOP?

I do wonder...and worry that they may not.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Some Friday Randomness: Keyword Follies Courtesy of StatCounter

I usually try to maintain the trust which exists between those who search these Internets and we who can see the stats on yee old wayward travelers. I will break that bargain today in the interest of a cheap laugh or two and because some of the more recent keyword searches that bring folks to WARN have been gems that demand a communal chuckle...and some group analysis.

The keywords are in green. My observations and comments follow underneath.

Is this research for a paper on intertextuality, gender, critical race theory and historicizing Lacanian psychoanalytic frameworks in B Movies?

I don't know either. Could it be the contrast of the skin, the melanin so dark and like chocolate that you want to eat it up?

At least 10 times a day someone asks this question. Is there some cultural movement afoot I am not privy to, some Kanye West meets Cee Lo black hipster douchebaggery that necessitates having a shag haircut?

You need to get the newest model. It gets at those kinks with great efficiency and enthusiasm.

I hate women who dates blacks

Me too!

Oh God, I was so very close this one time in 1993 and...

Why so serious?

Old girl does be looking good.

Palin the Negro

Airing on Grindhouse Cinema at midnight: Sarah Palin Versus the Wombshifter

Somewhere a guilt ridden young man sits looking at the computer screen, tissues in hand, searching for justification of his inevitable self-abusing onanistic endeavors...

Got to love the effects of globalization.

The very definition of intellectual dishonesty and a path to confirmation bias: searching for the answer to a question which you have already answered in your own mind.

About five dollars and 2 cents.

It's all Obama's fault!

A young scholar in training. Impressive, most impressive.

It could hurt. No really, it could.

The Tea Party GOP: They Cheer Murder; They Cheer Letting Sick People Die; And Now They Boo American Soldiers Who Happen to be Gay

Wow. Rendered (not) speechless.

And I thought Republicans were the "national security" party?

The Tea Party GOP keeps on showing us who they are and will continue to be in the future. The supporters of and audience for the chicken hawk warmonger robust militarists 2012 Republican presidential candidates booed an active duty soldier serving in Iraq. Why? Because he happens to not be "straight."

If you listen to the Republican candidates and their bigoted vitriol towards Stephen Hill, there are two points that have been made immediately clear.

First, this crop of Republicans and their public would have opposed racially integrating the U.S. military in 1948. They are dead-enders, on the wrong side of history.

Of this fact I have not doubt.

Second, the Republican Tea Party GOP is playing for a very narrow share of the electorate. Students of politics know that you run for the fences in the primaries and then go back to the center for the general election. But, and here is the dysfunction of American politics in the Age of Obama, at present the Right-wing rage machine is driven by more than mere partisanship: they hate the symbol of social change and inclusive citizenship that is Barack Obama. There are no apologies or embarrassment for this sentiment.

Moreover, while the pundit classes may talk about how the American electorate may appear to be increasingly "sorted" and "polarized," the embrace of the monster's ball antics of (now counting) the last three Republican debates signals to a divide that is even greater than what the Culture Wars portended in the early 1990s.

A thought. During the Civil Rights Movement and the radical 1960s it was well known that the U.S. government infiltrated Left and Progressive organizations with agent provocateurs who radicalized those groups into taking actions--often violent ones--they otherwise would never have considered.

As I watch the Tea Party GOP further devolve in each of their primary debates, I have to wonder if there are not outside forces pushing them towards the cartoonish levels of political thuggery and mean spiritedness they have demonstrated to this point. Or is the Tea Party GOP just showing us who they are and always have and will be?

I am happy for what I saw as the reveal is an important one. I also weep for what I saw and what it signals about the health of our democracy.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Is Barack Obama Clark Kent? Or is He Instead Superman?

Please allow me this minor bit of self-indulgence.

As a ghetto nerd, I am obligated to respond to any news item which purports to connect President Barack Obama with an iconic comic book character. Moreover, a while back I offered the suggestion that Michael Steele, former Chairman of the GOP, was actually the embodiment of the character known as John Henry Irons. I was quite rightly (and quickly) corrected by commentator Heavy Armor that Steele was more akin to the character known as Bizarro Superman.

The meme is back--as 1) it is so obvious and 2) because Superman lives in the collective subconscious for now and forever--and CNN has accordingly picked up the ball and run with it.

I rarely offer polls. They can be fun. So please vote.

So you tell me, readers of WARN and other travelers, is President Obama actually Clark Kent, a weak, malleable, chronic compromiser, a running critique of the whole human race?

Or is President Obama actually Kal-El, the man who we know as Superman, and he is playing a deep game, lest we be afraid of his greatness of strength and fortitude of character?

Please listen carefully to Bill a.k.a David Carradine's soliloquy on Superman. I would suggest that we can easily extend his pithy words to our sitting President.

In all, the differences between Obama, Superman, Clark Kent, and Kal-El are nuanced. They are also a great example of popular culture as politics; thus, popular culture is made into a useful lens for thinking about basic questions of presidential leadership and governance.

From CNN:

Obama: Clark Kent or Superman?

Washington (CNN) -- What did you do over your summer vacation?

If you're President Obama, you've had a bit of a transformation. That is, from the mild-mannered Clark Kent into, well, Superman.

Or something like that.

When we last left this story, President Obama was trying to be the measured adult in the room, compromising over the debt ceiling to get a deal. In the end, it wasn't the "grand bargain" that Obama wanted. Liberals argued that it was awful, too -- chastising the president for negotiating with himself. And Republicans complained that they needed more spending cuts. And, oh, by the way, they still wanted to repeal health care reform.

In other words, an unsatisfactory experience for all.

So when Obama came back to D.C. this fall, the feeling inside the White House was that something had to change. The bad news: Mr. Adult (aka Mr. Compromise) had sunk to new lows in the ratings. The good news: Congress had sunk even lower. Way lower. Then House Speaker John Boehner gave a speech outlining his demands for the deficit reduction "supercommittee."

Top of the list: no new taxes.

Shocking, I know.

That about did it. The White House figured it had no partner for peace. The man who had almost signed on to the grand bargain -- with some tax increases and entitlement cuts -- wasn't about to come back to the table anytime soon.

The next step: play the game.

The president outlined his demand for the debt reduction supercommittee: no spending cuts for the middle class without commensurate tax increases on the wealthy. No proposals for long-term entitlement reform. But there was a catchy bumper sticker: the Buffett Rule. Billionaires should not pay a lower tax rate than the rest of us.

It's not intellectually satisfying. Nor does it improve the chances for a deal out of the supercommittee that can get anywhere in Congress. It's politics, plain and simple.

In fact, the strategy does one big thing: It reunites the president with the base of the Democratic Party, which finally had something to cheer. When Barack Obama came out swinging this week, threatening to veto any deficit reduction measure without a balance of new taxes and spending cuts, there was joy among liberals. Obama had finally come home.

For the rest of us, well, it was a dismal peek at reality. Who can really fault the White House for playing politics with Republicans who have refused to cut the big deals? After all, the GOP presidential candidates, by and large, are still complaining that Congress agreed to raise the debt ceiling. After Boehner lay down his laws, Obama had to do the same. He could no longer negotiate with himself.

So he joined the game. Maybe it's the opening salvo, and maybe something will come of this kabuki. But there is a final calculation here: if nothing comes out of the supercommittee, the president would be less damaged than the Congress.

As for the rest of us, we're still Waiting for Superman. The real one.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The White Racial Frame in Action: Black Folks are Winning in the Great Recession Because Their Unemployment Rate is "Only" 27.4 Percent

Are you always complaining negroes happy now? White folks in suburbia are suffering more than they have in recent memory during this, our time of the Great Recession.

How did you black folks find a way to turn this situation to your advantage? It must be President Obama and his special racial set asides which have helped you all over-perform in this down economy.

So selfish you are...

But more seriously, who writes this sort of tripe? And how can they do it with a straight face?

The white racial frame is real folks. Here is more proof.

From CNBC:

Welcome to the Suburban Depression

The prolonged economic slump we've been in since before the financial crisis really is different than recent recession experiences, especially when it comes to those who now live in poverty.

The official U.S. poverty rate in 2007 was 12.5 percent. Following the calamities of 2008 it climbed upward and kept climbing. By 2009, the rate was 14.3 percent. In 2010 it went to 15.1 percent, according to U.S. Census data reviewed by Pro Publica.

There has not been so large a portion of Americans in poverty since 1993. But this time the growth in poverty is different, hitting whites and suburbia harder than it did during the early 1990s slump. African Americans, by contrast, appear to be doing better.

The poverty rate for whites was 13 percent in 2010. That compares to 12.2 percent in 1993, according to the Census Bureau.

The suburban poverty rate is 11.8 percent, a level not seen since 1967.

African Americans appear to be faring relatively better than they did in the early 1990s. In 1993 the poverty rate for African Americans reached 33.1 percent. Last year it was 27.4 percent.

It's not entirely clear why African Americans are faring so much better in this recession than in the last, at least in terms of poverty. It may be that social and economic progress in the intervening years has left African Americans less vulnerable to economic downturns.

A key factor in the rise in suburban poverty may be the fact that the housing market has played such a central role in the economic slump.

Many suburbs have seen a vast amount of wealth erased by declining housing markets and mortgage foreclosures, resulting in a great deal of economic dislocation. Since white Americans are more likely to own homes than African Americans, this could also explain why whites have fared worse than they did in the 1990s while African Americans have fared better.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

They are a Death Cult: How the Tea Party GOP is the Poltergeist of American Politics

They cheer at the thought of an uninsured person dying. They cheer at the thought of State sponsored murder. In all, the 2012 Tea Party Republican debates have revealed that they are a death cult, a cabal of ghouls.

Some observers were shocked and surprised by the behavior of the Tea Party Republicans and its supporters during the primary debates. Others have complained that CNN's surrender of air time to the Tea Party is a compromise of journalistic ethics.

I would suggest that to the latter, CNN performed a public service by providing a window into the Tea Party Republican soul. And to the former, there should be no surprise here: in the Age of Obama, contemporary Conservatism has surrendered itself to a particularly virulent, dystopian, and pathologically hyper-individualist state of nature, "all against many," type of populist Right-wing ideology.

From the proclamations of Republican officials that the unemployed are poor because they lack spirit and drive, an Orwellian political vocabulary of "job creators" and "non-productive citizens," opines that poor people in America have it relatively easy (thus austerity politics ought not to be that painful), and a belief that the social safety net (basic programs such as Social Security and unemployment insurance) has destroyed the United States and made people "lazy," contemporary Conservatism has fully embraced a politics that are utterly and totally bereft of human empathy.

My claim that the Republican Party is a death cult demands some explication and transparency.

"Cult" is a signal to the narrow thinking and state of epistemic closure that has come to dominate conservative politics. As I have suggested elsewhere, populist Conservatism is also colored by an unflappable instinct that faith should be the guiding principle in political decision making--what is a belief in the unprovable--that fuels a theocratic vision of public policy under the umbrella of Christian Nationalism and Dominionism.

Because the Tea Party GOP's foot soldiers, as well as the Bachmanns, Palins, Perrys, and Cains believe a thing to be true--often in the face of all available evidence and data on the subject--it must in turn be as they imagine. Reality must always bend to their will: the anti-intellectualism of populist Conservatism demands that the facts are to be damned; empirical reality is to be discounted as some type of plot by the mainstream media, "liberals," or "elites."

The cultish behavior of the Republican Party is made manifest by a rigidly orthodox political ideology. Those who do not pray at the mantle (and in the approved position) are labeled heretics. Any conservative who challenges the far Right agenda or believes in pragmatism and normal politics, i.e. working with President Obama and the Democrats in the interest of the Common Good, is labeled a traitor.

Likewise, those who dare to suggest that taxes should be increased on the wealthiest Americans to increase revenue, or that the government has a role to play in providing some relief during the worst economy since the Great Depression, are cast out of the tribe for daring to utter words and hold ideas that are verboten to the high acolyte "true believers" in the Republican Party.

The "death" in my use of the phrase "death cult" is both literal and symbolic. The symbolic aspect works in a number of ways. First, it is present in the Right's support for rampant militarism abroad and how the Tea Party GOP has skillfully used the "national security" narrative, the mass public's fear of terrorism, and an almost pornographic appeal to the tragedy of September 11th to seduce low information conservative voters and Independents into supporting their political agenda.

Second, "compassionate" conservatives are against extending basic income supports and humanitarian assistance to the neediest Americans. As recent data suggests, poverty leads to death and a diminished life span. When the Tea Party Republicans stand against food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and other programs for those displaced by the Great Recession, through actions both direct and indirect, they are in fact killing people.

The literal embrace of death by the Tea Party Republicans works as follows. When supporters of the Republican Party howl that they "want to take their America back" they are signaling to an America that is dead and gone. Their halcyon colored Leave it to Beaver dreams of a country where Whiteness was unchallenged and central in all things, and where "those people" stayed out of the way (or were preferably either invisible or fully subservient to the whims of white folks) is gone.

With immigration, the "browning of America," and a black President, the white racial frame is upset. The cognitive map of the Tea Party Republican faithful is forced to deal with the unthinkable--that in some impossible way they could be marginalized in "their own" country. Of course, this is untrue. But the fear is real and palpable.

The death of American Empire is a close cousin to the death of the Tea Party Republicans' memory of a country that never really was. America is facing unprecedented challenges from China. We rank increasingly low on educational attainment, class mobility, health care, and other measures. Where we are exceptional, in our debt and military spending on a bloated imperial project, the United States looks more like the British at the turn of the 20th century, a country in decline and struggling to manage how to fall with grace as opposed to in a hellish crash.

The Tea Party base is also quite literally dying. Although the fancy social science phrase is "generational replacement," the reality is that the Tea Party is overwhelmingly comprised of white Americans who are much older than the general public. As America changes and they walk off into the sunset to receive their just rewards, the political values and beliefs which are a product of a political moment long past will quite likely become less of a force in American politics. Death for the Tea Party Republicans is a fact that lives in the present.

Ultimately, the sum effect of death's role in the political ideology of the Tea Party Republicans is akin to that of the five stages of grief. They are stuck in the anger stage of the process: the Tea Party has not yet moved on to the step that is "acceptance."

Tea Party Republicans are brought to a mouth frothing rage and madness by fictions such as Birtherism and a belief that whites are oppressed in the Age of Obama because a black man is President. They rage about "class warfare" but look at unions, the working class, and the poor as the causes of America's economic calamity as opposed to the kleptocrats and the rich who have benefited from one of the most maldistributive economies in the world. In their eyes, government is the problem and never the solution. The State is to be torn down by secession and revolt. Tea Party GOP is angry about everything, but they do not know how to transform that energy into productive behavior and good governance.

There is an additional metaphor at work in my suggestion that the Tea Party GOP is a death cult. Despite claims to the contrary, the Tea Party is not a grassroots movement. They are funded by corporate interests such as the Koch brothers. These conservative corporate elites who drive the faux populism of the New Right are acting as the hand on the Ouija board, a group of necromancers who play with death as channeled through the Republican Tea Party.

In their Thanatos game, the corporate Right has unleashed a force that the mainstream of the Republican Party is not able to fully control. The Tea Party is extremely unpopular and their lack of acceptance by the American people is damaging the future electoral fortunes of the Republican Party as a whole.

Or stated differently, the Tea Party is the poltergeist of American politics. It is angry and destructive. The Tea Party poltergeist was summoned up by a crisis of faith, a decline in America's standing in the world, and a system shock brought about by the combination of the Great Recession, failed misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as poor political leadership at home.

Some have suggested that American politics is suffering from an autoimmune disease: the Republican Party's abandonment of normal politics is a symptom of this illness. I do my best to avoid eliminationist rhetoric. Unlike populist conservatives I try not to call my political foes a "sickness" or a "virus" to be destroyed. Nor do I suggest that conservatives are possessed of a mental illness that ought to be cured.

However, I do think that Americans in this political moment are witness to a crisis in spirit and an existential malaise. We are a country in pain. We as a people are angst-ridden. The Ayn Randian dream of the Tea Party GOP, the death cult that they are, is not a solution to the challenges America faces in the 21st century.

The goal of Republicans and populist conservatives in the present is a victory at all costs, one that is Pyrrhic and couched in the language of a glorious struggle or a political holy war, right-wing jihad, and free-market austerity crusade. Consequently, an exorcism is the only viable solution to this abhorrent type of abnormal politics by the Tea Party GOP, one brought about by their fixation on the politics of death. The Tea Party Republicans will cheer death, just as they did during the last two debates. And the Tea Party will bring the roof down upon us all as their poltergeist-like politics works to destroy the common good.

The challenge for liberals, progressives, pragmatists, and reasonable conservatives is how to reclaim life, and by doing so America's future, from the jaws of the death cult that is the populist-infused Republican Party.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Tuesday Mystery: Is the "It's Free Swipe Your EBT Video" a Product of the Military Industrial Complex? To What End Does this Nefarious Plot Lead?

What fun for a Tuesday!

Matlock was meh. But, I used to love me some Murder She Wrote. I also liked Perry Mason...even more so once I found out that Raymond Burr was a fem cross-dresser.

On Alternet, a commenter noted that Christopher A. Jackson, the producer of the "It's Free Swipe Yo EBT" music video, is the owner of a military apparel company with (obvious) ties to the DOD. As you go down the rabbit hole, he is also connected to a shell company/false front op called CIA Records which apparently backed the project and then went "black" and "off board."

Initially, I would have bet money that some far Right Conservative group such as Family Leader had funded this welfare queen "satire." Instead, it could be that Christopher Jackson is in the same proverbial building, but just has a different office number.

[Interesting random factoid on Conservative foolishness and the black community: Herman Cain voiced the "brother" who opposes "snuffing his seeds, toot sweet" in this comically horrid "how the Republican Party can save black people and marriage" campaign ad.]

Let's crowd source this one. If any of you with more technical skills and insight into these matters than me can dig something up on the backers of the "It's Free Swipe Yo EBT" video by all means please pass it along. If one of you is particularly skilled with Photoshop and can generate an overwrought diagram which connects all of the dots in the EBT video puzzle in a manner akin to the JFK conspiracy that too would be appreciated.

Who knows? Maybe this video is the Willie Lynch letter of our time? Could it be a twisted conspiracy that explains all things wrong in the black community? A nefarious plot to create a dependent class by launching an assault on our subliminal mindstates?

I do wonder what Brother X-Squared would say about these developments. I just may have to ask him...

Righting American Political Culture and History: The Party of Lincoln Becomes the Party of Jackson

Werner Herzog's Bear, one of my friends and a frequent guest poster here at WARN has a gem of a piece (it is efficient, dense, and nuanced) on his new site Notes from the Ironbound that you should all check out. Yes, that is a poorly parsed sentence as you should 1) both go to his new website and 2) also read and circulate his newest post that I am shilling for here.

I have a few other guest posts forthcoming this week which all lead to my sharing a good to and fro with a colorblind racist. I have teased our exchange for a bit. Events interfered with my posting the dialogue. I will make a remedy soon enough.

Werner's analysis of the Tea Party GOP's place in American political culture and their misunderstanding of their own wellsprings is spot on. More importantly, he is one of the best academics writing about politics and culture in the blogging game right now. I don't promote lazy and raggedy folks so you know that Werner is on point, and he certainly deserves a much wider audience. Werner's only sin is not writing enough...which I hope that he will correct soon enough.

His essay follows:

The Party of Lincoln Becomes the Party of Jackson

I recently read Gore Vidal's Burr, something I'd been meaning to do for years, and now I've got early American history on the brain.

The Tea Party and others on the political right are big on swearing their allegiance to the Constitution and the Founders, but are typically pretty vague when it comes to the details. The main reason, of course, it that when they say "Constitution" and "Founders" they mean faith in a political Bible and its patriarchs. They possess beliefs founded in belief itself, rather than reason or any knowledge of history.

That tendency to reduce politics to religion is why Enlightenment thinkers on the order of Franklin, Madison, and Jefferson would cringe in horror at the Tea Party's illiteracy and wild-eyed evangelicalism. Franklin was famously comsopolitan, and in his later life was more at home in Paris than Philadelphia, unlike today's uber-patriots who seem proud of their provincialism. Madison warned of the dangers of political factions taking over the levers of power, and evinced a strong desire to keep populism at bay.

Although modern day Tea Partiers might appreciate his small government inclinations, Jefferson advocated a wall of separation between church and state. To top it all off, George Washington was a committed Federalist who tried to increase the power of the federal government, especially in his decision, at Alexander Hamilton's prompting, to assume the debts the states incurred during the Revolution. Ron Paul he was not.

Yet the GOPers still claim fealty to the Founders. Perhaps they do, but to the wrong figures. Our contemporary right-wing populism owes little to the founders, who mostly disdained popular participation in politics, and much more to the Jacksonian era. (This is of course highly ironic, since Jackson is one of the founders of the Democratic party!) Unlike the Enlightenment thinkers of the founding generation, Jackson and his ilk cared little for deep thought.

In fact, they disdained it, and saw intellectual pursuits as inherently suspicious. After all, how dare those pointy-headed know it alls tell us what's right and what's wrong? Whenever I hear mainstream candidates for president deny global warming and evolution, I think of Old Hickory in all of his bigoted ignorance, especially his destruction of the Bank of the United States against all evidence of its necessity.

Jackson's decision helped bring on the Panic of 1837, just as the misbegotten economic religion of supply side has left us with an impoverished middle and working class unable to spend the money needed to restart the economy. Like their dark ancestor, modern Republicans replicate Jackson's provincialized nationalism, in which the only people who count are "real Americans."

And last but not least, they recall his bloody-mindedness. Jackson was famous in his day for his willingness to take lives, from those of his own soldiers to a man he shot to death in a duel to the Cherokee who perished in the ethnic cleansing known as The Trail of Tears. Recently modern day Republicans have made headlines by baying for blood at presidential debates, from the cheers for Rick Perry's bloody record of executions (including a man, Cameron Todd Willingham, who was most likely innocent) and urging that those without health insurance be thrown on the dung heap to die.

I'd like to think that the dark spirit of America's historical id could be exorcised, but in a culture where consumer is king and criticizing popular tastes, no matter how idiotic and debased, meets with the strictest condemnation, Jackson's ghost will remain with us. Whenever there are fearful white people who want to maintain their privileged position and beat down on others to do it, he will be there. As long as the Tea Party continues to stoke the flames of racial resentment, he will be there. Truth be told, Old Hickory's bigoted, violent, provincial, illiterate nature will always resonate with more Americans than the reasoned Enlightenment worldview of the Founders.

Friday, September 16, 2011

On a Broken Health Care System, Ron Paul, Tea Party Ghouls, and a Man With 150lb Testicles

I can't laugh. I simply can't.

I do wonder though, how the ghouls at the Tea Party GOP debate on Monday who laughed at the thought of someone dying for lack of insurance would react to a man who has received criminally negligent care for his 150 pound testicles?

I also wonder what would have transpired if the moderators at the CNN debate had asked Ron Paul about care for an unlucky person whose genitals are so enlarged that he can barely leave the house? Would the charities and churches step up to help John, he who is plagued with edema of the testes?

Universal health care is a human rights issue. It is also a basic issue of economic efficiency where Americans receive some of the worst health care in the advanced industrialized world while spending the most for treatment.

To point, do check out John's entire interview on the Howard Stern. His experience is an ideal typical case that exemplifies all that is wrong with America's broken health care system.

When I hear stories such as this, it is abundantly clear that we are truly a laughing stock.

In all, I struggle to understand the following: how can the flag waving American exceptionalism crowd not feel any embarrassment and lower their heads in shame at the sorry state of medicine in these United States?

I have long known the answer.

Empathy is not a standing prior for Conservatives. Their reaction to the neediest, the most vulnerable, and the poor is proof of that fact. While Conservatives are fond of crowing about a truism which suggests that folks like them give the most to charity, I have long realized that such acts of "generosity" are vainglorious deeds of self-affirmation and not part of a principle of mutual aid and support in the interest of the Common Good.

Am I wrong?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I'm Tired of Sharing the Most Racist Things That Have Happened to Me, Are You?

Hello, I'm Chauncey DeVega from the blog We Are Respectable Negroes and I am making a study of black people's experiences with racism...

Noted author and journalist Toure has conducted a parallel project with his book Whose Afraid of Post-Blackness? But he is much more patient than I am:
I asked my 105 interviewees, What is the most racist thing that has ever happened to you? The response I received most often was indicative of modern racism: The answer is unknowable. "I imagine it'd be a thing I don't even know ever happened," Aaron McGruder said. "It would be that opportunity that never manifested and I'll never know that it was even possible."
A decision is made in a back room or a high-level office, perhaps by someone you'll never see, about whether or not you get a job or a home loan or admission to a school. Or perhaps you'll never be allowed to know that a home in a certain area or a job is available. This is how modern institutional racism functions and it can weigh on and shape a black person differently than the more overt, simplistic racism of the past did.
In the post-Civil Rights era and the Age of Obama, a large portion of the public imagination views racism as the stuff of mean words and small minds. Racism is an anachronism. The Klan doesn't ride through the streets killing black people anymore; multiculturalism is now a lengua franca for the Generation X Millennial crowd; ultimately, racism is dead because there is a man who happens to be black in the White House.

The reality is much more challenging. Race still structures life chances for people of color. White privilege remains real into the 21st century as a type of property, material right, and psychological investment for white Americans.

But allowing for these facts, Americans still lack a vocabulary for speaking in a sophisticated and nuanced way about racism. Moreover, they also have a void in their cognitive map, one that obviates any capacity for seeing how structures and institutions impact opportunity as 1) Americans historically describe themselves as being middle class (both millionaires and the underclass alike); and 2) many still believe that the Horatio Alger myth is real, even while the wealth gap widens and class mobility has greatly decreased and hardened in this, our time of Great Recession.

In all, these factors buttress an appeal to the oft-heard phrase that all we need is a "national conversation on race" to finally slay the bugaboo of racism.

From the beer summit, to "teachable moments," and the omnipresence of multiculturalism and diversity programs in schools and workplaces, there is a persistent belief that some type of talk therapy will cathartically free the United States from the lingering shadows of white supremacy and make Dr. King's dream real.

Here is the misdirection: Americans have been talking about race for centuries. The result of this difficult dialogue has in some ways been transformative. In others ways, this national conversation on race has resulted in quite a bit of wasted time and energy. People of color have been talking back to Whiteness for centuries; Whiteness chooses either not to listen or to selectively hear that part of the exchange which is both most self-satisfying and self-legitimating. As one would reasonably expect, a unidirectional conversation can become a bit exhausting after more than just a few decades.

Toure's piece in the Atlantic is useful here where he continues that:
"The most racist experience you have," said Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, "is the one that's worst, and the one that's worst is usually the one that transforms the way you look at the world." These moments of suddenly discovering the pain and lack of status and power that attends being black is what comedian Paul Mooney refers to as "a nigger wake-up call."
Skip Gates calls them "the scene of instruction" and he says they exist in classic black autobiographies from slavery to recent days. "For W.E.B. Dubois it was a little girl who wouldn't take his Valentine card," Gates said.
"For James Weldon Johnson in Autobiography of an Ex‑Colored Man it was when the teacher said, 'Would all the white scholars stand up,' and he stands up and she goes 'No, you can sit down.' It's always a moment of trauma. There's always something lacking, a deprivation that makes you realize what being black means."
[A question: is this an experience, one that those not of the Other--for a moment or a lifetime--can ever "get?"]

When people of color share their personal experiences with racism a routine in colorblind, pluralist America is enacted, one wherein the struggles to overcome the brutality and limitations imposed by white supremacy and the colorline have (quite rightly) been framed as a badge of national honor. The obsession with talking--if even in a tired ritual--about national problems is a function of a faith in consensus based politics, and a belief that reasonable people can participate in a discourse that produces a sensible outcome.

Stated more simply, where matters of identity are concerned, if "we" could just "understand" each other, things would inevitably have to get better.

It takes courage to share nakedly, with vulnerability, and with honesty. I would suggest that it does not take much courage to listen fairly. Likewise, when black and brown folks share our pain with the white public in a confessional about how racism has caused hurt (as well as substantive material, economic, and physical harm), it often serves as a detour from serious talk about power, institutions, and privilege--and what real justice would look like.

I appreciate Toure's project. But, I am also made quite tired by how black and brown folks have to share our experiences with white supremacy and racism in order to receive acknowledgement and validation of those experiences from white folks (and some others) by "educating" them about the realities of race in America.

History echoes. There was a scripted moment during the anti-slavery rallies held by Abolitionists where there would be a great reveal, a living, human example of the evils of white supremacy and the peculiar institution's gross wickedness. In that ritual, an escaped slave would take off his or her clothing in order to show the scars caused by the whip, the blade, or other foul instrument to the horror of all in attendance. The "what has racism done to you moment" in the post-Civil Rights era feels like a continuation of that script, but one with a far less generous, invested, and accepting audience.

For those sincere about true and substantive social justice, the "please tell me about racism/sexism/other ism moment" is also an error in tactics: it still plays to the veto power of the privileged and the in-group, where for every honest ear there are many more who want you, the sharer, to tell a story which they, the listener can't wait to invalidate for reasons of their own investment in the status quo and/or a belief that most people are "good" and all that "ism" talk is so much chaff and belly aching.

The script is consistent:

"You were overreacting." "It can't possibly be that bad." "How do you know that was their intent?" "I go through stuff like that all the time, what is the big deal?" "If you expect to see racism, you will find it, you need to just relax." And of course the classic, "you are being too sensitive!"

Here, the common refrain is that empathy and sympathy are dependent on sharing, or that communicating one's experiences are a prerequisite and prior for confronting challenging issues of social policy. And how can we make the world a better place if there are no efforts to talk about personal subjects across lines of human difference and identity?

In the year 2011, many of those white folks who are being spoken to just don't care to listen anymore, except when it is to borrow a lazy script where they discover "reverse racism," minimize the experiences of non-whites with prejudice and bigotry, or to steal Dr. King's radical vision and struggle for their own Right-wing, in defense of Whiteness, populist Conservative agenda.

In post-racial America, a country in which some white folks absurdly claim that they are now "oppressed" by people of color and Barack Obama, the black folk racism confessional just doesn't have any zing or punch left to it.

Sorry folks, I just can't play along anymore. Those white folks on the right side of history have already heard the message and come along. Those others are deaf of ear, and there is nothing you can say to win them over.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When Conservatives Say They Want "Limited Government" This is What They Mean: Behold the Ugliness of "It's Free Swipe Yo EBT"

When Conservatives scream at the moon about the "evils of big government" this is what they mean...

One of the enduring debates in American politics since the emergence of neo-liberal, colorblind political discourse in the late 1970s and early 1980s--and its skillful deployment by the dream merchants and propagandists on the Right--has been the degree (if any) that white racial resentment drives what are ostensibly "race neutral" policy positions.

Ignoring for a moment Lee Atwater's naked confession on the matter, rank and file former Reagan Democrats, suburban swing voters, and today's Tea Party GOPers would bristle in defense at the suggestion that race or racism plays any role at all in their disdain for "big government."

To Conservatives, such an argument is bizarre and strange: How could tax cuts and government rollbacks have anything at all to do with racism or racial resentment? These are just "common sense" solutions that benefit all Americans regardless of their color. Moreover, to even suggest that racism may have anything to do with the drive to implement broad austerity policies which work to gut public services is itself "racist," and further evidence of "identity politics" and "class warfare" by Liberals and Progressives against well-intentioned Conservatives.

Of course, the evidence suggests otherwise. The chants of "take our country back" beg the response "from who?" The narrative of "real America" plays on xenophobia towards non-whites, and a fear of how some type of Other is always at the gates, ready and willing to steal the hard earned just rewards of the (white) American middle class. Ultimately, in a previous year the fixation would have been on Reagan's mythical welfare queens or nefarious "quotas" and "affirmative action" programs that deny white men job opportunities.

In the Age of Obama and the Great Recession, the designated Other is the alien in the White House who happens to be black, Muslims, Hispanic immigrants, public unions, and those who are not Christian Nationalists--the latter category being a group of people who are de facto outside of the grand tradition of American exceptionalism and pro-ordained greatness left to the People by the Christ loving founding fathers.

"It's Free Swipe Yo' EBT" is a sharp lens that embodies much of the Conservative imagination on questions of public policy and "small government." As demonstrated by the 2012 Republican presidential debates, the questions and working assumptions that go unstated among a political community (tax cuts are a cure for economic dilemmas; "unproductive" Americans who are not "job creators" are in fact "leeches" and "parasites" to be expunged from the body politic; America is a Christian Nation and faith matters above all else in matters of public policy) are at least as revealing as those which are stated openly (sick people should be left to die if they don't have insurance; cheers at the idea of executing people; a fetish-like fascination with womenfolk's reproductive organs).

In much the same way, when the Right talks about small government they are in fact thinking about "It's Free Swipe Yo' EBT" and the song's debased caricatures of black women and baby boy black man children who spread their seed all over urban communities like a leaky misdirected faucet in a Depression era flophouse.

In all, what reasonable person wouldn't want to cut off such people from the government tit?

But here the facts, as they often do, get in the way. First, the welfare queen looms large, but she is never White--the latter being the majority of folks on the public dole. Said obsession with limited government and waste seems to exist outside of a reality where welfare was radically changed by the Clinton Administration and "It's Free Swipe Yo' EBT" seems in need of a Welfare to Work remix.

In addition, there is no outrage over corporate fraud of the American tax payer, hedge fund managers who pay little to no taxes in the new Gilded Age, billions of dollars in waste by the military industrial complex, economic supports and tax breaks for the suburban upper and middle classes, tax breaks for the rich which exasperate income inequality and prolong the Great Recession, or the rise of a national security and terror apparatus that functions as an extra legal Leviathan.

The role of race in Conservatism's rhetoric of small government is revealed both by how specific its color arousal syndrome is (at the Other and rarely if ever towards Whiteness) as well as its capacity for misdirection (never at the big players who are actually working against the Common Good and subverting the economy).

Those who sympathize with the human story caricaturized by "It's Free Swipe Yo EBT" are also in a trap as well. To deny the reality spoken to by the song is to deny the Occam razor test for the human capacity to game the system. Good people are good people regardless of class. Bad folks are bad folks regardless of social location. Resources and social structures provide the incentives and opportunities to maximize one's goals--however dishonest, crooked, outside of the lines of propriety, or advantage seeking they may be.

Most certainly, there are women straight out of central casting who view food stamps and public assistance as a credit card of sorts and raise their children to believe that receiving support from the State is a "job" to be aspired to, a career to invest in. Likewise, they have twins in "respectable circles" who broke this country's economy by advocating for irresponsible tax cuts for the very richest Americans, embracing robber baron capitalism, and gutted the American middle class through financial crookery.

Their crimes are different by orders of magnitude. That fact is irrelevant. Herein lies the rub: Colorblind Conservatism looks at the former with immediate suspicion and disdain, while the latter looks back in the mirror and is greeted with a smile. In all, everyone's sin should be nobody's sin...except if you are poor and black and female, for then you are expected to be more noble and good than the White public at large.

Ironically, as adherents to a philosophy built upon unrepentant selfishness one would think that Conservatives would be more sympathetic towards the welfare queens and others who live to game the system.

Greed is good? Is it not? Or maybe just for "us" and not for "them?"

Monday, September 12, 2011

Let's Play the Caption Game: Barack Obama and George W. Bush Together at Ground Zero for the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

Let's get back to business now that the obligatory 9-11 hangover has passed.

President Obama and former President George W. Bush both visited Ground Zero to commemorate that faithful day of ten years ago. As always given the intensely polarized and partisan political moment that is the Age of Obama, the coincidence of "he who killed Bin Laden" and "he who made Bin Laden a low priority" meeting for the first time on hallowed ground has been fodder for both the pundits and the peanut gallery.

To point: the above image is rich with semiotic possibilities where readers and observers can impose their own narratives and meanings--colored by ideology and standing political predispositions--onto the two leaders.

Thus, the caption game seems a good fit to start our week. I will start:

1. Arrogance in Chief?

2. Do you smell what Barack is cooking?

3. The circle is now complete. When we began I was but the learner, now I am the master...

4. A profile in courage?

5. It doesn't matter if they're black or white.

Your thoughts and suggestions?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Who are We? Of "Respectable Negroes" and the New York Times Archive

As I prepare for my interview tonight, I have been thinking about the phrase "respectable negroes" and its historical origins. When was its first used in the public press? Is it an idea that has gone out of fashion as the colorline has shifted and racism changed? Is black respectability and the questions surrounding it generational, and young people born in the post Civil Rights moment have a different relationship with blackness than their parents and grandparents, thus the idea of being a race man or race woman is anachronistic to them?

Or has the idea of the politics of black respectability been subsumed by a larger discourse on black pathology and the persistent social "problem" that is the ghetto underclass?

When WARN first began there was some good back and forth on the concept of race pride and black respectability. In fact, working through those questions was the impetus for this project and has, to varying degrees, been the meta-narrative which drives my engagement with questions of race, class, politics, and culture. I fly the flag for black respectability when I take on ign'ts and degenerate street culture. I stand up for negro respectability when I call out the old/new racially driven and infused attacks on President Obama that in many cases are a function of a White imagination in which African Americans are never to be given their due or just acknowledgement for successes outside of either a basketball court or music studio.

Although there are millions of ways to be black, and thus my care to avoid race essentialism, race men and race women still have a role to play as we do the intellectual work of truth tellers and serve as honest critics and referees who are not afraid to call out b.s. whenever, and from wherever, they encounter it.

The NY Times archive is a real gem. Of course, the "giant negroes" stories are great. But, today I have been searching for the phrase "respectable negroes." The results are rich, a real potpourri of (living) social history.

For example, the story with the "Miss Negro Slayer..." in the headline confused me as I thought that said person was a superhero or supervillain who either slays negroes or is a negro who slays the innocent.

These matter of fact stories about ethnic cleansing, wanton violence, and lynchings are unsettling reminders of this country's history and how cheap the lives of black folks were and still are. This piece is especially fascinating both for how it describes the preamble to the violence and the distinction made between "good" blacks and "bad niggers."

And sadly, some of the Times' archived stories are reminders of how far we have yet to go as the conversations about black political economy which took place in the 19th and early 20th centuries are eerily similar to those that are still occurring in through the 21st.

In the midst of stories that are not so uplifting, there are great finds such as this piece on the wealthy negro citizens of New York. The idea of black progress and black success was novel to many white folks in the 19th century...ironically the idea of black accomplishment and wealth remains novel to so many of them--and to no small number of African Americans--in the present.

Here is a choice passage:

You can almost feel this brother smiling across time:

He doesn't need the assistance of white men to run it.

How many black folks can say such a thing today?

More troubling, in the Age of Obama, since the invention of the race card, and the birth of colorblind white racism, such a proud and respectable sentiment would probably be called "racist" by a generation drunk on the lie of false equivalence and Conservative multicultural dreaming.

Sigh and exhale.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion: Chauncey DeVega Will be on the Our Common Ground Radio Show Tomorrow Evening

You know I love me some Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The race narrative is deep on that show and often goes uncommented upon. Consider for a moment the following: Where else can you see a white frat boy dirty white baseball hat wearing Master Shake, a responsible African American scientist and inventor named Frylock and a lovable Mexican child with the moniker "Meatwad" all living in communal bliss?

I will be on the blogtalk radio show Our Common Ground with Janice Graham tomorrow, Saturday, September 10th at 10pm Eastern Time. The show has some good history with folks such as Melissa Harris Lacewell (now Perry), Louis Farrakhan, David Neiwart, Matt Taibbi, Mark Anthony Neal, Time Wise and others having appeared there in the past.

The interview will be about 90 minutes or so. I wonder if I can fill that much space with my wind bag mouth utterances and failed efforts at punditry? We shall see. Please feel free to call in. It is always fun to chat with folks who are part of the WARN extended family and you all can make or break any show.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Tea Party GOP Affirmative Action Fail: Herman Cain's Epic Incompetence Exposed on MSNBC

Oh Herman Cain, we love you so. I almost felt bad--for a moment--watching you embarrass yourself on MSNBC after the debate at the Reagan Library.

Like Michael Steele, Clarence Thomas and other black conservatives, Cain is a projection of the stereotypical and incorrect belief by White Conservatives and their supplicants that "affirmative action" promotes less qualified people of color over more qualified white men. Ironically, the Right-wing in America proves their fantasy of black and brown incompetence true at every opportunity with their repeated efforts to put forth "unqualified" upright walking black and brown human chaff who live to give cover to populist Conservatism's most nefarious policies.

If Pat Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh were principled Conservatives they would have called for Herman Cain to step out of the race long ago because he is an "affirmative action candidate" who is taking a space on the Tea Party GOP stage that should be reserved for a more "qualified" white person.

If Herman Cain was a principled Conservative he would step down and admit that he is an "affirmative action baby" who doesn't have the political and intellectual chops to stand with such Tea Party GOP luminaries as Perry, Romney, Bachmann and company.

In sum, Cain is stigmatized by his race, a beneficiary of the soft bigotry of low expectations, and not in a position to succeed because he was tapped on the shoulder by his white benefactors in the Tea Party who wanted a person of a certain color and hue to run for President, and not the most qualified person for the job.

Where is the outrage people? Where is the clamor for justice?