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Feb 09 2012

Through the hating glass

I’ve spoken about Juan Williams before on this blog, when he was dismissed from his NPR position for making an entirely fair point about his own personal fear of Muslims, and how he was having to deal with that. NPR overreacted and fired him for comments that, if taken in context, were a personal admission of a flaw rather than a demonization of Muslim people.

Mr. Williams went from NPR to a full-time position working for Fox News and didn’t show up on my radar again until a few weeks ago when he was hosting one of a ludicrous number of Republican candidate’s debates*. The video is here, but the TL/DW version of the story is that Mr. Williams tried to call out arch-sleaze Newt Gingrich on his blatant use of racist imagery in the campaign. Gingrich, as is his style, deflects the question, condescends to the poor, and then waves a miniature American flag (all to thunderous applause from a crowd who probably have fewer teeth than Gingrich has wives).

Mr. Williams wrote an opinion piece about his experience facing down the wyrm that is the GOP’s rigid hardon for exploiting the racism running rife through their base. I think it’s worth reading:

Two weeks ago at the Fox News/Wall Street Journal debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., I asked each GOP presidential candidate some pointed questions about the racial politics that will play a big role in the presidential campaign.

Race is always a trigger in politics, but now a third of the nation are people of color — and their numbers are growing. With those minorities solidly in the Democratic camp and behind the first black president, the scene is set for a bonanza of racial politics.

The language of GOP racial politics is heavy on euphemisms that allow the speaker to deny any responsibility for the racial content of his message. The code words in this game are “entitlement society” — as used by Mitt Romney — and “poor work ethic” and “food stamp president” — as used by Newt Gingrich. References to a lack of respect for the “Founding Fathers” and the “Constitution” also make certain ears perk up by demonizing anyone supposedly threatening core “old-fashioned American values.”

Mr. Williams’ comments are interesting for two chief reasons. First, he works inside the beast. Being a commentator for Fox News means that Mr. Williams gets to see inside the machine that is the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. He is, presumably, intelligent enough to see through the veneer of ‘post-racial’ tolerance that is evinced by that organization and his appointment there. I have little doubt that he shares my suspicions that he is tolerated by Fox News’ audience (and likely management) only until he begins to voice any dissent from the party line, at which point he is “put in his place” by the likes of Gingrich.

The second, and perhaps more interesting reason why his words are so fascinating is this:

Just last week, the Labor Department reported that while the national unemployment rate fell slightly, black unemployment rose again from 15.5 percent to 15.8 percent and from 39.6 percent to 42.1 percent among young black people. The same report showed 11 percent of Hispanics are unemployed.

The problem is not a lack of work ethic on the part of the poor, who are disproportionately minorities. The problem is there are few good jobs for blue-collar people with the best work ethic. Let’s have an honest debate about why this is the case and what we can do to fix it.

In light of what we discussed this morning, the question of ‘lack of work ethic’ becomes a bit better illuminated. While Newt wishes to deflect and essentially deny racism in his comments about how all poor people need is for him to teach them how to get jobs, Juan is savvy enough to recognize that the system has a race problem. While we saw it in attorney recommendations that systematically put black people at a disadvantage, there is no reason to think that the same pattern of racist attitudes don’t exist at banks or staffing agencies or parole hearings or any other number of situations in which black people will fare worse simply for having dark skin.

It makes me wonder how Mr. Williams feels, having to represent the opinions of these people who so clearly give in to their worst instincts with little or no compunction. I wonder how he squares the seething resentment of his audience with the facts that he so clearly sees in front of him. I wonder if he ignores that in favour of the greater good of perhaps introducing critical ideas about race into the right-wing conversation, or if he’d simply prefer to be able to do as they claim to do and ignore his race altogether.

I wonder how long I could keep up a job like that.

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*Does anyone want to bet that the GOP’s zeal to debate will pretty much disappear when they have to face the President? All of a sudden ‘meeting the people’ will become much more important, while debate will become a tool of ‘the media’ and ‘the elites’ and whoever else can be demonized long enough to shut down the rational part of the electorate’s brains.

16 comments

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  1. 1
    Jeremy Shaffer

    In regards to the GOP’s zeal for debate evaporating in the face of the President I think it depends on if they want to try the catch- 22 on Obama. They can challenge Obama to a debate and, if he declines, they can tout that he is afraid of facing the issues and the American people. If he accepts they can point out that while the American people suffer the President is spending his time talking instead of running the country.

  2. 2
    Crommunist

    Or Obama can challenge THEM to debates and take the initiative away from the Republicans. Fact is that none of those clowns is going to do very well. Obama’s not a great debater, but he’s miles ahead of the others. If the President can arrange for a format wherein he gets to do REAL rebuttal, they’re toast.

  3. 3
    Desert Son, OM

    Somewhere along the way, the Republicans (and, to be fair, many folks of various political persuasions) have hijacked the discourse so as to mask System Problem within the illusion of Personal Responsibility Issue.

    It’s driving me up the wall.

    I hypothesize that a contributing problem is zero-sum-game thinking. It seems to go something like:

    a) There are jobs [static condition!]
    b) There are people
    c) There are more people than jobs
    d) Therefore, we have to keep out/marginalize/deport/criminalize/disenfranchise/oppress/disregard someone in order to ensure that we keep our jobs, because if we don’t, person or persons in the “other” category might get the job in our place and then we’ll be out of a job!

    “We’ve got to do something to protect our phony-baloney jobs, gentlemen!”
    -Mel Brooks, Blazing Saddles

    It’s weird. It’s like this underlying fear that if there are more Blacks, Latinos, First Nations members, Asians, etc., who become doctors, business owners, lawyers, civil servants, etc., then suddenly, all the white male cisgendered heterosexual doctors, business owners, lawyers, civil servants, etc., will be out of a job.

    More job availability for marginalized or disenfranchised groups would actually improve the overall system! Boost economies! Help build infrastructures! Improve public health! Increase awareness! Encourage additional problem-solving efforts! Build multi-cultural solidarity!

    It’s the same reason that it is in the interest of men to support feminism and fight misogyny and the culture of oppression directed at women. In the end, it actually works out better for everyone! It should be enough that it’s morally the right thing to do, but it also happens to be in the interest of men.

    Which, apparently, is “socialism” and seems to be the scariest thing ever in all of history to contemporary Republicans. Gaaahhhh!

    In the run up to Hank Aaron surpassing Babe Ruth’s home run record, Aaron got a lot of hate directed his way. Aaron said something really awesome one time in an interview: “I’m not asking people to forget Ruth. I’m just asking them to remember me.”

    Still learning,

    Robert

  4. 4
    jimmy60

    (all to thunderous applause from a crowd who probably have fewer teeth than Gingrich has wives)

    I don’t find that comment to be very becoming of a person who is fighting racism.

  5. 5
    Crommunist

    I’ll have to find a way to learn to live with your disapproval.

  6. 6
    Riptide

    Speaking as someone who hails from Deep Stupid Territory, and is in possession of fewer than 30 teeth myself, I really don’t understand how making fun of idiots with poor dental hygiene is a contraindication for anti-racism.

  7. 7
    'Tis Himself

    Williams essentially asked Gingrich about some possibly racist statements he had made. Gingrich, being an experienced politician, side-stepped the question. He was not willing to alienate either the Teabaggers or the Blacks.

    In a speech Gingrich claimed Blacks prefer food stamps over paychecks.* By making such a statement, Gingrich appeared to assume that Blacks would rather receive federal assistance than work at a paying job. Gingrich was quick to say that his statement was not racist and said that he was talking about all Americans and that they should all demand paychecks, but why then single out African Americans?

    I’m not quick to label Gingrich a racist based on his statement, but he obviously has no clue about Black people, and, considering the US is so racially diverse, he really does need to get a clue. He also needs to do his homework before he makes such statements because we know how easy it is to turn off voters. Isn’t that American politics 101?

    *More Whites than Blacks receive food stamp assistance. About 34% of food stamp recipients are White, 22% Black and 16% Hispanic, with the rest being Asian, Native American or those who chose not to identify their race. Blomberg Businessweek, 1/25/12

  8. 8
    Charles Sullivan

    Foodstamps is the new code-word for Black folks.

  9. 9
    atheist

    Your moral disapproval is delicious.

  10. 10
    atheist

    He was not willing to alienate either the Teabaggers or the Blacks.

    In a speech Gingrich claimed Blacks prefer food stamps over paychecks.* By making such a statement, Gingrich appeared to assume that Blacks would rather receive federal assistance than work at a paying job. Gingrich was quick to say that his statement was not racist and said that he was talking about all Americans and that they should all demand paychecks, but why then single out African Americans?

    That’s not accurate, ‘Tis Himself, OM. He doesn’t want to alienate the tea-baggers but he absolutely intends to insult blacks. He does this because that’s what his base wants to hear, that is the way to motivate them. Gingrich knows exactly what he’s doing. His language is barely even coded anymore.

  11. 11
    jimmy60

    So lobbing a derogatory epithet at a group of people is okay as long as it isn’t obviously race based?

    Got it. Don’t agree with it. Can’t see fighting racism and insulting groups of people as going together. Obviously I’m mistaken somehow.

  12. 12
    Crommunist

    Think about it for a bit. You’ll figure it out.

  13. 13
    worms

    “(all to thunderous applause from a crowd who probably have fewer teeth than Gingrich has wives)”

    Classist dog whistle invoking stereotypes about “white trash” in a post about racist dog whistles? Nice!

  14. 14
    witless chum

    Williams getting canned by NPR for those particular comments was more of a last straw. Supposedly, the NPR bigwigs had been more and more annoyed with Williams’ various statements, as well as the fact that he was working as a paid contributor to Fox News. They were supposed to be worried that working as a pundit on Fox would compromise Williams’ objectivity.

    Why they couldn’t say that when they fired him, I don’t know. Or just promulgate a policy against doing what he was doing and then fire him if he broke it. They obviously behaved foolishly, but not quite how it seemed.

  15. 15
    witless chum

    Also, the idea that the GOP’s base is made up of toothless rednecks is a misperception. A GOP debate in South Carolina is going to be attended by a bunch of middle-class to well-to-do suburbanites and exurbanites. I’ll bet good dental hygiene and upper middle class and above made up 90 percent of that crowd. Business types or all flavors and professionals.

    Generally, (though there are a lot of regional variations):
    Poor/only high school/didn’t finish high school: Democrats
    Middle class/Some college/four year degree: Republican
    Middle class/Advanced degree: Democrat.
    Wealthy: Republican

    The toothless Appalachian rednecks of stereotype may, in fact, vote Republican for religion and/or racism reasons, but are relatively few in number and without almost any political power.

  16. 16
    Brian Lynchehaun

    1. He’s making fun of Gingrich and the number of wives Gingrich has.
    2. People in areas that support the line of bullshit that Gingrich is selling are dis-proportionally likely to be poor and white. The irony is that these folk are supporting someone who is going to take away their medicare. And cheering for him.

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