Racism and nepotism

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $25.16, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

The desperate attempt by the nutters to claim that the Obama administration is not legitimate is truly weird given that he well and truly trounced his rival John McCain in the last election. The nutters seem to find it hard to accept that a black man (despite being smart, educated, well-spoken, poised, self-confident, and with an attractive family) has become the leader and visible face of the nation. Is this irrational and vitriolic response to Obama the fruit of racism, as this cartoon by Tom Tomorrow suggests? Racism is a loaded term that is normally reserved for active and conscious antipathy towards people of another race. What we may be seeing here may be more complicated than that.

There seems to be the sense among nutters that the presidency and other high positions in society are niches that are properly the domain of white people, the ‘real Americans’. This reaction seems to be fueled by the sense that any black or Hispanic person who achieves a prominent position (apart from the sports and the entertainment worlds) must have got there using some kind of unfair advantage. So Barack Obama, being black and coming from an underprivileged background, must have cheated somehow to get where he is.

As former president Jimmy Carter says:

I live in the south, and I’ve seen the south come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shared the south’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans.

And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the south but around the country, that African Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.

One also gets the sense that some people expect that Obama should show gratitude that he has been ‘allowed’ to become president and so should adopt the obsequious posture of the ‘house Negro’, as described by Malcolm X.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) said that Obama should show ‘humility’ when he spoke recently to the joint session of Congress about health care. In other words, he shouldn’t be ‘uppity’. The unctuous Sen. Lindsey Graham said after Obama’s speech, “I was incredibly disappointed in the tone of his speech. At times, I found his tone to be overly combative and believe he behaved in a manner beneath the dignity of the office.”

It did not bother Chambliss and Graham when George W. Bush, who epitomized arrogance, showed utter contempt for Congress and for anyone who disagreed with him. Bush’s rudeness and condescension towards others was legendary. But since he was to the manner born, it was ok.

The nepotism that comes with the sense of privileged entitlement is also at play. When incompetent white people in the ruling classes use their family and social connections to perpetuate their privileges and reach positions of prominence, it does not even merit any mention, because the political and media world is filled with such people and they all think that is just fine.

William Kristol is the poster child of someone who rose to prominence and influence because of family connections and despite his manifest incompetence. His father, the late Irving Kristol, was the founder of the neoconservative movement and very influential politically. University of Colorado professor of law Paul Campos relays this telling anecdote about a conversation that Irving Kristol had with Columbia University political science professor Ira Katznelson.

The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon’s domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at the White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC [Republican National Committee] and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at Penn and the Kennedy School of Government.

With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. ‘I oppose it,’ Irving replied. ‘It subverts meritocracy.’

Campos writes that “my blogging colleague Robert Farley pointed out that “in the modern configuration of the conservative media machine, [William] Kristol occupies an unparalleled central position of power . . . Right-wing journalism and punditry is absurdly nepotistic; everything depends on relationships.”

As another example, recently George Bush’s daughter Jenna was hired as a reporter by NBC, at a time when many real journalists are losing their jobs. Last year Glenn Greenwald listed the hereditary political aristocracy that now exists in the US and, in a more recent post laced with biting sarcasm, commemorated the Jenna Bush announcement by naming some of the people in the media who have benefited from this kind of rampant nepotism, and noted the flagrant double standards at play.

They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it’s really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment. They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency. Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from. There’s a virtually endless list of politically well-placed guests equally qualified to talk on such matters.

[A]ll of the above-listed people are examples of America’s Great Meritocracy, having achieved what they have solely on the basis of their talent, skill and hard work — The American Way. By contrast, Sonia Sotomayor — who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Bronx housing projects; whose father had a third-grade education, did not speak English and died when she was 9; whose mother worked as a telephone operator and a nurse; and who then became valedictorian of her high school, summa cum laude at Princeton, a graduate of Yale Law School, and ultimately a Supreme Court Justice — is someone who had a whole litany of unfair advantages handed to her and is the poster child for un-American, merit-less advancement.

I just want to make sure that’s clear.

That’s how the word ‘meritocracy’ is currently interpreted in the US.

POST SCRIPT: Blackwashing

In his inimitable backhanded way, Stephen Colbert brutally exposes the attitudes behind some of the animosity towards Obama.

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'The Word – Blackwashing
The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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Why are nutters taking over the Republican Party?

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $25.16, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

The previous three posts have pointed out that the Republican Party is becoming more and more identified with the nutters, which consists of a coalition of birthers, deathers, tenthers, and Christianists. You can now add to that list the ‘foppers’ (standing for ‘frightened old people’) who seem to have bought into the notion that health care reform is part of some kind of secret agenda specifically aimed at harming the elderly. The comic strip Doonesbury has a nice series of six cartoons (beginning on September 21) on the foppers.

These groups are driving out from the Republican Party the old style conservatives who, whatever their politics, are reality-based and cannot believe that their party is being taken over by people who seem to be almost unhinged.

How did this come about?

When one observes these nutters in action at raucous town hall meetings, teabagger events, and the recent rally in Washington, it becomes clear that this phenomenon seems to be the product of a sense of inchoate and impotent rage, prodded from behind the scenes by those who want to oppose any Obama initiative. The nutters are really angry and, like wounded bulls, whirl around blindly seeking any target to gore. I think the rage is fuelled by the growing realization that they have lost the battle on many of the issues they hold dear.

One of those issues is homosexuality. I think it should be clear to anyone that the anti-gay movement is in its last throes. Equal rights for homosexuals is, I predict, at most a decade away. The corpse of the anti-gay forces may twitch occasionally and win an occasional battle here and there, but that is it. Discrimination against gays on a personal level will continue for some time because of religious bigotry but institutional barriers to equality will disappear. I think what happened in Iowa is telling. Gays were allowed to marry and the sky did not fall. Life went on as before.

Just yesterday the city of Cleveland (located in the state of Ohio which has a reputation for being socially conservative) proudly announced that they had won the rights to host the international Gay Games in 2014, beating out Boston and Washington, DC. The mayor Frank Jackson said that the city “is prepared to roll out the welcome mat to the LGBT athletes, their families and spectators from around the world. Fans of the Gay Games will find that Cleveland is a great place to celebrate sports and culture and that we have tremendous assets and amenities for them to enjoy.”

More and more young people, even the children of homophobes, simply don’t see why homosexuality is a problem or why gay people should not be left alone to marry or adopt children or simply be allowed to live their lives like any other person. People are realizing that gays are just like other people. Once your attempts to demonize an out-group fails, your war against them also fails because people won’t want to join your crusade.

The other issue that is driving the nutters batty is abortion. The power of the anti-abortion forces reached its peak between 2000 and 2006 when all the forces were aligned in their favor. George W. Bush was president, the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court was definitely conservative. And yet, abortion was not outlawed and only small additional restrictions were placed on it. This caused some frustration in the rank-and-file base of the Republican Party, which felt that their leadership had not pushed hard enough for their agenda. They realize that their time has passed and there are unlikely to be any advances by the anti-abortion movement in the near future.

But the final straw was the 2008 elections when they lost the White House and got trounced in both houses of Congress. If there is one thing that is clear it is that Obama drubbed McCain in the election, fair and square. So why is there this grasping at straws by the nutters that his presidency is not legitimate?

From the peak of power in 2006 to being completely out in 2008 is a steep drop. It is this sudden descent into political impotence that I think is driving this group of people in the Republican Party into the arms of those who warm that dark forces are at work, destroying the country from within. They cannot believe that they have lost so much power and influence so soon, and they suspect sinister elements at work behind the scenes. Hence the charges aimed at challenging Obama’s legitimacy as president and the strange calls that they want to “take back our country”. The phrasing ‘our country’ is telling, implying that he is some kind of usurper.

Is racism at work here? Former president Jimmy Carter seems to think so.

In the next post, I will examine that charge.

POST SCRIPT: Leave Aetna and Cigna alone!

Will Ferrell and a host of other actors speak out for the real victims of health care reform: the beleaguered insurance company executives.