Tag Archives: liberal

The Flotilla and Helen Thomas

I have more to say about the Israeli flotilla debacle than can be written in a mere blog post. Suffice it, I am of the belief that Israel would be best served by ending the blockade, but recognize that this is an incredibly important issue on which both sides have truly valid and compelling points. I also believe that Israel had every right to board the Mavi Marmara under international law (San Remo) in order to maintain an internationally sanctioned blockade. Now, if the issue is that the international community now believes that blockades are an inevitable means of collective punishment that should not be a legal tool of war, then that is something that the international community should address, but to act like this blockade was a rogue move by a crazy nation is frankly factually disingenuous.

Israel has spent the last 20 years learning how to rule, and it is now past time to learn how to govern, but let’s be perfectly clear: Turkey’s absurd behavior (which really has much more to do with global positioning than it ever had to do with Israel), the apparent sudden incompetencies of the Israeli navy, and the deaths of the activists that all contributed to this event can be decried (and they should be!) while simultaneously supporting both Israel and its right to keep its citizens safe and an end to the Gaza blockade and better, legitimate lives for its citizens. Free Gaza does not have a monopoly on this idea by a long shot, though many of the rest of us are not especially supportive (understatement of the year) of Gaza’s incredibly repressive government, also known as Hamas. But then, there are very few repressive governments I support when their people are the ones who are suffering…

On the other hand, liberals who rally to the pro-Palestinian side need to be careful about the way in which they talk about Israel. Not the “Israel is an apartheid state,” “Israelis are Nazis,” etc crap, but this sense that often comes across that they perceive Israel as something temporary and experimental and thus able to be dismantled if necessary. Let me be perfectly clear, Israel is not going anywhere. Period. It’s kind of like how the LGBT community says “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” Israel is a sovereign nation with nuclear weapons, not the Tea Party…

Of course, this is an incredibly contentious and emotional issue on both sides, and a brief comment does not even count as scratching the surface. In fact, it is so emotional that the Israeli-Palestinian issue makes some liberals look like Deep South Republicans of the 1950s-60s. No, really:

Apparently this is how Helen Thomas chose to help celebrate Jewish Heritage Week at the White House. In some ways, I’m still so shocked that anybody would say this (and on camera!) that I have yet to decide how I personally believe this should be responded to. Should Thomas  be fired? Moved to the back of the room? In the same way that elephant ivory from Africa is now essentially valueless thanks to its enforced illegality and the lack of any kind of even underground market, so too had I imagined blatantly racist or anti-semitic comments by members of the press now existed. Or at least when it came to highly respected members of the press.

Clearly, I was wrong.

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The Tea Party movement and why Liberals are so unhappy about it

I’m growing pretty tired of listening to Conservative politicians, surrogates, and commentators explain how elitist and arrogant Liberals are in their depictions and discussions of the Tea Party movement. Now, of course, the very nature of these arguments destroys their validity by constantly claiming that Liberals are elitist and arrogant, but I want to suggest that mainline conservatives are misreading what they see as snooty contempt.

Liberals aren’t “freaked out” by the Tea Party because they think it’s silly, regressive, and generally filled with rednecks (though many do believe this), but rather because the Tea Party has no ideological coherency. Clearly, the point can be made that the expectation of ideological coherency is, in itself, elitist or whatever, but what we are really looking at is the basic expectation of rationality in American public discourse. So far, Liberals have watched Tea Party members label Obama a socialist, communist, Maoist, Stalinist, Muslim, fascist Nazi, which for students of history makes no sense. How can somebody be both Stalinist and a Nazi? Anybody remember World War II (besides the clear ideological incompatibilities)?

Yes, Liberal sarcasm makes it sound like the Tea Party is being scolded for getting an ‘F’ in high school history, but what that masks is a legitimate fear that a movement has formed glorifying this sense that facts are irrelevant and actually elitist. What that world-view means is that I could claim absolutely anything, and not be held responsible for what I say. So, for instance, if I were to say that George Washington hated Communists that would be alright, regardless of the obvious problem with this statement. That’s a lie, but benign. And if I were to say that Republicans are attempting to pass legislation that will allow banks to accept children as payment, can you prove me wrong? Well, even if you could, it wouldn’t matter because trying to prove something through the use of facts shows that you are an “other.” Once you are an “other,” an insular group couldn’t care less what you think because you have been delegitimized.

The Tea Party is quite obviously made up of many people who are really more interested in fiscal responsibility than in holding up Hitler-Obama signs. Unfortunately, these are not the people who make it onto television or into news stories. Frankly, showing an ideologically coherent Tea Party limits the GOP and Conservative media’s ability to harness the movement for literally any purpose, regardless of how far it may be from the Tea Party’s original intent. Tea Party members become incensed when accused of across-the-board racism, as they should be, but do they really not see where Liberals are getting this from? This sense wasn’t born out of some memo written by radical Liberals living in a secret bunker underneath the streets of San Francisco, but rather from an inability to figure out what else could account for what appears to be a severe and irrational over-reaction to some fairly moderate reforms (Yes. Healthcare was moderate). Hearing the actual use of the N-word is not the impetus. Watching thousands of people across the country claim that Obama is a communist fascist, which again is ideologically impossible and thus perceived as disingenuous, is what gives Liberals cause to believe that there is really a different underlying sentiment.

Liberals don’t really believe that Tea Party members are just copying Glenn Beck’s talking points (which is actually giving them a lot more credit than Conservatives believe Liberals are even biologically capable of), but that Tea Party members themselves are purging facts and mixing up political and economic systems on purpose to dupe others at the behest of people like Glenn Back and the GOP. When Liberals see signs that depict Obama with a Hitler mustache, there is a general feeling that since Obama’s politics are so unlike Hitler’s as to make the comparison silly and deceptive, that what the sign must really be saying is that Obama, like Hitler, is again the “other,” the enemy, a foreigner in our midst. He’s unlike “us” and thus can’t represent “us.” That kind of tribalism would seem scary and un-American to ANY party that stands in opposition.

Right now, the Tea Party is ideologically incoherent because it a) contains many people with different foci, and b) because the Republican Party and popular Conservatives (as opposed to intellectual) have turned it into the fundraising and activist arm of the GOP. Knowing this, Liberals should expect this irrationality. The Republican platform is filled with inconsistency, as is the Democrats’, and thus turning it into quick three-word yells without the spin and gloss of seasoned politicos is inevitably problematic. This is not the Tea Party’s fault. This is the fault of Republicans who have convinced regular people to shill for absurd political positions (or oppositions) to help their 2010 chances.

Tea Party leaders need to sit down by themselves and hash out a list of coherent political goals. For example, they can’t both fiercely fight to preserve Medicare and Social Security and call HCR a government takeover of our healthcare system for which they want full repeal. They need to decide whether they want repeal more or less than they want Medicare and Social Security. The Tea Party won’t be seen as a legitimate player by the Left or independent lovers of ideological consistency until they get past things like this that just appear irrational, hypocritical, and self-serving. I believe there is indeed opportunity for the Tea Party activists to perhaps play a role in policy-making. They just need to decide if they would rather be “patriots” or Republicans first.

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Interesting Op-Ed from…Jonah Goldberg?

I don’t think I’ve ever said this before, but there’s a great Op-Ed from Jonah Goldberg on NRO today. It may not be to everyone’s liking, but I think it’s a really interesting treatment of the Sotomayor nomination and the idea of a national discussion on race. An excerpt:

It may go too far to call her a racist — not necessarily because she doesn’t fit the technical definition, but because she doesn’t fit the popular, emotional definition of one. She’s not an evil bigot, which is what the word “racist” colloquially suggests.

So maybe we can call her a “racialist.” She certainly doesn’t seem to believe in official colorblindness. Just ask Frank Ricci, the fireman denied a promotion simply because he’s white. He sought justice in her court, but Sotomayor couldn’t muster the requisite empathy to give him a fair hearing.

There’s a lot more to Sotomayor’s views on race that seems worth talking about, and her record is far from indefensible. In many ways, she’s a perfectly mainstream liberal jurist. All the more reason liberals should defend her positions openly, rather than dismiss or deny them.

Obama and the Democratic party indisputably share the broad outlines of her approach to racial issues. But rather than calmly defend her, they hide behind the robes of the first Latina Supreme Court pick and shout “bigot” at anyone who fails to throw rose petals at her feet.

And that is pretty much what liberals always do when it comes to race. They invite everyone to a big, open-minded conversation, but the moment anyone disagrees with them, they shout “racist” and force the dissenters to figuratively don dunce caps and renounce their reactionary views. Then, when the furor dies down, they again offer up grave lamentations about the lack of “honest dialogue.” It’s a mixture of Kabuki dance and whack-a-mole.

The irony of the current brouhaha is that the roles are somewhat reversed. Conservatives are shouting “racist,” and liberals are scrambling to explain themselves.

I’m willing to concede, happily, that liberals aren’t cartoonish villains for believing that certain preferred minorities deserve special treatment under the law. Unfortunately, too many liberals are unwilling to offer the same courtesy in return.

So here’s an idea. Let’s assume both sides have a serious and well-intentioned perspective and talk it out. Now.

Also, Dick Cheney supports gay marriage. What’s going on?

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Sessions, Sotomayor, Racism, and an Anecdote

All kidding aside, Sessions appeared on Meet the Press yesterday with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy and was oddly unwilling to simply put into words whether he does or does not believe that Sonya Sotomayor is racist. Of course, the entire debate is 100% ridiculous and thus the mass participation on “is she/isn’t she” by both Republicans and Democrats is absurd, but it goes to a much deeper question that really has little to actually do with Judge Sotomayor. That is, how do we define racism in America today? Though seemingly academic in nature, the answer to this question has practical applications that go far beyond Senate Judiciary hearings.

An anecdote:

In my first semester of college, I participated in a freshman seminar called (some variation of) “Historical Memory and Slavery of the American South” taught by a young, but brilliant professor named Seth Rockman. Having literally just moved from my home in North Carolina to Providence, Rhode Island to attend one of the country’s most liberal universities, I was unsure how I would fare in a course meant to confront America’s Master Narrative head on.

It was, for all intents and purposes, the worst academic showing of my life. I remember distinctly the first time that Professor Rockman explained to us that reverse-racism is an impossibility, according to his school of thought, as racism relies on a superficial power construct, ie what has been the inherent position of power held by the white community as opposed to communities of other ethnicities. The more powerful (in this case white men) cannot be marginalized through racism by the less powerful (everybody else, but in Rockman’s specific example African-Americans), because the entire racial construct was created by white men to explain the relationship between themselves and all of the “others.”*

At first, I was entirely unable to comprehend this concept in a way that kept me from being incredibly offended at the apparent inequality, but after weeks of argument I reconciled that perhaps the problem with so-called reverse-racism really is about the semantics. As in, when a white person says something offensive to a black person pertaining to their race it’s called racism, but if a black person says something racially offensive to a white person, though perhaps hurtful and unacceptable, it isn’t referred to as racism because calling it so ignores the inherent power dynamics that define what racism is. Words have certain meanings, and racism has a historically specific and significant one. 

It has been a few years since I took that class, and I’d like to think that my ideas and reasoning on the subject have matured and become more nuanced (I suspect that the Professor and I have much to agree upon now), but even as I was the lone student arguing for the possibility of reverse-racism (a concept I reject after much further study), I managed to learn an important lesson from Professor Rockman: the words we use, how we define things, and the version of history we choose to tell all matter

I hated Rockman back then. I thought he was too liberal, too empathetic, and too blind to reality. But he was right.

Oh, and if I ever run into Professor Rockman, I’ll have to inform him that after writing  a (not very good) paper for his seminar tearing apart William Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner  for being the MOST AWFUL, RACIST tome ever, I proceeded to bookend my college career by writing my final senior year seminar paper for a Gordon Wood class (entitled “The Practice of History”) on the very same book. My conclusions four years later were starkly different.

* I have vastly oversimplified this point. There is much to be read on the subject.

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“The Truth Commission” or “How To Avoid Repeating the Past” (I’m back!)

Let’s talk about this idea of a “Truth Commission:”

History (and I mean recent history) has shown us that it is extraordinarily important for a society to confront, atone, and record the grave misdeeds of its past, as opposed to simply “forgetting” about said past and looking toward the future. Even for me, it is difficult not to instinctively believe that simply moving forward is the best use of national resources. However, vastly disparate contemporary political conditions in Germany and Austria attest to the cost of willful forgetfulness and the manipulation or glossing over of an unflattering historical narrative:

Assuming that most of you have, at the very least, an elementary understanding of the events leading up to and during WWII, I will not recap the war crimes committed by these two countries, as this is not a comparison between American actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and those of the Third Reich. To be clear, I am in no way suggesting that the United States today (or of the past 8 years) is comparable to Nazi Germany, and neither am I suggesting that American citizens were equally silently complicit, as many have claimed of the citizenry of Germany and Austria in the 1930s-1940s. I do, however, think that the aftermath (and I use that word lightly as I am really looking to the 1960s-1980s) contains lessons that we need to learn from.

Today, Germany’s parliament has one of the lowest levels of far-right participation in Europe (1.4%). Austria has the highest (18%). German Neo-Nazi groups certainly exist, but are extraordinarily limited and shunned by the general population. In Austria, the interests of the extreme right are discussed in the halls of government. How did this happen? What accounts for this disparity? Scholars have posited that Germany’s eventual willingness to confront its Nazi past through a surprisingly honest national dialogue that accepted guilt, as opposed to Austria’s “victim” narrative, provided a certain catharsis and openness that acknowledged the importance of admitting and atoning for the mistakes of the past in order to avoid repeating them in the future. Suddenly the younger generations had a frame and language with which to discuss Germany’s past with the older generations, and in doing so they effectively killed the elephant that was sucking the oxygen out of the room.

Austria, on the other hand, chose to perceive its position in WWII as that of the victim, thus ensuring that national guilt and shame remain slowly boiling beneath the surface and necessitating a certain amount of justification in order to maintain the status quo. Austria agreed with the school of thought that said focusing on the future rather than the past is a cleaner, less messy means of moving the country forward. This, however, essentially ensured the rise of the far-right as a major political player since Austria had/(has) yet been unwilling to even admit that it was the ideals of a not-completely-dissimilar far-right that led to their complicity in the first place. Admitting to the failings of the far-right would be admitting to complicity, which would then negate the victim narrative and then where would they end up? The unwavering answer should be, “hopefully not back in the 1940s.”

One must see Austria and Germany as exemplifying the two directions in which a society can go after major national trauma. We can look at the past, confront it, and weave it into a better future and a more honest national narrative or we can pretend like the past doesn’t exist and focus exclusively on what is ahead. These are our only two options and the one that we, as Americans, decide upon may define our future decades down the road. The idea of a “Truth Commission” may seem like liberal mumbo-jumbo to a lot of people who think talk is cheap, but in this case silence could end up a much more costly and dangerous game.

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