The totality of an official’s record always matters. This week, for example, it would be easier for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to overcome the controversy surrounding his appearance at a white-supremacist event in 2002 if he had an otherwise sterling record on issues related to civil rights.
That’s not quite the case. Andrew Prokop noted last night:
…Scalise does not have a record of friendliness to African-American causes. When the Louisiana House voted on making Martin Luther King Day a holiday in 2004, 90 members were in favor and Scalise was one of the six against.
Note, as a Republican state lawmaker, Scalise clearly knew the King holiday was going to be approved, but he made a point of voting against it anyway.
To be sure, there are other notable Republicans who rose to national prominence after voting against a day honoring MLK. Former Vice President Dick Cheney (R), for example, voted against the King holiday as a member of Congress in 1978. Five years later, Cheney changed his mind.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also voted against it in 1983, though in 1999, he said on “Meet the Press,” “We all learn, OK? We all learn. I will admit to learning, and I hope that the people that I represent appreciate that, too. I voted in 1983 against the recognition of Martin Luther King…. I regret that vote.”
Scalise, however, voted against the holiday in 2004.
Does this add an unfortunate wrinkle to the Louisiana Republican’s defense? It’s not unreasonable to think it does.
In the larger context, I saw some suggestions overnight that Republican politics is indifferent to racial division, so the Scalise controversy shouldn’t come as a surprise and won’t be consequential. There’s ample evidence to the contrary.
In 2002, for example, Trent Lott’s praise for Strom Thurmond’s 1948 segregationist platform cost him his role as Senate Majority Leader.
Last year, when Rep. Steve King used racially charged rhetoric about Latino immigrants, Speaker Boehner called the right-wing Iowan an “a**hole.”
Earlier this year, the Republican establishment was quite concerned about Chris McDaniel’s Senate campaign in Mississippi in light of McDaniel’s role at a neo-Confederate and pro-secessionist conference.
In other words, the party is concerned about its image and reputation when it comes to race. The question is whether or not Steve Scalise’s controversy is considered a real threat to that reputation.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 30, 2014
Back in 2001, I got into a long argument with a friend about Jesse Jackson, who had just acknowledged having fathered a child with a mistress. I insisted that Jackson’s retirement from the American political scene was long overdue, and that Jackson probably should have called it a career after the 1984 “Hymietown” controversy. Jackson, I asserted, had long since become an obnoxious, ineffective blowhard.
My friend disagreed. While not defending Jackson’s adultery or anti-Semitic rhetoric, he suggested that the best way for Jackson to leave the political stage was for white racism to decline dramatically, and that the folks who wanted Jackson to go away should work harder to combat the manifestations of discrimination. After all, he stated, “If racism goes away, what does Jesse have to complain about?”
I haven’t spoken to that old friend in some time, but I keep thinking about his remarks whenever I see Al Sharpton speak out about police brutality. I can’t say that I’ve ever been a Sharpton fan; I don’t watch his MSNBC program, and even when he makes points I agree with about police violence against African-Americans, I can’t help wondering if it might be better for American race relations to have those points made by someone with, frankly, a less controversial track record than Sharpton.
Yet the point my old friend made about Jackson also applies to Sharpton, no? If we all work harder to combat racism, discrimination, income inequality and police brutality, would we not, in effect, retire Sharpton? Is Sharpton not a reminder of our collective unfinished work?
When we hear complaints about Sharpton’s rhetoric and image, do we really think about how we should best answer those complaints? Getting rid of Sharpton wouldn’t get rid of racism…but getting rid of racism would get rid of Sharpton, no?
I’ll admit it: when I see Sharpton, I still think of Tawana Brawley and Freddie’s Fashion Mart and the other controversies of his past, not his calls for racial justice in the present. For many years, I regarded Sharpton as a voice of racial discord and resentment, and it’s tough for those memories of Sharpton to fade.
However, I can’t deny the validity of the argument that Sharpton’s grievances have to be addressed before he can depart from the platform of American politics. There are millions of Americans—left, right and center—who secretly want Sharpton to shut up and go away. The best way to achieve that goal, of course, is to actually fix the problems Sharpton is talking about.
By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Post, December 27, 2014
“A Consequential President”: Obama’s Record Makes Him A Major Historical Figure In Ways Most Presidents Are Not
In early January 1999, as President Clinton’s penultimate year in office was getting underway, columnist George Will could hardly contain his “disgust” for the Democrat in the White House. He published a piece condemning Clinton – one of many similar columns for the Washington Post conservative – but he did so in a very specific way.
Clinton is “defined by littleness,” Will said, adding, “He is the least consequential president” since Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s.
It’s arguably the harshest of all possible criticisms. All presidents quickly grow accustomed to a wide variety of rebukes, but no one ever wants to be dismissed as inconsequential. It’s another way of saying your presidency is forgettable. It doesn’t matter. History won’t judge you unkindly because judgments require significance, and you’re just … irrelevant.
More than a decade later, President Obama has also received his share of criticisms, but it’s probably fair to say “inconsequential” is an adjective that no one will use to describe his tenure.
We talked the other day about the remarkable stretch of successes the president has had just since the midterm elections, and it led Matt Yglesias to note the “incredible amount” Obama has accomplished over the last six years.
It has been, in short, a very busy and extremely consequential lame-duck session. One whose significance is made all the more striking by the fact that it follows an electoral catastrophe for Obama’s party. And that is the Obama era in a microcosm. Democrats’ overwhelming electoral win in 2008 did not prove to be a “realigning” election that handed the party enduring political dominance. Quite the opposite. But it did touch off a wave of domestic policymaking whose scale makes Obama a major historical figure in the way his two predecessors won’t be.
I agree, though I’d go a bit further than just his two more recent predecessors and argue that Obama’s record makes him a major historical figure in ways most presidents are not.
This isn’t even a normative argument, per se. Obama’s critics, especially on the right, can and should make their case that the president’s agenda is misguided and bad for the country. A leader can have a wealth of accomplishments, but those deeds must still be evaluated on the merits.
What Obama’s detractors cannot credibly claim is that those accomplishments do not exist. By now, the list is probably familiar to many observers: the president’s Recovery Act rescued the country from the Great Recession. His Affordable Care Act brought access to medical care to millions of families. Obama rescued the American auto industry, brought new safeguards to Wall Street, overhauled the student loan system, and vastly expanded LGBT rights.
He improved food safety, consumer protections, and national-service opportunities. He signed the New START treaty, ordered the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, reversed a failed U.S. policy towards Cuba, and used the Clean Air Act to make strides in addressing the climate crisis. He brought new hope to 5 million immigrants living in the United States, moved the federal judiciary in a more progressive direction, and helped restore America’s standing on the global stage.
The list goes on and on.
Yglesias is right that neither Clinton nor Bush can point to a similar litany of policy breakthroughs, but truth be told, very few presidents can. Note than when Paul Krugman praised Obama in his Rolling Stone cover story a couple of months ago, he used two distinct adjectives: “Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.”
All of this comes with two meaningful caveats. The first, as noted above, is that being “consequential” is not evidence of an a priori good. One can acknowledge a president’s accomplishments without liking them (or him). Tom Brady may be a consequential quarterback, but if you’re a Dolphins fan, you’re probably not impressed.
The second is that there’s a degree of fragility to some of this record. Next year, for example, Republicans on the Supreme Court may very well tear down the American health care system. In time, they may also derail Obama’s climate agenda. Congressional Republicans will spend the foreseeable future chipping away at everything from immigration progress to Wall Street safeguards. And if the nation elects a GOP successor for Obama, the next president may very well undo much of what this president has done.
But at least for now, we probably won’t see any columns about Obama similar to what George Will said in 1999.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 19, 2014
In the responses to my “When Whites Just Don’t Get It” series, I’ve been struck by the lack of empathy some whites show for members of minority groups. So imagine if the world were reversed. Then “the talk” might go like this:
“Son, sit down. You’re 13, old enough to have a conversation that I’ve been dreading.”
“Oh, come on, Dad. I hope this isn’t about the birds and the bees.”
“Nope. That’d be easy. Have you seen the video of the white horticulturalist being choked to death by police?”
“All the kids have seen it. He says he can’t breathe, and black cops still kill him. [Expletive!]”
“Don’t curse. It is wrong, but it’s the way the world works. And that’s why Mom and I are scared for you. With us whites in the minority, some cops are just going to see you as a threat no matter what. You’re going to get stopped by black cops, and I want you to promise you’ll never run or mouth off. Mom and I can’t protect you out there, and white kids are 21 times as likely as black kids to be shot dead by police. So even when a cop curses you, I want you to call him Sir.”
“Anybody curses me, he won’t get away with it.”
“Yes, he will. And if he shoots you, he might get away with it, too. Especially when you keep wearing clothes all the other white boys wear like those polo shirts. Black cops see you in them and suspect trouble. Black folks make the rules, and we have to live by them. Like it or not.”
“Hey! I told you not to curse. And don’t hold it against all blacks. Lots have joined with whites in protesting these killings. And even for those who are unsympathetic, most aren’t evil, just clueless.”
“C’mon, Dad. When a 12-year-old white kid is shot dead because he’s holding a toy gun, when a white woman professor is thrown to the ground for jaywalking, when cops smash a car window to taser a white guy in front of kids, that’s not cluelessness. That’s evil. White lives matter.”
“It’s complicated. Remember when you were suspended in the fourth grade for being disruptive?”
“That was ridiculous.”
“Yup. White kids get suspended when black kids don’t. That’s just the way it is. But the black vice principal who suspended you — he’s the same guy who enthusiastically organizes White History Month each year. Intellectually, he believes in civil rights. But he kicks out white kids for the same reason doctors give less pain medication to white patients. Same reason that in experiments a résumé that is identifiably white gets fewer callbacks than the exact same résumé from a black person. It’s not on purpose, but people ‘otherize’ us. That’s why you’ll have to work harder to succeed in life — and even then you’ll be followed around department stores by security guys.”
“O.K., Dad. Anyway, I got to go.”
“Society cares about inequality. But the big inequality debate is about rich and poor, and some folks don’t seem to notice all the inequality that comes with race. White Americans have a per capita income that’s lower than in Equatorial Guinea, and life expectancy is roughly the same as in Sri Lanka. The system here is sometimes rigged. Cops stop and frisk whites four times as often as they do blacks. And that criminal record hurts your chance to get a good job, to marry, to vote. Everybody makes mistakes, but black kids get the benefit of the doubt. You don’t, simply because you’re white.”
“Dad, I got it. Can I go now?”
“I guess 13-year-olds aren’t made for listening. Look, this thing we call ‘race’ is such a petty thing in biological terms. A minor adaptation in the last 100,000 years. Race is a social construct. It shouldn’t be what defines us.”
“Hm. Feels pretty important to me.”
“Well, it kills, and that’s why we’re having this talk. But there is also great progress. It’s incredible that we finally have our very first white president.”
“Who lots of blacks say was born in Europe! And whose sons get dissed for embarrassing the White House for dressing like the rest of us.”
“I’m glad the news reports jumped all over those comments. But I wish everyone were as outraged by destructive policies. When our education policy is to send so many white kids to third-rate schools, that’s worse than any racial epithet.”
“OK. Later, Dad!”
“Just remember: Some blacks just don’t get it, but black privilege isn’t their fault. If things were reversed and we whites were in the majority, we might be just as oblivious.”
“Dad, we whites would never be like that!”
By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 10, 2014
“A Culture Where Avoidable Force Becomes Inevitable”: Justice Department; Cleveland Police Use ‘Unnecessary’ Force
Cleveland police have routinely engaged in “unreasonable and unnecessary” force, including a half-hour police chase involving 100 officers that left two unarmed African-Americans dead when police mistook the car backfiring for gunshots and shot each of them more than 20 times, a Justice Department investigation revealed Thursday.
The probe, part of an ongoing series of “pattern or practice” investigations into the nation’s police departments, also found that Cleveland police often needlessly shot residents, struck them with head blows and subjected them to Taser weapons and chemical spray.
Taken together, the incidents in Ohio’s second-largest city, the Justice Department concluded, have led to a situation where “avoidable force becomes inevitable.”
Attorney General Eric Holder, in announcing the Cleveland findings a day after he opened a separate investigation into the chokehold death of an unarmed black man in New York, recommitted his office to the Obama administration’s Building Community Trust initiative.
The effort is designed to “foster strong, collaborative relationships between local police and communities they protect and serve,” the attorney general said.
In Cleveland, Holder said, the issues of police and community relationships are “complex and the problems longstanding.” But, he said, “we have seen in city after city where we have engaged that meaningful change is possible.”
Faced with the federal probe’s findings, Cleveland police and city officials have signed a statement of principles committing them to mending police-community relations. Holder said the plan will lead to a consent decree that would be “court-enforceable,” with an independent monitor to oversee improvements and ensure that reforms are made.
Similar agreements have been reached after Justice Department investigations into police departments in other communities in states including California, Arizona, New Mexico and Louisiana.
The Cleveland probe was opened after a local newspaper, the Plain Dealer, revealed in May 2011 that six officers accused of brutality had used force on 29 suspects during a two-year period.
By: Richard A. Serrano, The Los Angeles Times; The National Memo, December 4, 2014