Anyone can make a fool of himself. So it’s tempting to dismiss last Thursday’s mega-gaffe by Florida Representative Curt Clawson as indicative of nothing more than the fallibility of the human brain.
But think about the nature of Clawson’s goof. Sitting across a congressional hearing room from Nisha Biswal, an official at the State Department, and Arun Kumar, who works at the Department of Commerce, Clawson addressed the two Indian-Americans as if they were representatives of the government of India. Which is to say: He had trouble recognizing that two Americans who trace their ancestry to the developing world are really American.
In today’s Republican Party, and beyond, a lot of people are having the same trouble. How else to explain the fact that, according to a 2011 New York Times/CBS poll, 45 percent of Republicans think President Obama was born outside the United States? Is it because they’re well versed in the details of which kind of birth certificate he released and when? Of course not. It’s because they see someone with his color skin and his kind of name and think: Doesn’t seem American to me.
In fact, Obama’s opponents, including Democrats, have been raising questions about his Americanness since he began seeking the presidency. In a March 2007 memo, Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s chief campaign strategist, argued that she should attack Obama for “not [being] at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and his values.” Had Obama been white and named Joe Smith, Penn’s line of attack would have been inconceivable, since Obama’s thinking and values were typical of a liberal Democrat’s, and similar to Clinton’s own. Penn’s effort to question Obama’s Americanness was entirely a function of the fact that he traced his ancestry to the third world and had spent some of his childhood abroad.
Since Obama defeated Hillary Clinton, it has been the Republicans’ turn. Newt Gingrich has claimed Obama possesses a “Kenyan, anti-colonial worldview.” Dick Cheney has said, “I don’t think that Barack Obama believes in the U.S. as an exceptional nation.” Indeed, a major thrust of the GOP’s attack on Obama is that he doesn’t understand America, doesn’t believe in America and wants to turn it into something fundamentally different from what it has always been. Bill Clinton, by contrast, was attacked relentlessly for his supposed lack of personal integrity and failure to serve in Vietnam. But conservatives rarely questioned his connection to the United States.
It’s not just Obama. In various ways in recent years, conservatives have questioned the Americanness of American Muslims. Michele Bachmann suggested that Huma Abedin and other Muslim-Americans serving in the national-security bureaucracy might be more loyal to foreign Islamist movements than to the United States. Another former Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain, in 2011 said he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet because “Muslims in this country, some of them, try to force their Sharia law onto the rest of us.” A Public Religion Research Institute poll that same year found that 63 percent of Republicans believed Islam contradicts American values.
The link between the GOP’s tendency to question the Americanness of Muslim- Americans and Clawson’s assumption that the Indian-Americans sitting across from him were not American becomes clearer when you realize that in contemporary American discourse, “Muslim” is often seen as a race. Several of the most high-profile hate crimes committed in “retaliation” for 9/11 occurred not against Muslims but against South Asian Hindus or Sikhs. Representative Peter King has called for profiling suspected terrorists based upon their “religious background or ethnicity,” even though Islam is no more an ethnicity than is Christianity. The implication, of course, is that Muslims are brown.
One even sees traces of this tendency to un-Americanize immigrants from the developing world in the way some Americans see Hispanics. When Arizona in 2010 passed a law empowering law enforcement to detain anyone who presented a “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country illegally, critics rightly wondered what criteria the police could possibly use to suspect someone of being undocumented other than the fact that they looked or sounded Hispanic. A 2012 poll by the National Hispanic Media Coalition found that one-third of Americans believed most Hispanics in the United States were undocumented. In other words, many Americans associate being Hispanic with not being legally American. That’s pretty similar to the assumption Congressman Clawson made about Biswal and Kumar.
There’s no point in continuing to ridicule Clawson. Everyone’s entitled to a dumb mistake. But it’s worth noting how unlikely it is that he would have mistaken an Irish-American for a representative of the government of Ireland or a German-American for a representative of the government of Germany. Throughout our nation’s history, whiteness (itself a shifting category) has been used as a proxy for Americanness. And as Clawson reminded us last Thursday, it still is.
By: Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, July 27, 2014
It feels like we go through this same routine every few months or so. “Meet the Press” reaches some new low point for ratings, and chatter starts building about how time is running out for host David Gregory. The newest round of speculation comes courtesy of the New York Post and Page Six, which cites “an NBC source” in reporting that Gregory will be given the boot after the midterm elections. NBC, of course, denies all this as mere rumor-mongering and says that they’re sticking with Gregory.
The network’s commitment to Gregory as host of “Meet the Press” is a bit confounding, given that during his tenure the show has collapsed in viewership and has become basically unwatchable. NBC would be completely justified in giving him the boot. And after it does that, it should take the next logical step and just cancel “Meet the Press.”
Forget about a new host, forget about juggling the format, forget about more celebrity guest panelists. They should burn it down from top to bottom.
The problem with “Meet the Press” is that it’s too much of an icon of insider D.C. culture. Its role as a public affairs program has been usurped by a small army of vacant pundits who serve up shallow, predictable opinions that never stray too far from accepted conventional wisdom. And it’s always the same rotating cast of talking heads. Since the beginning of 2013, Newt Gingrich has appeared five times on the program. Rudy Giuliani has made four appearances. Harold Ford Jr. has been on seven times. Nobody gives a thin damn what these people have to say. The past few months have seen Gregory host both Tony Blair and Paul Wolfowitz to discuss violence in Iraq and how the U.S. should fight terrorism. It’s almost as if he’s inviting you not to take him seriously.
Essentially, the show has become a playground for people whose primary calling in life is to be around people in power. And when you look at the names most often mentioned as replacements for Gregory, you don’t see much hope of this dynamic changing. Chuck Todd, who is considered the front-runner for the gig owing to his reputation as a “political junkie,” is as much a devotee of Beltway insiderism as Gregory, and exhibits the sort of forced-centrist behavior that serious pundits believe insulates them from accusations of bias.
The other names that frequently get tossed around? “Morning Joe” hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, who basically already host their own version of David Gregory’s “Meet the Press” – unwatchable, power-worshiping, dripping with elite condescension, and weirdly tolerant of Harold Ford.
This is a problem facing all the Sunday shows: They’ve become basically indistinguishable from each other, and they’re all fighting for the same dwindling segment of the population that still cares to spend their weekend mornings watching a bunch of (mostly male and white) establishment figures politely argue about politics. Each one is an hour-long exercise in confirmation bias for wealthy old people who want their opinions mouthed back at them by other wealthy old people.
“Meet the Press” under Gregory has tried to shake things up a bit while still hewing to the same tired format, and it’s been a disaster. The average show can feature as many as eight or 10 guests and segments that shift rapidly from one topic to the next without ever pausing to really engage with any of them. The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi described a prototypical show this past April, during the last round of speculation surrounding Gregory’s future:
After opening with Gregory’s taped interview with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the host moved swiftly to live dual-screen chats with Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). Then it was on to the journalists’ roundtable discussion, followed by an interview with Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) about health care and the midterm elections.
Then, still more segments: A new recorded feature called “Meeting America” in which reporter Kevin Tibbles looks at something happening outside Washington (in this case, a debate in Kentucky over the building of a Biblical theme park using tax subsidies); more roundtable discussion; and a photos-of-the-week feature called “Images to Remember.” The program closed with a short interview with New York Times reporter Jo Becker about her new book about gay marriage, “Forcing the Spring.”
A program that frenetic virtually guarantees that nothing interesting will happen. “More interviews, more voices, does not automatically lead to more ‘interesting’ content,” Dave Weigel wrote back in May. “It leads to more content in less time—and less exploration of each subject covered. It robs the Sunday shows of their old advantage, their ability to lock subjects in a well-lit room for most of an hour and boil away their talking points.”
It might be time to realize that there’s no fixing the Sunday shows because they can’t be fixed. Their audiences will continue to disappear, and their influence will continue to wane regardless of which Beltway journalist is elevated to the host’s chair. NBC will ride out “Meet the Press” for as long as it’s profitable, but they’re just prolonging the sad, slow decline.
By: Simon Maloy, Salon, July 25, 2014
Right-wing pundits are jumping all over Attorney General Eric Holder for daring to suggest on Sunday that “racial animus” plays a role in the “level of vehemence” that’s been directed at President Obama. They’re denouncing him for “playing the race card” and “stoking racial divisions.”
Who do they think they’re fooling?
The rhetoric is what’s hateful. Calling people out for it is not.
The racism Holder described has been obvious since the 2008 campaign, when Obama was portrayed as someone who was not a “real American” — a Muslim, a Kenyan, a communist, even a terrorist sympathizer.
Since then, an entire movement has been built around the thoroughly discredited notion that the president’s birth certificate is a fake. And that’s just the beginning.
Rush Limbaugh has said Obama — and Oprah Winfrey, too, by the way — have reached the pinnacle of their professions only because they’re black. He added this week that “so-called conservative media types” praised Holder’s nomination only because he’s black.
Glenn Beck has said the president, whose mother was white, has a “deep-seated hatred for white people, or white culture.”
Conservative hero and former rock star Ted Nugent, who was invited to campaign with the GOP nominee for Texas governor, called the president a “subhuman mongrel.”
A Confederate flag was waved in front of the White House during last year’s “Million Vet March.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina screamed “You lie!” during the president’s address to Congress in September 2009. When has that happened to a president before?
All manner of overtly racist posters have been seen at tea party rallies, including one depicting the president as a “witch doctor.”
We’ve repeatedly seen stories about conservative politicians sharing racist jokes about Obama.
And, we’ve seen an explosive growth of radical-right groups, including armed militias, since Obama was elected, and repeated threats that violence is needed to “take our country back” from the “tyranny” of Obama. This is part of a backlash to the growing diversity in our country, as symbolized by the presence of a black man in the White House.
I grew up in rural Alabama during the Jim Crow years and lived through the civil rights movement, when white supremacists did everything they could, including committing violent atrocities, to turn back the tide of progress. And I’ve stared across the courtroom at some of America’s most vicious hatemongers — men like neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Cross, who recently killed three people and once targeted me. I know racism when I see it.
No one, of course, is suggesting that merely disagreeing with Obama is evidence of racism. That’s clearly not true.
But we have a political party and a right-wing media machine that pander incessantly to the racist reactionaries in our society, often through code words. It’s been going on since Nixon implemented his “Southern strategy” of appealing to white resentment in the wake of the civil rights movement.
I wish it weren’t so. But it is simply undeniable. We should call it what it is.
By: Morris Dees, Founder, Southern Poverty Law Center; The Huffington Post Blog, July 17, 2014
“A Good Time To Count Our Blessings”: Imagine The Iraq Crisis–But With A GOP President At War With Iran
As Iraq spirals deeper into a sectarian crisis between an ineffectual Shi’ite government and radical Sunni militants, the importance of a grudging working relationship between the United States and Iran has never been of greater importance. Without some Iranian help, Iraq’s central government will likely fall apart and the nation will be overrun by extremists potentially as dangerous as Al Qaeda in Afghanistan ever was.
So today would be a good time to count our blessings that we do not have this man as president:
John McCain: “You know that old Beach Boys song, Bomb Iran? Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.”
Or this one:
Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said he would “bring the current policy of procrastination to an end.” “Hope is not a foreign policy,” Romney said. “The only thing respected by thugs and tyrants is our resolve.”
Or this one:
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also addressing the group by satellite, said in his administration, “we would not keep talking while the Iranians keep building.” He said the “red line” was not when Iran was ready to detonate a nuclear bomb. “The red line is now” because the Iranians are “deepening their commitment to nuclear weapons while we talk,” Gingrich said. “It is an unacceptable risk.”
Here is what the President said after Romney, Gingrich and others were getting their war talk on:
“These folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” the president said. He said he was struck by the “casualness” of the way his political opponents talk about war. “I’m reminded of the costs involved in war.”
No kidding. If a Republican had been elected President in either 2008 or 2012, we would likely be at hot war with Iran by now or at the very least on the edge of it. This would have further weakened the Shi’ite position in Baghdad even as Syria devolved into the nightmare that has been helping to fuel ISIS, the Sunni extremists. The entire Middle East would be in abject chaos, with potentially nuclear consequences.
A McCain or Romney presidency would have been a foreign policy disaster that would have made George W. Bush look like a skilled statesman and general, and it would have cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives.
By: David Atkins, Political Animal, The Washington Times, June 28, 2014
The world is still coming to grips with the recent actions of Boko Haram, the Nigerian group responsible for kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls. The radical cult’s violence has been “too much” for fellow militants and jihadists, with even al Qaeda keeping its distance from the group.
This week, the scope of Boko Haram’s brutality came into even sharper focus.
Islamist insurgents have killed hundreds in a town in Nigeria’s northeast this week, the area’s senator, a resident and the Nigerian news media reported on Wednesday, as more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by the militants, known as Boko Haram, remained missing.
The latest attack, on Monday, followed a classic Boko Haram pattern: Dozens of militants wearing fatigues and wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers descended on the town of Gamboru Ngala, chanting “Allahu akbar,” firing indiscriminately and torching houses. When it was over, at least 336 people had been killed and hundreds of houses and cars had been set on fire, said Waziri Hassan, who lives there, and Senator Ahmed Zanna.
The missing schoolgirls have grabbed the world’s attention, and more offers of help poured in to the Nigerian government on Wednesday from Britain, China and France. But Boko Haram’s deadly attack on Gamboru Ngala was similar to many others in the past several years that drew little or no notice beyond Nigeria. Bodies still lay in the street on Wednesday night, said Mr. Hassan, a cement salesman.
The scale of the violence and bloodshed is gut-wrenching, and by all appearances, intensifying.
And yet, as the world watches these events with horror, some American conservatives have decided to use this as an opportunity – to condemn Hillary Clinton.
I’ll confess that I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to exploit Boko Haram as a domestic partisan tool, but here we are.
Following the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by terrorist group Boko Haram, right-wing media are rushing to smear former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not designating the group a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), insinuating that the kidnappings might have been prevented had the State Department issued the designation earlier. The baseless attack ignores the facts around FTO designations and foreign affairs.
The cast of “Fox & Friends” told viewers this morning that were it not for Hillary Clinton’s actions, we “could have saved these girls earlier.” National Review went with the tried and true “appeasing Islamists” line of criticism. In an apparent attempt at self-parody, Newt Gingrich today demanded congressional hearings to determine why Clinton’s State Department “refused to tell truth about radical Islamist Boko Haram.”
There’s something inherently troubling about a group of Americans who see a violent tragedy unfolding in Nigeria and, almost on instinct, begin looking for ways to use the developments for political advantage.
As for the substance, it’s true that the State Department declined to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization a few years ago, but as Hayes Brown explained very well, the reasoning matters.
“Designation is an important tool, it’s not the only tool,” a former State Department official told the Beast. “There are a lot of other things you can do in counterterrorism that doesn’t require a designation.” This includes boosting development aid to undercut the causes of unrest and deploying the FBI to assist in tracking down Boko Haram, both of which the U.S. actually did.
In addition, Clinton didn’t act in a vacuum to determine not to designate Boko Haram back in 2011. Scholars on Twitter who focus on the region, terrorism broadly, and Islamist groups in particular were quick to point out that not only were there few benefits and many possible costs to designation, many of them had argued against listing Boko Haram several years ago. In a letter to the State Department dated May 2012, twenty prominent African studies scholars wrote Clinton to implore her to hold off on placing Boko Haram on the FTO list. Acknowledging the violence Boko Haram had perpetrated, the academics argued that “an FTO designation would internationalize Boko Haram, legitimize abuses by Nigeria’s security services, limit the State Department’s latitude in shaping a long term strategy, and undermine the U.S. Government’s ability to receive effective independent analysis from the region.”
For the record, in 2013, the State Department reached the conclusion that the designation could no longer be delayed and Boko Haram was added to the list of entities considered by the United States to be a foreign terrorist organization.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 8, 2014