Last week, President Obama and civil rights luminaries went to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. That legislation, signed in July 1964, was a stunning achievement, a herald of a dramatic transformation in the nation’s social and cultural landscape.
Yet the anniversary comes at a confusing moment in America’s racial journey. While a generation is growing up associating presidential power with a black man, evidence of a pernicious, race-infused backlash is inescapable. And bigotry played a role in the unjust shootings of two young black men, Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, who were almost certainly victims of racial profiling.
Few suggest, anymore, that the election of President Obama is evidence of a “post-racial” America in which no one notices skin color or takes into account racial and ethnic heritage. In fact, Obama’s rise has fueled the fears and hatred of a small but vocal minority who believe their America — a country run by and for white heterosexual Christians — is disappearing. If you think I’m exaggerating, just read Pat Buchanan’s 2011 screed, Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?
It is easy enough to be pessimistic. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, who has conducted research on diverse communities, told me he was surprised that Obama’s election had seemed to revive racism rather than quelling it. That revival plays itself out quite vividly in our national politics, where a retrograde faction of the Republican Party dedicates itself to the notion that, if racism still exists, white people are its victims.
Still, it would be foolishly myopic to argue that little has changed in the half-century since President Johnson arm-twisted the Civil Rights Act into history. I’m old enough to remember a landscape that was much more hostile to black Americans, that conspired to limit us in ways too myriad to count. Black and brown millennials don’t know what it means to be refused service in a restaurant, to be shoved to the back to the bus, to be turned away at a hotel because of skin color, to be ushered to a separate (and often filthy) restroom. And their white counterparts would rightly find such policies absurd.
The America that elected Obama is a very different place from the nation over which Johnson presided. Not only do black Americans eat in any restaurant they can afford, but they also star as celebrity chefs on TV. Black men and women preside over corporate boardrooms, head major non-profit institutions and reign as single-name cultural icons.
Yes, there are still major disparities in health and wealth, incarceration rates and even school suspensions. Much work remains before full equality is more than a distant mountain peak. But we ought to be able to discuss the road ahead without pretending that we’ve not made any progress at all. To do that would be to disparage the work of our civil rights heroes and to deny ourselves the inspiration we need to keep plodding along.
Besides, pessimism breeds defeat. It infects its victims with a self-limiting lethargy that fails to take big risks, to reach for the skies, to dream big dreams.
Last month, for example, USA Today profiled high-school senior Kwasi Enin, a first-generation Ghanaian-American who was accepted by all eight Ivy League colleges, an extremely rare accomplishment. Enin has a lot on the ball, but the fact that his parents, as immigrants, likely focused on America’s opportunities — not its race-based limitations — undoubtedly played a role in his remarkable story. That didn’t shield him from any racism prompted by the color of his skin, but it certainly gave him the confidence and the gumption to think he could succeed.
A half-century after Johnson pushed through a law that helped to transform a nation, racism is hardly dead. But it’s a shadow of its former self, a limited force no longer able to define the lives of the nation’s citizens of color. That’s change we can believe in.
By: Cynthia Tucker, Visiting Professor at The University of Georgia; The National Memo, April 12, 2014
“This Isn’t Complicated, People”: Joe Scarborough Will Never Be President For Many Very Obvious Reasons
I guess we’re doing this again? Morning show host and coffee chain pitchman Joe Scarborough has a book out, about how the Republican Party can save itself by being less angry and extreme, and trying to do more to appeal to “swing voters” and “moderates.” Scarborough has been giving lots of interviews about his book and its very original thesis. Ronald Reagan is on the cover of the book. Now people are asking Joe Scarborough if he is going to run for president, and he “won’t rule anything out.” He should. He definitely should rule it out, as soon as possible.
Now TPM says that Scarborough will be among the potential candidates in a survey taken at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in New Hampshire. That doesn’t really mean a whole lot. It’s not “proof” that Scarborough is dumb enough to actually run for president. He is, hopefully, just indulging the 2016 speculation to promote his book. But if he does even slightly well in this poll — and Northeast Republican Leaders are probably the closest thing to Scarborough’s “crowd” in the modern GOP, so it’s not impossible — there will be a lot of very insufferable words written, by the sort of people who appear or want desperately to appear on “Morning Joe,” about how Scarborough could make a serious run for the presidency. Mike Allen and Dylan Byers will say that “insiders” are “buzzing” about Scarborough 2016.
OK. Let’s be absolutely clear about this: Joe Scarborough is not a serious potential presidential candidate. That is nonsense.
The people who write credulously about candidate Scarborough tend to imply that because Scarborough is a television host, that he has built-in national name recognition and popularity. That is not actually true. Scarborough’s show is popular among people who follow politics closely. Most Americans don’t. And so, most Americans are watching something else most weekday mornings. Among Beltway (and New York) political journalists and media people, it is not a huge stretch to say that “everyone” watches “Morning Joe.” But in the real world, only a couple hundred thousand people watch it. That’s (a lot) fewer people than watch “Community.” I’m not trying to be harsh on Scarborough’s ratings, I am just trying to explain that the man is not, by normal standards, a huge television talk show star. He is more like the most popular local news guy for the Acela corridor.
Meanwhile, a million people watch Fox’s brain-dead morning program. Based on popularity as measured by ratings — a decent measure of popularity, I think — Joe Scarborough would be a less successful political candidate than Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and the Rev. Al Sharpton. In a Republican primary, in any state, for any office, nearly any Fox News host — probably even that old rascal Shep Smith — would almost certainly beat Joe Scarborough.
Suggesting that Scarborough run for president because political junkies like his show is like saying a “Crossfire” panelist should have run for president in 1992. Except that when that actually happened, it wasn’t a total disaster. Pat Buchanan, a former speechwriter turned TV pundit, ran for president three times. The second time, in 1996, he actually won New Hampshire, and came in close in Iowa. Still, he didn’t win. What can Scarborough learn from Buchanan’s campaigns? What made Buchanan a popular enough figure to actually win Republican primaries, beating the more experienced choice of the party elite?
Well, he was not a moderate pragmatist. Just not at all. The key to Buchanan’s almost-victory was that he was an outspoken white populist (and, in certain respects, white supremacist) who ran as the true conservative, opposed to the Washington establishment. He expressed anti-free trade beliefs that white working-class voters weren’t hearing from any other candidate in either party. He went big on the culture wars. His campaign semi-jokingly referred to its supporters as “the peasants with pitchforks.” It was, essentially, a proto-Tea Party campaign. That’s how Buchanan came close (though never that close) to winning the GOP nomination for the presidency: by doing exactly the opposite of what Joe Scarborough believes Republicans ought to do to win.
It is hard to believe that Joe Scarborough, coastal pro-business “moderate” who works for MSNBC, would do as well as Pat Buchanan, populist anti-corporate member of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, in a GOP primary campaign, even in 2016. A third-party or independent run would be a colossal waste of time and money. Please, stop suggesting that this could actually happen.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, March 13, 2013
Sounds like a pretty ho-hum morning at CPAC.
First up, Ted Cruz repeated the electoral catechism of the conservative movement: nobody loses by moving right, ever!
“There are a lot of D.C. consultants who say there’s a choice for Republicans to make: We can either choose to keep our head down, to not rock the boat, to not stand for anything, or we can stand for principle,” he said. “They say if you stand for principle you lose elections. The way to do it — the smart way, the Washington way — is don’t stand against Obamacare, don’t stand against the debt ceiling, don’t stand against nothing. I want to tell you something — that is a false dichotomy….”
Cruz said that in three of the past four election cycles, Republicans followed the consultants’ advice and ended up losing as a result.
“In ‘06, ‘08 and ‘12, we put our head down, stood for nothing — and we got walloped,” he said.
But 2010, when Republicans won a “historic tidal wave of an election,” was different, Cruz continued: That year, the GOP took strong positions against Obamacare and “bankrupting the country,” and voters rewarded them with big electoral gains across the board.
That is, of course, the most cartoonish of interpretations of the various elections he’s talking about. But as I said, it’s part of the catechism.
But the big media manget of the morning was Chris Christie’s long-awaited speech and–surprise, surprise–he touted his anti-union, antichoice record while pounding Elitist Liberals and the news media. Says veteran conservative-watcher Dave Weigel at Slate:
Christie did nothing that would upset his audience. No foreign policy talk apart from deriding the president for “letting other countries walk all over us.” No mention of his Medicaid expansion, which he’s defended many times, but a generic plea for Republicans to say “what we’re for.”
Give ‘em red meat, and when you can’t do that, give ‘em bland starchy side dishes.
But the moment that probably seemed banal to CPAC attendees but is still a bit jarring to us liberals was this one: http://youtu.be/p–9UehRbLo
So Mitch McConnell gives retiring senator Tom Coburn an antique rifle as an award for “distinguished service.” Not missing a beat, Mitch’s Democratic opponent back home, Alison Lundergan Grimes (or more likely, one of her smart-ass social media tyros) immediately tweeted:
Someone tell @Team_Mitch that’s not the way to hold a gun. KY women do it better.
That may well be true. But for those of us who don’t regularly handle shooting irons, it was a reminder of how thoroughly this sort of imagery is now used by Republicans. Back in 1996, when Pat Buchanan had just beaten Bob Dole in the New Hampshire presidential primary, he told supporters:
Do not wait for orders from headquarters, mount up everybody and ride to the sound of the guns.
And then, campaigning in Arizona, Buchanan had himself photographed a number of times brandishing a rifle, much as McConnell did today.
He was pretty much hooted out of the presidential contest and off the national stage as a crazy person.
Today, he wouldn’t much stand out at CPAC.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 6, 2014
“Conservatism Is Too Big For Its Own Good”: The Right No Longer Understands The Difference Between The Movement And The Party
There’s a moment every year at the Conservative Political Action Conference when some eminence from the 1970s talks about the good old days at CPAC, hearkening back to the time when Ronald Reagan would show up and speak to a a small room of only about 500 activists. Things have changed. Now there are about 500 journalists who get registered to report on CPAC, which has bloated to some 10,000 participants in the fat years.
Maybe conservatism is just too big for its own good.
The conservative movement has grown large because it aspired to be something greater than a part of the Republican coalition. It wanted to become the entirety of the GOP. Instead of splitting into different interest groups, the conservative movement devises ad-hoc philosophies to integrate single-issue advocates into a larger coalition. You’re not just for low taxes or against abortion, you’re a conservative!
In this sense, the conservative movement has become a kind of parallel institution that drains resources, attention, talent, and energy from the GOP’s own electoral and governing efforts. Conservative Inc. is an enterprise with enough resources and power to be an attractive alternative to America’s official institutions of electoral power.
If you are a Republican politician and don’t have the wherewithal to become president of the United States, perhaps you have enough talent to become president of Conservatism. It’s an unofficial position, but has plenty of benefits. You won’t have the psychic pleasures of representing the electoral will of the American public, but you also won’t be burdened by any real responsibilities either.
Naturally, the idea of being a player without responsibility provides more attractions for charlatans, rabble-rousers, and opportunists.
Shades of this phenomena began in the 1990s presidential primaries. Whereas Pat Buchanan picked a principled fight with his party over issues like trade and foreign policy, candidates like Alan Keyes ran less for president than for publicity: mailing lists filled out, speaking fees increased, and radio shows picked up on more networks.
By the 2012 Republican primaries, it was obvious that there were in fact two competitions happening on the same debate stages. Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and even Newt Gingrich were not running for president in the same way that Mitt Romney and Rick Perry were.
This seems not to happen in the Democratic primaries. Sure, 2004 saw Howard Dean emerge as the leader of “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” But there is no parallel universe called Liberalism where he and Mike Gravel could become well-paid industries unto themselves as think leaders, book hawkers, and distinguished dinner guests. Dean became chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a political job with actual responsibilities and geared toward winning elections, not just flame wars.
The composition of the Democratic coalition seems stronger precisely because it is more splintered and more issue driven. No one is afraid that Planned Parenthood or the teachers’ unions are going to impose a broad-ranging ideological revolution on the nation. The public assumes that they will simply lobby for their particular, limited interests and that the party to which they belong will have a moderating effect on them.
But the conservative movement really is large enough to exert a destabilizing gravitational force on the entire political culture. Its opponents fear that its size and strength make the GOP immoderate. And they may be right.
In any GOP presidential primary, the candidates who are running to be unofficial head of the conservative movement can do a great deal of damage to the GOP’s eventual nominee. They can pressure the eventual candidate to over-commit to the right in the primary race, essentially handing them more baggage to carry in the general election. Or they can cripple the eventual primary winner by highlighting the nominee’s deviations from the movement, dispiriting the GOP’s base of voters.
When the attendees of CPAC gather in Washington early next month and conduct their presidential straw poll with the self importance of a warning shot, it might profit them to consider whether they intend to elect a new president of their ideological ghetto or one for their nation.
By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, February 26, 2014
The more Russian President Vladimir Putin cracked down on gay rights, the more U.S. conservatives discovered a fondness for the Russian autocrat. Indeed, support for Putin among social conservatives and leaders of the religious right movement only seems to be growing.
But in recent weeks, the right’s embrace of Putin seems to have expanded well beyond social conservatives and anti-gay activists. Eric Boehlert reported on Friday on Republican media figures backing Putin with growing enthusiasm as U.S. tensions with Syria escalate.
Note that late last month, just hours before Obama addressed the nation regarding Syria, Matt Drudge bizarrely tweeted that “Putin is the leader of the free world.”
More recently, the Putin admiration society has been on full display all across the right-wing media landscape. On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh also seemed to side with Putin…. Limbaugh appeared to be impressed by the fact Russia had compiled a 100-page report blaming Syrian rebels for the chemical weapons attack, not Russia’s longtime ally, President Bashar al-Assad. Limbaugh told his listeners: “Now, I don’t know about you, but what does it feel like to have to agree with a former KGB agent?”
RedState published a piece late last week arguing, “We’ve reached a sad state of affairs when the Russian president has more credibility than [sic] the American president but that is where we are.” Pat Buchanan defended Putin after the Russian leader prosecuted a rock band that played songs Putin didn’t like.
The Washington Times‘ Ralph Peters told Fox viewers last week, “I don’t like Putin, but I respect that guy. He is tough. He delivers what he says he’ll deliver. He knows his people. He presents himself as a real He-Man.”
How far has the right’s wild-eyed contempt for President Obama gone? Far enough that conservatives can barely contain their increasingly creepy crush on the former KGB official with an authoritarian streak.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 9, 2013