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“An Avatar Of White Primacy”: Rudy Giuliani, Once Heroic, Now Simply Foolish

Amazing. Just … amazing.

Here we are, six years later, six years of mom jeans and golf dates and taking the girls for ice cream. And yet, some of us are still hung up on the perceived “otherness,” the “not like us”-ness, of Barack Obama.

The latest is Rudy Giuliani, speaking last week in New York at a fundraiser for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. “I do not believe,” said Giuliani, “and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”

In the entirely predictable firestorm that followed, Giuliani has tried out various defenses. He told The New York Times his remarks could not possibly be racist because the president had a white mother. It is a claim of such staggering obtuseness as to defy deconstruction and to which the only sensible response is to scream “Arghh!” while banging one’s head against a wall.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Giuliani wrote that he “didn’t intend to question President Obama’s motives or the content of his heart,” a lie easily refuted. Quote: “I do not believe that the president loves America.” End quote.

The Giuliani defense tour also pulled in to Fox “News,” where Giuliani claimed that while Obama frequently criticizes America, he expresses no love of country. But in the very first speech most Americans ever heard Obama give — at the 2004 Democratic Convention — he sang arias of American exceptionalism, noting that “in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” Since then, Obama has missed no opportunity to praise what he has called “the greatest country on Earth.”

Nor is Obama the only president to criticize America. Yet somehow, when Jimmy Carter cited a “crisis of the American spirit” in which “too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption,” his country love went unquestioned.

There’s a simple reason Giuliani is having such trouble defending what he said. What he said is indefensible. It was cloddish and, more than that, it was ugly.

The man once dubbed “America’s mayor” for his stirring response to the September 11 attacks now seems, on matters of race, at least, more like “America’s Batty Uncle.” Remember, this is the same Giuliani who, in a discussion of police violence in black neighborhoods, told Michael Eric Dyson, “The white police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other.”

Dyson is an author and academic. He is not known to have killed anyone.

Six years ago, there was wistful talk of a “post-racial America.” But today, we find ourselves in the most-racial America since the O.J. Simpson debacle. It’s not just income inequality, voter suppression and the killing of unarmed black boys. It’s also the ongoing inability of too many people to see African-Americans as part of the larger, American “us.”

Most of them no longer say it with racial slurs, but they say it just the same. They say it with birther lies and innuendo of terrorist ties. They say it by saying “subhuman mongrel.” They say it by questioning Obama’s faith. They say it as Rudy Giuliani said it last week. They say it because they have neither the guts to say nor the self-awareness to understand what’s really bothering them:

How did this bleeping N-word become president of the United States?

The day the towers fell, Giuliani seemed a heroic man. But he has since made himself a foolish and contemptible one, an avatar of white primacy struggling to contend with its own looming obsolescence.

And the question once famously put to Joe McCarthy seems to apply: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

But what’s the point in asking? The answer is painfully clear.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, February 25, 2015

March 1, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Racism, Rudy Giuliani | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Blame Jerry Falwell For Walker’s Slip”: A Trap Devised Long Ago By The Moral Majority

Well, we’re getting a pretty quick narrative rethink on Scott Walker, aren’t we? Two weeks ago he was a conquering hero. Now he’s a nincompoop. The truth is undoubtedly somewhere in between—although exactly which of the two poles he ends up nearer is one of the coming campaign’s mysteries.

But whether you’re liberal or conservative—that is, whether you think his cutesy refusal to confirm Barack Obama’s religiosity to The Washington Post was an outrage or act of truth-telling—the bottom line here is what my colleague Matt Lewis said it is: The way Walker and his people handled it was plain old not-ready-for-prime-time-ism. A first-time presidential candidate doesn’t get many mulligans on that front before the media decide he’s a second-rater and start covering him that way.

The most interesting thing about this hubbub, though, is the nature of the defense of Walker, which reveals a breathtaking lack of self-awareness on the right, or maybe dishonesty, or maybe both.

The main defense has been: Why was this question relevant? Why does Scott Walker even have to be asked about whether the president is a Christian? Well, maybe because for the last 30 or 35 years, the political right has dragged the question of a candidate’s piety from the fringes of the political debate, where it belonged and belongs, to the white-hot center, where it is a malignant tumor on our politics.

It wasn’t always this way. Of course we’ve had moralizers from the beginning. Thomas Jefferson’s political foes called him an “infidel” and a “howling atheist” and warned that if he won the presidency, churches would be converted into whorehouses. But then America matured, a little, and became a world power, and began taking in large numbers of immigrants, and started thinking about the world not only in terms of spirituality but in terms of psychology, social science, and so on. By the time all those forces had coalesced—the 1930s, let’s call it; the thermidorean backwash of the Scopes Trial—we by and large stopped having religious litmus tests for the presidency.

Ah but 1960, you’re thinking; well, yes, but that was totally different. No one questioned John Kennedy’s lack of religious faith. Indeed the issue was the opposite—that his Catholic faith was so all-defining that he’d govern as a Vatican fifth-columnist. For many years after that, a candidate’s religious beliefs were part of the story, certainly, but what reigned was a quality of tolerant and easy-going religious neutrality that was a reflection of the regnant, and largely bipartisan, Protestantism of the day. Candidates didn’t run around dog-whistling to the pious and implying that the impious were somehow lesser Americans whose votes ought to count for less.

Oddly it was a Democrat who first wore his religion on his sleeve in the presidential arena. Still, Jimmy Carter, though an evangelical, was still enough of a liberal to not tie his religious beliefs to a particular ideological agenda.

This all changed—and give the man his due—with Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, and the growing evangelization of the Republican primary electorate. Professions of faith from GOP candidates became more and more grandiose, like George W. Bush’s claim that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher. I’ve never known whether it was planned that he would say that or whether he just said it off the cuff, but whatever the case it was kind of brilliant of him, it must be admitted. When liberals made fun of him for not saying Locke or whatever, they managed to sound like snooty eggheads and Jesus-haters both at once.

At the same time that the religious right pushed Jesus into the presidential boxing ring, it did all it could to throw traditional religious neutrality out of it, such that positions that had been completely uncontroversial 20 years before grew to be toxic for Democrats. I think here of Al Gore being afraid to say in 2000 that he believed in evolution, one of the nadirs of recent presidential history.

In other words, it’s Republicans and conservatives who have made religious belief central to the conversation of presidential politics. And not just religious belief—a particular kind of (conservative) religious belief. Republicans made this a topic.

Now in fairness, Obama’s faith was a question in 2008, because of Jeremiah Wright, and that pot got a stirring not only from Republicans but from Hillary Clinton too. But the guy has now been the president for a long time, and voters twice elected him by reasonably comfortable margins. So these kinds of questions about Obama are still raised only in the fever swamps where Walker is trying to launch his dinghy. It’s only over there that these things matter.

So the question the Post put to Walker was completely logical and defensible within that tradition for which conservatism was responsible and to which Walker has recently been pandering, by weaseling around recently on the topic of evolution.

So it’s supposed to be unfair for Walker to have to answer a simple question like the one he was asked? Ridiculous. Liberals didn’t make faith a litmus test. If Walker and the others want to parade their own Christian credentials, any question along those lines is fair game. Besides, as Lewis said, there’s an easy answer: I don’t doubt that he is, it’s just his ideas and policies that are wrong. But of course that’s not enough for their base. If Walker got caught in any trap over the weekend, it’s one of conservatism’s devising, not the media’s.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 23, 2015

February 25, 2015 Posted by | Jerry Falwell, Religious Beliefs, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Revenge Rules Foreign Policy”: Intense Rage At Violations Of Our National Honor Creating Self-Defeating Responses

In my earlier post on the IS “crisis” I suggested it’s irrational for American foreign policy to turn itself inside out over the barbaric murder of two (or in the future, perhaps more) U.S. journalists, horrible as it is. Peter Beinart has a very persuasive column at The Atlantic today arguing it’s important we understand the public reaction to the beheadings is entirely irrational, but reflects the enduring “Jacksonian” strain of U.S. foreign policy whereby intense rage at violations of our national honor justify completely disproportionate and sometimes even self-defeating responses:

Last September, when YouGov.com asked Americans whether they supported air strikes “against Syria,” only 20 percent said yes. Last week, by contrast, when it asked whether Americans supported strikes “against ISIS militants in Syria,” 63 percent said yes.

In narrow policy terms, the arguments for military intervention have not improved over the last two weeks. It’s still not clear if Iraq’s government is inclusive enough to take advantage of American attacks and wean Sunnis from ISIS. It’s even less clear if the U.S. can bomb ISIS in Syria without either empowering Assad or other Sunni jihadist rebel groups.

But politically, that doesn’t matter. What’s causing this Jacksonian eruption is the sight of two terrified Americans, on their knees, about to be beheaded by masked fanatics. Few images could more powerfully stoke Jacksonian rage. The politicians denouncing Obama for lacking a “strategy” against ISIS may not have one either, but they have a gut-level revulsion that they can leverage for political gain. “Bomb the hell out of them!” exclaimed Illinois Senator Mark Kirk on Tuesday. “We ought to bomb them back to the Stone Age,” added Texas Senator Ted Cruz. These aren’t policy prescriptions. They are cries for revenge.

Well, they could represent something a lot worse than that. If you look back at how we got into the Iraq War, the simple political dynamics were that the Bush administration exploited a national desire for revenge (“Let’s Roll”) to launch not one but two wars, on the highly cynical but accurate assumption that many Americans held Arabs or maybe even Muslims collectively responsible, and that the absence of a second 9/11 retroactively justified the “revenge.” Many of the Republican pols now howling for revenge have recently howled for violence against Iraq, against North Korea, against Syria, against Russia and (perpetually) against Palestinians. Who can tell how many agendas will eventually be lashed to the project of making IS pay for its barbarism?

More immediately, as Beinart points out, Obama is especially unlucky in encountering (potentially) the same combination of developments that undid a certain predecessor:

All of a sudden, the domestic politics of foreign policy bear a vague resemblance to the late Carter years. The Iran hostage crisis did not lend itself to a simple policy response either. But to many Americans, it represented a primal humiliation, broadcast on screens across the world. And the hostage crisis primed Americans to see the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that same year as yet another example of Jimmy Carter failing to prevent America from being disrespected around the world. The danger for Obama is that the ISIS beheadings color the public’s view of his Russia policy in the same way.

Having spent a good part of the 2012 presidential cycle trying to convince Americans that they were actually reliving 1980 and needed to get that wimpy Democrat out of the White House, Republicans can be expected to resume making this connection directly. But even without the potent Russia/hostage combo, the politics of restraining the Jacksonian impulse could be as difficult for Obama as for Carter.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 4, 2014

September 5, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Journalists, Middle East | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Oppressive Lethargy Of Choicelessness”: What Is The Kerner Commission And Why It Should Be Revisited In Light of Ferguson

What we must remember always — and something I have told many juries in the past — is that the most powerful person in the world, on a day-to-day basis, is not the president of the United States. No, it is a police officer. Your local police officer can engage you — one-on-one, every day of the week, anywhere and any place. Your local police officer has the authority and power to take your life; and more often than not, get away with it; particularly if you happen to be a black or brown male in our society.

And how does it, all too often occur, that a police officer — most often a white police office — happens to shoot and kill or otherwise brutalize a black or brown male? Because by doing nothing when our local police officers engage in everyday minor, but insidious wrongdoing — most often directed at black and brown community residents, we enable and embolden all law enforcement personnel to believe that any wrongful conduct is acceptable simply because they wear a badge. They assume and too many in our society accept that, because they are police officers, our Constitutional constraints, under which they are sworn to perform, do not also apply to them even though they apply to each and every other American citizen.

So when I discuss the civil rights issues we tackled yesterday and the civil rights issues we confront today, including those that focus on law enforcement, I constantly advance the position that, while everything has changed, nothing has changed.

When the race riots of the 1960s occurred in communities across the nation, President Lyndon Baines Johnson appointed a commission, chaired by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner. My mentor, the Honorable Nathaniel R. Jones, served as an Assistant Counsel on the staff of this commission before he assumed the position of General Counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and then was appointed by former President Jimmy Carter to the federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The Kerner Commission Report concluded that the trigger for the riots — throughout the country — invariably derived from confrontations between the local police and members of local African-American communities. It also concluded that the residents’ held an often justified perception of the largely white police as an occupying force which was in the community to serve and protect the interests of the privileged white communities rather than to serve and protect the legitimate interests of the local minority residents and that the police inherently harbored racist attitudes toward residents of minority communities that they were also charged to serve.

Moreover, the Commission found that the underlying conditions in the making over decades — in fact, over centuries — in African-American communities provided the context for the precipitating trigger incidents of the unrest in the 1960s: racially segregated communities, inferior schools, high unemployment, and insufficient or inadequate governmental responses and attention to community needs leading those who resided in minority communities to suffer from a societal-imposed color “cast” status. They became victims of what the Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her award-winning novel, Americanah, more recently described as the “oppressive lethargy of choicelessness” — a choicelessness growing out of government sanctioned inequality and second-class citizenship and a choicelessness that was waiting to explode.

Do these findings of the 1968 Kerner Commission sound familiar in 2014?

So, I urge President Barack Obama to revisit the Kerner Commission, some 50 years later; and to ascertain where — if anywhere — we have come since the founding of our nation with its original sin (slavery and its ongoing legacy); and where we have yet to go, since we are far, far from having arrived at a “more perfect union.”

What to do?

I propose that President Obama appoint a Commission, chaired by not one governor, but by two former presidents — Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, under the auspices of the Carter Center and the George W. Bush Library; and comprised of distinguished and diverse members such as Governor Deval Patrick, Oprah Winfrey, Henry Cisneros, Retired Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, former Attorney General Janet Reno, to be supported by a staff of highly respected and renown professionals from all walks of life to address and to courageously face our past and our present in order to plot our course forward.

While everything changes, the one constant that has not changed is the deeply embedded institutional and individual attitudinal racism that pervades our country. The fact remains that the impetus for local community explosions — racism — almost always is triggered by a confrontation between police officers (most often white) and black and brown males — youth and men, alike.

In 1852, at the Friends House in Rochester, NY, Fredrick Douglass stated in his historic address entitled, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?, that “We must do with the past only as we make it useful to the present and the future.” Such is as true today as it was in 1852. And it is as true today as it was in the 1960s.

 

By: James I. Meyerson, Assistant General Counsel in the Office of the NAACP General Counsel, 1970-1981; The Huffington Post Blog, August 18, 2014

August 19, 2014 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Officers, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fundamentalism, The Political Kiss Of Death”: Experienced Veterans Of Culture Wars, Just Not On The Winning Side

Jonathan Rauch writes that Christian conservatives, in response to their defeat in the “culture wars,” are likely to isolate themselves from the wider society.

I think that is precisely what they will do. It’s what they’ve done before. After the failure of Prohibition and their Pyrrhic victory in the Scopes trial, they headed for the backwoods, hiding out in their tent revivals and two-bit tabernacles.

The iconoclastic libertarian, H.L. Mencken, skewered and roasted them with all the glee of the Calvinistic deity in newspapers across the country. They earned every column inch.

Even into the 1960s, they continued their retreat, establishing thousands of “Christian” schools in protest of 1) the ruling on prayer in government schools, 2) sex education, and 3) desegregation of government schools. They wanted the right to pray, repress and hate–three constant traits of the American fundamentalist.

Oddly, it was the victory of Jimmy Carter, a born-again Christian, who gave them a lust for power–in spite of Carter holding none of the hateful values inspiring his fellow fundamentalists. Once they saw the glimmer of political power, however, nothing could restrain them. The greatest lust is not sex, it’s power.

It is said in Luke that Satan took Jesus to a mountaintop and showed him “all the kingdoms of the world” and said to him, “All this power I will give thee, and the glory of them; for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.”

Jesus resisted, it is said, but for American Christians this temptation was too great. With Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson playing the role of Satan, they were promised political domination of this country, and by implication, the world. The temptation was too great.

In the end, they tied their wagons to the anemic presidency of the village idiot, George W. Bush, discrediting themselves and their message in the process.

America turned against the demands of the Christian Right. The campaign to bring back censorship failed. The campaign to ban abortion fizzled with public opinion now as split as when the battle started. They will never have the nation-wide ban on abortion they seek.

Their crusade against gay people backfired spectacularly–not only did they fail to make it a felony to be gay, but gay couples are legally marrying in state after state.

During the “war” Americans, became more secular and less Christian. More Americans today say they are non-believers than when the Moral Majority set out to make this a “Christian nation.”

They lost because they fought tooth and nail against the oldest American value–individual rights and liberty. Americans have long held those as core values. I won’t say Americans have always lived up to those values–they haven’t, but I will say they always clung to them.

As much as the Religious Right pretends they are patriots, in terms of American core values, they are traitors to the Enlightenment tradition of the Founders, instead they preached an authoritarian religion which, when all was said and done, had no appeal for the American people.

Time and time again, we have been able to judge the final victory of a cultural war by determining the side of the American fundamentalist. The staunchest advocates of slavery were fundamentalists, so much so that the largest fundamentalist denomination in the country originated in a defense of slavery: the Southern Baptist Convention. Fundamentalists supported Prohibition. They tended to oppose equality of rights for women.

During the war against Jim Crow, racist fundamentalists put out pamphlets on the evils of “miscegenation.” Figures such as Jerry Falwell claimed “civil rights” was communistic. Some outposts, such as Bob Jones University, refused to admit black students even into the 1970s. Fundamentalists are experienced veterans of culture wars, just not on the winning side. If anything, their support for a cause is the kiss of death.

 

By: James Peron, President, Moorfield Storey Institute; The Huffington Post Blog, July 8, 2014

 

 

 

July 9, 2014 Posted by | Culture Wars, Fundamentalists, Religious Right | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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