Barry Eisler

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ronald Reagan Never Could Have Gotten Elected if he Hadn't Been White

Okay, just a few thoughts about Romney aid John Sununu's stunningly stupid suggestion that Colin Powell recently endorsed Obama (as he did for years ago) because Powell and Obama are both black.

First:  did Powell's endorsement of Obama have anything to do with the fact that they're both black?

It's possible.

Second:  does a white politician's endorsement of a white candidate have anything to do with the fact that they're both white?

It's possible.

But you never hear about the second, only the first.

So... third:  Why is John Sununu implicitly suggesting that only a black endorsing a black might have something to do with racial solidarity?  Why doesn't it occur to him that when George Bush Sr. endorses Romney -- an example Sununu himself noted in his comments -- there might be some element of racial solidarity at work there, too?  Why is the first possibility worthy of commentary and the second, unworthy?

You know the answer.  In the mind of someone like John Sununu, white is the implicit norm, the invisible baseline.  When someone endorses a white candidate, in the mind of a Sununu there's no race in the equation.  When the candidate, or the endorsing party, is black, something racial must be at work.  White is implicit, invisible, irrelevant; black is radical, racial, and very relevant indeed.

Does this make Sununu a racist?  Certainly race is prominent in his thoughts when he analyzes the political behavior of blacks and absent from his thoughts when he analyzes the political behavior of whites.  I don't know if that kind of outsized, unconscious double standard makes a person a racist -- probably it depends on how central race is in his mind, how he uses his double standard, how often, etc.  I would say that at a minimum someone like Sununu is ignorant and embarrassingly out of touch with his own biases.

How many times have various people observed that Obama couldn't have been elected if he hadn't been black (because, for example, his candidacy galvanized so many blacks to vote for him)?  Yet how many people have observed that not one of Obama's 43 predecessors in the Oval Office could ever have been elected if they hadn't all been white?  Hell, not even George Washington could have been president if he'd been black.  But you never hear someone saying something like, "Ronald Reagan never could have gotten elected if he hadn't been white."

When a phenomenon common, or potentially common, to all people is commented upon only with regard to some people, something's going on.  It might not rise to the level of racism, but it's not logical, intelligent, or illuminating, either.
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Friday, October 12, 2012

Isn't It Great To Be Savvy?

Updated Below

Yesterday I came across a fascinating compilation of various establishment media outlets' recommendations about what viewers should heed in last night's vice presidential debate.  The compilation was fascinating not for its substance (there was none), but for its exclusive focus on style.  Have a look yourself:  here's CNN, Politico, Reuters, USA Today, and The Washington Post, each recommending the most important things they can come up with about what American voters should attend to in a vice presidential debate.

Now, I'm not sure why these so-called journalists believe what should matter most to voters is whether "Biden can draw blood" or whether "Ryan will let his feel-your-pain-flag fly" (as opposed to, say, whether the candidates believe the president has the right to unilaterally start wars, imprison and execute citizens without due process, etc).  It could be because the media outlets in question are so shallow they're on the verge of evaporating.  It could be they recognize that what the Democratic and Republican parties have in common so eclipses the parties' differences that virtually the only meaningful distinctions one can make are about style.  It could be sloth.  It could be a combination of the foregoing.

The best explanation I've come across for the American establishment media's obsession with trivia is from media critic and NYU professor Jay Rosen, who argues that the true ideology of the establishment media is a devotion to savvy.  Who cares whether a policy is substantively good or bad?  The only thing worth considering is whether articulating the policy will be an effective political tactic.  Who cares if a politician lies?  What matters is whether the lie was clever.

And Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian has a related column today, analyzing the obscured but enormous biases of the moderator of last night's vice presidential debate.

As interesting as it is to speculate about the origins of the establishment media's ostensibly objective, trivia-obsessed worldview, we should also note its pernicious effect, which is to train the citizenry to not question whatever America's two major parties agree on (which is almost everything), and to believe style is more important than substance.  I'm continually amazed -- and depressed -- at the way citizens ape the values of the establishment media that feeds them their news.  By way of anecdotal example, a month or so ago I was trapped in small talk at a dinner party table and, to save myself, asked the other guests who they'd be voting for in November (yes, you're right, you probably don't want to invite me to a dinner party).  Since the party was in the Bay Area, I wasn't surprised that everyone planned to vote for Obama.  I then asked what everyone thought was the worst thing Obama had done as president.  The response was fascinating:  with one exception, my dinner companions talked only about style and tactics.  Obama shouldn't have given Congress so much leeway in crafting health insurance reform legislation.  He should have been harder on Mitch McConnell.  Etc.  I asked, What about Obama's illegal, unconstitutional war in Libya?  This too produced an interesting response:  rather than arguing that, say, the war wasn't illegal or unconstitutional, everyone reflexively claimed that the war was well executed and had a good outcome.  Even if all that were true, where did these otherwise well-educated American citizens get their notion that whether a policy is smart is more important than whether it's legal?  Or that failing to criticize Mitch McConnell is worse than unilaterally executing a 16-year-old American citizen, or failing to prosecute even a single banker for fraud, or a single politician for ordering torture?

Watch CNN, or pick up the Washington Post, or examine any other establishment media organ, and you'll have your answer.

Update:  Seeking to prove my point, here's the New York Times' front page article on last night's debate.  The headline:  "Show of Teeth Spurs a Debate Over Biden."  The lede:  "Thursday’s vice-presidential slugfest has quickly become a debate about Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s grin."  As though the Times' own coverage has nothing to do with what the "debate" is about.
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