Blow, Cohen and Krugman

In “Jeb Bush, ‘Free Stuff’ and Black Folks” Mr. Blow says this is more of the paternalistic attitude that ignores racism and assumes that blacks want to be victims.  In “An Unreliable Germany and the Volkswagen Debacle” Mr. Cohen says Volkswagen cheats, a timely reminder that German leadership will fail if the temptation to hand out lessons is not resisted.  In “The Blackmail Caucus. a.k.a. the Republican Party” Prof. Krugman says the Republican Party in the Boehner era has had little understanding of economic or political facts, and it will probably get worse.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

At a campaign event in South Carolina on Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was asked how he planned to include black people in his campaign and get them to vote for him.

Bush responded, “Our message is one of hope and aspiration.” But he didn’t stop there. He continued: “It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

There it is! If you let people talk long enough, the true self will always be revealed. Not only is there a supreme irony in this racial condescension that casts black people, whose free labor helped establish the prosperity of this country and who were systematically excluded from the full benefits of that prosperity for generations, as leeches only desirous of “free stuff,” this line of reasoning also infantilizes black thought and consciousness and presents an I-know-best-what-ails-you paternalism about black progress.

It echoes the trope about lazy “welfare queens,” although as a report last year from the Congressional Research Service makes clear: “Historically, nonwhite women had a higher labor force participation rate than did white women. This especially held true for married women.”

Furthermore, although blacks are disproportionately the recipients of programs likes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a 2013 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that most households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult receiving the benefit work, and of those with families, “almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.”

The problem isn’t refusal to work, but inability to find work that is stable and pays a living wage, thereby pushing them out of need and eligibility.

Bush’s comment also hints at the role of black men without acknowledging the disastrous toll racially skewed patterns of mass incarceration have taken on the fortunes of black families by disproportionately ensnaring black men.

All history and context are cast aside in support of a specious argument: That the black community is plagued by pathological dependence and a chronic, self-defeating posture of victimization.

And this is not some one-time slip of the tongue for Bush. In Bush’s book written two decades ago, “Profiles in Character,” he wrote: “Since the 1960s, the politics of victimization has steadily intensified. Being a victim gives rise to certain entitlements, benefits, and preferences in society. The surest way to get something in today’s society is to elevate one’s status to that of the oppressed. Many of the modern victim movements — the gay rights movement, the feminist movement, the black empowerment movement — have attempted to get people to view themselves as part of a smaller group deserving of something from society. It is a major deviation from the society envisioned by Martin Luther King, who would have had people judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin — or sexual preference or gender or ethnicity.”

Not only does this completely ignore the historical and structural effect of America’s endemic anti-black racism, it also misinterprets King’s own understanding of this phenomenon.

As King told an audience at Stanford University in 1967, he understood that the dismantling of legal segregation was in a way, the easy part. It was the structural racism, not written in law but on in the minds of men, that was harder to change.

He blasted “large segments of white society” for being “more concerned about tranquillity and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity.” He slammed what he calls the “white backlash” for being the cause of black discontent and shouts for Black Power, rather than the result of it, calling it “merely a new name for an old phenomenon.” And he declared that true integration “is not merely a romantic or aesthetic something where you merely add color to a still predominantly white power structure.”

You see, King wasn’t naïvely oblivious to structural racism and how it cloistered power and inhibited mobility and equality; he was acutely aware of it and adamantly opposed to it. It wasn’t about victimization, but honest appraisal. Most black people don’t want America’s prescriptions, pittances or pity, and never have.

James Baldwin told The Paris Review three decades ago that he refused to think of himself as a victim, and that “perhaps the turning point in one’s life is realizing that to be treated like a victim is not necessarily to become one.” As Baldwin explained it, “if I took the role of a victim then I was simply reassuring the defenders of the status quo; as long as I was a victim they could pity me and add a few more pennies to my home-relief check.”

Pity doesn’t dismantle privilege, but supports it. Pity requires a perch. It rolls down. Pity reinforces imbalances of power. It can be violence operating as benevolence.

Black folk don’t want “free stuff” as much as the fulfillment of the promise of freedom: true equality of access, opportunity and justice. Bush — and America — would do well to consider that.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Germany’s leading company has toyed with the air people breathe. That’s shocking. In historical context, it’s devastating.

The Volkswagen scandal elicits more than dismay. It is one of those moments when the entire culture of a nation — in this case one of scrupulous honesty, acceptance of rules, reliability, environmental sensitivity and atoning dedication to the common good — is called into question.

Germany is never quite what it seems. There is a strain between its order and its urges. Formality may mask frenzy. When things go wrong, they tend to go wrong in a big way.

Postwar suspicion of it led other European nations and the United States to devote the bulk of their strategic energy to ensuring that Germany would never be all-powerful again. That, in fact, was their overriding concern.

The nation’s Constitution, its federal political architecture, its membership in the European Union, its place in NATO, even its adoption of the euro, were all in some ways constraining measures designed to avoid what has now come about: German dominance of Europe.

This development probably makes Germans themselves and other Europeans uneasy in equal measure. Europe needs leadership. But Germany is reluctant to lead: been there, tried that. Europeans, in turn, are reluctant to be led by a German chancellor. Self-righteous finger wagging from Germany, of the kind meted out in large doses to a near-bankrupt Greece, tends to rankle.

And at this moment, when all eyes are on German leadership — a phrase that long seemed oxymoronic — along comes the company perhaps most synonymous with Germany to install “defeat device” technology on its cars, cheat on emissions tests, spew deadly pollutants into the atmosphere from 11 million diesel cars, and declare in effect that it does not give a damn about people’s health so long as it becomes the world’s biggest automaker.

“I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part,” said Martin Winterkorn, who quit last week as Volkswagen’s chief executive. “Volkswagen needs a fresh start.”

Talk about tone deaf. The wrongdoing has a name: Nitrogen oxides.

The man who led Volkswagen for eight years says he’s not aware he did anything wrong as he oversaw the biggest corporate scandal in the carmaker’s history — a massive, multiyear exercise in deception backed by persistent obfuscation when confronted with evidence of cheating.

Winterkorn is right. Volkswagen, with its 600,000 employees worldwide, needs a fresh start. Its engineers — adorned with angel wings, no less, in some ads because they were supposedly doing genial things — in fact plotted a nasty scam. But a fresh start won’t come through denial of personal responsibility.

Nor was the speed with which Winterkorn was replaced from within encouraging. It gave the appearance that no time was given to consideration of outside candidates. Matthias Müller, the former head of Porsche who became the new chief executive, is close to the Piëch and Porsche families, who together control a majority of Volkswagen’s voting shares. With a reputation for bluntness, he may prove the best man for the job. But the appointment smacked of cozy arrangements and a quick fix at a time when the company needs a harsh and deliberate appraisal of how things went so disastrously wrong.

Volkswagen is not the first company to cut corners to make money. It is not the first big company to betray trust and show contempt for society. It is not even the first global corporation to demonstrate a reckless disregard for people’s health and the environment. To state the obvious, there is nothing peculiarly German about such behavior.

But there is something peculiarly German about the chasm between professed moral rectitude and reckless wrongdoing, between high culture and low conduct, between angels’ wings and nitrogen oxides; and there is something peculiarly German about the devastating impact this has. Volkswagen should be mindful of the extent of the debacle as it assesses how to rectify the damage to its global clients, itself and Germany. Winterkorn’s throwaway line was shameful.

Germany has been pretty relentless about Greek cheating on its public accounts, tax evasion, nepotism, lax work habits and the rest. It had a case. Greece did all the above to get itself and the eurozone into their current hole. But its prescription — be more like hardworking, honest, reliable, virtuous Germany and get there through austerity alone — was far too rigid, and now all those lessons about cheating smack of gross hypocrisy. Leadership from the new Germany will fail if the temptation to hand out lessons is not resisted.

Earlier this year the chairman of another major German company, Lufthansa, initially insisted his company had done everything right after the co-pilot of its Germanwings jet deliberately crashed in France, killing himself and the other 149 people on board. Then he backed down and apologized for an oversight.

It’s time for some serious German soul-searching. Leadership demands that.

It’s WAY past time for some of the MOTU like those in charge of Volkswagen to be tossed into the sneezer.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

John Boehner was a terrible, very bad, no good speaker of the House. Under his leadership, Republicans pursued an unprecedented strategy of scorched-earth obstructionism, which did immense damage to the economy and undermined America’s credibility around the world.

Still, things could have been worse. And under his successor they almost surely will be worse. Bad as Mr. Boehner was, he was just a symptom of the underlying malady, the madness that has consumed his party.

For me, Mr. Boehner’s defining moment remains what he said and did as House minority leader in early 2009, when a newly inaugurated President Obama was trying to cope with the disastrous recession that began under his predecessor.

There was and is a strong consensus among economists that a temporary period of deficit spending can help mitigate an economic slump. In 2008 astimulus plan passed Congress with bipartisan support, and the case for a further stimulus in 2009 was overwhelming. But with a Democrat in the White House, Mr. Boehner demanded that policy go in the opposite direction, declaring that “American families are tightening their belts. But they don’t see government tightening its belt.” And he called for government to “go on a diet.”

This was know-nothing economics, and incredibly irresponsible at a time of crisis; not long ago it would have been hard to imagine a major political figure making such a statement. Did Mr. Boehner actually believe what he was saying? Was he just against anything Mr. Obama was for? Or was he engaged in deliberate sabotage, trying to block measures that would help the economy because a bad economy would be good for Republican electoral prospects?

We’ll probably never know for sure, but those remarks set the tone for everything that followed. The Boehner era has been one in which Republicans have accepted no responsibility for helping to govern the country, in which they have opposed anything and everything the president proposes.

What’s more, it has been an era of budget blackmail, in which threats that Republicans will shut down the government or push it into default unless they get their way have become standard operating procedure.

All in all, Republicans during the Boehner era fully justified the characterization offered by the political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, in their book “It’s Even Worse Than You Think.” Yes, the G.O.P. has become an “insurgent outlier” that is “ideologically extreme” and “unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science.” And Mr. Boehner did nothing to fight these tendencies. On the contrary, he catered to and fed the extremism.

So why is he out? Basically because the obstructionism failed.

Republicans did manage to put a severe crimp on federal spending, which has grown much more slowly under Mr. Obama than it did under George W. Bush, or for that matter Ronald Reagan. The weakness of spending has, in turn, been a major headwind delaying recovery, probably the single biggest reason it has taken so long to bounce back from the 2007-2009 recession.

But the economy nonetheless did well enough for Mr. Obama to win re-election with a solid majority in 2012, and his victory ensured that his signature policy initiative, health-care reform — enacted before Republicans took control of the House — went into effect on schedule, despite the dozens of votes Mr. Boehner held calling for its repeal. Furthermore, Obamacare is working: the number of uninsured Americans has dropped sharply even as health-care costs seem to have come under control.

In other words, despite all Mr. Boehner’s efforts to bring him down, Mr. Obama is looking more and more like a highly successful president. For the base, which has never considered Mr. Obama legitimate — polling suggests that many Republicans believe that he wasn’t even born here — this is a nightmare. And all too many ambitious Republican politicians are willing to tell the base that it’s Mr. Boehner’s fault, that he just didn’t try blackmail hard enough.

This is nonsense, of course. In fact, the controversy over Planned Parenthood that probably triggered the Boehner exit — shut down the government in response to obviously doctored videos? — might have been custom-designed to illustrate just how crazy the G.O.P.’s extremists have become, how unrealistic they are about what confrontational politics can accomplish.

But Republican leaders who have encouraged the base to believe all kinds of untrue things are in no position to start preaching political rationality.

Mr. Boehner is quitting because he found himself caught between the limits of the politically possible and a base that lives in its own reality. But don’t cry for (or with) Mr. Boehner; cry for America, which must find a way to live with a G.O.P. gone mad.

I’d be reveling in schadenfreude if I weren’t so terrified…


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One Response to “Blow, Cohen and Krugman”

  1. F. E. Says:

    Seriously good writing here. Thank you.

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