Blow and Krugman

In “Million Man March, 20 Years On” Mr. Blow says now, as then, it’s hard to separate the march from its messenger, Louis Farrakhan.  Prof. Krugman considers “The Crazies and the Con Man” and says the media haven’t recognized what has happened to the Republican Party, and that’s where Paul Ryan sees his opportunity to shine.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Saturday morning, with the crispness of fall in the air and wispy clouds overhead, an impressive throng of black bodies — and a smattering of other colored ones — gathered on the Mall, facing the steps of the Capitol.

They had gathered for the “Justice or Else” rally convened by the Nation of Islam’s controversial leader, Louis Farrakhan, to mark the 20th anniversary of the group’s historic Million Man March. And that’s the rub.

The question is, as it was in 1995: Can you separate the march from the messenger, the lightning rod 82-year-old Farrakhan? The answer: Not exactly.

The rally was in a way a pageant for Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam — their power and prowess, their ability to organize and attract allies, their beliefs and customs — and it centered on Farrakhan as the celebrity father figure.

This is not unlike 1995 when the march was conceived as a “day of atonement,” focusing on personal responsibility, with black nationalist overtones. As the writer Salim Muwakkil told The Times then: “Historically, black people have always turned to black nationalism during hostile racial times.”

Although the Million Man March was undoubtedly successful as a convening, criticism of Farrakhan was blistering.

A release by the American Jewish Congress called Farrakhan “one of the country’s most prominent and unrepentant public bigots.”

A New York Times editorial at the time blasted Farrakhan and his fellow organizer Benjamin Chavis Jr., comparing them to “white racists of the previous generation” and saying “they want to prolong and exploit the nation’s racial divisions” while promoting “the twisted Farrakhan ideology.”

Men in the black gay community were conflicted about whether to come, both because of homophobic statements made by supporters of the march and by Farrakhan himself, who wrote in his 1993 book “A Torchlight for America,” “We must change homosexual behavior and get rid of the circumstances that bring it about.”

The exclusion of women was also debated. Adolph Reed, a black professor of political science, who was then at Northwestern University and is now at the University of Pennsylvania, said then, “The message of Farrakhan’s march is fundamentally conservative and blatantly sexist.”

This time, Farrakhan seemed acutely aware of his critics, and seemed to want to pre-emptively address them. But even his efforts to exalt women and include queer-identifying people while continuing to honor and affirm men was framed in tones of patriarchy.

There was the inordinate amount of time spent talking about women’s “wombs” as a rationale for honor, the presentation of how women should dress to “earn respect,” the mention that “a woman who’s beautiful and can’t cook is a killer in the kitchen.”

Even as he said to L.G.B.T.Q. people, “We are not your judges,” he framed queerness in the sinful negative, invoking the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman to whom Jesus said, “Go, and sin no more.”

Indeed, Farrakhan’s speech was more sermon and proselytization than social justice call to action. He didn’t spend much time on the enigmatic mantra “justice or else,” which raises more questions than it answered.

Justice for what? Anything and everything, apparently.

The word justice has a broadness and blankness that any pain can be projected onto it and reflected off it. The event’s website says, “We want equal justice under the law,” but under the heading “The Demand,” there is a list of groups for whom justice is sought, but not the injustices themselves. The only quasi-specific demands are “an immediate end to police brutality and mob attacks” and “We want land.”

And then, “or else” what? The answer seemed to vary with the broad coalition of speakers on Saturday, but as for Farrakhan’s two-hour speech, there seemed to be a religious allusion: Grant justice, America, or be subject to the divine judgment of God.

But, during an interview on TV One, he had suggested “or else” meant the withholding of economic participation by the aggrieved.

More disturbingly, this summer, in what the Nation of Islam’s newspaper, The Final Call, called a “trip South to promote the ‘Justice or Else!’ gathering,” Farrakhan said at a Florida church: “If the federal government will not intercede in our affairs, then we must rise up and kill those who kill us, stalk them and let them feel the pain of death that we are feeling.”

Farrakhan and rally organizers took pains to include overtures to Black Lives Matter, the predominant black movement of this moment. Some people from the movement even spoke at the rally. Many attendees were no doubt spurred by the events elevated by the movement. But this is an alliance of which that movement should be wary, specifically at a time that many conservatives are trying to paint it as a hate group.

In 1995, Ronald Walters, a political science professor, told The Times, “For most blacks, this is about pain.” He continued, “The discussion of Farrakhan is a side issue for us.” Maybe that sensibility still stands.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

How will the chaos that the crazies, I mean the Freedom Caucus, have wrought in the House get resolved? I have no idea. But as this column went to press, practically the whole Republican establishment was pleading with Paul Ryan, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, to become speaker. He is, everyone says, the only man who can save the day.

What makes Mr. Ryan so special? The answer, basically, is that he’s the best con man they’ve got. His success in hoodwinking the news media and self-proclaimed centrists in general is the basis of his stature within his party. Unfortunately, at least from his point of view, it would be hard to sustain the con game from the speaker’s chair.

To understand Mr. Ryan’s role in our political-media ecosystem, you need to know two things. First, the modern Republican Party is a post-policy enterprise, which doesn’t do real solutions to real problems. Second, pundits and the news media really, really don’t want to face up to that awkward reality.

On the first point, just look at the policy ideas coming from the presidential candidates, even establishment favorites like Marco Rubio, the most likely nominee given Jeb Bush’s fatal lack of charisma. The Times’s Josh Barro has dubbed Mr. Rubio’s tax proposal the “puppies and rainbows” plan, consisting of trillions in giveaways with not a hint of how to pay for them — just the assertion that growth would somehow make it all good.

And it’s not just taxes, it’s everything. For example, Republicans have been promising to offer an alternative to Obamacare ever since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, but have yet to produce anything resembling an actual health plan.

Yet most of the news media, and most pundits, still worship at the church of “balance.” They are committed to portraying the two big parties as equally reasonable. This creates a powerful demand for serious, honest Republicans who can be held up as proof that the party does too include reasonable people making useful proposals. As Slate’s William Saletan, who enthusiastically touted Mr. Ryan but eventually became disillusioned, wrote: “I was looking for Mr. Right — a fact-based, sensible fiscal conservative.”

And Paul Ryan played and in many ways still plays that role, but only on TV, not in real life. The truth is that his budget proposals have always been a ludicrous mess of magic asterisks: assertions that trillions will be saved through spending cuts to be specified later, that trillions more will be raised by closing unnamed tax loopholes. Or as the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center put it, they’re full of “mystery meat.”

But Mr. Ryan has been very good at gaming the system, at producing glossy documents that look sophisticated if you don’t understand the issues, at creating the false impression that his plans have been vetted by budget experts. This has been enough to convince political writers who don’t know much about policy, but do know what they want to see, that he’s the real deal. (A number of reporters are deeply impressed by the fact that he usesPowerPoint.) He is to fiscal policy what Carly Fiorina was to corporate management: brilliant at self-promotion, hopeless at actually doing the job. But his act has been good enough for media work.

His position within the party, in turn, rests mainly on this outside perception. Mr. Ryan is certainly a hard-line, Ayn Rand-loving and progressive-tax-hating conservative, but no more so than many of his colleagues. If you look at what the people who see him as a savior are saying, they aren’t talking about his following within the party, which isn’t especially passionate. They’re talking, instead, about his perceived outside credibility, his status as someone who can stand up to smarty-pants liberals — someone who won’t, says MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, be intimidated by “negative articles in The New York Times opinions page.” (Who knew we had such power?)

Which brings us back to the awkward fact that Mr. Ryan isn’t actually a pillar of fiscal rectitude, or anything like the budget expert he pretends to be. And the perception that he is these things is fragile, not likely to survive long if he were to move into the center of political rough and tumble. Indeed, his halo was visibly fraying during the few months of 2012 that he was Mitt Romney’s running mate. A few months as speaker would probably complete the process, and end up being a career-killer.

Predictions aside, however, the Ryan phenomenon tells us a lot about what’s really happening in American politics. In brief, crazies have taken over the Republican Party, but the media don’t want to recognize this reality. The combination of these two facts has created an opportunity, indeed a need, for political con men. And Mr. Ryan has risen to the challenge.

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One Response to “Blow and Krugman”

  1. LadyBug1995 Says:

    #BlackLivesMatter is still so much less important than Feminism! As long as ALL women are oppressed by patriarchy why do we even worry about a very narrow oppression example – just a single race?

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