Blow, Kristof and Collins

In “Stop Bernie-Splaining to Black Folks” Mr. Blow says history and experience have burned into the black American psyche a functional pragmatism whose existence doesn’t depend on others’ approval.  Mr. Kristof states the blindingly obvious in “The G.O.P. Created Donald Trump,” where he says the Republican establishment has itself to blame for a front-runner it loathes.  Ms. Collins considers “Hillary, Bernie and History” and concludes that Democratic women are voting their ages in the nominating contests.  Well, Gail, not this 70 year old.  I’m voting for Bernie.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Now that Iowa and New Hampshire are vanishing in the rearview mirror, the Democratic contests shift more West and South — beginning with Nevada and South Carolina, states that have significantly more Hispanic or black voters, respectively, who at this point disproportionately favor Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders.

This support for Clinton, particular among African-American voters, is for some perplexing and for others irritating.

I cannot tell you the number of people who have commented to me on social media that they don’t understand this support. “Don’t black folks understand that Bernie best represents their interests?” the argument generally goes. But from there, it can lead to a comparison between Sanders and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; to an assertion that Sanders is the Barack Obama that we really wanted and needed; to an exasperated “black people are voting against their interests” stance.

If only black people knew more, understood better, where the candidates stood — now and over their lifetimes — they would make a better choice, the right choice. The level of condescension in these comments is staggering.

Sanders is a solid candidate and his integrity and earnestness are admirable, but that can get lost in the noise of advocacy.

Tucked among all this Bernie-splaining by some supporters, it appears to me, is a not-so-subtle, not-so-innocuous savior syndrome and paternalistic patronage that I find so grossly offensive that it boggles the mind that such language should emanate from the mouths — or keyboards — of supposed progressives.

But then I am reminded that the idea that black folks are infantile and must be told what to do and what to think is not confined by ideological barriers. The ideological difference is that one side prefers punishment and the other pity, and neither is a thing in which most black folks delight.

It is not so much that black voters love Clinton and loathe Sanders. Indeed, in The Nation magazine, the estimable Michelle Alexander makes a strong case in an essay titled “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.” For many there isn’t much passion for either candidate. Instead, black folks are trying to keep their feet planted in reality and choose from among politicians who have historically promised much and delivered little. It is often a choice between the devil you know and the one you don’t, or more precisely, among the friend who betrays you, the stranger who entices you and the enemy who seeks to destroy you.

It is not black folks who need to come to a new understanding, but those whose privileged gaze prevents them from seeing that black thought and consciousness is informed by a bitter history, a mountain of disappointment and an ocean of tears.

There is a passage by James Baldwin in his essay “Journey to Atlanta” that I believe explains some of the apprehension about Sanders’s grand plans in a way that I could never equal, and although it is long, I’m going to quote it here in full.

Of all Americans, Negroes distrust politicians most, or, more accurately, they have been best trained to expect nothing from them; more than other Americans, they are always aware of the enormous gap between election promises and their daily lives. It is true that the promises excite them, but this is not because they are taken as proof of good intentions. They are the proof of something more concrete than intentions: that the Negro situation is not static, that changes have occurred, and are occurring and will occur — this, in spite of the daily, dead-end monotony. It is this daily, dead-end monotony, though, as well as the wise desire not to be betrayed by too much hoping, which causes them to look on politicians with such an extraordinarily disenchanted eye.

This fatalistic indifference is something that drives the optimistic American liberal quite mad; he is prone, in his more exasperated moments, to refer to Negroes as political children, an appellation not entirely just. Negro liberals, being consulted, assure us that this is something that will disappear with “education,” a vast, all-purpose term, conjuring up visions of sunlit housing projects, stacks of copybooks and a race of well-soaped, dark-skinned people who never slur their R’s. Actually, this is not so much political irresponsibility as the product of experience, experience which no amount of education can quite efface.

Baldwin continues:

“Our people” have functioned in this country for nearly a century as political weapons, the trump card up the enemies’ sleeve; anything promised Negroes at election time is also a threat leveled at the opposition; in the struggle for mastery the Negro is the pawn.

Even black folks who don’t explicitly articulate this intuitively understand it.

History and experience have burned into the black American psyche a sort of functional pragmatism that will be hard to erase. It is a coping mechanism, a survival mechanism, and its existence doesn’t depend on others’ understanding or approval.

However, that pragmatism could work against the idealism of a candidate like Sanders.

Black folks don’t want to be “betrayed by too much hoping,” and Sanders’s proposals, as good as they sound, can also sound too good to be true. There is a whiff of fancifulness.

For instance, Sanders says that his agenda will require a Congress-flipping political revolution of like-minded voters, but so far, that revolution has yet to materialize. Just asin Iowa, in New Hampshire there were more voters — or caucusgoers — making choices in the Republican contest than in the Democratic one. That, so far, sounds more like a Republican revolution. If that trend holds for the rest of the primary season and into the general election, not only would Democrats not be likely pick up congressional seats, they could lose more of them.

That’s a stubborn fact emerging — a reality — and it is one that all voters, including black ones, shouldn’t be simply told to discount.

This is not to say that Clinton or Sanders is the better choice for Democrats this season, but simply that the way some of Sanders’s supporters have talked down to black voters does him a disservice, and makes clear their insensitivity to the cultural and experiential political knowledge that has accrued to the black electorate.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The betting markets now say that the most likely Republican nominee for president is a man who mocks women, insults Latinos, endorses war crimes like torture, denounces party icons and favors barring people from the United States based on their religion.

He’s less a true-believer conservative than an opportunist, though, for he has supported single-payer health insurance, abortion rights and tighter gun measures. Lindsey Graham says he’s “crazy,” Jeb Bush says he would be worse than President Obama, and the conservative National Review warned that he is a “menace to American conservatism.”

It’s Donald Trump, of course. He’s smarter than critics believe — he understood the political mood better than we pundits did — but I can’t think of any national politician I’ve met over the decades who was so ill informed on the issues, or so evasive, or who so elegantly and dangerously melded bombast and vapidity.

So how did we get to this stage where the leading Republican candidate is loathed by the Republican establishment?

In part, I think, Republican leaders brought this on themselves. Over the decades they pried open a Pandora’s box, a toxic politics of fear and resentment, sometimes brewed with a tinge of racial animus, and they could never satisfy the unrealistic expectations that they nurtured among supporters.

Perhaps it started in 1968 with Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” recruiting white segregationists infuriated by the civil rights movement. It then expanded to encompass immigration and the three G’s — God, guns and gays.

Of course, Democrats also sometimes campaigned outrageously, and some Republicans scorned the politics of hate. There was a marvelous scene in 2008 when John McCain was running against Obama, and a woman at a McCain rally suggested that Obama was an Arab who couldn’t be trusted. McCain corrected her and then praised his rival: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”

Political nastiness and conspiracy theories were amplified by right-wing talk radio, television and websites — and, yes, there are left-wing versions as well, but they are much less influential. Democrats often felt disadvantaged by the rise of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, but in retrospect Limbaugh and Fox created a conservative echo chamber that hurt the Republican Party by tugging it to the right and sometimes breeding a myopic extremism in which reality is irrelevant.

A poll released in September found that Republicans were more likely to think that Obama was born abroad than that Ted Cruz was. That poll found that Trump supporters believed by nearly a three-to-one ratio that Obama was born overseas.

The Republican establishment profited from the insinuations that Obama is a Muslim, that he’s anti-American, that his health care plan would lead to “death panels.” Rick Perry has described Trump as a “cancer on conservatism” and said his movement is “a toxic mix of demagoguery and meanspiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition” — indeed, but it was a mix that too many Republican leaders accepted as long as it worked for them.

This echo chamber deluded its believers to the point that it sometimes apparently killed them. During the 2009-10 flu pandemic, right-wing broadcasters like Limbaugh and Glenn Beck denounced the call for flu shots, apparently seeing it as a nefarious Obama plot.

The upshot was that Democrats were 50 percent more likely than Republicans to say that they would get flu shots, according to a peer-reviewed article in The Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. So when the pandemic killed up to 18,000 Americans, they presumably were disproportionately conservatives.

The Republican strategy also nurtured expectations at the grass roots that could never be met. “The Republican Party created Donald Trump,” said Erick Erickson, the conservative radio host, “because they made a lot of promises to their base and never kept them.”

This is a theme of a smart new book by E.J. Dionne Jr., “Why the Right Went Wrong,” who argues that Republican leaders repeatedly made unrealistic pledges — of smaller government, preservation of bygone values and an end to demographic change. “The history of contemporary American conservatism is a story of disappointment and betrayal,” he writes, and that helps explain the disenchantment with the Republican establishment.

Maybe Trump’s campaign will fall apart, but he has a huge lead in the polls in the South Carolina primary coming up, and he has already done enormous damage to the G.O.P. establishment.

So today the leading candidate for president in the party of Lincoln is an ill-informed, inexperienced, bigoted, sexist xenophobe. And he’s not a conservative at heart, just a pandering opportunist.

Donald Trump is the consequence of irresponsible politicking by Republican leaders, the culmination of decades of cultivating unrealistic expectations within the politics of resentment. It’s good to see leading Republicans standing up to him today, but the situation recalls the Chinese saying, qi hu nan xia — when you’re riding a tiger, the hard part is getting off.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

It’s a sad time for Hillary Clinton’s fans. Well, I guess that’s obvious, since she got clobbered in New Hampshire. But it’s the way she went down that was particularly painful. Bernie Sanders got more than half the women’s vote, mainly because younger women raced off to his corner in droves.

That triggered a generational cross-fire. “I’m frustrated and outraged by being constantly attacked by older feminists for my refusal to vote according to my gender,” a college sophomore told CNN.

Women tend to vote for candidates who support a strong social safety net, which is not exactly a problem in the current Democratic race. Historically, they’ve been less likely to show a particular preference for other women. I’ve always generalized that they won’t vote for men who yell. However, it appears that is totally inaccurate when the man in question is shouting, “Medicare for all!”

Still, the idea of a woman as president is a very important marker for people who grew up in a time when medical schools had tiny quotas for female students, newspapers had “help wanted” ads that divided everything by sex and half the population could get credit only in their husband’s or father’s name. Younger women don’t seem to share that yearning, and there are wounded feelings on both sides.

This is hardly the first time progressive women have had a generational conflict. Once women won the right to vote, the older suffragists wanted to keep battling for equal rights, while many of their juniors felt they had other things to do. “‘Feminism’ has become a term of opprobrium to the modern young woman,” wrote Dorothy Dunbar Bromley in a famous 1927 essay that suggested militants of the old school had a demoralizing tendency to wear unflattering shoes.

In the modern era, whenever cross-generational sniping occurred, younger women always had a champion in Gloria Steinem. “Their activism is fantastic,” she told me in a post-New Hampshire phone interview. Steinem, a Clinton supporter, was drawn into the fray when, during a TV appearance, she seemed to be suggesting that younger women were supporting Sanders because they wanted to meet boys. She says she misspoke, that she was talking about issues of power, not sex: “The person who’s being written about is not me.” Garbling a message is something that can definitely happen on the umpteenth leg of a book tour, and if anybody has earned the right to be taken at her word, it’s Steinem.

It’s easy to see why Sanders is attracting the youth vote. His events are electric. When he demands free tuition at public colleges and universities, the audience is practically orating with him, calling out their student loans (“Over 200,000, Columbia University graduate school!”). When he goes into his Medicare-for-all health care system, they shout their insurance deductibles (“5,000 … for a single person!”).

On the other hand, he hasn’t grown much as a candidate. All politicians tend to give the same stump speech over and over, but Sanders is practically in the Marco Rubio category when it comes to repetition. Clinton is nowhere near Sanders’s class as an orator, but there can be something compelling in her willingness to just dig in and trust the audience to follow.

Listening to Sanders wow a crowd in New Hampshire, I remembered a 2007 speech Clinton made in her first New Hampshire primary campaign. She called for an end to a tax loophole known as “carried interest” that’s beloved by hedge fund managers. Clinton wasn’t the first candidate on that particular bus, but what struck me was the time she took to explain how the system worked and how she was going to change it. She was totally fearless when it came to risking boredom in pursuit of an issue.

Strong as the emotions are in the Clinton and Sanders camps, both sides have to feel sort of chipper when they look over at the Republicans, who are engaged in something between professional wrestling and Godzilla Versus Rodan.

Plus, that generational divide has a positive side. The women who grew up in Clinton’s time thought of a female president as a distant, glorious achievement, like going to the moon. Then the moon landing happened, but they still couldn’t get a car loan in their own names.

It took almost 40 more years before a woman won a major presidential primary. That was, of course, Clinton in 2008 in New Hampshire. She didn’t win the election, but she was so credible, and finished so strong, that the nation came away believing a woman in the White House was a completely normal idea.

If the younger voters who are flocking to Bernie Sanders don’t share their elders’ intense feelings about needing to elect a woman president right now, it’s partly because Hillary Clinton helped create a different world. So no matter what comes next, everybody’s a winner.

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One Response to “Blow, Kristof and Collins”

  1. Consequences Says:

    A better example of the downtrodden image Mr. Blow complains about is Boardwalk Empire’s character Valentin Narcisse played by Jeffrey Wright.

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