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Colbert King's column made us think of the last century's bigots
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THOSE PEOPLE ALL LOOK ALIKE! Colbert King’s column made us think of the last century’s bigots: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, MARCH 30, 2010

A world in which no one ever knows squat: If you didn’t think you knew better, you almost might think the New York Times is being paid by corporate groups to introduce doubt about climate science. The paper’s latest front-page puzzler appears today, written by Leslie Kaufman.

Shorter Kaufman: When it comes to climate science, actual experts think one thing—and less-informed losers don’t.

We know, we know—it’s hard to write a report which says that a bunch of know-nothing weatherman dopes tend to dispute global warming. But this is the latest in a string of front-page reports in which the Times seems to fudge some basic lines about climate science, politely giving props to deniers. If you didn’t think you knew better, you might think the Times had been sold.

According to Kaufman, regular people are getting influenced by know-nothing TV weather forecasters—though no, she didn’t express this idea in such an indelicate way. But then, we regular people rarely know squat about much of anything. Consider something Ezra Klein wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post. Compare what he wrote to some results from the Post’s new national survey.

In Sunday’s Post, Klein wrote a piece about health reform, which has of course passed into law. How will this affect most people? These were his first three paragraphs:

KLEIN (3/28/10): As someone who has spent the past year tangled in the minutia of excise taxes and curve bending and subsidy levels, it is good to finally say this: With the passage of the reconciliation fixes, the health-care reform debate is finally over. But if you're thrilled to hear that, then I also have some bad news: Health-care reform itself is just beginning.

This bill marks an evolution, not a revolution, for our health-care system. Whether it proves the cornerstone of a better, fairer, more affordable system or simply another expansion of the federal welfare state has as much to do with what happens when the law is implemented as with what's written in the legislation.

The system will not change in a year. Even by 2014, when it is broadly implemented, life will not change for most people. This is not single-payer (though you wouldn't know it listening to the GOP) or the ambitious Wyden-Bennett reforms. Come 2019, about 10 percent of Americans will have a different insurance arrangement than they would have had without the bill. Most of us won't notice any difference.

Yikes! Even by 2019, Klein says, only “10 percent of Americans will have a different insurance arrangement than they would have had without the bill.” (Presumably, the “different arrangement” for many such people will be that they will actually have insurance, where previously they lacked it.) Assuming that claim is reasonably accurate, let’s review what the Post found in its recent national survey.

In that very same Sunday Post, the number-one story on the front page concerned the paper’s new survey about health reform. Jon Cohen wrote the piece. Here’s part of what the public had said:

COHEN (3/28/10): Many key provisions of the new law have been highly popular in recent polling, particularly insurance changes such as extending coverage to young adults and eliminating exclusions based on preexisting conditions. But the intensity of the overall opposition adds to the Democrats' challenge in pitching those benefits to voters, with just over seven months until the midterm elections.

More people see the changes as making things worse, rather than better, for the country's health-care system, for the quality of their care and, among the insured, for their coverage. Majorities in the new poll also see the changes as resulting in higher costs for themselves and for the country.

Most respondents said reform will require everyone to make changes, whether they want to or not; only about a third said they believe the Democrats' contention that people who have coverage will be able to keep it without alterations. And nearly two-thirds see the changes as increasing the federal budget deficit, with few thinking the deficit will shrink as a result. The Congressional Budget Office said the measure will reduce the deficit.

Thumbing through that Sunday paper, we read what Klein had written—and we read what the public had said. In large part, the twain didn’t seem to be meeting. By the way: In another recent survey, a large percentage of respondents didn’t know what the CBO has said about deficits.

We’re not telling you Klein was perfectly right in his “ten percent” construction. And from there, he goes on to suggest that things could change for larger numbers of people after 2019. But as we’ve mentioned many times, a common problem tends to get ignored by the mainstream press corps. Almost always, we the people know diddly-squat about even the most fundamental news topics. But big newspapers like to tiptoe around this fact, avoiding wider discussion of such an embarrassing matter.

Have you ever seen liberals address this endemic problem? Please, people! That would take thought.

Back to this morning’s Times. According to Kaufman, a lot of average people are hearing crap from their weather forecasters. But go ahead—just read her piece. Just drink in the delicate way she and her editors tip-toe around this. The Times is very polite again today. You could almost think they’ve been bought.

THOSE PEOPLE ALL LOOK ALIKE (permalink): For our money, Colbert King is quite an enigma.

In his weekly column at the Washington Post, he often does superlative, carefully-researched work on local crime and political topics. On the other hand, he gulped down his cohort’s red Kool-Aid during the last decade, serving as a vintage Clinton/Gore-hater. (King, a former banker, is a long-time upper-end Washingtonian.) His Clinton hatred bubbled back to the fore during the 2008 primary race.

A few months ago, he even weirdly suggested that Hillary Clinton might challenge Obama in 2012. But that’s how a hater’s mind tend to work. Can you hum the “Twilight Zone” song?

And then too, there’s the remarkable column he wrote in Saturday’s Post. His prose made us think of many things. Ironically, it made us think, more than anything else, of bigots of the last century.

King’s column was headlined, “Faces we’ve seen before.” If we had to summarize King’s message, we’d do it like this:

Those people all look alike.

Below, we show you the start of King’s piece. It followed the previous weekend’s Tea Party demonstrations against the Obama health plan. Please understand as you read this chunk: At no point does King ever claim that he was present during those events:

KING (3/27/10): The angry faces at Tea Party rallies are eerily familiar. They resemble faces of protesters lining the street at the University of Alabama in 1956 as Autherine Lucy, the school's first black student, bravely tried to walk to class.

Those same jeering faces could be seen gathered around the Arkansas National Guard troopers who blocked nine black children from entering Little Rock's Central High School in 1957.

"They moved closer and closer," recalled Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine. "Somebody started yelling, 'Lynch her! Lynch her!' I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd—someone who maybe could help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.

Those were the faces I saw at a David Duke rally in Metairie, La., in 1991: sullen with resentment, wallowing in victimhood, then exploding with yells of excitement as the ex-Klansman and Republican gubernatorial candidate spewed vitriolic white-power rhetoric.

People like that old woman in Little Rock, the Alabama mob that hounded Autherine Lucy, the embracers of Duke's demagoguery in Louisiana, never go away.

They were spotted last weekend on Capitol Hill under the Tea Party banner protesting the health-care-reform bill.

Those people all look alike, King says. They never go away.

(Just a thought, as we try to help: Could we send them all back to Europe?)

Should this column have been published? Remember—King never claims that he attended the Capitol Hill events around which his column is framed. This column is based on one cognitive structure: He saw some faces from that event, and he thought those faces looked like faces he had seen at some other events, long ago. This is very strange basis for such a sweeping, denunciatory column. As King continued, we found ourselves thinking of ugly old days:

KING (continuing directly): They were spotted last weekend on Capitol Hill under the Tea Party banner protesting the health-care-reform bill. Some carried a signs [sic] that read "If Brown [Scott Brown (R-Mass.)] can’t stop it, a Browning [high power weapon can.” Some shouted racial and homophobic epithets at members of Congress. Others assumed the role of rabble, responding to the calls of instigating Republican representatives gathered on a Capitol balcony.

It was hard not to think of mid-century bigots as we read this passage. You see, when King considers Those People, he seems to divide them into two camps. Some of them actively shouted epithets—and the rest of them were rabble. He mentions no one else.

This is the way mid-century bigots looked on the lives of black people. Soon, of course, The Doctor was IN, as he frequently is at such times. In this passage, Dr. King explains the reasons for this lesser people’s behavior:

KING (continuing directly): Tea Party members, as with their forerunners who showed up at the University of Alabama and Central High School, behave as they do because they have been culturally conditioned to believe they are entitled to do whatever they want, and to whomever they want, because they are the "real Americans," while all who don't think or look like them are not.

At least The Doctor didn’t claim that their limbic brains don’t work! But as the ersatz behavioral scientists typically do in such cases, Dr. King was able to explain why Those People behave as they do—every single one of them. For our money, the last part of that paragraph reads a bit like an unintentional joke. Is King perhaps projecting here? Does he perhaps feel “entitled” to rant about those “who don’t think or look like him?”

For ourselves, we aren’t inclined to agree with the Tea Party crowd. We don’t share their views about health reform. In a new poll, only 15 percent of Tea Party folk self-identify as Democrats; we vote for the Dems every time. We wouldn’t want to rally alongside a sign which semi-recommended the use of a Browning. On the other hand, anti-war rallies of this past decade featured dumb signs too.

King is a man of the DC elite, and he sometimes acts it. He could have taken his big fat keister down to Capitol Hill that day; as a journalist, he could have asked members of this crowd to explain their thoughts on various topics. What did they think of that Browning sign? What are their views on race—on gay issues? But bigots always think they can know the souls of Those People without having to dirty themselves by entering into their presence. And in every generation, fine members of high elites try to keep themselves free of the rabble.

This was a deeply unintelligent column, written by a man of the DC elite—someone who compliantly swallowed his cohort’s Kool-Aid in the Clinton/Gore years. (Call it the price of membership.) Here’s our question: How many members of that Tea Party crowd would say or write something as unfair, nasty and dumb as this? We don’t know the answer, of course:

KING: The angry '50s and '60s crowds threatened and intimidated; some among them even murdered. That notwithstanding, Americans of goodwill gathered in the White House to witness the signing of landmark civil rights laws.

Schoolhouse doors were blocked, and little children were demeaned. Yet the bigots didn't get the last word. Justice rolled down like a mighty river, sweeping them aside.

They insulted, abused, lied and vandalized. Still, President Obama fulfilled his promise to sign historic health-care reform into law by the end of his first term.

Those angry faces won't go away. But neither can they stand in the way of progress.

The mobs of yesteryear were on the wrong side of history. Tea Party supporters and their right-wing fellow travelers are on the wrong side now. It shows up in their faces.

You’re right—a chunk of that screed doesn’t even quite parse. According to King, “[The angry 50s and 60s crowds] insulted, abused, lied and vandalized. Still, President Obama fulfilled his promise to sign historic health-care reform into law.” Without a bit of an effort, does that passage even make sense?

But note how far King is willing go to trash the people whose faces offend him. He even finds a way to semi-slime them with the past century’s murders! Work like this churns hate in return, and it slows the wheel of progress. And there’s another problem with work of this type:

It makes liberals lazy and dumb.

Dr. King never behaved this way. It’s amazing how people can follow the work of a moral giant without absorbing a single drop of that leader’s revolutionary wisdom.

Those people all look alike, Colbert King said. At their best, they’re rabble. And not only that—they won’t go away! Where have we heard this before?

King’s column made us think of the previous century’s bigots, though not in the manner intended.

Postscript: Frank Rich wrote a variant of this column on Sunday—but then, he always does. Work like his makes liberals dumb. We’ll guess that this slows the world’s progress.