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Rep. Cohen played a race card, reminding us how we were wrong
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WE WERE WRONG! Rep. Cohen played a race card, reminding us how we were wrong: // link // print // previous // next //

An historical reminder: Just a reminder: Chapter 4 of How he got there has been posted at our companion site. How did George W. Bush reach the White House? Isn’t it time we started telling the truth about this remarkable era?

For chapter 4, just click this. For the full site, click here.

WE WERE WRONG: We’ll admit it—we were wrong! In the 1990s (and for a few years thereafter), when the liberal world was still on vacation, we never bought it. We never bought the silly line which held that we liberals are just too nuanced, too reflexively fair, to ever succeed at talk radio.

Too honest. Too smart. Too high-minded.

To us, that was always self-pimping bunk. On the other hand, we could never have dreamed how small and nasty we liberals would actually turn out be once we emerged from our decades-long slumber and rejoined the political world. We couldn’t have dreamed how much we’d enjoy playing nasty, self-defeating race cards. We couldn’t have dreamed how much we’d enjoy sneering at our lessers.

Today, the career liberal world is a dumb, ugly place—and Democratic/liberal numbers just keep falling That polling trend may change, of course—but then too, it may not. Why would people vote for us, given the way we behave?

We love to play race—and we love to sneer. Let’s scope a few recent examples:

Part one—Rep. Cohen plays Hardball: Just consider Rep. Steve Cohen’s nasty, disrespectful, race-baiting performance on last evening’s Hardball. We’ve rarely seen a more rancid display of cable TV race-baiting.

Cohen is a Democrat from Memphis—and he ought to resign. Last night, this baldly dishonest man voiced a lofty concern. He complained about the way the GOP has been pandering to its base with nasty, vile race talk:

COHEN (4/8/10): Well, I do think there is race involved in it. And it's because the parties are so separate, and people play to their base. And the Democratic Party has most of the African-American support and the Republicans don't. And they are just playing to their base. And it's unfortunate. You need leadership.

And I think the Chuck Percys, the Nelson Rockefellers, the Howard Bakers, the Bob Doles, that type of Republican is not around anymore. And they need moderates that with—who are within the Republican Party, but not in leadership. And these people talking about secession, it sounds like nullification and interposition dripping off their lips. It's not the kind of language you need to bring together America.

Poor Cohen! This deeply dishonest man was offended by all the divisive language when the GOP plays to its base! Unfortunately, Cohen may have been playing to his base a bit too. He represents a majority-black district, and he was on Hardball because he had been on the radio talking shit this:

MATTHEWS (4/9/10): Welcome back to Hardball. Well, the tea party crowd has called President Obama a socialist, a communist and a Nazi. And now Democratic congressman Stevce Cohen of Tennessee compared the tea party movement itself to the KKK in a radio interview. Let's listen to it.

COHEN (audiotape): The tea party people are kind of, like—without robes and hoods, they have really shown a very hard-core, angry side of America that is against any type of diversity. And we saw opposition to African-Americans, hostility toward gays, hostility to anybody who wasn't just, you know, a clone of George Wallace's fan club. And I'm afraid they've taken over the Republican Party. I think these—it's cultural, and these people are ready to be led by the nose and they're being led, and it's just to be against Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS: Well, we have Congressman Cohen joining us right now from Memphis. Sir, thank you for joining us. Give me your insights right up front here because I'm a student of it, as well, of the tea party crowd. Who are these people? How much of it is racial? How much of it is ideological? How much of it is rooted in organizations like, well, the Know-Nothings, the KKK, et cetera?

According to Cohen, the tea party is like the KKK. They’re hostile to anyone who isn’t a clone of George Wallace’s fan club. And not only that! Republicans aren’t using “the kind of language you need to bring together America!”

It’s hard to be a bigger clown—but Cohen gave it the old college try. In this, his very first statement on last night’s program, he described a fact-finding tour he took during the health care protest:

COHEN (continuing directly from above): I think there's a lot of it, Chris. You know, on the health care vote, I walked on the Mall among the protesters for at least a half an hour. I took my congressional badge off, had shades on and walked around. It was a very homogeneous group. It was almost 99 percent white. I saw a minimal number of African-Americans, Asians, native Americans. It was just—they were so alike.

And after the hatred that I saw exposed—calling Congressman John Lewis, one of my heroes, and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, another friend, the N-word, and spitting on Emanuel Cleaver—just disgusted me. And then the names they used for Barney Frank. And it showed a disregard. Now, not all tea party people, obviously, think that way, but when the leadership didn't say anything about it and object, the group becomes surety for the harmful words and actions that others took, comparing President Obama to Hitler and to a Nazi, and the party does look very bad when they don't stand up and say this was wrong and shameful.

There weren’t any native Americans! Pure clowning—and prime race-baiting.

According to Cohen, there’s a lot of the KKK stuff in this group. He knows this because he spent a half hour walking among them; it almost sounded like he had seen a lot of hatred exposed. But Matthews, a re-purposed corporate pseudo-liberal, back-slid at one point last night. He made the mistake of asking Cohen if he actually saw or heard racial epithets during his half-hour stroll on the mall. Cohen’s response was so baldly dishonorable, he ought to resign today:

MATTHEWS: When you were out moving around on the—on the crowd there, incognito, if you will, did you actually hear these epithets thrown at the black members of Congress and at Barney Frank for his orientation? Did you personally witness that?

COHEN: I personally can't say I was. To be honest, I was listening to Steve "Guitar" Miller my iPod.

MATTHEWS: Yes. So, you can't witness that. Let me ask you about the issue of—well, let's take a look at some e-mails you have been getting. They have been turned over to the FBI.

Let us explain Cohen’s statement. Cohen spent half an hour walking among the crowd—and he heard no racist language. His explanation for this will satisfy you if your IQ is 9. According to Cohen, he didn’t hear any racist language because he had his iPod on! Matthews—a re-purposed ersatz corporate liberal—knew he must quickly move on from that ludicrous answer. (By the way: If that’s the way Democrats conduct their fact-finding tours, can you think of any reason why voters should trust their work?)

Cohen’s performance was vile, dishonest, disgraceful. How disrespectful was he? At one point, he even stooped as low as this:

COHEN: You know, one of the main things the group was against was against health care. And Dr. King was assassinated in my hometown, Memphis, Tennessee, and we observed that horrific day with activities and remembrances this past weekend. Dr. King talked about health care being a right and that one of the great inhumanities was not providing health care to people. Then you have this group 40 years later, almost entirely white, opposing the United States government for giving health care to—making us the last industrialized country in the world to provide health care for its people. And it just doesn't seem like we've come that far. And in reflecting on Dr. King having been a proponent of health care and seeing the opposition to health care, which affects so many people, white and black, but a disproportionate amount of people who are black, it was just a flashback to an era. Jim Clyburn said he hasn't seen words expressed since the '60s by these groups.

Clyburn also said, when Olbermann asked, that he hadn’t heard any racial epithets. Like Matthews, Olbermann knew he must quickly move on (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/25/10). But it’s hard to be more disrespectful than Cohen was in that passage, dragging Dr, King into this crap as a way to extend his race-baiting. The logic here is that of a fool—or of a nasty race-man. According to Cohen, Dr. King spoke about health care—so white people must support the Democratic plan today! That is profoundly stupid work—and it’s profoundly disrespectful. Dr. King never made a statement like that in his life. Cohen should resign—should go home.

(By the way: Bob Dole, who Cohen grandly pimped—see above—staunchly opposed health care in 1993. Was he insulting Dr. King’s memory? Why not?)

For the record, Reps. Clyburn and Cohen have now both said they didn’t hear racial epithets. But good God, how we liberals love our race-baiting! Consider a lesser example from a more honorable source. Consider the post Joan Walsh offered last week.

Part two—Joan sees white people: In no way do we want to compare Walsh to the appalling Rep. Cohen. But good God, how we love to play race cards! On March 29, Walsh offered this profoundly illogical post. It ran beneath these headlines:

What’s the matter with white people?
Too many believe—incorrectly—that healthcare reform helps “other people,” not themselves

On the merits, this was a profoundly weak piece of analysis. On the politics, Walsh’s insistence on playing her “white people” card should go directly to the Smithsonian, where it could live for all time in the display about the dumbest ways to do politics.

In this post, Walsh presented an exceptionally weak analysis of a Gallup survey. In the survey, Gallup asked respondents a fairly simple question about effects of the health care bill. Respondents were given a list of groups; they were asked if the health reform bill will make things better, or make things worse, for the various groups in question. Will the bill make things better for lower-income families? Will it make things better for health insurance companies? Will it make things better for people who lack insurance? For the United States as a whole? This was the type of question Gallup asked. For the full survey question, click here.

How did respondents answer? In the least surprising result ever recorded, 59 percent of respondents said the bill will make things better for “Americans who do not have health insurance today.” For our money, the surprise here would be the fact that only 59 percent said this. If there’s a group who will obviously be helped by this bill, surely it’s the uninsured, many of whom will receive health coverage which is highly subsidized or essentially free. (15 million of the uninsured will be enrolled in Medicaid.) But in part, Walsh was upset by the way those white people responded to this question. This is a stunningly unintelligent analysis—an analysis which shows how much we liberals now love playing race:

WALSH (3/29/10): Even though the Obama administration tried to stress the bill's benefits to all families—insurance for folks with preexisting conditions, restrictions on companies dropping you when you get sick, letting kids stay on parents' policies until they're 26, as well as subsidies that will mainly go to middle- and working-class families (the poor are already covered by Medicaid)—a Gallup survey found that 57 percent of white respondents said that the bill would help the uninsured, and 52 percent said that it would improve conditions for low-income families. Only a third of whites thought it would benefit the country, and shockingly, only 20 percent thought it would benefit their family. (Nonwhites polled were more likely to say the bill would help their families.)

Why were non-whites “more likely to say the bill would help their families?” Duh. In a column from which Walsh took her lead, Ron Brownstein had explained the obvious—non-white families are more likely to lack insurance! But Walsh was upset—indeed, was shocked—by the responses of those “white people.” Despite the fact that Obama had tried to stress the bill’s benefits to all families, “white people,” in their responses, had offered an unpleasing set of reactions: They said the bill will help the uninsured and families with low incomes. But shockingly, a much smaller percentage said the bill will help their own families! The reason for this would seem fairly obvious: Most families already have health insurance; Obama’s emphasis to the side, it isn’t especially clear that such families will be helped by the bill. But so what! To Walsh, the fact that Obama had stressed a certain point meant that white people should agree with his presentation. They should be obedient proles. They should respond to this poll in the way their Dear Leader would want.

Will the bill help families who have insurance? In some cases, it certainly will—but in other cases, it won’t. Absent clairvoyance, it’s hard to know which families it will and won’t help. Without question, it’s much more clear that it will help families who don’t have insurance. (Will it help the United States as a whole? That’s a completely debatable point.) But so what? Walsh ran “white people” into her headline, and even stuck a phony quote into their mouths. This is the way our favorite race-baiter chose to open her post:

WALSH: Frank Rich’s column “The Rage Is Not About Health Care” got a lot of attention this weekend. It ran through the examples of Republican overreaction and right-wing rage in response to the passage of healthcare reform—all of it well-covered in Salon—and concluded the rage mainly stems from the fact that whites are about to become the minority in this country.

Rich isn't wrong (although calling last week's uprising a "small scale mimicry of Kristallnacht" was a little shrill). The "I want my country back!" rhetoric does reflect a mind-set in which one's country has been taken away by ... others. But in thinking about race this weekend, I got more out of a column by Ron Brownstein, which examined poll data showing that white voters—wrongly—tend to believe healthcare reform helped “other people,” not themselves.

Joan knows they’re “wrong,” because Dear Leader said! That said, we’re not sure why the phrase “other people” shows up inside quotes, in this passage and in the headline. The phrase played no part in the Gallup poll; no respondent used this term. But given the well-known language of race, it makes it sound like those puzzling “white people” had been resentfully discussing The Other. (To liberals,“other people” of course means people of color in this context.) In fact, the responses which have Walsh so shocked are perfectly sensible responses, even if they diverge from what Dear Leader’s might want. (And let’s be clear—this is Walsh’s work, not Obama’s. Obama has never said anything so foolish.) But Joan couldn’t wait to pander to her own constituents. “What’s the matter with white people?” she asked in her headline.

Perhaps she should look in a mirror.

By the way, Walsh at least was able to see the hysteria in Frank Rich’s earlier race-baiting, in which he compared the demonstrations against health reform to Kristallnacht. (The demonstrations weren’t as bad, he judged.) But then, Rich is one of our biggest liberal race-baiters. How moronic is this bloated, pale, Imus-loving hack? This passage came from that same column. You can’t get dumber than this:

RICH (3/28/10): If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House—topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman—would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It's not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver—none of them major Democratic players in the health care push—received a major share of last weekend's abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan ''Take our country back!,'' these are the people they want to take the country back from.

Rich is one of the biggest buffoons of the past twenty years. (Bush and Gore are just alike! We now know that Gennifer Flowers was telling the truth! I will miss my intelligent conversations with Don Imus! Gore’s film is like the kind of movie they make you watch in high school! How did this man get so dumb?) That said, the highlighted passage is spectacularly dumb, even by Rich’s standards. Conservatives may want to “take the country back” from Obama, Pelosi, Sotomayor and Frank—but do they want to take it back from blacks, from women, from Hispanics and gays? Just this week, a large crowd of conservatives loudly cheered the idea of a Palin-Bachmann presidential ticket. (Palin and Bachmann are women.) When asked by Sean Hannity at that same rally, Palin said she supports Michael Steele. In Florida, Republicans have fallen in love with Marco Rubio; in the process, they’ve thrown away Charlie Crist, the whitest male pol on the planet. Do you know how dumb it is to keep insisting that they hate women, Hispanics and blacks when their biggest favorites are drawn from these camps? Do you understand the insulting message this nonsense sends to Walsh’s shocking “white people?” When we tell them they’re stone-cold racists—that their limbic brains don’t work right—we’re telling them to join the other side, We might as well send limos around to drive them to the tea party.

Part three—We luvvv coal miners: We liberals luvvvv coal miners—this week. We love them this week because their deaths let us parade quite grandly about, complaining about their corporate owners. All other weeks, we mock their values and their culture—for example, their religious beliefs. In this morning’s New York Times, Shaila Dewan presents a fascinating report on the way coal mining families view their dangerous work in the mines which became so famous this week. Repeatedly, she describes these people praying for safety:

DEWAN (4/9/10): Unlike in many households, where financial security brings peace of mind, in mining families the two are permanently at odds. Stephanie Pennington, for instance, is quick to acknowledge that her family lives well, with a three-bedroom home and a 2007 Dodge Durango, its rear window studded with decals of a pick and shovel, a crawling man with a headlamp, and the legend ''WV Coal Miner's Wife.''

But each night when her husband, Robert Shawn Pennington, leaves for the hoot-owl shift at the ICG Beckley coal mine here, she gathers her three children to pray. ''I don't sleep until I hear that key in the door every morning,'' Ms. Pennington, 29, said. For her family, the anxiety spans the generations. Mr. Pennington's father was crushed to death in the old Beckley mine while his mother was six weeks pregnant with him.

These are the people we enjoy mocking every other week. Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have religious beliefs—but West Virginia’s coal miners do. (So does Al Gore. So did Dr. King.) But so what? Tomorrow, Steve Benen will do his weekly piece about “The Week in God,” mocking what’s new from “The God Machine.” Do you have any idea how dumb that is, if you’re dealing in electoral politics in a largely religious nation?

(According to exit polls, West Virginia’s white voters favored McCain over Obama in 2008, 57-41. These coal miners are the very people we constantly insult and mock—except when their deaths let us parade around for a week, pretending we somehow respect them.)

We’ll admit it—we didn’t know! We never could have imagined how nasty and dumb we liberals are—how much we love to play race cards, how much we love to mock teabaggers, a term Digby applied to Pam Stout again, just yesterday. (Darlings! Glenn Beck makes her think! She gets more like Sally Quinn every day.) Just a guess: Digby doesn’t watch Beck a whole lot. Yes, he’s one of the biggest nuts and/or frauds ever seen on TV—but he can’t be dismissed quite that simply. Most of his work comes from fever swamps—but some of his work is quite erudite. People who aren’t quite as bright as the self-admittedly brilliant High Lady Quinn-Digby may not always see the problems with Beck’s claims. They will be much less likely to see the problems when nasty, name-calling “Quinn lite” types keep calling them naughty names.

Our side is nasty, brutish and stupid. (And short—in attention span.) We seem determined to lose at politics, as we so skillfully did four decades ago, the last time we pretended we cared. Some of us were raised by racist fathers, against whom we grandly recoil. Just a question: Is there any chance that the “my tribe and no other” gene of the fathers may be swimming around in the daughters? The fathers ridiculed The Other on the basis of race. The daughters also love to exclude. And we love to play our own race cards! Just go back and review the work of the honorable Mr. Cohen.

He had his iPod on! Could any tea-bagger we ever imagined say anything so dishonest, so dumb?

Final question: What should we do in our schools to help deserving, low-income kids? You will never see that question addressed at deeply caring, deeply progressive sites like Walsh’s Salon. People like Walsh are very good at playing the “racial hero” card. But they quit on black kids a long time ago. They don’t give a flying frack about them. The truth is, they never will.

If you doubt us, go search your leading “liberal” sites. Go try to find a single “liberal” presenting a single idea! Go search all the years of KO and Rachel, looking for one single word.

Long ago, we liberals quit on this topic. We left the field to conservatives, to business types, to “educational experts.” (We left the field to Wendy Kopp!) Those people actually seem to care. Your side is AWOL, uninvolved.

How easy it would be to borrow the race-baiting language of Colbert King at this time! When I look in the face of Joan Walsh, I see the face of Louise Day Hicks!

It’s very easy to play these games. If you doubt how easy it is, just watch us liberals as we keep playing race. As we work around the clock, restoring conservative power.