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David Sirota on Bigotry

Perhaps this is cheating, but rather than giving a link to follow, I'm reproducing a newspaper column by David Sirota. The original can be found here. He makes a very good point - one that I think is the reason that liberals are foaming at the mouth about Ron Paul. Agree or disagree?

Our Selective Definition of Bigotry

"If they have any value at all anymore, presidential election campaigns at least remain larger-than-life mirrors reflecting back painful truths about our society. As evidence, ponder the two-sided debate over Republican candidate Ron Paul and bigotry.

"One camp cites Paul's hate-filled newsletters and his libertarian opposition to civil rights regulations as evidence that he aligns with racists. As the esteemed scholar Tim Wise puts it, this part of Paul's record proves that he represents "the reactionary, white supremacist, Social Darwinists of this culture, who believe ... the police who dragged sit-in protesters off soda fountain stools for trespassing on a white man's property were justified in doing so, and that the freedom of department store owners to refuse to let black people try on clothes in their dressing rooms was more sacrosanct than the right of black people to be treated like human beings."

"The other camp tends to acknowledge those ugly truths about Paul but then points out that the Texas congressman has been one of the only politicians 1) fighting surveillance, indefinite detention and due-process-free assassination policies almost exclusively aimed at minorities; 2) opposing wars that often seem motivated by rank Islamophobia; and 3) railing against the bigotry of a drug war that disproportionately targets people of color.

"Summarizing this part of Paul's record, the Atlantic Monthly's Conor Friedersdorf has written: "When it comes to America's most racist or racially fraught policies" affecting the world today, "Paul is arguably on the right side of all of them (while) his opponents are often on the wrong side."

"So which side is right? Both of them. And thanks to that powerful oxymoron, Paul has become a mirror reflecting back our own problematic biases. Specifically, his candidacy is showing that the conventional definition of intolerable bigotry is disturbingly narrow — and embarrassingly selective.

"This reality is best demonstrated by those voters who say they detest Paul not because of his extreme economic ideas but because they feel his record represents an unacceptable form of racism. These folks will likely tell you that their alleged commitment to policies promoting racial equality has moved them to support Mitt Romney or Barack Obama — politicians who, of course, support bigoted civil-liberties atrocities, Islamophobic foreign invasions and a racist drug war.

"In making such a choice, then, these voters are tacitly embracing the definition of unacceptable bigotry as only hate speech (Paul's newsletters) and opposition to civil-rights laws (Paul's odious position) but not also various forms of institutional bigotry that their favored candidates support and that Paul has fought to end. Incredibly, this selective definition asks us to ignore many of the most destructive tenets of what legal scholar Michelle Alexander's celebrated book calls "the new Jim Crow." And yet, as the reaction to Paul proves, it is precisely this definition that pervades so much of American society.

"To be clear: Noting this hypocrisy is not meant to urge a vote for Paul (I'm not a Paul supporter), nor does it absolve those Paul fans who wholly ignore the objectionable parts of their candidate's record on race. Instead, it is simply meant to argue that if we're going to have a long overdue discussion about bigotry, then let's have an honest conversation about all forms of bigotry — not our current talking-points-driven screamfest that rightly criticizes one kind of prejudice but wrongly tolerates other forms of prejudice that are often just as destructive.

"Perpetuating that kind of naked bait-and-switchery may help one set of candidates and hurt another in a given presidential campaign, but it does nothing to advance the cause of equality in America."

I bolded the sentences in the essay, because I think those are the parts that need to be considered when trying to understand liberal opposition to Paul.

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Submitted by Hugh on

I think what often gets forgotten is that the housing bubble virtually wiped out African American wealth. Per capita African American wealth is now something like 1/44th that of whites. African American unemployment is twice that of whites and is officially in the 15% range, meaning that unofficially it is probably around 20%. Obama has done zilch, zero, nada, for African Americans. Like the rest of what used to legitimately be called the Democratic base, Obama and the Democrats shaft them 99% of the time and demand their votes the other 1%. I think that is pretty intolerable racism too.

Submitted by Alcuin on

"...pretty intolerable racism too." Indeed. But a vast majority of Americans are so myopic that they can't see beyond the sound bites offered by the spin-meisters. How could Obama be a racist?? He's Black!!!

zot23's picture
Submitted by zot23 on

In essence, "follow the money":

The hate filled, invective laden, newletter type of racism is based on personal beliefs and therefore is very hard to change (in America, you have a right to your bigotry and racism, as long as you don't act on it.) An argument on these grounds tends to separate whites and people of color as it lends to a culture war at its base. You can legislate what people can do, you cannot legislate what they believe.

The systematic defrauding and defunding of the underclass though is at its base an economic problem, not cultural. Once you start peeling away the layers of the war funding, improper taxation, food stamps, etc, it is really affecting white and black/hispanic equally. In other words, if you are poor these policies are f'n' you regardless of race. Thus the focus could shift from an intractable color v. white cultural battle to a rich v. poor economic struggle. There is nothing (nothing!) the moneyed classes fear more than a mob of poor and angry white, black, and hispanic people marching across town in a mob demanding economic justice. Notice how they shut down OWS in a double-plus good hurry once it started to reach out tendrils beyond the white, college kid (and older white hippie) base.

They want to fight racism on the grounds of the divisive , unwinnable hate platform. To tackle it on the economic platform would quickly unravel the entire scheme, therefore it cannot be allowed. Ron Paul breaks this mold, so he must be made irrelevant or at least minimize the damage of his campaign. So you get the newletters for Paul and the recent "story" of OWS protesters calling Obama 'Hitler' in Harlem recently. What a crock both those stories are, but they serve their purpose to muddy the waters away from the path of actual economic change.

Submitted by hipparchia on

"One camp cites Paul's hate-filled newsletters and his libertarian opposition to civil rights regulations as evidence that he aligns with racists."

no.

we cite his appearing in photos with, and taking money from, a former grand wizard of the ku klux klan and member of the american nazi party who now runs a HUGE white supremacist website as evidence that he aligns with racists.

we cite his opposition to civil rights regulations as evidence that he most definitely does NOT believe that the federal government should protect people [blacks, jews, catholics, and any whites who support blacks, jews, or catholics] who would be persecuted by the kkk and the neo-nazis.

whether he would go so far as to actively support the white supremacists if he were president is an unknown, but those of us who grew up hearing first-hand accounts of the kkk in action are not willing to take that chance.

Submitted by Alcuin on

Why is a contribution to Paul's campaign by a white supremacist worse than a contribution to a mainstream politician's campaign by a different, but equally repugnant (fundamentalist Christian, corporate polluter, Koch supporter, etc., etc.) source?

I repeat:

Instead, it is simply meant to argue that if we're going to have a long overdue discussion about bigotry, then let's have an honest conversation about all forms of bigotry — not our current talking-points-driven screamfest that rightly criticizes one kind of prejudice but wrongly tolerates other forms of prejudice that are often just as destructive.

Submitted by Alcuin on

Gosh, I didn't see anything in the piece that said that Sirota supported Paul's candidacy. Did I miss something? His point is one that I've been trying to make: he is a mirror of American values and Americans don't like looking in mirrors. Your characterization of Sirota as a "fucking idiot" bothers me. Your choice of words doesn't promote understanding or discussion.

From the article:

"Instead, it is simply meant to argue that if we're going to have a long overdue discussion about bigotry, then let's have an honest conversation about all forms of bigotry — not our current talking-points-driven screamfest that rightly criticizes one kind of prejudice but wrongly tolerates other forms of prejudice that are often just as destructive."

Submitted by hipparchia on

I think those are the parts that need to be considered when trying to understand liberal opposition to Paul.

you would be wrong.

Submitted by hipparchia on

as a headline, that's a humdinger. :)

ron paul's social policies + his economic policies + his foreign policies could easily turn the usa [and probably europe too] into a rerun of 1930s germany. that worked out well [not].

Submitted by lambert on

I don't see Paul retaking the Ruhr, or whatever out equivalent is.

NOTE I mean the headline quite seriously; things could have been a lot worse after the Gilded Age than they turned out to be....

Submitted by hipparchia on

his economic policies would throw the world into depression, and he doesn't believe in climate change [and the possible resulting major droughts], but he would be opposed to the federal govt spending money to send food to starving people in other countries.

the ron paul idea of teaching a man to fish:

The Texas congressman offered his own idea for helping Africa. “We should export, maybe, some principles about free markets and sound money,” he said, “and maybe they can produce some of their wealth.”

granted he's talking about aids in that particular quote, but he appears to have similar thoughts about food aid.

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul explained Wednesday that famines in Africa were a result of a lack of a “free market systems.”

“All I know is if you look at history and if you compare good medical care and you compare famine, the countries that are more socialistic have more famines,” Paul told CNN’s T.J. Holmes. “If you look at Africa, they don’t have any free market systems and property rights and they have famines and no medical care. So the freer the system, the better the health care.”

this is the textbook definition of an isolationist. sure, the "no wars" part of isolationism is attractive, but the usa has ~5% of the world's population and consumes something like 25% of the world's resources, and ron paul doesn't want to share with poor starving dark-skinned people in africa.

of course, there's always the possibility that he wouldn't want to send food to poor starving white people in russia too if they were to have widespread famine, so that makes him not a racist. /snark

Submitted by hipparchia on

i'm mildly curious to know how you would justify the complete ron paul package deal - plunging the world into another great depression, fostering the rise of neo-nazism [and christianist theocracy too] both here and abroad, refusing to do anything about climate change, and turning a blind eye and deaf ear while millions in the rest of the world starve to death or die of treatable or preventable diseases - is superior to what we have now.

but you're engaging in equivalation, or false dichotomy, or TINA, and surely you know that? it's not as though we don't have any other options, y'know. we could be advocating for sane and humane policies all around.

Submitted by lambert on

Where did I buy the complete package of He Who Shall Not Be Named? [In fact, I quite clearly do not]

Let's suppose that (say) Howard Dean came out as an isolationist. Not that he will, but suppose he did. Would you still argue -- if that is in fact what you are arguing -- that the empire nets out positive? Maybe I can get an answer to my policy question that way.

Submitted by hipparchia on

a step in the right direction!

still, i did the research for the homework assignment, and will post on it, though not for a day or two, since i'm expecting rl to take up my time and energy tomorrow and maybe the next day.

Submitted by lambert on

I don't intend to suppress sources for political ideas because the Ds suck. Rewriting history while it's in the making is a little bit much for this old school blogger.

Submitted by lambert on

Where's his statement that he'll prosecute the banksters?

I like the quote about opposing the war being "political suicide," since it makes it likely he'll betray his supporters.

Do you have a collection of these RP links? The "top ten lies" format is always useful.

Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

He makes a very good point - one that I think is the reason that liberals are foaming at the mouth about Ron Paul. Agree or disagree?

Disagree.

Liberals—I’ll assume that these people who are “foaming at the mouth” are sufficiently engaged Democratic partisans—aren’t foaming because Ron Paul is acting as a “mirror…reflecting painful truths,” (1) they’re defensive because on a few issues Paul’s position is where, at least superficially, the putative liberal candidate should be and isn’t; Paul’s stance exposes the inadequacy—maybe the indefensibility—of the liberal party's position to which the only response seems to be “Look over there!” and (2) they fear that some fractional amount of liberal supporters will vote for Paul, thereby increasing the likelihood that the conservative candidate will win.

I find David Sirota difficult to read because he’s so facile and shallow and his writing is just bad. He’s kind of the Tom Friedman of the left. I agree broadly that, in US political discourse, things like hate speech and opposition to civil rights laws are more salient as racism while the most “racially fraught policies” (to use Conor Friedersdorf’s phrase) are not—but I think using voters or ”camps” who favor candidates other than Ron Paul as the basis for that “evidence” is pretty weak. People say all sorts of things to rationalize their choices or support their candidates—their reasons (or lack thereof) may not be reliable proxies for their attitudes about race or racism.

Sirota’s point could be boiled down to “Those opposed to Ron Paul on the grounds of racism do not seem to recognize the further-reaching racist implications of the policies pursued by the candidates they do support.” Is it true? Who knows? But it’s profoundly unilluminating, at least to me. Vapid butterfly.