when the dust clears

Words about and images of matters political, social, and military

I crossed paths with Rachel Maddow today

with 8 comments


I was bursting through the opening doors of an R train as Maddow walked toward the subway car. Like any smart and mindful commuter, she approached at a sharp angle to avoid the stream of agitated New Yorkers exploding from the train, of which, I will say proudly, I was at the head.

I was moving like a man with a double shot of espresso under his belt, which is precisely the man I was, so I didn’t have time to register much, only her furrowed brow, horn rims, and a scarf (tartan or checked?).

I climbed the stairway to Broadway imagining what I might have said to Maddow — not that I would have said anything even if I had been less caffeinated. Chatting up high-wattage celebs, even fellow journos, feels to me like star-slurping, more commonly known as brown-nosing. I’m too proud, and I doubt Maddow would have been especially inclined to spend quality time in conversation with a random subway rider.

But had I found the combination of gumption and humility to bust such a move, I might have hopped back on the train, gently introduced myself to her, and then posed a few polite and sagacious questions — with an eye toward, say, an invitation to appear on the show.

“Ms. Maddow, may I ask whether you’ll be discussing former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s smackdown of Juan Williams, to the cheers of the South Carolinian audience, at last night’s debate?”

That was an absolutely arresting moment, one I’ll point to if someone tells me that the Republican presidential race is not, at least in part (a huge part), about Barack Obama’s race. Williams could have called the former Speaker’s race-card bluff, his claim that Obama is the “food-stamp president” with facts, but he didn’t.

Participation rates in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, the name for the Federal food stamp program since 2008, rose seven out of the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency. And, according to the Department of Agriculture, which runs the program, “the large increase in the number of participants was likely attributable to the deterioration of the economy, expansions in SNAP eligibility, and continued outreach efforts.” (Be warned: This SNAP link leads to a PDF.) At the very least, this gives us two food-stamp presidents, the first who hobbled the economy by launching two wars and handing out tax cuts to the one percent, and the second who inherited those wars and has kept one going at full steam.

I might also have asked her whether she’d be tackling Rick Perry’s doubling down on his criticism of President Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and others in the administration for condemning the acts depicted in the infamous scout-sniper urinating video.

“When the secretary of defense calls that a despicable act, when he calls that utterly despicable,” Perry charged, “let me tell you what is utterly despicable: cutting Danny Pearl’s head off and showing the video, hanging our contractors from bridges, that’s utterly despicable. For our president, for the secretary of state, for the Department of Defense secretary to make those kinds of statements about those young marines, yes they need to be punished, but when you see this president with that type of disdain for our country, taking a trillion dollars out of our defense budget, a hundred thousand of our military off of our front lines? I lived through a reduction of forces once and I saw the results of it in the sands of Iran in 1979.”

First of all: Daniel Pearl and murdered military contractors? To appropriate these tragedies for his own political point-scoring is a desecration.

Secondly, “disdain for our country?” Slam Obama’s policies, but to attack his loyalty to America is simply cowardly and deceitful. The esteemed journalists on the debate panel could have reality- or morality-checked Perry. But they didn’t. And they didn’t challenge him on the facts, either.

“Adjusting for inflation, the level of funding proposed for the base defense budget in the FY 2012 request is the highest level since World War II, surpassing the Cold War peak of $531 billion (in FY 2012 dollars) reached in FY 1985.” That’s according to CSBA, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. What the administration’s 2012 budget proposes to cut, too timidly and gently in my view, is the growth rate of our alarmingly bloated military spending, which peaked in 2007, and funds spent on war, war, war.

The media inquisitors also might have quoted General James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, on the incident behind Perry’s initial smear.

“I have viewed an internet video that depicts Marines desecrating several dead Taliban in Afghanistan. I want to be clear and unambiguous, the behavior depicted in the video is wholly inconsistent with the high standards of conduct and warrior ethos that we have demonstrated throughout our history.”

Note the verb the general, the highest-ranking US Marine, uses to characterize the actions.

Amos continues: “Rest assured that the institution of the Marine Corps will not rest until the allegations and the events surrounding them have been resolved. We remain fully committed to upholding the Geneva Convention, the Laws of War, and our own core values.”

High standards and values. The presidential candidates and the journalists ostensibly covering them would benefit from a helping of both.

I’m not sure I would have impressed Maddow, but I would have unburdened myself of this maddening, absurd, and frightening stuff. For the moment, at least.

8 Responses

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  1. >>>>> “Williams could have called the former Speaker’s race-card bluff, his claim that Obama is the “food-stamp president” with facts, but he didn’t.”

    “Race-card bluff”? But Gingrich’s point about food stamps is true. Now, you want to switch the metric — to rates — because it’s more favorable to your position. Except you’re right, and Gingrich is wrong. Of course!

    Entitlements are a key budget issue. Unfortunately, they affect African-Americans disproportionately, but that doesn’t mean it’s racist to address entitlements. Conservatives have learned over the last three years that they’ll often be called racists regardless of how they frame their criticisms. Any “race-card bluff” is at least as prominent in the hands of progressives like yourself.

    >>>>> “First of all: Daniel Pearl and murdered military contractors? To appropriate these tragedies for his own political point-scoring is a desecration … Note the verb the general, the highest-ranking US Marine, uses to characterize the actions.”

    The earlier murders are relevant when thinking about what “despicable” means — in context. As for the Marine General- the word “desecrate” is also a standard term-of-art regarding mistreatment of corpses. 

    >>>>> “Secondly, “disdain for our country?” Slam Obama’s policies, but to attack his loyalty to America is simply cowardly and deceitful.”

    Conflating defense cuts with patriotism issues is unfortunately nothing new — neither between parties nor within them. Personally, I favor a stronger defense posture, but I also realize that cutting defense significantly is just one of many unpleasant things we’ll have to do.

    >>>>> “I’m not sure I would have impressed Maddow, but I would have unburdened myself of this maddening, absurd, and frightening stuff.”

    “…maddening, absurd, and frightening stuff”? Guess what- it’s election-year politics. (Have you heard that it’s “not beanbag”?) To imply that this is really a Republican problem is political hackery, but you may just be too partisan to realize it. The Obama administration and its proxies are exploiting class and race divisions in order to survive 2012- and it may work. Try searching political blogs for the phrase, “winning ugly.”


    2012/01/18 at 02:11

    • Morning, Joe. Thanks for your comments.

      Perry’s South Carolina debate conflations were mindless, and they follow even greater campaign stupidities. That’s not winning form. It’s desperation. There’s winning ugly, and then there’s fighting stupid, which is what Perry is doing. Fighting stupid doesn’t win you the presidency.

      “More people are on food stamps today because of Obama’s policies than ever in history,” says Gingrich. Obama’s policies? The president inherited an economy decimated by the financial crisis, spending on wars started by President Bush Jr., and, crucially Bush’s massive tax cuts. SNAP enrollment rose under Bush because of what he (and the global crisis) did to our economy. An inconvenient truth, one might say.

      To quote my former boss, Jim Fallows:

      “Newt Gingrich knows exactly what he is doing when he calls Obama the ‘food stamp’ president, just as Ronald Reagan knew exactly what he was doing when talking about ‘welfare Cadillacs.’ There are lots of other ways to make the point about economic hard times — entirely apart from which person and which policies are to blame for today’s mammoth joblessness, and apart from the fact that Congress sets food stamp policies. You could call him the ‘pink slip president,’ the ‘foreclosure president,’ the ‘Walmart president,’ the ‘Wall Street president,’ the ‘Citibank president,’ the ‘bailout president,’ or any of a dozen other images that convey distress. You decide to go with ‘the food stamp president,’ and you’re doing it on purpose.”

      Gingrich has a lexicon of race-weighted code words beyond “food stamps.” Channeling Dinesh D’Souza, he attacked what he called Obama’s “Kenyan, anticolonial worldview.” Saturating Afghanistan and Pakistan with Hellfire missiles, a brutal and counterproductive policy in my view, is Kenyan? Anticolonial? No. Gingrich is dropping these code words to rile up white folks.

      This from a Huff Post piece I wrote a few years back: “‘By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’– that hurts you. Backfires,'” Republican strategist Lee Atwater remarked in a 1981 interview, quoted years later by Bob Herbert in his New York Times column. “‘So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.'” That’s what Newton Leroy (and others on the campaign trail) are doing.

      I never say or imply that all conservatives are racist. I reserve that label for the ones who deploy time-tested, coded-language to conjure stereotypes of blacks or Latinos without naming us explicitly. You may deny that this practice exists, that race-baiting or coding has not been a tool employed by politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, to split white working- and middle-class from blacks and other Americans of color from time immemorial. Some of us can’t afford to, because it misrepresents us and poisons American society.

      Finally, to the charge that Obama and his “proxies” are exploiting race. First, define proxy; second, prove it. If anything, his administration plays the post-race card to prevent attacks from those who would accuse him of favoring people of color.


      2012/01/18 at 10:53

  2. Thanks for your response. Such engagement is too rare in an ugly political season.

    I think Perry’s a joke- I won’t bother with him.

    The Fallows/former-USNWR connection is interesting given USNWR’s story about the Gingrich quote. Although they reject Gingrich’s bootstrapping approach, their headline was, “Gingrich’s ‘Uncomfortable Facts’ about Food Stamps Hold Water.”

    As for choosing food stamps instead of pink slips as a metaphor, I disagree with Fallows. Especially in the wake of the Occupy movement, the role/responsibility of the government vis-à-vis lower-income groups is center stage, to say nothing of entitlement spending issues. So food stamps are in fact a natural focal point.

    And the food stamp issue speaks directly to fundamental philosophical differences between progressives and conservatives. Conservatives want to reduce dependence on entitlements not just to save money, but to make lower-income groups into stakeholders in the broader economy. Clearly, the Great Society approach has limitations.

    You yourself may never “say or imply that all conservatives are racist,” but the racism smear is a standard fallback for broad swathes of the progressive movement. Here in NYC, I find it almost an article faith among progressives that the Tea Party is racist.

    Yes, there’s an ignominious history of coded language in the political debate, but when issues that include some kind of racial dimension become circumscribed, debate is muzzled. And this muzzling typically benefits one political side.

    When I say proxies, I mean allies in the media and political world. As an example of exploiting race, see Eric Holder’s NY Times quote just last month, in reference to the Fast & Furious scandal:

    “‘This is a way to get at the president because of the way I can be identified with him,’ he said, ‘both due to the nature of our relationship and, you know, the fact that we’re both African-American.'”

    As perspective: for me, Obama’s inauguration was a cathartic and transcendent moment. To see his family at the White House made me proud to be an American. But I disagree strongly with many of his political goals, and I’m tired of being labelled a racist for it. (Yes, that’s actually happened.)


    2012/01/18 at 20:24

    • Hello, Joe.

      The conventional political terms that you’re using — liberal, conservative, entitlement — are loaded ideologically and have no real meaning. You also appear to be confusing liberals with progressives.

      By entitlements, I assume you mean social insurance programs. More than half of the benefits under these programs are paid for by the people who receive them in the form of payroll taxes and employer contributions, and most of the low-income folks who get such aid work. In other words, these people are already “stakeholders in the broader economy.” Such programs provide support so they can earn a larger stake.

      “Conservatives,” men like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, slamdance their way to the Federal trough to snare “entitlement” $ when it serves their constituents. Look at Santorum’s earmarking history. He sided with Pennsylvania steelworkers, dairy farmers, and beneficiaries of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program while on Capitol Hill. He voted to give prescription drug benefits under Medicare to seniors (now he calls this a mistake). And Santorum regularly came to the aid of people and companies, including donors, who didn’t need or deserve it. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution pointed out that Representative Gingrich pulled in 4.4 billion federal dollars for Cobb County, GA, in 1994. That’s $10,000 per resident, almost twice as much as Washington spent on NYC. This included money for Social Security and Medicare as well as military contractors.

      And what of candidate Ron Paul, considered by some to be only the true conservative in the bunch? Katha Pollitt, a dyed-in-the-wool progressive (not a liberal), nails it/him in this week’s Nation:

      “In a Ron Paul America, there would be no environmental protection, no Social Security, no Medicaid or Medicare, no help for the poor, no public education, no civil rights laws, no anti-discrimination law, no Americans With Disabilities Act, no laws ensuring the safety of food or drugs or consumer products, no workers’ rights. How far does Paul take his war against Washington? He wants to abolish the Federal Aviation Authority and its pesky air traffic controllers. He has one magic answer to every problem—including how to land an airplane safely: let the market handle it.”

      Is this the “opportunity society” you want, Joe?

      The term “entitlement” can — and should — be applied to the preferential tax rate on investment income earned by people such as Mitt Romney, who says he pays at around 15%. (The argument that capital gains gets reinvested was demolished by the Congressional Research Service’s report “The Economic Effects of Capital Gains.”)

      The label “entitlement” should also be applied to the wagonlaods of cash flowing to military contractors from their servants on Capitol Hill, in the Pentagon, and in the White House. I’m not talking about money that goes to true defense, servicemember salaries, or veterans’ benefits. I’m talking graft and waste, documented so well by the Project on Government Oversight, the Straus Military Reform Project, authors like Andrew Feinstein and Andrew Bacevich (a genuine conservative), the now-defunct Congressional Commission on Wartime Contracting, and the Special Inspectors General for Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction. Alaska’s Ted Stevens (R) and Pennsylvania’s John “Jack” Murtha (D), both “conservatives,” knew a thing or two about military pork and corruption, and so too do Gingrich and Santorum.

      As for the race issue, the “progressives” who label you racist for criticizing Obama don’t sound like progressives to me. Progressives criticize Obama. Certainly, many progressives are guilty of bashing the Tea Party as a whole, but the existence of racism, coded and naked, in some influential TP factions is undeniable. If it wasn’t, why would Tea Partying Indiana Representative Mike Pence (R) apologize for the “bigotry” displayed and “threats or acts of vandalism” perpetrated at a 2010 antihealthcare reform protest in DC? Mike Gecan, a career community organizer, which automatically makes him a progressive, has written clearly and fairly about the Tea Party in his articles “Freedom, and the Meaning of the Tea Party” and “The Tea Party Isn’t Radical Enough.”

      Finally, on Holder, race, etc. As Cornel West put it, “race matters.” Acknowledging this, as Holder — and Sonia Sotomayor — did, doesn’t make one a racist. Like one’s sex, education, family background, nationality, race shapes who you are and how you understand things. Unfortunately, many people do not accept the fact that race, as constructed and defined in our society, has shaped them. They prefer to see their views as universal or neutral when they’re simply dominant.


      2012/01/19 at 09:45

  3. Let’s see… You dissected a bunch of candidates I don’t mention or support, and criticized me for a term I never used (“liberal”). You’ve pronounced three words to be meaningless (“liberal, conservative, entitlement”) that are staples of current political discussion. 

    Your critique of Ron Paul is irrelevant for me- if Paul somehow became the nominee, I would vote for Obama. On the perennial question of capital gains taxes, you pronounce your opponents’ views as “demolished” — on the basis of one recent report that favors your position.

    You say that “racism, coded and naked, in some influential TP factions is undeniable,” while (judging from your blog), you have a somewhat sympathetic view of the Occupy movement. Strains of anti-Semitism, Anarchism, Communism, conspiracy beliefs, etc. (to say nothing of violence and criminality) are far more evident in Occupy (in addition to my readings, I’ve been to Zuccotti Park several times and talked with participants). And yet somehow, only the margins of the Tea Party seem of interest to you. Hmmm. And then, you have the temerity to cite the Tea Party for “threats or acts of vandalism.” Simply amazing.

    You ask me to provide evidence that Obama and his proxies have exploited race, and when I do- suddenly you turn to, “race matters.” Clearly, exploiting race is not a problem for you, depending on who the exploiter is.

    Thanks for that clarity.


    2012/01/20 at 00:02

    • I apologize for putting “liberal” in your mouth, Mr. Parnell.

      I replied to you with relevant specifics. If you don’t care about the self-described conservative GOP presidential candidates, then I don’t know what conservatives you’re talking about.

      If only the margins of the Tea Party interested me, I wouldn’t have included a link to Mike Gecan’s pieces.

      The quote is “threats or acts of vandalism,” and it’s from Republican Representative and Tea Partier Mike Pence, who was referring to incidents in which participants in a Tea Party protest on Capitol Hill shouted “nigger” at African American members of Congress. One protester spat at Missouri Democrat representative Emanuel Cleaver. You can hear Jim Clyburn and Elijah Cummings speak about the incidents here.

      My “race matters” quote stands, firmly and clearly.

      Thanks for reading my pieces on Occupy. I enjoy amazing.



      2012/01/20 at 11:37

  4. Re: Tea Party protest accusations:

    Oddly enough, the supposed n-word was reported by no one but the original accusers. Rep. Carson claimed he heard it 15 times, and Rep. Cleaver described it as a “chorus,” but although cameras were widespread, and multiple YouTube videos exist, no video or audio evidence of the n-word has ever been produced- even after a $100,000 cash reward was offered. Despite the presence of a large crowd, including passersby, press and security — and the intense national attention — no other witness has ever been found to confirm any use of the n-word — at all. Shortly after the event, the accusers refused to be interviewed further. Hmmm.

    As for the alleged spitting incident, video shows the supposed perpetrator clearly throughout, with no motion suggestive of deliberate spitting. Instead, it looks like a “Say it, don’t spray it” moment. Despite such a serious accusation, the man was not arrested, and Rep. Cleaver pressed no charges. And after the initial coverage, Cleaver refused to confirm his accusation or discuss it further. Hmmm.

    If you think this is spin, consider what the Washington Post’s ombudsman wrote:

    “The video suggests [Cleaver] was unintentionally sprayed by the screaming protester. The distinction is significant because it fundamentally changes widespread media characterizations of what occurred.”

    I find it telling that when making accusations against the Tea Party, you cite an isolated incident, unsupported by any independent evidence. But the events of 3/20/10 have become an integral part of progressive lore, and I’m no longer surprised to see them being taken at face value. But it’s sad- and also part of “winning ugly.”


    2012/01/22 at 00:06

    • Read here:

      “First reported on The Hill blog (no hotbed of left-wing fervor), the stories of Lewis being called ‘nigger’ were confirmed by Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones and Democratic Rep. Andre Carson, who was walking with Lewis. “It was like going into the time machine with John Lewis,” said Carson, a former police officer. “He said it reminded him of another time.”

      You can hear “nigger go home” at the top of the clip.

      Keep denying, Mr. Parnell, but please do it on your own blog.



      2012/01/22 at 11:03

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