I have to admit, this uproar over Harper Lee giving her most famous fictional character the sorts of views and attitudes typical of a white man from early 20th century Alabama is highly amusing to me. I was utterly uninterested in the book until these starts of reactions started popping up, and now I’m actually planning on reading it. So far as I can tell from what media outlets are reporting, the main objection seems to be that Atticus Finch is no longer a hero because he holds racist views in the new book. But such a thing makes abundant sense historically, does not contradict the established character (plenty of racists like individual black people, many in fact framed segregation as a kind of loving act meant to help the negro, and the idea of a white supremacist who still nonetheless thinks that the guilty should be punished and the innocent set free is not theoretically impossible, even if it was hardly the norm in the pre-Civil Rights Act South), and most importantly it reflects an author that has something new to say, and is prepared to court controversy to make a vital point about racism that the public needs (though may not want) to hear. The timing could not be better. Ironically, the notion that Finch has racist views but still cares about justice being applied would indeed make him vastly superior to many of his white contemporaries, who had no issue with indiscriminate violence being done to blacks, even if they did not personally engage in such activities. But this doesn’t matter to the people who want to whitewash our history and forget about all that unpleasantness, because can’t we just be colorblind? Lee has already justified the release of the book just by starting this conversation, and I do think it needed to be justified, given the controversy over consent to publish it.
Also, a belief in heroes is one of those things that should die off when one becomes an adult, and learns about how, say, Oskar Schindler abandoned his family, or how Erin Brockovich became exactly the same kind of corporate lawyer she fought in the movie about her, or how Cinque from the Amistad story (most likely) became a slave trader. The quoted conversation at the link is perfectly ignorant: Finch was not “at the forefront of the civil rights movement” in To Kill A Mockingbird, he was merely a very scrupulous and principled lawyer. To believe otherwise is to invent a character rather than paying attention to the actual character Lee created. People are people, and even the ones who make extraordinary humanitarian gestures are no less self-interested and rationalizing than anyone else. Probably the only movie I can think of that really grasps this is Soderbergh’s The Informant, which is about an executive at ag-bus giant Archer Daniels Midland who exposes a price-fixing scheme to the authorities and in the process smashes some major corporate corruption, but it later comes out that his motives were mainly selfish and that he was no less corrupt than any of them, though vastly more naive, believing that his informing would lead not only to his being invited to run ADM, but also to his own malfeasance being ignored. The movie has some problems but it critiques this mindset very well (and it is quite funny), which makes one movie skeptical of heroes to thousands that are not I suppose. Even in something like A Beautiful Mind, it becomes this heroic story about a man concentrating away schizophrenia rather than the real story (as told in the book), which was that Nash’s remission was due entirely to luck, a very rare but not unprecedented remission of the disease. The more one looks for heroes, the more one realizes that there is no such thing. The belief that some people can simply rise above self-interest completely and permanently is flabby, sentimental thinking not borne out by the real world–human history is dominated by a strong strain of self-interest, with another distinct (though often weaker) strain of altruism. It’s one thing for kids to believe in heroes. Adults truly should know better. Bowie knows what’s going on:
The name “Michael Kinsley” is not an indicator of quality these days–he was last seen advising President Obama to surrender over the debt ceiling for no reason at all–but I read his review of the newest Game Change franchise spawn and was actually enjoying it. Kinsley mocks the book’s writing style, research methods, and excessively narrow focus that turns such a seemingly epic story as a presidential election into something much smaller, an anti-epic in fact. This part is a killer:
The authors lend a sympathetic ear to Karl Rove, the Republican Rasputin, as he describes his disgust at hearing that Newt Gingrich took a few hours off one Saturday morning in Chicago to go see the dinosaurs at the Field Museum. Can you spot the gaffe? It’s not Rove dissing Gingrich for going to a museum. The gaffe is Gingrich taking time off from politics to go to a museum. Shame on him! As the authors put it, he “frittered away” valuable time.
To me, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard about Newt. God forbid he should take a Saturday off and go to a museum. God forbid someone running for president should have any interest except politics.
Precisely, and well said.
However, the conclusion simply doesn’t wash:
One subject that gets barely a mention in “Double Down” — because it played virtually no role in the 2012 campaign — is race. In a book that aspires to be, and largely succeeds in being, the dispositive (or do I mean definitive?) account of the election, that may be the most remarkable fact of all.
I had to read this several times to make sure this was not ironic. It is ironic, of course, but unintentionally so. Look, I could bring up the greatest hits from 2012, but that’s Mark Halperin’s job and nobody really wants to relive “self-deportation” and all that. So let’s just note a couple of facts:
- In 2008, black voter participation spiked historically, which everyone concluded was a one-off in order to vote for a black presidential candidate for the first time ever. In 2012 it spiked again.
- John Kerry won Asian-Americans by roughly 17 percent in 2004. In 2012, Barack Obama won with the group by over forty points. And their turnout spiked as well.
- In 2004, George W. Bush performed better among Hispanics than any Republican candidate in modern times. In 2012, Mitt Romney performed worse among Hispanics than any Republican candidate in modern times.
Well, given these facts, it sure seems like some people didn’t get the memo that the 2012 campaign had nothing to do with race! You have to ask yourselves, why were all these minority groups so desperate to vote against Mitt Romney if race didn’t play any part in the election? Minority groups don’t just randomly decide to swing wildly to one side or another and surge to unprecedented turnout levels, it occurs in the context of a political environment in which one party brands itself as the party for old Southern white men. The Romney campaign’s stated goal was to rack up as many white voters as it possibly could, which lest we forget is a racial strategy. Republicans across the country did their best to suppress the vote among nonwhites, a strategy that palpably backfired last year (and probably backfired again in Virginia a week ago), but one which continues to be a top policy goal of the GOP because disenfranchising minorities is apparently now a conservative first principle that is something you suffer damage to enact, rather than merely a tactic for electoral gain that would presumably be dropped when it stops working. And much of Romney’s policy agenda Chait explained this all some time ago:
Romney’s political-policy theme is an unmistakable appeal to identity politics. On Medicare, Romney is putting himself forward as the candidate who will outspend Obama, at least when it comes to benefits for people 55 years old and up. Romney will restore the $700 billion in Medicare budget cuts imposed by Obama to its rightful owners — people who are currently old.
He will cut subsidies to the non-elderly people who would get insurance through Obamacare — a program that, Romney’s ads remind older voters, is “NOT FOR YOU.” Romney’s repeated ads on welfare, blaring the brazen lie that Obama has repealed the welfare work requirement, hammer home the same theme. The purpose is to portray Obama as diverting resources from us to them.
I really don’t understand how Romney’s months-worth of demagogic welfare attacks (!) and obvious “they’re robbin’ you” thinly-veiled stuff gets dismissed as having nothing to do about race. Or the fact that every group of nonwhite people (including several, like Cuban-Americans and Asian-Americans, who used to be part of the Republican coalition) continues to flee the GOP in ever-increasing numbers. Admittedly, anti-Communism waning as a political force probably had something to do with this. But the rapid rate of collapse suggests something more than the mere lessening of ancestral ties to party…
With that said — and I pre-apologize for giving Johnny Walnuts more airtime — the story of the ever-mercurial McCain finding a new back to stab is somewhat legitimate news.
Because my fingers are feeling like they’re scraping on a chalkboard even typing this, I’ll keep it brief:
President Obama on Friday made his most extensive comments on race since entering the White House, and they are generating extensive commentary.
Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who lost the 2008 presidential race to Obama, called the president’s remarks “very impressive,” and said they should help all Americans think about how to improve race relations in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death.
“I think we continue to make progress,” McCain told CNN’s State of the Union, but recent events show “we still have a long way to go.”
Compare this, of course, with Fox News’s parade of black conservatives spitting bile at President Uppity McDarkerson for daring to talk about race:
I’m not sure just how many more of these black conservatives the media can manage to drag out there to go after President Obama and the speech he gave this Friday on what the George Zimmerman verdict means for the state of race relations in America, but this Saturday, old HuckaJesus and his producers at Fox managed to find one more to attack President Obama — and of course repeat, verbatim, every Republican talking point we’ve been hearing for ages now.
I don’t know what the salary is to be a spokespuppet for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher like Tara Setmayer, who appeared on Huckabee’s show this Saturday and attacked President Obama’s speech, but my guess is someone is paying her well with a lot of wingnut welfare for her to be willing to spread this much hatred and bullshit on national television and still look herself in the mirror when she gets up the next morning.
Setmayer wants the audience at Fox to believe that it’s somehow “beneath the President” for Obama to talk about race, because, you know, no one’s allowed to do that other than the race baiters over at Fox. How dare our first President of color think it’s his place to talk about racism, or what he experienced first hand. How arrogant of him to do that and upset all of these right-wingers who want to pretend racism is dead in America because President Obama was elected.
Reagan’s electorate was 88 percent white, and Romney’s was only 72 percent white, but [South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan] hinted at a solution for that. Get more whites to show up! “In Florida, 350,000 white Republicans did not show up on Election Day.”
Douglass was “born below poverty”. What does that mean? “Slavemaster-run health care,” Smith says. “Slavemaster entitlements.
Continue reading »
The authors of Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” self-defense law say George Zimmerman should probably be arrested for shooting Trayvon Martin, reports the Miami Herald. “He has no protection under my law,” former Sen. Durell Peaden told the newspaper. […] It is the fact that Zimmerman ignored the 911 operator’s advice not to follow Martin that former Sen. Peaden says disqualifies him from claiming self-defense under the law. “The guy lost his defense right then,” Peaden told the Miami Herald. “When he said ‘I’m following him,’ he lost his defense.” Rep. Dennis Baxley, Peaden’s co-sponsor in the Florida House, agrees with his former colleague, telling the newspaper that the law does not license neighborhood watch or others who feel “like they have the authority to pursue and confront people. That is aggravating an incident right there.”It’s pretty simple. You can stand your ground and have the defense apply to you, or you can take it upon yourself to chase after the perpetrator (i.e., you are no longer STANDING your ground) and lose the defense. The cops involved in this should be ashamed of themselves.
This made me throw up a little in my mouth just now:
GOP presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry (TX) has faced severe backlash this week as the result of stories that he had opposed a campaign to remove the Confederate battle flag from statehouses across the South and that he had hosted family and friends at a West Texas hunting camp that once read “Niggerhead” on its entrance gate.
Yesterday on Mike Gallagher’s radio show, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) defended Perry. “Rick Perry is not a racist,” Graham said, saying the Texas governor is the victim of an “intimidation” campaign. “You know if you’re a southern white guy, it is part of your life.”
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