Thursday, June 05, 2008

Visceral Reactions

This post may get me kicked out of the PB 2.0 community, but I really don't give a damn.

First, this is Krugman from today:
Read the first paragraph of this, then read this, and you’ll have the essence of what happened in the Democratic primary campaign
A long and brutal game of "gotcha" at every turn, making every interview into a field strewn with landmines, pretending it is more important to catch a candidate in a verbal slip than to ask about their plans for governing. Most of all, the way in which an arrogant and right-leaning media decided that it would frame the way in which our candidates were presented. This interview was not just trying to trick Hillary into saying something that could be construed as her doubt about Obama's faith, it was also at the same time making his faith (which by definition cannot be known by anyone but the person) into a topic of discussion in the campaign. Go and read some of the comments to this blog post by Krugman. Think about the article by Stanley Fish on Hillary Hatred. Consider the ways in which misogyny is so casually mixed in with political hatred, and the level of fury that spills out across the page. Take seriously the effectiveness of the right to exploit deep fears and prejudices and their shameless zeal to call out the worst in everyone they touch.

I've waited patiently for several days to see if anything of substance would come out of the much ballyhooed announcement by Larry Johnson about a video that alleges Michelle Obama said something objectionable, possibly using a derogatory racial term. I posted a few cautions, and said I needed to see the evidence before making up my mind. This alleged scandal has been pushed for several weeks now, and there have been several days of explanations, each of them at odds in some way with the others. I've made up my mind on this matter.

It is a ratfucking operation by the Republicans and it has done exactly what it was intended to do - set Democrats at each others' throats, stir up racist and anti-Muslim sentiment, and encourage people to enagage in misogynist attacks on Michelle Obama.

At best, Larry Johnson is being played for a fool by these people. His desire to defeat Obama is coming out of a desire to get back at the radical left of the 60s. Obama is his access point to people like Ayers, Wright and Farrakhan, and he's grabbing for every rock that comes to hand, not paying much attention to the dynamite that is taking its place. That there is little to defend in that group does not excuse the irresponsible conduct by any number of people over at No Quarter. I admit to a certain grim satisfaction that two elements I don't much care for in American political life - the violent nihilists of the Left and their mirror-image Cold Warrior, red-baiting fellow nihilists of the right - are duking it out. Couldn't happen to a better pair. But what is spilling over from this decades old grudge match into the rest of the blogs is pure toxic waste - misogyny, racism and anti-Muslim calumny.

Let's get something clear. I do not give a flying fuck if Michelle Obama did say "whitey" in some video tape from whenever and wherever and with whomever she supposedly said it. Period. I sincerely doubt that anything we finally see will rise to the level of what we have been led to believe happened. Furthermore, I do not care if Michelle Obama is unpleasant, nice as apple pie, indifferent to the world, filled with petty resentment, serene and loving, or anything else about the state of her psyche. I'm willing to wager she is all of those things depending on where she is and who she's talking to, just as every major public female figure I have read about has had her inner soul meticulously dissected before the public eye and has been found wanting. The assault on Michelle Obama is exactly like the assault on Hillary Clinton when Bill was running for the White House. It is mean, vile, sexist, crude, derogatory and beneath contempt.

It has also become the ignition spark for a growing fire of racism in the comments, couched as opposition to Black Liberation Theology and to Farrakhan's Nation of Islam. The agitation for this hatred began on the right explicitly with their attacks on Wright's church, which has been part of the underground rightwing email war against Obama from the start. These are things the spousal unit and I were reading this time last year when it became clear Obama was going to try for a run at the Presidency. Ironically, it probably would have stayed in that sewer through the Democratic primary had not Obama decided that running on racism was a good idea. Once he opened Pandora's box, the Wright stuff began to be lobbed back at him. The connections with Farrakhan and with Tony Rezko have been used to tie him maliciously to Islam (and to rabble rouse about that religion in exactly the same way as I see people using "Israel" to indulge in some not very subtle anti-Semitism), pretending in wide-eyed innocence that it's all about his
"terrorist" ties.

Just in the way that misogyny made it easy to engage in the purely personal classist warfare and white-on-white bigotry against Hillary, misogyny is making it easy to batter Michelle Obama and slide in the other racial and religious attacks as well, all aimed at stirring up the most crude and hateful impulses in the readers.

Over the last week, I have watched this toxic brew spread out from No Quarter and into other blogs. The anger over the RBC decision and over the hostile and dismissive way Hillary has been treated in the last week of campaigning no doubt made it easier to rationalize dipping into the uglier phrases, the barely concealed slurs, the code words that Americans always use to describe the reviled Other when they are angry and want to rip something down.

We are seeing within the primary itself the misogynistic, racist, religion-bashing attacks that everyone expected to see in the general. The difference is that these accusations are coming out of Democratic mouths and are aimed at our Democratic candidates.

This is doing the Right's work for them.

I'm not giving "our" side a pass on this. No matter how unfair or vile the attacks on Hillary, she has never responded with anything but class. She has never stooped to "But they did it, too!" When people on her campaign tried to use the smears, she canned them.

I have not changed my mind on Obama as a candidate. He ran a dirty campaign, he had every external advantage and the DNC still had to rig the system to shove him across the line ahead of her by a nose. I have also not changed my mind about the wrong way to conduct any kind of political campaign, which is to employ the tactics of the Right. I will have a longer post this weekend on that point.

My screen name, Anglachel, refers to a sword in the Tolkien fantasy world. It was forged from meteoric iron by someone with a deep hatred of those around him, and it took on the deadly, twisted nature of Eol. It slew anyone who tried to weild it, turning on those who thought to use this fearsome weapon and destroying them. Its final possessor, Turin, committed suicide with it and it shattered beneath him.

Let that be a warning to anyone who believes they can use a weapon crafted from hatred to achieve anything lasting or good.



Cathy said...

Point taken about Michelle Obama. However, one day Americans must have honest discussion on overuse of race card. But we need broader range of folks present to make that conversation meaningful.

But minor quibble about the Right's role in this ratfucking. It's been a time honored tradition among all sides of political spectrum because it's brutally effective for short term operations. Attempts to prevent have been hijacked under guise of "political correctness" to provide cover to various grenade throwers.

[By the way that extends beyond just race. So my note above about overdue discussion has to get expanded.]

Here's my proposal for minimizing it this election. Focus on peeling away layers of Obama's political mythology. Many of my non-computer connected friends are appalled when I discuss the May 31, 2008 meeting shenanigans. Others are surprised by his actual lack of experience (though most defend it by trashing all politicians).

Moving beyond this election we have to focus on promoting a positive agenda of individual and collective responsibility. That used to be one of Bill Clinton's more attractive slogans in early 1990s. Hillary did a much better job of delivering that message by never overplaying the punitive aspect of it. Moms are really good at that . . .

I'm burying myself in various history books to avoid today's ugly reality. One of the saddest is history of Algerian war that I just started. Reads like a doomed Shakespearean saga, where players keep doing the wrong things in pursuit of dramatically awful ending. Not unlike today's world. However, I would rather go down as one of the liberals blindly following path that promotes greatest good rather than a winner who compromised myself out of my core humanity.

Anonymous said...

Remember,Actaeon - his tragic end: he boasted, out in these valleys, that he was the better hunter than Artemis, and was torn to pieces and devoured by the very hounds he had bred.

Hmmmm, Obama has me thinking about The Bacchae once again. What Euripides understood about humankind 2000 years ago is just as relevant today.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. It was a hoax, and a nasty one, too. I checked the wayback machine between 2005 and late 2007, which archives historical versions of websites. The TUCC online store archives showed no evidence whatsoever of a Rainbow/ Push conference ever being sold, as asserted by HillBuzz and passed along by Larry Johnson.

daily democrat said...

Thank you, Anglachel, for your ‘Visceral Reactions’. I deeply appreciate your blog and hope you will find the strength to go on writing (and often!) during this time of troubles in the Democratic Party.

I offer the following in the hope that you and your readers might this story useful.
. . .
In the middle of the afternoon on November 22, 1963, classes at my school were interrupted and we were all led outside by our teachers. Standing in front of the building on that cloudy and damp-but-warm Texas afternoon, we were pleased by our chance to escape class but concerned because some of the teachers were crying. We didn’t have to wait long to discover why. When all had gathered, the Principal appeared and announced that President Kennedy had just been assassinated, while visiting our state. Students and teachers openly wept while the flag in front of the School was lowered to half-mast. We were sent home from school early, and on my school bus the mood was sombre, I can tell you.

My father arrived home from work shortly after I returned from school. His mood, however, was one of jubilation. He was GLAD that Kennedy had been killed, “Finally,” he said, “someone has gotten rid of that idiot.”…and he said worse. Inside, I was absolutely horrified, though I said nothing. How could my father, who loved me, be so full of hate that he condoned murder? My childish mind couldn’t encompass the discrepancy between my respect for my father and his hatred for “the Democrats”.

That afternoon I secretly became a Democrat. I resolved NEVER to condone any kind of hatred or the violent crimes to which it can lead. I identified my father’s hatred with his Republican party affiliation, so in my childish mind, the Republican Party became the Party for those who practice hate and the Democratic Party became the Party for those who wish to practice love.
. . .
Forty-five years later I can see that love and hate are practiced in both parties.

Simone de Beauvoir explains why in the Conclusion of her book The Second Sex, though she is speaking here of personal relationships, her point applies equally well to political relationships:

In those combats where they think they confront one another, it is really against the self that each one struggles, projecting into the partner that part of the self which is repudiated; instead of living out the ambiguities of their situation, each tries to make the other bear the objection and tries to reserve the honour for the self. If, however, both should assume the ambiguity with a clear-sighted modesty, correlative of an authentic pride, they would see each other as equals and would live out their. . . drama in amity. The fact that we are human beings is infinitely more important than all the peculiarities that distinguish human beings from one another; it is never the given that confers superiorities: ‘virtue’, as the ancients called it, is defined at the level of ‘that which depends on us’.

pm317 said...

Angalchel, I wish I did not follow that link to the UK prof's article -- it is more of the same hateful diatribe from anti-Clinton crowd. (I did leave a comment there and encourage others to post a comment rejecting what he has written (no registration required.)

On the substance of this essay, I agree with you completely but we don't win that way in this political climate. For instance, about the Wright situation: Some of us who are atheists may think nothing of Wright's sermons or when we are intellectually honest, we may even agree with him about some of the blame that should befall America for its policies (a la Chomsky). So disregarding those that are turned off by those things because of their own beliefs, when do we recognize it does not work as a political strategy to win? That our opponents will use this and more lies connected to it to defeat us? Is it morally wrong for us to be politically expedient in rejecting a candidate that may be politically wounded by his choices (but not a bad character himself)?

{My answer is that I would have had more respect for Obama if he had not fallen prey to the political strategy and did the politically expedient thing himself. I would have supported him if he had given me a rational explanation for why he stuck with Wright for all those years. Absent that I just have to think about politically what our opponents will do with it.}

Shainzona said...

Well, that set me back on my heels! Yup, I’m one of those hoping that a tape does exist (although I did adopt your cautions). Now I have to wonder why.

I can only identify one reason…the Obama campaign and his supporters made this campaign personal for me.
I wrote a diary at MyDD in early February imploring Dems not to swiftboat Dems. That diary came after listening to Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller and being appalled at what I was hearing about Hillary. It was like listening to little bullies on a playground. And every time they mocked her, they mocked me. (The commenters only made things worse, of course!)

And then the Wright controversy arose. I also could give a rat’s ass what someone preaches or listens to in church. But what did bother me was that I realized that my belief that the things that “we” had done together over the past 50 years to have blacks and whites “progressing –together” is obviously wrong. I felt such hatred toward “me” (Hillary/whitey) that it was like finding out that a group of my “friends” were mocking me…this time behind my back.

And finally, I have been kicked to the curb by the Democratic Party – MY PARTY does not want me anymore…I am again mocked as being “old”, a “woman”, “past-my-prime” and the only thing that is important is my money and my vote.

I am not proud to admit that when things get personal, so do I - and I want to get even. My only way is to make sure – within whatever power I have – that Obama does not win the election and that the Dean/Kerry/Kennedy Democratic Party suffers a huge defeat because of it.

I did not start this “fight”. I am truly an innocent bystander. But I still have the power of my vote. And, yes, I am hoping they suffer an ignoble defeat. I hope that with that defeat (from my keyboard to God’s ears!) I do not defeat the person I used to be. Your posting today will make me more cautious of that happening – but not change my goal.

speck said...

Anglachel, I thank you once again. While I often disagree with you, I'm coming to rely on you to help me read my moral and ethical compass in a clear light.

Daily Democrat, the Simone de Beauvoir quote was extremely apt. My feelings this week have reminded me strongly of the temporary madness that has overtaken me during conflicts with intimate partners.

The mobbing of Hillary Clinton cannot be atoned for by mobbing Michelle Obama or anyone else.

The "saint without a Church" Simone Weil, writing about why she would not be baptized although she had become a believer:

What frightens me is the Church as a social structure.... It is not that I am of a very individualistic temperament. I am afraid for the opposite reason. I am aware of very strong gregarious tendencies in myself. My natural disposition is to be very easily influenced, too much influenced, and above all by anything collective. I know that if at this moment I had before me a group of twenty young Germans singing Nazi songs in chorus, a part of my soul would instantly become Nazi. That is a very great weakness, but that is how I am....

There were some saints who approved of the Crusades or the Inquisition. I cannot help thinking that they were in the wrong. I cannot go against the light of conscience. If I think that on this point I see more clearly than they did, I who am so far below them, I must admit that in this matter they were blinded by something very powerful.

(From a letter written in 1942)

Sherry said...

Thank you, Anglachel, for this post (as for so many others). One of my worries during the years of Bush's "crusade" against "terror" is that we are becoming a mirror image of the enemy: misogynistic violent religious fanatics.

That is an oversimplification of the enemy but it's the one many of us see and the one many of us have become like.

I would not like to see the same kind of transformation happen to my fellow liberals/progressives. We need to be careful. Anything taken to its extreme becomes its opposite.

(Though your point about Larry Johnson being an old cold warrior is well taken. He's always struck me as a bit reactionary.)

@daily democrat, thank you for sharing the story. You made me want to hug the child that was you.

@cathy, my history book is about Eugene Debs, who was vilified by all the major newspapers, including the New York Times. Chillingly familiar story.

Peregrine said...

As to the tape of Michelle Obama, I wouldn't be surprised if it does exist but I'm not sure why it even matters. My opinion about the inexperience and lack of substance Obama demonstrates will not be altered by it.

As to misogyny, I hope somebody is compiling all the threats and insults of the Obamacans. Long before the alleged tape was reported, I received dozens of comments on my little site that stunned me. I deleted them from my blog as they came in but now I wish I’d saved them, just for the record.

They consisted of vile name calling, misogynistic rants, and anti-Semitism. One person wrote that he hoped I would die from a painful disease; another hoped I’d be raped and beaten. A friend of mine, Jewish supporter of Hillary's, was told that the Nazis should have gotten to him.

I agree that sexism and misogyny, racism, Islam-bashing, and any other hate-based name calling is no substitute for critical thinking and civil discourse. However, maybe in unnecessary defense of LJ and others that old saying may be the source for this: "hate begets hate."

Unknown said...

thank you for setting me straight. you are a light in the wilderness and I come here often for a reality check.

My own blog had a post on the Michelle Obama video and I am now going there to delete the entry.

We do not need to become they in order to win. That is my single reason for not moving into the Obama camp. Axelrod has employed the "best" of the republican toolkit against one of our own and I cannot forgive them for that.

Thank you anglachel

NĂ¡mo Mandos said...

You will notice my screen name is also pulled from the Tolkien canon :) And actually, the story of the sword fits in well with its larger context (the Silmarillion) in which the same themes are repeated. The Silmarils themselves cause millenia of misery because of the beautiful tormented soul of their creator.

So: I have felt that the most disturbing part of the criticism of Obama from some parties has been the attempts to use Obama to sneak in criticism of minority liberation movements. Wright and Farrakhan are not in the same category, first of all, and both of them have to be viewed in terms of black issues and black politics, not in terms of the offended sensibilities of white people.

To me the right criticism of Obama has always been his personal weakness as a candidate and, more importantly, the flaws and weaknesses of the movement that coalesced about him, as well as the party infrastructure itself. I don't support attacks based directly on his association with Wright, myself. His ditching of Wright, on the other hand...

Pfleger is a whole 'nuther phenomenon, hoooo boy.

As to the Race Card (*gag*), frankly, I myself do belong to the "guilty-until-proven-innocent" school of majority-minority interactions. And I, for one, am not very interested in larger discussion of race and the so-called race card. Those things are, to put it bluntly, yet another way for white people to feel good about themselves.

jangles said...

If we have any hope of getting to an America where we value each other for what we find in actions, character and soul untainted by race or gender, then I do not see how we can allow a racial context or a gender context to color how we accept or reject someone's hate speech. When I watched MLK lead AAs in the south in peace and non-retaliation to all manner of insults and injuries, I was deeply and profoundly moved by the nobility of what he and they were doing. The hate and violent rhetoric of Farrakhan, Wright, Pfleger, Ayers has an opposite effect on me and I see in their approach wrong---for them and for me and for America. I do think the First Lady of this nation has a valuable role and it is important how that role is carried out. Michelle Obama has to be accountable for what she might bring to that role---including a rant if there is one---but that is a decision American voters will have to hold under the light and decide. That is what elections are for. The discourse about her and so many others on the blogs has not added anything of value to our national history.

Anglachel said...

Thank you to everyone who has commented. About 50 comments were submitted. The thread remains open for others who would like to say something.

To clarify, my intention here was not to claim there are not objectionable things about TUCC or the Obamas' Chicago circle of friends. I have written about both of those topics in earlier posts. In a nutshell, my concern about those relationships is the way in which they create openings for political attacks. Like this one.

My concern is the way in which *allegations* of objectionable acts are being substituted for evidence of wrong doing, and how the relevance of the acts, even if true, are not evaluated. These two simple foundations of fact are swept away in the breathless rumor mill. As the current gets stronger, other things get tossed in, things which would not be allowed to be said on their own.

Why does it matter? Because this is the way the Right goes after individual Democratic leaders, trashing and belittling them, reducing stature and undermining legitimacy. It may please HRC supporters to see Obama "get a taste of his own medicine", but to look at that is to see the future for *any* Democratic leader. It also does serve as a cautionary tale that the more the political environment is run by the rumors fed by the ratfuckers to legitimizing middlemen, the easier it becomes to simply campaign that way. Ahem.

I am deadly serious that attacks on Michelle Obama which focus on how far she is from some ideal political wife (demure, petite, pretty, silent, subservient) are attacks on *every* Democratic woman who has a strong public presence. If you think the Right hates Hillary, you will be stunned at what they think about Michelle Obama. I can dislike statements she has made and not wish on her what is lying in wait. Again, every time the Right gets away with brutalizing women public figures, it is the *Democrats* who will pay the greater price.

There may be a tape, but the point was to spread the rumors.

Namo, I'd like to hear how you chose your name. Ah, The Silmarillion. Have you seen the shortest review of the book? "A tale of magical jewelry and the resultant hand injuries." The follow on review for Lord of the Rings, "Ditto."


Anglachel said...

Note: I will honor any request to not publish a comment.