Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The fall and rise of NYC

By Myron Magnet

Fear was a New Yorker's constant companion in the 1970s and '80s. We lived behind doors with triple locks, some like engines of medieval ironmongery. We barred our ground-floor and fire-escape windows with steel grates that made us feel imprisoned. I was thankful for mine, though, when a hatchet turned up on my fire escape, origin unknown. Nearing our building entrances, we held our keys at the ready and looked over our shoulders, as police and street-smart lore advised; our hearts pounded as we tried to shove the heavy doors open and slam them shut before some mugger could push in behind us, standard mugging procedure. Only once was I too slow and lost my money. A neighbor, who worked at a midtown bank, lost his life.

So to read Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet when it came out in 1970 was like a jolt of electricity. Just when New York had begun to spin out of control--steadily worsening for over two decades until murders numbered over 2,200 a year, one every four hours--Bellow's novel described the unraveling with brilliant precision and explained unflinchingly why it was happening. His account shocked readers: some thought it racist and reactionary; others feared it was true but too offensive for a decent person to say. In those days, I felt I should cover my copy with a plain brown wrapper on the subway to veil the obscenity of its political incorrectness.

The book was true, prophetically so. And now that we live in New York's second golden age--the age of reborn neighborhoods in every borough, of safe streets bustling with tourists, of $40 million apartments, of filled-to-overflowing private schools and colleges, of urban glamour; the age when the New York Times runs stories that explain how once upon a time there was the age of the mugger and that ask, is new york losing its street smarts?--it's important to recall that today's peace and prosperity mustn't be taken for granted. Hip young residents of the revived Lower East Side or Williamsburg need to know that it's possible to kill a city, that the streets they walk daily were once no-go zones, that within living memory residents and companies were fleeing Gotham, that newsweeklies heralded the rotting of the Big Apple and movies like Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy plausibly depicted New York as a nightmare peopled by freaks. That's why it's ! worth looking back at Mr. Sammler to understand why that decline occurred: we need to make sure it doesn't happen again.

A septuagenarian Holocaust survivor who lives on 90th Street near Riverside Drive (my turf for most of the last 45 years), the novel's main character, Artur Sammler, sees disorder and decay wherever he looks. Out in the public realm, vandals have cut the receivers off pay phones and turned the booths into reeking urinals. In the parks, dog waste has killed the grass, and bums are everywhere. In one park, Sammler observes a wino "sullenly pissing on newspapers and old leaves," while a homeless woman sleeps on a bench, her "sea cow's belly rising, legs swollen purple." Even the freshly opened daffodils show smudges of soot on their pure yellow petals. Central Park promenaders who now savor the lush Great Lawn or the sublime Bethesda Fountain should know what a heroic effort of philanthropy and policing it took to reclaim what less than two decades ago was a dusty, sterile, graffiti-marred wasteland where dope dealers and muggers reigned. Nothing you see today is the pure production of nature but springs instead from civic will and vision.

Along with disorder went crime. Sammler knows he can't jog in Riverside Park any more because of the muggers, and he sees in the park's trees and bushes "cover for sexual violence, knifepoint robberies, sluggings, and murders." Crime pervades the whole city, even into private sanctuaries. Sammler's niece opens her window to admire a beautiful sunset and then forgets to lock it, allowing burglars to climb in from the roof below, as used to happen routinely. The least of her losses is the financial one. "The sentimental value of her lockets, chains, rings, heirlooms was not appreciated by the insurance company." Such things are precious to her because they link her to her dead husband, her dead parents. For such loss, and the loss of her sense of safety in her own home, there can be no recompense.

How wonderful it would be to have "the privileges of remoteness" that $50,000 a year could buy, Sammler thinks--"club membership, taxis, doormen, guarded approaches," all of the insulation that only 17 years later, as Tom Wolfe calculated more lavishly in Bonfire of the Vanities, took an income of $1 million a year. (Since Dickens, our best urbanologists have been our novelists.) But, Bellow points out, even the "opulent sections of the city were not immune. You opened a jeweled door into degradation, from hypercivilized Byzantine luxury straight into the state of nature."

The novel's personification of all that crime is a tall, powerfully built thief whom Sammler sees several times working the Riverside Drive bus, a dandified black man sporting a camel's-hair coat, homburg, and Dior sunglasses. Sammler, slightly taller, can watch him over the heads of the other standees as he skillfully snaps open the handbags and methodically empties the purses of his unaware victims. One day, shielded from the other passengers by his broad, well-tailored back, the thief robs a weak old man with red-lidded eyes of "sea-mucus blue," cowering in the bus's back corner, his "false teeth dropping from his upper gums" in his terror. The thief pulls open the man's jacket with its ragged lining, takes out his plastic wallet, and methodically rifles through the contents, pocketing the money and the Social Security check, while dropping the family photos like so much trash. Then, in a gesture of ironic contempt, he jerks the knot of the old man's tie "approximately! , but only approximately, into place."

So much, in other words, for the old man's claim, through the symbol of his otherwise useless necktie, of membership in a civilized community, where civility and forbearance govern our relations with one another and family bonds matter. And so much for his social security in the literal sense, if the state can't even secure him from invasion and violation in public and in broad daylight. It's the ultimate satire: the state that promises you the security of an old-age pension can't even provide you the security to keep it--the primary purpose of a state. It's almost as bad as today's Britain, where the welfare state provides for your welfare not by stopping omnipresent thugs from beating you senseless but by sewing you up afterward for free.

Out of understandable anxiety for the social order, Sammler phones the police twice to have the bus thief arrested. They go through the motions with bored cynicism. If they will post a cop on the bus, Sammler says, he'll point out the pickpocket. We don't have enough manpower, the desk officer replies; you'll have to get on our waiting list. A waiting list? Sammler objects. "This man is going to rob more people, but you aren't going to do anything about it. Is that right?" The confirmatory answer is silence--the contempt-edged passivity that anyone who called the cops in the seventies and eighties, when, as Bellow remarks, the police were never around when you needed them, will remember well.

While Bellow was writing Mr. Sammler's Planet, not only were the criminals who preyed on the city overwhelmingly black (as is still true in New York), but much worse black violence threatened to destroy urban America in a latterday version of the European upheaval that nearly killed Sammler. Race was the social problem. In 1965, riots raged for six days in Los Angeles's Watts ghetto, leaving over 30 dead and whole blocks in ashes; in 1967, over 40 died in the Detroit ghetto riots before the National Guard, with army reinforcements, restored order; and over 25 died in the Newark riots, in which the looters, shooters, and arsonists left $10 million of property in ruins. A year later, after Martin Luther King's assassination, rioting raged in black neighborhoods for days in over 100 cities. Meanwhile, black radicals--most notably, the weapons-toting, cop-killing Black Panthers--were calling for armed revolution.

The year Sammler appeared, Tom Wolfe jeered at the white elite's embrace of the Panthers in his hilarious essay "Radical Chic," describing a party Leonard Bernstein had thrown to introduce the paramilitary-garbed black-power group to such friends as Richard Avedon, Lillian Hellman, Robert Silvers, and Barbara Walters in his Park Avenue duplex. But for Bellow, despite his keen sense of the absurd, such antics were no laughing matter. They were part of the reason why New York was falling apart.

Since the nineteenth century, bohemians, writers, and intellectuals have toyed with the "romance of the outlaw," as Sammler puts it. "He thought often what a tremendous appeal crime had made to the children of bourgeois civilization. Whether as revolutionists, as supermen, as saints, Knights of Faith, even the best teased and tested themselves with thoughts of knife or gun. Lawless Raskolnikovs." But in Sammler's New York, and in elite culture generally in the sixties, that romance of the outlaw focused primarily on blacks, whose status as social victims and outcasts transformed their criminal acts (ex officio, so to speak) into manly, quasi-heroic revolts against oppression, however inchoate. Another of Sammler's nieces, a rich, pretty Sarah Lawrence grad, embodies this prevailing worldview: she regularly sends money to "defense funds for black murderers and rapists." Her uncle has no patience with this attitude. You can't excuse a crime by saying it has been committed by a victim. "To whom would this not apply, if you start to say poor creature?" he dryly objects.

But though this exculpatory impulse springs partly from a widespread wish to make amends for centuries of racial injustice and to see "the unity of the different races affirmed," its roots go deeper than that. The American elite, Bellow saw, had lost confidence in its core values. "The labor of Puritanism was now ending"; the Puritan outlook that had guided America for three and a half centuries, the bourgeois outlook that "formerly was believed, trusted, was now bitterly circled in black irony." Without faith in their core bourgeois values and in the social order that rested on those values, the old elite had ceased to believe in its own legitimacy. Not surprisingly, "Mr. Sammler was testy with White Protestant America for not keeping better order. Cowardly surrender. Not a strong ruling class. Eager in a secret humiliating way to come down and mingle with all the minority mobs, and scream against themselves."

Trouble was, Americans wanted two mutually exclusive things, Sammler observes. They sought "the privileges, and the free ways of barbarism, under the protection of civilized order, property rights, refined technological organization, and so on." But you can have only one or the other. That is the meaning of the camel's-hair-clad robber's self-display. Yes, here is the big black member that everyone wants; but it is attached to a criminal. Its freedom, power, and authority are lawless, ready to make use of anyone, barbaric, bestial. Throughout, Bellow describes the robber as an "elegant brute" with the "effrontery of a big animal." He is an "African prince or great black beast . . . seeking whom he might devour"--as Saint Peter described that incarnation of evil, the devil. His gesture expresses to Sammler that he has the power and the will to devour him if need be. President Johnson might claim the authority to rule the world; the robber claims the alpha male's authority ! to rule the jungle, the state of nature, by force and violence.

As the classical political philosophers held, the civilized order that protects our lives and property rests on restraint. We curb our freedom of aggressive impulse to ensure the safety of all, ourselves included. The resultant freedom to go about our cities unmolested and to channel our energies into the civilized arts and sciences that generate human progress is a higher freedom than the liberty we relinquish. We limit our sexual freedom in order to form stable families that teach children to internalize civilization's self-restraint and make it part of their character, a process that turns the raw material of nature into human beings. "I thought everybody was born human," Sammler's pretty niece tells him. He replies, with this civilizing process in mind: "It is not a natural gift at all. Only the capacity is natural."

When Sammler, who between the wars was the London correspondent for several Warsaw magazines, gives an informal talk at Columbia about his acquaintanceship with such luminaries as H. G. Wells, J. M. Keynes, and John Strachey, a bearded listener rudely interrupts. How dare Sammler quote George Orwell's statement that "British radicals were protected by the Royal Navy? . . . That's a lot of shit," the man splutters. "Orwell was a fink. He was a sick counterrevolutionary. It's good he died when he did." The Levi's-clad man has no use for the notions that an anti-Communist (though still a leftist) like Orwell could be great and that radicals were free to spout their revolutionary nostrums not only because liberal England gladly tolerated diversity of opinion but also because it guarded its liberal freedom with the very military might the radicals despised. The audience shouldn't listen to Sammler, "this effete old shit," the young man continues. "His balls are dry. He's dead.! He can't come." The young man, in other words, subscribes to the philosophy of the thief in the camel's-hair coat: all authority resides in the genitals, beside which Sammler's wide erudition and the Western culture over which he ranges so widely throughout the novel count as nothing.

The professors were turning against Western culture because, with religion weakened among the elites, culture was the last authoritative bastion of "Thou Shalt Nots," the repository of the great thinkers' conclusions about what kind of life and behavior is best for man, what makes our existence meaningful and human, what allows us to fulfill our highest potentialities--and what leads to strife and sorrow. This final push for liberation on campus, including a liberation from Enlightenment reason itself, didn't want to hear about the right life or the wrong. Every kind of experiment in living--"coupling in all positions, tripling, quadrupling, polymorphous"--was fine in elite culture's "united effort to conquer disgust." The era's artists and playwrights turned against culture, too: Bellow mentions the painting of Andy Warhol, with its fey, arch insistence that there's no difference between the higher accomplishments and the lower, or among art, commerce, and celebrity; and! he mentions the Performance Group's famous production of Dionysus in '69, whose naked actors evidently had missed Nietzsche's caution that art needs the shaping, ordering Apollonian element to contain the frenzy, sexual license, and intoxication of the Dionysian, which, left to itself, ends in murder. For the elites, it was Dionysus all the way.

But neither the death of New York nor the death of conscience ever happened. Like most Americans, the majority of New Yorkers (chiefly in the outer boroughs rather than Manhattan) were pragmatic folk, capable of learning from experience. They didn't want to lose their town, and they elected Rudy Giuliani to clean it up. And all over the country, kids turned against the way their baby-boomer, sexual-revolutionary parents had brought them up, and resolved to do something different. They understood there was a better way to live.

How did they know it? A residue of the old culture, too strong to die? A pragmatic or instinctive understanding that there is a right and a wrong life for man, which some of the old philosophers called Natural Law? From page one of Mr. Sammler's Planet, Bellow himself insists that, beyond the explanations we construct through Enlightenment reason, the soul has "its own natural knowledge." We all have "a sense of the mystic potency of humankind" and "an inclination to believe in archetypes of goodness. A desire for virtue was no accident." We all know that we must try "to live with a civil heart. With disinterested charity." We must live a life "conditioned by other human beings." We must try to meet the terms of the contract life sets us, as Sammler says in the astonishing affirmation with which Bellow ends his book. "The terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. . . . As all know. For that is the truth of it--that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know."

More here

From Dove to Hawk

A prominent Israeli historian explains why, after decades of research about the Jewish state, he now holds out little hope for reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians

I remember the moment when the Palestinian diaspora began to interest me, professionally. It was in Rashidiye Camp, outside Tyre, in June 1982, just after the Is-rael Defense Forces had scythed through on their way north to oust the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Lebanon. A journalist at the time, I picked my way through the devastated buildings. Most of the men had fled or been detained or killed by the Israelis, but I was struck by a group of old women hunched over a tabun, an outdoor oven, making pita bread far from their homeland. A few weeks later a stash of documents produced in 1948 by the Palmah-the strike force of the Haganah, the main Zionist underground in Palestine-was opened for me, revealing why and how many of these people had been displaced as Israel was born.

My historical account of that event, published a few years later, was greeted with some acclaim by Palestinians and their sympathizers-and much shock by Is-raelis, who had been brought up to believe, or to pretend to believe, that the Palestini-ans had fled their homes four decades earli-er because of orders or advice from their leaders. In certain places, at certain times, there had been such advice and orders, of course. But there had also been Israeli ex-pulsions, as well as the chaos of British withdrawal and economic hardship and anxiety about an uncharted future under Jewish rule. In most places it was the flail and fear of onrushing hostilities that had set some 700,000 Arabs on the roads.

Myself and several other young Israeli historians were dubbed revisionists and commonly assumed to be doves. But what brought me to my conclusions about 1948 were the facts, not my political views. Con-trary to current historiographic discourse I believe there is such a thing as the Truth-what, why and how things happened-and I've always sought it in my research. If I've since come to a much bleaker opinion about the possibility of reconciliation be-tween Jews and Palestinians-many would now call me a hawk-it is also because of that research.

During the 1990s, as the Oslo peace process gained momentum, I was cautious-ly optimistic about the prospects for peace. But at the same time I was scouring the just opened archives of the Haganah and the IDF. Studying the roots of the Arab-Is-raeli conflict-in particular the pronounce-ments and positions of the Palestinian leadership from the 1920s on-left me chilled. Their rejection of any compromise, whether a partition of Palestine between its Jewish and Arab inhabitants or the cre-ation of a binational state with political parity between the two communities, was deep-seated, consensual and consistent.

Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem and leader of the Palestinian na-tional movement during the 1930s and 1940s, insisted throughout on a single Muslim Arab state in all of Palestine. The Palestinian Arab "street" chanted "Idbah al-Yahud" (slaughter the Jews) both during the 1936-1939 revolt against the British and in 1947, when Arab militias launched a campaign to destroy the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine. Husseini led both campaigns.

So when Yasir Arafat rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's two-state proposals at Camp David in July 2000, and then President Clinton's sweetened offer the follow-ing December, my surprise was not exces-sive. Nor was I astounded by the spectacle of masses of suicide bombers launched, with Arafat's blessing, against Israel's shop-ping malls, buses and restaurants in the second intifada, which erupted in Septem-ber 2000. Each suicide bomber seemed to be a microcosm of what Palestine's Arabs had in mind for Israel as a whole. Arafat's rejectionism and, after his death, the election of Hamas to dominance in the Pales-tinian national movement, persuaded me that no two-state solution was in the offing and that the Palestinians, as a people, were bent, as they had been throughout their history, on "recovering" all of Palestine.

I found that current events had echoes in the historical record, and vice versa. The founding charter of Hamas repeatedly refers to the victory of Saladin over the me-dieval crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, and compares the crusaders to the Zionists. In researching my new history of the 1948 war, I was struck by the fact that this analo-gy, usually overlooked or ignored by previ-ous historians, suffused the statements and thinking of Palestinian leaders and the leaders of the surrounding Arab states dur-ing the countdown to, and the course of, the war. A few days before Arab armies struck at Jewish forces in Palestine, Abd al-Rahman Azzam, secretary general of the Arab League, told the British minister in Transjordan their aim was to "sweep the Jews into the sea."

If the documents I studied 20 years ago painted Palestinians tragically, as the underdog, this record did the opposite. It has become clear to me that from its start the struggle against the Zionist enterprise wasn't merely a national conflict between two peoples over a piece of territory but also a religious crusade against an infidel usurper. As early as Dec. 2, 1947, four days after the passage of the partition resolution, the scholars of Al Azhar University proclaimed a "worldwide jihad in defense of Arab Palestine" and de-clared that it was the duty of every Muslim to take part.

This history has deepened and reinforced my pessimism, itself bred by the fail-ure of Oslo. Those currently riding high in the region-figures like Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Meshaal, Hizbullah's Hassan Nasrallah and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad-are true believers who are convinced it is Allah's command and every Muslim's duty to extirpate the "Zionist entity" from the sacred soil of the Middle East. For all its economic, political, scientific and cultural achievements and military prowess, Israel, at 60, remains profoundly insecure-for there can be no real security for the Jewish state, surrounded by a surg-ing sea of Muslims, in the absence of peace.


I think that the last sentence above was simply what he needed to say in order to get his article published in "Newsweak"

Obama And The Emerging Tradition Of Emotive, Non-Rational Liberalism

Post below recycled from Discriminations. See the original for links

Lately I've been trying to get a handle on what is widely said to be our enduring, endemic, pervasive racism, but a racism so "underground, hidden, subtle" that it is visible only to highly trained social scientists (such as the one discussed here) who, to skeptics, resemble nothing so much as dowsers claiming to have near-magical powers to find underground water with forked sticks. Summarizing the findings regarding "racial resentments" in recent literature of political psychology, John Judis of The New Republic writes that
racism remains deeply embedded within the psyche of the American electorate--so deep that many voters may not even be aware of their own feelings on the subject.... Political psychologists devised new tests to uncover these sentiments....

The answers [to questions inserted into the American National Election Studies] revealed a degree of racial resentment that wasn't apparent from more explicit questions about racial bias. In 1986, for instance, 59 percent of respondents agreed that blacks were not trying hard enough (only 27 percent disagreed), while 67 percent thought blacks should work "their way up ... without any special favors." Psychologists David Sears and Donald Kinder, as well as others, found that this racial resentment was the single most important factor--more important than even conservative ideology or political partisanship--in explaining strong opposition to a host of government programs that either directly or indirectly benefited minorities. Of course, that doesn't mean there couldn't be principled conservative opposition to government-guaranteed equal employment or urban aid. But, according to the political psychologists, racial resentment played the largest role in fueling public skepticism.
Now here comes another one, Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz, who points to "a more subtle form of prejudice" he describes as our symbolic racism.
Racial attitudes have changed dramatically in the United States over the past several decades, of course, and overtly racist beliefs are much less prevalent among white Americans of all classes today. But a more subtle form of prejudice, which social scientists sometimes call symbolic racism, is still out there - especially among working-class whites.

Symbolic racism means believing that African American poverty and other problems are largely the result of lack of ambition and effort, rather than white racism and discrimination. Who holds symbolically racist beliefs? A relatively large portion of white voters in general and white working-class voters in particular, according to the 2004 American National Election Study, the best data available on this topic. A few answers underscore how widespread these attitudes are:

* Almost 60 percent of white voters agreed with the statement that "blacks should try harder to succeed." A startling 43 percent of white college graduates nodded at this one, along with 71 percent of whites with no college education.

* Fully 49 percent of white voters disagreed with the statement that "history makes it more difficult for blacks to succeed." Forty percent of white college graduates disagreed with it, along with 58 percent of whites with no college education.
So, believing with Jesse Jackson and Bill Cosby that "blacks should try harder to succeed" makes one a symbolic racist? Would a belief, say, that "affirmative action makes it easier for blacks to succeed" also make one a symbolic racist? For that matter, would believing that blacks should be treated just like whites and Asians - no better and no worse - also make one a symbolic racist? Or just a plain, run of the mill, overt racist? Clearly one or the other since, according to Judis's report, a belief that "blacks should work `their way up ... without any special favors'" is evidence of "racial resentment."

All of this talk of subconscious, non-rational, gut-level racism calls to mind the work of another Emory social scientist, Drew Westen, whose book, The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, was discussed here. (What is it with Emory's infatuation with emotions over thought?) As I wrote there, quoting an article in the Los Angeles Times,
Westen writes that it doesn't make sense to argue an issue using facts and figures and to count on voters - particularly the swing voters who decide national elections - to make choices based on sophisticated understandings of policy differences or procedures. He says Democratic candidates must learn to do what Republicans have understood for many years - they must appeal to emotions....
Actually, maybe they (or at least one) have (has) learned, although not in a way these political dowsers would approve. According to the lefty blogs and the Obama tankers in the mainstream press, Hillary has been "channeling George Wallace," as Joe Conason so artfully put it, by appealing to these subterranean racist sentiments. As everyone knows by now, Hillary commented that
"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me." "There's a pattern emerging here," she said.
According to Conason,
There is indeed a pattern emerging - and it is a pattern that must dismay everyone who admires the Clintons and has defended them against the charge that they are exploiting racial divisions.
New York Times OpEdist Bob Herbert echoed Conason.
There is, indeed. There was a name for it when the Republicans were using that kind of lousy rhetoric to good effect: it was called the Southern strategy, although it was hardly limited to the South. Now the Clintons, in their desperation to find some way - any way - back to the White House, have leapt aboard that sorry train. He can't win! Don't you understand? He's black! He's black!

The Clintons have been trying to embed that gruesomely destructive message in the brains of white voters and superdelegates for the longest time. It's a grotesque insult to African-Americans, who have given so much support to both Bill and Hillary over the years
Herbert continued:
I don't know if Senator Obama can win the White House. No one knows. But to deliberately convey the idea that most white people - or most working-class white people - are unwilling to give an African-American candidate a fair hearing in a presidential election is a slur against whites.
If it is a slur, it's a slur that has become increasingly prominent and popular in social science today. Not for the first time (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.), one of the more predictably splenetic outbursts came from the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson. "As a statement of fact, that's debatable at best. As a rationale for why Democratic Party superdelegates should pick her over Obama," he writes,
it's a slap in the face to the party's most loyal constituency - African Americans - and a repudiation of principles the party claims to stand for. Here's what she's really saying to party leaders: There's no way that white people are going to vote for the black guy. Come November, you'll be sorry. How silly of me. I thought the Democratic Party believed in a colorblind America.
This isn't silly. It's audacious, unadulterated balderdash. Robinson knows perfectly well that the Democratic Party has not believed in - nor has it supported any policies, judges, or principles based on or advocating - "a colorblind America" since about 1965, and neither has he.

As I have commented more than once, virtually all of the discussion of the Democratic primaries has been couched in a very unsubtle version of demographic determinism. Democratic voters have been routinely described as being more or less of one mind (if that) on most major public policy issues; they have differed only in their demographic identities, splitting along lines of race, gender, age, etc.

But when Hillary notes, quoting an AP article, that her coalition is broader than Obama's, she's denounced as the second coming of George Wallace who "violated the rhetorical rules" (Conason, linked above). If she's guilty of appealing to the baser instincts of Democratic voters, isn't this exactly the behavior that one would expect to flow from all the advice to "frame" the debate (see here, here, here, and here) by appealing to the emotions of the electorate? And speaking of rhetorical rules, Joan Walsh of Salon nervously asks, "[c]an Democrats learn to talk about race." Like a prissy school-marm telling her charges to sit still, shape up, and fly right, she petulantly informs Democrats to watch their mouth:
Everybody's going to have to be more careful in the next few months, in the way they talk about race, while also talking about it. A lot. I don't know how we figure that one out, but we have to.
It's almost enough to make one pity the poor, conflicted Democrats. They so love to talk, especially about race, but they just don't know how. The traditional American idiom of fairness, i.e., treating everyone "without regard" to race, creed, or color, has become a foreign language, spoken only by ideological aliens (Republicans and conservatives).

I think the underlying problem here is that Democrats, apt and eager acolytes of their social science gurus, believe that everything important is, well, underlying - that emotion, attitude, prejudice, unconscious racism trump and even run roughshod over conscious thought, rationality, evidence, principles, moral beliefs, etc. And to their credit, they are perfectly bi-partisan in their disdain for the rationality of American voters: Republicans and small-towners bitterly cling to God and Guns because of economic disappointment; white, blue-collar Democrats similarly vote against their own interests out of "racial resentments."

In many respects there's nothing new in the Democrats' subordination of rationality and thought to feeling and emotion. Remember all the talk, not so long ago, about the Democrats as the "Mommy Party" (warm, compassionate, healing, inclusive, generous) and the Republicans as the "Daddy Party" (strict, demanding, competitive, stingy, just-the-facts rule enforcement)? And let us not forget all the hoo-hah over Thomas Frank's dismissal of the crazy Kansans that was such a popular rage among Democrats and that was just discussed here.

We've just heard a modern riff on the thought vs. emotion melody when Rev. Wright informed the Detroit NAACP about the "two different ways of learning" of blacks and whites.
European and European-American children have a left brained cognitive object oriented learning style and the entire educational learning system in the United States of America....

Left brain is logical and analytical. Object oriented means the student learns from an object. From the solitude of the cradle with objects being hung over his or her head to help them determine colors and shape to the solitude in a carol in a PhD program stuffed off somewhere in a corner in absolute quietness to absorb from the object. From a block to a book, an object. That is one way of learning, but it is only one way of learning.

African and African-American children have a different way of learning. They are right brained, subject oriented in their learning style. Right brain that means creative and intuitive. Subject oriented means they learn from a subject, not an object. They learn from a person. Some of you are old enough, I see your hair color, to remember when the NAACP won that tremendous desegregation case back in 1954 and when the schools were desegregated. They were never integrated. When they were desegregated in Philadelphia, several of the white teachers in my school freaked out. Why? Because black kids wouldn't stay in their place. Over there behind the desk, black kids climbed up all on them.

Because they learn from a subject, not from an object. Tell me a story. They have a different way of learning....
Rev. Wright was widely ridiculed for these and similar remarks, but in their subordination of analytical thought to emotion they were closer to the mainstream of modern liberal epistemology than is commonly supposed.

Let me give just one example - as it happens, from Rev. Wright's most famous and now recently former acolyte, Barack Obama. Obama, as we've seen with his bitter/clinging put-down of small town voters, is no stranger to the idea that people's behavior is often governed more by their emotions and subconscious concerns than by a clear, thought-out position on the "issues," but as far as he himself is concerned, he has the image of being almost too thoughtful, rational, articulate, etc., to connect with ordinary people. Thus I think it is quite revealing that even he, former editor of the Harvard Law Review and part-time professor of constitutional law, is on the record saying that he would subordinate head to "heart" in nominating judges and Supreme Court Justices. As Edward Whelan explained in The Weekly Standard,
In explaining his vote against Roberts, Obama opined that deciding the "truly difficult" cases requires resort to "one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one's empathy." In short, "the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge's heart." No clearer prescription for lawless judicial activism is possible.

Indeed, in setting forth the sort of judges he would appoint, Obama has explicitly declared: "We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old - and that's the criterion by which I'll be selecting my judges." So much for the judicial virtue of dispassion. So much for a craft of judging that is distinct from politics.
Obama's heart-centered judicial philosophy has recently been discussed in two enlightening posts on the Volokh Conspiracy blog (here and here). Read both, and the comments. Here's a small sample: One commenter asked, "why wouldn't you want someone "with a good heart" setting down that law?" to which another replied: "When it comes to setting the law, a good brain is vastly more important." Another asked:
So, I'm curious: when Obama was lecturing in Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago, were I to take a class of his and write on the final exam "Justice X's opinion in Case Y was correct because Justice X's heart was in the right place", would Obama have given me an `A'?
And if he didn't, would his refusal be based on some theoretical ground that would of necessity conflict with his often-stated heartfelt, heart-based philosophy ... or because he disagreed with what was in Justice X's heart?

Again, there's nothing altogether new here. Pragmatism has long been an important, and often dominant strain, in American liberalism, and its offspring, legal realism and an even more extreme post-modernism (search here for my many discussions of Stanley Fish), also reject fealty to rules and principles in favor of whatever road will lead to one's preferred result.

Nevertheless, even though this phenomenon is not new, it's important to recognize that when Obama lets slip his belief that voters often act irrationally and Hillary "frames" the argument for her candidacy in a way that strikes many liberals and mainstream pundits (but I repeat myself) as racist they are not going off half-cocked as idiosyncratic individuals but are rather both reflecting and acting out of what has become the dominant heart and gut over head epistemology of modern liberalism.


Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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