Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Pressure To Conform

Let's look at one example of pressure to conform to the group that is now circulating the web:

What Progressives Don’t Understand About Obama
By ISHMAEL REED

NOT all of my white teachers viewed me as a discipline problem. To the annoyance of my fellow students, one teacher selected me regularly to lead assembly programs. A high school teacher insisted that I learn about the theater. She was an America-firster who supplied me with right-wing pamphlets and magazines that I’d read at breakfast and she didn’t seem bothered by my returning them with some of the pages stuck together with syrup.

But most of them did see me as an annoyance, and gave me the grades to prove it.


The author is establishing his authority to speak on the subject. He reminds us of racist white women and minor intellectuals.

I’ve been thinking recently of all those D’s for deportment on my report cards. I thought of them, for instance, when I read a response to an essay I had written about Mark Twain that appeared in “A New Literary History of America.” One of the country’s leading critics, who writes for a prominent progressive blog, called the essay “rowdy,” which I interpreted to mean “lack of deportment.” Perhaps this was because I cited “Huckleberry Finn” to show that some white women managed household slaves, a departure from the revisionist theory that sees Scarlett O’Hara as some kind of feminist martyr.


Remember, progressives can be racist too. And so can feminists.

I thought of them when I pointed out to a leading progressive that the Tea Party included neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers — and he called me a “bully.”

Progressives can even be like Hitler! And, oddly, they support the tea baggers!


He believes that the Tea Party is a grass-roots uprising against Wall Street, a curious reading since the movement gained its impetus from a rant against the president delivered by a television personality on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.


Silly progressives, who believe Wall Street is their friend.

And I’ve thought about them as I’ve listened in the last week to progressives criticize President Obama for keeping his cool.


Obama is cool. Criticizing him is like defending racists.

Progressives have been urging the president to “man up” in the face of the Republicans. Some want him to be like John Wayne. On horseback. Slapping people left and right.


Progressives are like the right, who worship machismo.

One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he’d be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. His grade would go from a B- to a D.


Tumans' speech warning America of the growing military industrial complex? That speech?* He was screaming? And progressives want Obama to be like that? The racists would win!

What the progressives forget is that black intellectuals have been called “paranoid,” “bitter,” “rowdy,” “angry,” “bullies,” and accused of tirades and diatribes for more than 100 years. Very few of them would have been given a grade above D from most of my teachers.


And you don't want to be racist like them, do you?

When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves.


You are here to support Obama. He is not here to support you.

They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos. And now they are whispering about a primary challenge against the president. Brilliant! The kind of suicidal gesture that destroyed Jimmy Carter — and a way to lose the black vote forever.


If you don't support Obama you will lose an important part of your base.

Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all.


You are a spoilt white person.

They know how it feels to be unemployed and unable to buy your children Christmas presents. They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.


Obama is cool. Shut up.

Mr. Reed is an important man. This opinion piece, written with skill and power and transparent manipulation, will scare quite a few people into shutting up.

*See Comments

27 comments:

KWillow said...

Opinion piece? Self contradictory and full of blibber-blabbering Strawmen.

"I'm a Rebel, I've always been a Rebel! Just ask my Grammar school teachers! And that's why I totally support our assassinating war-mongering, authoritarian, corporation loving, reactionary republican President! And YOU SHOULD TOO! ps: if you don't support Obama you're RACIST!!11*!!"

Anonymous said...

I didn't read it that way.

I thought his point was that anger from a black man reads differently, or with some unjustified undertones, to white people. And so, on the one hand, everyone thinks he is super cool because he's not hot-headed (as befits a black man) and on the other hand everyone is freaking out because he showed some minor frustration with the whole process (perceived, out of proportion, as an angry rant).

Now, I think Reed misses the point of people just being upset about Obama's decisions and actions, not about his emotional state. But I also think it is curious that a lot of commentary seems equally, if not more, outraged at the chastisement of the left in Obama's press conference than at all the goodies for the rich in his compromise with Republicans. It is this last bit that I think Reed is trying to address, in a sort of oblique way.

-ecl.

Susan of Texas said...

I think Reed misses the point of people just being upset about Obama's decisions and actions, not about his emotional state.

I read his bio and he is far, far too gifted and intelligent to make such a mistake.

zuzu said...

I've been reading this one around the blogosphere, and let me just say that it's always a hoot to have people who voted for Bush tell progressives how to be good Democrats.

The article itself: manipulative, yes, but also suffering from the same deficiencies that make mainstream journalism so dishonest. The anonymous, never-directly-quoted representative of a group is a stand-in for the entire group; the author positions himself as the spokesperson for his own group; undefined groups are assigned characteristics in service of his point ("white progressives," who are never defined, have never been unemployed, for example); false dichotomies are set up (Obama can either be cool or he can "scream," with no middle ground such as cool-but-firm even entertained as an option). And that's not even getting into the whole business about the author's own personal story.

The points Anonymous raised above -- that anger/passion from a black man reads differently than from a white man in this culture, for example, which necessarily limits Obama's options for expression -- are certainly valid and worthy of discussion. But this article isn't, as Susan said, designed to foster discussion but to suppress dissent.

I don't agree, though, that Obama's "chastisement of the left" was either no big deal or blown out of proportion. It's simply bad politics for the leader of the party to use precious airtime and political capital to attack his own base. The Republicans know this, which is why they don't do it. They save their fire for the Democrats. Why should the head of the Democratic Party give them assistance on that score?

zuzu said...

Oh, and another thought -- I see a lot of Obama supporters carping that he's a prisoner of the media environment, that he can't just do stuff by fiat, etc.

But there are things he can, in fact, do by fiat (such as dropping the appeal of the DADT ruling even if he can't change the law itself by executive order). One of these things might even help him with his media problem: Ask the FCC to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. It might not be much help with cable, but radio stations use the public airwaves.

Aimai said...

Very good analysis, Susan. Spot on. Its possible to agree that there is (some) racism in the progressive movement and that there are (some) problems for Obama in particular if he shows anger without agreeing in the slightest with the way this essay was built or the direction it wants to take us in. Disagreeing with Obama about policies or technique are not the same as being racist, having absurd expectationsf ounded on race, or anything else that is hinted at in this essay. And its utterly disingenous for Reed to make this argument in this fashion.

aimai

Anonymous said...

@ zuzu:
Bring back the Fairness Doctrine? Government monitored political commentary supported by a so called progressive. Tell me, how would George Bush's FCC have interpreted the “Fairness” Doctrine? I'll get my news from sources not regulated by the government thank you very much. And yes, I get that the government already regulates – through the issuance of broadcast licenses – but that is a matter of convenience with overwhelming public support. You don’t want to have to search for radio stations every time you get in your car. When the government starts dictating the content of news shows you have gone well beyond the convenience factor.

fish said...

I think the speech warning about the Military-Industrial Complex was actually Eisenhower, the Truman speech was probably his Democratic nomination acceptance speech which was an aggressive attack on Republicans (and perhaps ironically, the first true rejection of the Dixicrats racism which was supposed to doom his chances in the general election).

fish said...

I would also have to agree that the Fairness Doctrine is a nightmare.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

1) I'd say that when you have David Broder, David Brooks, and Dana Milbank applauding your actions, you ought to be rethinking your actions.

2) When Obama joins with the Rethugs and the DINOs to cut Social Security, will the Ishmael Reeds of the world still be saying "shut up and eat your catfood, and pretend that you like it!" I'm guessing yes.
~

visibly agitated said...

I read his bio

I've read his novels and short stories, and Ishmael Reed has more credibility on issues of race and power than anyone I can think of.

The guy is not some squishy, pampered pundit. He's an academic and a radical. Even if you think he's wrong about how black progressives hear complaints from white progressives, he's worth listening to. Certainly he demands a more serious engagement than he's been getting on the blogs.

Susan of Texas said...

Thanks, fish.

A lot of women would be just as unwilling to admit fault if a woman had been elected.

What a mess. We need to be following the money, not fighting over emotional issues.

Susan of Texas said...

Visibly agitated, your response is perfect.

I've read his novels and short stories, and Ishmael Reed has more credibility on issues of race and power than anyone I can think of.

Argues authority, which has already been conceded.

The guy is not some squishy, pampered pundit. He's an academic and a radical.

He's of your tribe.

Even if you think he's wrong about how black progressives hear complaints from white progressives, he's worth listening to.

Responder states he will ignore facts.

Certainly he demands a more serious engagement than he's been getting on the blogs.

He is a Serious Person who is being ignored for reasons that will not be named.

Awesome.

visibly agitated said...

How embarrassing for me, that I know of Ishmael Reed and have suggested his opinion is worth listening to, to someone who has "read his bio." Give me a break.

If you'd prefer a substantial response to your post about Reed, I'd say that there's much in the column that's unpalatable, specifically where he goes out of his way to sound misogynist and to settle personal scores. On the issue of his support for Obama, which Reed has made publicly known over the past few years, I find it very surprising, since he has spent his entire career ruthlessly mocking powerful people, especially politicians. Reed is probably in awe of whatever it is that Obama symbolizes, though I can also promise you that Reed is capable of criticizing Obama too. Here he is in 2008: "The Big Let Down:
Obama Scolds Black Fathers, Gets Bounce in Polls."

But whatever is unpalatable or rhetorically off about this particular column, he's right about this:

It is a hilarious white person thing to do to sit around pondering what Barack Obama's public demeanor should look like.

Susan of Texas said...

You're still lying. I care about what Obama does, where the money goes, if I'm going to get poorer. But you can't argue that--or won't--so you try to declare racism too by dragging in the irrelevent topic of demeanor. People argue emotion when they can't argue facts.

That speech to black fathers was very illuminating. I wrote about it too.

Bob Hopeless said...

This is some seriously confused shit. But what do I know - I'm a white progressive who is used to getting everything I want, and I don't give a shit about poor persons of color.

DocAmazing said...

Anonymous and Fish--

You really need to research the Fairness Doctrine before you start going on about "government-controlled media", because you sound like corporate apologists. The Fairness Doctrine was in place for decades, including the Nixon years, and no attempt was ever made to control content. The Fairness Doctrine just states that the aiwaves are a public resource, and the public should have free access to them--and if a member of the public objected to political content on broadcast television (not cable) or broadcast radio (not satellite), then that person had a right to airtime for their views. This would require, for example, equal time for a rebuttal to Rush Limbaugh; it would not authorize censorship.

You really need to look this stuff up before commenting--especially our anonymous friend, who sounds downright Teabaggerish.

visibly agitated said...

I care about what Obama does, where the money goes, if I'm going to get poorer.

Fascinating. That's fine, too. When you imagine who's getting poorer, though, imagine Black people. When you care about what Obama does, and articulate demands, imagine Black people making those same demands. It changes the calculus of how you think Obama should comport himself, doesn't it? The part of Reed's column that's addressed to someone like you is this:

When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves.

This is the part you glossed as "You are here to support Obama. He is not here to support you." My gloss: When white progressives make demands, it is because they're privileged enough to do so in the first place, and they do so with the implicit understanding that they're making demands on behalf of white people.

Yes, Reed is taking an expressly adversarial stance toward people like you. No, I'm not sure it's an effective rhetorical strategy. No, I'm not sure this is a necessary intervention in the public discourse. But, Reed thinks of himself as allied with progressives, and like I said, I think he deserves actual engagement beyond the usual "I will not tolerate these charges of racism" etc.

Susan of Texas said...

Again with the emotion-based argument.I'm sure you could do this all week but I have cookies to bake.

I think Obama should represent the people who elected him to office. He chooses to represent the people who give him money. That's pretty much all we can expect these days but I'm not going to say it's okay because he's black and the people who suffer from his actions are black.

visibly agitated said...

You're right, this has not been very interesting.

fish said...

Doc,

It is my fault because I didn't elaborate, but little of what you write reflects my objections to the FD. However, your summary of the FD is incomplete, the FCC was empowered to enforce coverage of important issues that was honest, equitable, and balanced. I hope you can see my concerns when political appointees are empowered to make such decisions, even if historically such powers were not abused. The law is a mess of ambiguity, rife for abuse and generally ineffective.
I would prefer a focus on limited ownership and net neutrality legislation. This is not an opinion I formulated myself, but a position I was convinced into adopting from Free Press.

Aimai said...

I acknowledge race and racism and my own white privilige--now can we admit that sometimes voters are voters and progressives are progressives and the fact that (some) people (may) have different views about a sitting President that (may) be affected by their race/affect the races differently isn't, in fact, evidence of racism only. That is--I see a whole lot of progressives criticizing Obama's technique, his political practice, and sometimes including a critique of his public persona as a form of his political practice. I don't deny there's some racist versions of this out there but the majority is exactly the same kind of political analysis and back seat driving that happens *with every president.* Bush's people/voters/base talked about Bush and how they wanted him to do this or that. Clinton's too. Now we are supposed to think that white progressive voters have no right, as voters, to comment on or criticize their president--the very president who they voted for?

As someone who argued *for* Obama to African American aquaintances who were uncertain whether he wasn't some kind of white stalking horse, or whether to "throw away their vote" under the assumption that white america wasn't going to support Obama over McCain, I fail to see the distinctive racism in merely talking politics and policy about our political leaders. Sure, you can do it in problematic ways. But everyone isn't doing that.

The majority of the critique of Obama over the current tax cut compromise is that it *hurts everyone* including and especially African Americans and other minorities farther down the line. That's a straight up policy criticism. Being Black doesn't protect Obama from having his political practice criticized any more than being a woman prevented Hillary from having her campaign criticized even as we all acknowledged that the playing field looked different for her than for the men--that she had to do and say some things to bolster her cred. that was distinctly different from what the men had to do.

aimai

Anonymous said...

I think Reed misses the point of people just being upset about Obama's decisions and actions, not about his emotional state.

I read his bio and he is far, far too gifted and intelligent to make such a mistake.


sorry, it's not that I think he doesn't get that. I just think he's writing a different OpEd that is not about that, but about how Mrs Pringles confused his exuberance for aggression when he was in 4th grade.

Your point about the framing meant to stomp out dissent is well taken. But I thought the OpEd did not really address progressives' discontent with the compromise, but rather progressives' outrage over Obama's vent.

-ecl.

Aimai said...

An interesting distinction: he's addressing Progressive's outrage over the vent. Most progressives that I read--and of course I didn't nutpick my way through Kos, were ticked off at the stupidity of wasting time excoriating everyone to the left of Obama. We felt it stepped on his own message. We felt it was bad tactics. You might even say that we took fairly seriously the argument which has been advanced since the primary that Obama's cool is part of his total package with the electorate so that *if* he's going to lose his cool he needs to very carefully pick his targets so that this key dramatic moment, quite likely to be misinterpreted by his enemies, is actually useful to him.

Progressives thought it was illogical, rude, and unhelpful to spend time attacking his left flank instead of wooing it while he was attacking to his right. This has literally zero to do with race or race expectations except that Obama is acknowledged to have to be more skillful in how he expresses emotion than a white guy (see, e.g. weeping boehner) does.

aimai

nanute said...

I'm sorry. Am I the only one who came away with this rather cynical observation? Reed seems to be arguing that progressives can't demand that Obama loose his cool, because this will lead his detractors to call him an "uppity nigger." And it will somehow be the fault of the progressive liberal base? I'm sure I'm missing something...

nate said...

I couldn't give a shit if Obama loses his cool or not.

I'm just trying to imagine a Republican president treating the rightwing evangelical base the way Obama and his administration not only feel free to treat progressives, but being so gleeful about it.

Oh well, as long as you've got David Broder on your side, you've got the nation, I suppose.

zuzu said...

Bring back the Fairness Doctrine? Government monitored political commentary supported by a so called progressive.

Yes. But only partly because it would be a reminder to broadcasters that the public owns the airwaves. Mostly, it's because the conservatives a year or two back were in pants-shitting terror that Obama *would* do it.

I'm sorry. Am I the only one who came away with this rather cynical observation? Reed seems to be arguing that progressives can't demand that Obama loose his cool, because this will lead his detractors to call him an "uppity nigger." And it will somehow be the fault of the progressive liberal base? I'm sure I'm missing something...

You're confused, perhaps, because you followed the logic steps and found that Reed had left a few out. Like the one where progressives want him to rage around and show anger.