Posted by Joe R. Hicks
Collectively, all Americans – despite ideological stances of various kinds – inherently know that the perceived stigma of skin color is not what it used to be. Yet, we now find ourselves immersed in claims that resurgent racism lies behind opposition to the Obama presidency.
When Joe Wilson, a Republican Congressman from South Carolina, shouted “You lie” at president Obama, most Americans agreed that it was a break in long-held decorum to have done so. Wilson agreed, and quickly apologized, while maintaining his belief that Obama had been loose with the truth about his healthcare plan. However, it didn’t take long for charges to surface that his outburst was racially-motivated.
Liberal blogs and pundits alleged that white resentment was behind it all. Columnist Maureen Dowd wrote “Some people just can’t believe that a black man is president and will never accept it …” Then Jimmy Carter decided to add his opinion to the mix, saying Wilson’s comment was “based on racism.” Carter added the weight of an ex-president to suggestions of racism that had been hinted at by Congress members Charlie Rangel and Diane Watson, and New York Governor David Paterson.
Carter – a man many now view as a discredited anti-Semite - made his argument with an air of certainty. “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Obama is based on the fact that he’s a black man …” He added that he thinks there is a belief among “many white people … that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great nation.”
This is an interesting premise - since 43 percent of the nation’s white voting population voted for Obama. Is he assuming that those white voters who supported John McCain did so because they were racists?
So-called white resentment became the prism for many who observed the hundreds of thousands who gathered in Washington D.C. on September 12th. The gathering was indeed often raucous, sometimes rude, and occasionally just flat out angry - similar to countless leftist organized anti-war protests and other such events I’d been present at over the years. However, Earl Ofari Hutchinson chose to characterize the event, from afar, in the following way in an article he wrote for the Huffington Post. “Racism was on full display on the Capitol Mall.”
Why has race played such a prominent role in the assessment of so many? Even music critics have piled on, with one claiming there was some racial meaning to rapper Kanye West’s drunken, obnoxious behavior at the recent MTV Video Music Awards. President Obama, nailed it, however, when he assessed the hip-hop performer as simply a spoiled “jackass.”
This re-birth of the obsession with race seemingly has no end. Newsweek magazine gave exposure to a research project at the University of Texas in a lengthy article “Is Your Baby Racist?” It concludes that white children (they only studied Caucasian children) develop racial consciousness early in life. What’s the antidote for this? The article argues that to create healthy attitudes, parents need to talk to their children about racial differences as early as … the age of three? Some might challenge all of this as some sort of soft-headed academic nonsense, and argue that what we really need is far less talk about race.
Nonetheless, few serious observers would disagree that some undoubtedly strange characters have appeared at town hall meeting, and some of these types were enthusiastically displayed by the media during the recent Washington D.C. rally. But gatherings of this sort, no matter if organized by the left or right, always have a gravitational pull for weird and whacky gadflies. And yes, some of the weirdness on the right is related to paranoia that surrounds “birthers” - a group of folks who refuse to recognize Barack Obama is an American-born citizen. Then there is the related view that Obama is a closet Muslim, or that he is some sort of Manchurian candidate under the control of shadowy, communist controllers.
However, to claim a racial basis for the gathering of hundreds of thousands of Americans is simply slanderous. The fact is, having little to do with race, many Americans do oppose Obama’s healthcare plan, think his meddling in the Henry Louis Gates arrest was, at best, hardly presidential, and believe his economic bail-out of Detroit automakers and Wall Street financial firms was off-base – just as many others in the past have disagreed with various president’s policy initiatives.
In fact, there is a flip-side to the fringe lunatics on the right, something that’s largely been ignored by the media. For the last eight years a rag-tag collection of leftists and ultra-liberals followed nearly every move made by former President Bush, pathologically depicting him as a contemporary version of Adolf Hitler. This was snickered at by late–night comics, but is now seen as a deadly serious affair, now that the attacks are directed at President Obama. In fact, the equivalent of the right’s “birthers” is the so-called “truther” movement which argues that the Bush administration planned and/or orchestrated 9/11, the worst terrorist attack on American soil in our history.
Congressman Barney Frank had the right response when he was confronted by a woman at a town hall meeting who argued that Obama’s healthcare plan was “Nazi-like.” To be sure, she was no political conservative, but instead was a follower of Lyndon LaRouche, a convicted felon with a loopy, cult-like following. Frank calmly asked the LaRouche minion, “On what planet do you spend most of your time?”
This might also be asked of those who improperly inject race into the national debate.
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September 17, 2009 | 4:39 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
There is “political correctness” and then there is “political correctness.” Sometimes it’s hard to imagine the extent to which the effort to be understanding and compassionate can stand in the way of logic, evidence and doing what’s right.
A local organization called the Community Rights Campaign has issued a call for the repeal of Los Angeles’ truancy and tardiness law. In language and reasoning that flies in the face of reams off studies and common sense, the campaign argues that the LA Municipal Code section that imposes the truancy requirement and a potential $250 fine for repeat offenders is “regressive, ineffective, racially discriminatory and morally wrong.”
In an astounding display of muddled thinking the paper informs us that “that there are dozens of reasons why students are late or truant, ranging from emotional and mental health problems, school environment, academic challenges, special education needs, socioeconomic pressures, substance abuse, physical or emotional abuse in the home, lack of adequate transportation, etc., etc.” These truisms are offered as if they are telling insights; as if the reasons for tardiness have changed since schools first began.
The Campaign’s logic than impels them to conclude truancy tickets “deter students from going to school when they are running late” and “has significant mental health impacts on students and their families” including “humiliation and stigmatization.” The policy they say creates a “hostile school environment.”
There are too many studies to cite, and the logic seems too obvious to ignore the obvious, having a minimal requirement—-that requires students to arrive at school on time and be sanctioned if they are late or they completely ignore the attendance requirement—-is good for students and important for schools. The chaos that would reign if students sauntered in whenever they felt like it and came to school only on those days when the spirit moved them is too obvious to need explication. “Humiliation and stigmatization” or not, we all need rules, our schools most especially.
The illogic that underlies the Campaign’s effort is insidious. Its subtext is that even minimal expectations are too much to expect of students and that even the rudimentary rules that govern how society operates shouldn’t apply.
Eventually, kids grow up and need to enter the workplace—-there won’t be special rules or employers who worry that their usual business practices (e.g. arriving on time, letting employers know of absences, etc.) make their employees feel “humiliated or stigmatized.”
It makes obvious sense to start to teach discipline and the importance of generally applicable rules as early as possible—-study after study(this article happens to be written by my son) confirms this fact. Teaching kids discipline, self control and that actions (or inactions) have consequences is manifestly important; that the Campaign would argue otherwise is troubling.
September 16, 2009 | 1:18 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
I have an op ed in today’s Los Angeles Times on the subject of hyperbole in the civil rights arena. It focuses on the “sky is falling” rhetoric that accompanied the shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington last June. It is a subject that I am all too familiar with, having worked in civil rights for over three decades.
I have long believed that honesty and accuracy in representing the dynamics of inter-group relations is the best policy. Exaggerating the threats that exist ultimately does no one any good and, in fact, is dangerously counter-productive.
Over a decade ago, in August, 1999, when Buford Furrow invaded the North Valley Jewish Community Center and many were sure that militias and other extremists were on the rise, I wrote in the Times that:
The message to be drawn from Furrow’s rampage is not that extremists are about to overtake America, or that Jewish and other minority institutions ought to become fortresses, or that hate crimes are on the rise, or that anti-Semitism is increasing. The message is these attacks are acts of violent desperation on the part of those who are not succeeding in swaying the world to their views. What we must never do is allow them to dictate how we run our lives and view the world
The threat posed by these groups is one of isolated violence, not of a meaningful political movement.
Exaggerated fear and predictions of an America overcome by hate are the responses that the Furrows of the world hope to elicit. We must not offer them that victory.
As today’s op/ed makes clear, my views have only been reinforced by developments and trends over the past 10 years,
For example, the Pew Center’s recent study of inter-religious understanding in America found that “certain historical religious divisions and tensions have largely been put aside. Catholics and Jews, for example, once the objects of wide-spread and often institutionalized discrimination, are now viewed favorably by a sizeable majority of Americans….these findings strongly suggest that the United States has the capacity to overcome historical divisions and prejudices.
……. the sociopathy of a relative few is no measure of where we are as a society in terms of inter-group relations; it is an unfortunate reality with which we must deal.
The danger of the knee-jerk, “sky is falling” reactions of Wiesenthal and ADL is that they undeservedly alarm an awful lot of folks, who are then afraid of the world around them. And when groups make such specious assertions, they undermine the very credibility they need to be effective. If there were ever to be a new wave of hatred, real “cancers” and “waves” of bigotry, they would be less likely to be believed.
September 15, 2009 | 6:26 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
It’s worth reading the Los Angeles Times very carefully today—-it has some serious journalism that offers insights into the future of our city.
The first is a piece about today’s vote in the LA City Council deciding whether to adopt an early retirement plan that Mayor Villaraigosa had negotiated with several of the city’s public employee unions earlier this year. Despite admonitions from the City Controller and the Chief Administrative Officer that the deal was fiscally untenable there is a likelihood that the measure could still pass——rather clear evidence of the hold that public employee unions have on our local elected officials. In the Budget and Finance Committee yesterday, a majority of the committee incredibly voted FOR the agreement despite what it means for the financial position of the city (for future reference note those who voted for this absurd deal: Rosendahl, Huizar and Koretz).
A second article details the relationship of Ari Swiller (a close friend of the mayor) and land deals that effect the Department of Water and Power, environmental issues and corruption. It is troubling in its implications.
These two articles and Ron Kaye’s insightful blog are must reading if you care about this city and its future.
September 10, 2009 | 4:37 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Our recent blog about the vacuum in municipal leadership must have struck a raw nerve. Councilman Huizar, the major culprit in the Autry renovation fiasco, had his press aide email Jewish Journal higher ups to complain about “mischaracterizations” in my piece. He didn’t copy me or bother to write on the blog.
He objected to the assertion, as reported in the Los Angeles Times and widely understood elsewhere, that Huizar demanded that the Autry support the Southwest Museum “in perpetuity.” The aide wrote that Huizar “never, not once, said this [in perpetuity].”
On countless occasions during this years-long process, Huizar made clear that the Autry needed to make a legally enforceable, long-term commitment to the Southwest Museum—-the financially strapped museum in his district. For a long period of time, Huizar was amenable to the Southwest being a mixed use facility. On the day of one of the last hearings in this six year drama, he insisted that the Southwest be maintained strictly as a museum.
Huizar used his considerable leverage to pressure the one source he could to invest in a facility that couldn’t maintain itself and for which there were no takers. He overplayed his hand and is now quasi- denying that he did what he did.
What the Huizar aide missed in his response, is the larger point in the blog—-real leadership would have made sure that a compromise emerged, that both sides got an agreement they could live with. Real leadership wouldn’t whine, as the aide did, that the Autry didn’t “follow up” after the Council committee made its excessive demand. A serious leader would have made sure that common ground was found—-not wait for the phone to ring.
Instead, the Autry lost, the Southwest lost, the public lost and the absence of leaders capable of making reason prevail remains glaringly obvious.
There are issues beyond the Autry that dramatize this vacuum in local leadership—-the City’s underfunded pensions and the failure to grapple with the implications of that looming disaster, the recent Measure B fiasco, the Metrorail rail car purchasing mess, even the inability to decide on a vendor from whom to purchase golf carts for the city’s municipal golf courses. Where is the leadership that says it’s time for a change?
Let’s all grow up and deal with the problems we face and not follow the politically expedient course that President Obama warned about last night, “the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road – to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term.” We should demand that our leaders stop kicking (and whining) and start leading.
September 9, 2009 | 6:34 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
I was unable to see the President’s recent speech to the nation’s school children as it took place, but I did manage to watch portions of it on the evening’s news coverage. As expected, the President delivered a message which urged school kids to take their work seriously, not to drop out of school, and to understand the critical importance of education. Despite some noise to the contrary, there wasn’t much to take issue with. Nonetheless I struggled to identify why I thought the talk missed the mark by such a wide margin. Frankly, I found the speech to be oddly bland and devoid of any real urgency.
In defense of the President, some have said he was playing it safe after intense criticism from a vocal minority of conservative politicians and parents. However, White House insiders say otherwise. They say the content of the speech was set and was unchanged by extremists’ arguments. The detractors did succeed in making themselves look silly by claiming the President wanted to “indoctrinate our kids.”
However, as a political conservative, I view such claims a distraction from substantial and principled differences that exist over this President’s views on healthcare, foreign policy, Supreme Court nominees, and the economy. I view objections regarding the President’s talk to students largely to be a manifestation of the wacky “birthers” movement which argues that Obama really isn’t a U.S. citizen, and the related claim that he is … a closet Muslim.
But let’s be clear - folks who believe this sort of anti-intellectual rot would object if Obama publicly read the label on a cereal box. Extremists exist at both ends of the political spectrum. Loonies on the left – the Michael Moore, Code Pink, Rosie O’Donnell types – claimed for eight years that George Bush was the personification of evil. The “Bush derangement syndrome,” has now turned into the “Obama derangement syndrome.”
It is a truism that there is a need to inspire kids, particularly urban minority students, and direct them toward educational excellence. Nationally, black and Latino youngsters fare poorly when compared to the educational attainment levels of their white or Asian peers. The yawning racial educational gap that exists between these groups has been well-documented and despite efforts like the “No Child Left Behind” program, has not shown any real improvement – in fact, as recent studies have demonstrated, the gap may be growing. The College Board’s 2009 SAT scores of college-bound high school seniors shows that the racial learning gap has widened and is sadly larger than it was two decades ago.
It took my reading of an article that appeared in National Review, written by my good friend Abigail Thernstrom, to help clarify my reservations about Obama’s talk to students. She argues that the President’s speech was “screamingly boring” and that he missed the opportunity to deliver a message “that would have been of real importance …”
Among liberal politicians and educational bureaucrats, there is opposition to “standards,” “testing” and “demanding” coursework. For example, in California, as well as other states, they have challenged exit exams for high school seniors – claiming such testing “culturally” discriminates against black and Hispanic school kids. This is, of course, nonsense. Studies of exit exams have shown that they actually improve graduation rates, particularly among this struggling student demographic.
Obama missed a chance to take on these entrenched forces, and make it clear to students that they and their parents need to demand “change” among the educational and political elites who conspire to retard their chances of success in a highly-competitive environment.
Thernstrom argues that:
“Obama’s innocuous speech was actually a missed opportunity. Instead of platitudes about the importance of hard work, he could have taken on the anti-testing crowd. Standards-based tests, he might have said, are an essential tool in assessing the skills of those applying to law-schools – but also in deciding who is qualified to be lieutenant in a fire department. Hostility to such assessments in the K-12 years is not a civil rights position. It betrays a callousness and indifference to the future of disadvantaged kids.”
While some misguided, perhaps paranoid, conservatives believed that the president intended to “politicize” the classroom, the real criticism is that he didn’t go nearly far enough.
September 9, 2009 | 3:13 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
I was on vacation for several weeks in August and have spent the past few days catching up on the local news that the International Herald Tribune didn’t cover. It was in that process that I discovered the sad news that the Autry National Center, one of this city’s jewels, has decided to shelve its plans for a renovation and expansion of its facilities.
The $175 million dollar project would have nearly doubled the size of the facility and continued the trajectory of the Autry into being a world class site for the viewing and study of Native American art and artifacts. Besides the cultural and artistic implications of the renovation, the renovation would have created in excess of 1,000 jobs in an economy where every single job matters.
This seemed as close to a “no brainer” as there is in the world of municipal politics—artifacts that can’t be displayed at the Autry’s Southwest Museum would be preserved and displayed in the newly renovated and expanded facility, the neighbors, the Native American community leadership and Griffith Park advocates all agreed. Unfortunately, in the byzantine world of Los Angeles politics there are no “no brainers.”
City Councilman Jose Huizar, utilizing the perks of power and the ability of a councilman to erect roadblocks to progress without ever having to himself lead and create, derailed the project.
In a blatant attempt to extract concessions for the Southwest Museum located in his district, a museum now run by the Autry but long ignored and neglected by its neighbors, he placed excessive demands on the Autry—itself a non-profit that has been buffeted by the economy. He insisted on its pledge to support the Southwest in perpetuity as a museum—a commitment few responsible corporate boards, let alone non-profits, would, could, or should ever make.
When the Autry finally said that enough was enough and it was shelving the project, Huizar—in Casablanca-like innocence—-said the decision caught him “by surprise.” One wonders how far he thought he could push before it would be too much for the Autry to bear. Now, he and his colleagues have no one to squeeze to gain the revenues they hunger to disburse.
This sad tale makes transparently clear what many have seen developing, a troubling vacuum in leadership that speaks for the benefit of the city as a whole. Each of the council members have fiefdoms over which they rule, but strikingly absent is a voice speaking out for what is good for the larger city beyond the narrow confines of a single district.
It takes leadership with guts to assert itself and simply state the obvious and the necessary—-renovating a well run facility that will give hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to view unique artifacts trumps the complaints of neighbors of an ignored and run down 100 year old building which has not garnered much attention or concern for decades.
Would that we had that kind of leadership in this city—-instead, we have bad decisions, bad policy and as a result everyone loses.
September 3, 2009 | 6:39 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
In case you missed our recent broadcast program on the question of “Is California Governable?” you can listen to the both the KPCC broadcast and the subsequent Q&A session.
Community Advocates hosted the discussion together with the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy and NPR station KPCC.
The panelists were outstanding and the discussion illuminating—-each participant was familiar with the realities of politics, finance and the “real world.” They were former Speaker of the Assembly Bob Hertzberg, former State Senator and Director of the Department of Finance, Steve Peace, president of the California Federation of Teachers, Martiy Hittleman, and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association, Jon Coupal. The moderator was Larry Mantle of KPCC’s Airitalk.