June 14, 2009

Judge Sonia Sotomayor and the New Racism: Getting Beyond the Politics of Denial

race relations

I figured I would head off with this image because it’s appropriate to the discussion, even though Judge Sotomayor is Latina. The hubub around her completely out-of-context statement that “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” doesn’t only ring true, but the fact that it’s triggered the standard right-wing “must defend our white privilege at all costs” response is laughable. “It’s reverse racism!” they cry, “She’s discriminating against white people!” they say. Every time I hear someone even remotely seriously saying it, it makes me laugh.

But frankly, this is all part of the “new racism.” The kind that’s quiet, spoken outwardly only in safe company of like faces-and minds. The kind that supports the good old boy’s network at all costs, the kind that treats up and coming smart Black businesspeople like children while simultaneously telling them that this is good for them, the same kind of racism that forces white Americans to fiercely deny racism even exists and that instead minorities just “play the race card” too often.

Of course, it’s all distractions from the point, and denies the fact that the so-called “race card” doesn’t even exist.

What the ongoing attack on Judge Sotomayor suggests is that the public morality of American life and social policy regarding matters of racial justice are increasingly subject to a politics of denial. Denial in this case is not merely about the failure of public memory or the refusal to know, but an active ongoing attempt on the part of many conservatives to rewrite the discourse of race so as to deny its valence as a force for discrimination and exclusion either by translating it as a threat to American culture or relegating it to the language of the private sphere. The idea of race and the conditions of racism have real political effects and eliding them only makes those effects harder to recognize.

Politics of denial – that’s an excellent way of putting it. So what do we do?

Bob Herbert has recently responded to the attacks on Judge Sotomayor by arguing that:

Here’s the thing. Suddenly these hideously pompous and self-righteous white males of the right are all concerned about racism. They’re so concerned that they’re fully capable of finding it in places where it doesn’t for a moment exist. Not just finding it, but being outraged by it to the point of apoplexy. Oh, they tell us, this racism is a bad thing! Are we supposed to not notice that these are the tribunes of a party that rose to power on the filthy waves of racial demagoguery…. Where were the howls of outrage at this strategy that was articulated by Lee Atwater as follows: “By 1968, you can’t say ‘nigger’ – that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff.”(9)

Herbert is only partly right on this issue. The right-wing attack on Sotomayor is about more than “the howling of a fading species.” It is about how racism takes on different forms in different historical contexts and the need for it to be challenged critically and politically. Of course, Herbert is correct in suggesting that the conservative appropriation of the new racism is not just disingenuous but hypocritical, and that even a minor lesson in history reveals the bigotry behind the strategy. But he is remiss in not suggesting that we actually take up the discourse of the new racism and do it in ways that give it real meaning and substance, so it can be both easily recognized and politically challenged in terms not set by conservatives.

Frankly, I’m more with Herbert on this one, but I see the need for dialogue. At the same time, we need to shine the light on this denial and selfish clinging to privilege first, call it out for what it is, and then we can all sit down like nice and we can explain why the conservatives are wrong on this one – much like they are on everything else.

[ Judge Sonia Sotomayor and the New Racism: Getting Beyond the Politics of Denial ]
Source: Truthout

Colin Powell Fires Back at Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney

In more signs that the Republican Party’s self-destruct timer is ticking, even some of their most venerable members are speaking out against the bile-spewing hatemonger that seems to make policy for the party. Colin Powell is the latest person to speak out against Limbaugh’s sideline quarterbacking, slamming even the so-called party head, Michael Steele. And while every Republican in government who dares to step out of line has to quickly bow and back away from their statements in order to appease The Limbaugh and the angry, dejected Republican wing that he represents, Colin Powell is willing to say something about it:

Reiterating his support for closing down the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Powell said Cheney’s opposition was an affront to Obama’s predecessor as well.

“Mr. Cheney is not only disagreeing with President Obama’s policy, he’s disagreeing with President Bush’s policy,” Powell said.

And, citing Cheney’s suggestion in a speech last week that President Obama only wanted to close Guantanamo to make Europeans happy, Powell said, “No, we’re doing it to reassure Europeans, Muslims, Arabs, all the people around the world, that we’re a nation of law.”

Lending credence to Democrats argument that moving the Gitmo detainees to American soil would not put the country in danger, Powell said he was “not terribly worried about one of these guys going to a super lock-up.”

As for Limbaugh – whose name Powell pronounced as “Lim-bow” – the former secretary of state said he was an “entertainer” but who had such influence over the party that officials had to live in fear of offending him.

He lamented that RNC Chairman Michael Steele had “to lay prostrate on the floor” apologizing to Limbaugh after criticizing him and that other GOP members of Congress had to be similarly repentant after taking on the radio host.

“Well, if he’s out there he should be subject to criticism, just as I’m subject to criticism,” Powell said.

Steele, who’s giving on Tuesday what the RNC is touting as a major speech out his vision for the party, said in an interview this week with “Fox News,” that “I want a party that speaks to people. The idea that we only narrowly speak to one segment of the population is boneheaded and it’s not reflective of the history of this party,” adding, “How is kicking Colin Powell out or kicking Dick Cheney out or Rush Limbaugh in going to feed a child who’s hungry tonight?”

Now the only problem with any of this is that Michael Steele will probably catch flak for wanting to feed hungry children. We all know Republicans aren’t interested in poverty, unless it’s a hedge fund manager who thinks that taxes are taking too big a bite out of their seven-figure salary.

Slowly but surely, the Republicans are disenfranchising the only sensible members of their party. They’re watching Steele like a hawk and practically begging him to step down, they’re kicking Colin Powell in the face for daring to speak his mind and disagreeing with other party members, and they’ve sidelined Arlen Specter enough that he switched parties.

The clock is ticking.

[ Colin Powell Fires Back at Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney ]
Source: TruthOut

Bill Moyers: How Can We Expect an Industry That Profits from Disease and Sickness to Police Itself?

Bill is on point here. I’m a little distressed at the way the health care discussion is shaping up, and how a single-payer system is looking more and more like it’ll be on the sidelines instead of a legitimate option that not only should be considered, but should be considered for what it is: a way to give every American man, woman, and child quality health care in this country without socializing our health care system.

But that’s not how you’re going to hear it in the industry, and that’s not how you’re going to hear it from the labs, pharmaceutical companies, and private insurance companies who could care less about the health care part of health care and instead are far more interested in the profits and payments they can squeeze out of the American people and the companies that employ us.

Even President Obama, back when he was Senator Obama, completely advocated a single payer health care system, and now that he’s in power with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate to back him up, he’s backing away a bit from the big sweeping changes that he could very well push through (even though unlike Bill I acknowledge it would be political suicide for both Obama and the Democrats to force an issue as bombastic as health care – an issue that blew up in President Clinton’s face back in the 90s).

So the banks were too big to fail and now, apparently, health care is too big to fix, at least the way a majority of people indicate they would like it to be fixed, with a single payer option. President Obama favors a public health plan competing with the medical cartel that he hopes will create a real market that would bring down costs. But single payer has vanished from his radar.

Nor is single payer getting much coverage in the mainstream media. Barely a mention was given to the hundreds of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who came to Washington last week to protest the absence of official debate over single payer.

Is it the proverbial tree falling in the forest, making a noise that journalists can’t or won’t hear? Could the indifference of the press be because both the President of the United States and Congress have been avoiding single payer like, well, like the plague? As we see so often, government officials set the agenda by what they do and don’t talk about.

Instead, President Obama is looking for consensus, seeking peace among all the parties involved. Except for single payer advocates.

This is a good point. The single payer advocates, even though we represent the well-polled will of the American people, who would rather pay the government to guarantee health care for all of us than have to wrestle with insurance companies and doctors’ offices every time we have a booboo, or heaven forbid wind up with something serious like cancer. Frankly, I think more people are more wary of the costs and the hassle of dealing with the health care system than they are afraid of any actual illness they may come down with.

Unfortunately, the advocates of real health care reform have some serious opposition to stand up against. Back in May, industry representatives and other unlikely allies got together at the White House and agreed to voluntarily cut costs to the tune of billions of dollars (which makes you wonder that if they could save the American people billions just by agreeing to do it, why they didn’t before), in a photo-op that many people were pleased with but many more were skeptical about. Why? Because even while they were shaking hands with the President, their operatives were working hard in the background:

So why bother with the charm offensive on Pennsylvania Avenue? Could it be, as some critics suggest, a Trojan horse, getting the health industry a place at the table so they can leap up at the right moment and again knife to death any real reform?

Wheelers and dealers from the health sector aren’t waiting for that moment. According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, they’ve spent more than $134 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2009 alone. And some already are shelling out big bucks for a publicity blitz and ads attacking any health care reform that threatens to reduce the profits from sickness and disease.

The Washington Post’s health care reform blog reported Tuesday that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has hired an outside PR firm to put together a video campaign assaulting Obama’s public plan. And this month alone, the group Conservatives for Patients’ Rights is spending more than a million dollars for attack ads. They’ve hired a public relations firm called CRC – Creative Response Concepts. You remember them – the same high-minded folks who brought you the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the gang who savaged John Kerry’s service record in Vietnam.

The ads feature the chairman of Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, Rick Scott. Who’s he? As a former deputy inspector general from the Department of Health and Human Services told The New York Times, “He hopes people don’t Google his name.”

Scott’s not a doctor; he just acts like one on TV. He’s an entrepreneur who took two hospitals in Texas and built them into the largest health care chain in the world, Columbia/HCA. In 1997, he was fired by the board of directors after Columbia/HCA was caught in a scheme that ripped off the Feds and state governments for hundreds of millions of dollars in bogus Medicare and Medicaid payments, the largest such fraud in history. The company had to cough up $1.7 billion dollars to get out of the mess.

We have a long way to go, and progressive groups are really going to have to step up to the plate. The health care industry is going to fight for its profits under any circumstances, and that includes over your -and my- dead bodies.

[ Bill Moyers: How Can We Expect an Industry That Profits from Disease and Sickness to Police Itself? ]
Source: Alternet