September 18, 2009
No, It’s Not About Race
By DAVID BROOKS
(Original column in white; translation in red.)
You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I go running several times a week.
I'm trying to think of something that doesn't make me look like a Wall Street executive who wears pink shirts and fuchsia ties.
My favorite route, because it’s so flat, is from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol and back. I was there last Saturday and found myself plodding through tens of thousands of anti-government “tea party” protesters.
I saw a couple of hundred angry white anti-Obama demonstrators the other day.
They were carrying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, “End the Fed” placards and signs condemning big government, Barack Obama, socialist health care and various elite institutions.
They were also carrying signs that said NEXT TIME WE'RE COMING WITH OUR GUNS, but I didn’t see a single one of them. Swear to God.
Then, as I got to where the Smithsonian museums start, I came across another rally, the Black Family Reunion Celebration. Several thousand people had gathered to celebrate African-American culture. I noticed that the mostly white tea party protesters were mingling in with the mostly black family reunion celebrants. The tea party people were buying lunch from the family reunion food stands.
This is because tea party whites all think Blacks are good for only one thing: serving them food.
They had joined the audience of a rap concert.
They wanted to be able to tell their children they actually heard rap once so they could say “I heard a rap concert once and it sucked!” just like I can now say “I saw white people at a rap concert once!”
Because sociology is more important than fitness, I stopped to watch the interaction.
I get paid a lot of money to make false generalizations about specific incidents.
These two groups were from opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum. They’d both been energized by eloquent speakers. Yet I couldn’t discern any tension between them. It was just different groups of people milling about like at any park or sports arena.
Wow! People in public can be civil with each other!
And yet we live in a nation in which some people see every conflict through the prism of race.
Wow! People in public can be so uncivil with each other!
So over the past few days, many people, from Jimmy Carter on down, have argued that the hostility to President Obama is driven by racism.
Jimmy Carter is an asshole.
Some have argued that tea party slogans like “I Want My Country Back” are code words for white supremacy.
This is called the Straw Man Argument.
Others say incivility on Capitol Hill is magnified by Obama’s dark skin.
This is called the Maureen Dowd Argument.
Well, I don’t have a machine for peering into the souls of Obama’s critics, so I can’t measure how much racism is in there.
Oh snap, Maureen!
But my impression is that race is largely beside the point.
Because I’m white and privileged, racism is always beside the point.
There are other, equally important strains in American history that are far more germane to the current conflicts.
See, I wanted to type “stains” and "German" there, but you would have totally gotten the wrong idea.
For example, for generations schoolchildren studied the long debate between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians.
I am now going to compress 300 years of American history into a false analogy that will make my argument sound intelligent.
Hamiltonians stood for urbanism, industrialism and federal power. Jeffersonians were suspicious of urban elites and financial concentration and believed in small-town virtues and limited government.
It’s all about the rich versus the poor.
Jefferson advocated “a wise and frugal government” that will keep people from hurting each other, but will otherwise leave them free and “shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”
The government has no right to take money from the rich and give it to the needy.
Jefferson’s philosophy inspired Andrew Jackson, who led a movement of plain people against the cosmopolitan elites.
Andrew Jackson was hot two years ago, and I like to keep up with the times.
Jackson dismantled the Second Bank of the United States because he feared the fusion of federal and financial power.
Did I mention that this was all about money?
This populist tendency continued through the centuries.
Heh. I just said that a President of the United States was actually an anti-governmental populist. How many of you noticed that?
Sometimes it took right-wing forms, sometimes left-wing ones.
This is where I pretend to be “balanced.”
Sometimes it was agrarian. Sometimes it was more union-oriented.
And we all know what unions are code for, right? (Cough) Gangsters. (Cough)
Often it was extreme, conspiratorial and rude.
That would be the left-wing populism.
The populist tendency has always used the same sort of rhetoric: for the ordinary people and against the fat cats and the educated class; for the small towns and against the financial centers.
You think it’s about the have-nots versus the haves, right?
And it has always had the same morality, which the historian Michael Kazin has called producerism.
Wrong! It’s about the rich having their money stolen by the government.
The idea is that free labor is the essence of Americanism. Hard-working ordinary people, who create wealth in material ways, are the moral backbone of the country.
Like all shills for corporate America, I believe that lazy, good-for-nothing unemployed people are an immoral cancer in our society.
In this free, capitalist nation, people should be held responsible for their own output.
It’s not about race; it’s about wage slavery.
Money should not be redistributed to those who do not work, and it should not be sucked off by condescending, manipulative elites.
East-Coast liberals love to give handouts to the unemployed, and throw money at problems in order to solve them.
Barack Obama leads a government of the highly educated.
This makes him a condescending, manipulative elite.
His movement includes urban politicians, academics, Hollywood donors and information-age professionals.
I will now (a) use "movement" to describe the Democrats, like it's a religious cult, and (b) list four types of people who don’t live in Kansas.
In his first few months, he has fused federal power with Wall Street, the auto industry, the health care industries and the energy sector.
I will now pretend that Obama has socialized the country out of nowhere, instead of as a corrective response to the last 8 years of Bush/Cheney.
Given all of this, it was guaranteed that he would spark a populist backlash, regardless of his skin color.
None of the people demonizing Obama will admit that it was Bush who got us into this mess in the first place.
And it was guaranteed that this backlash would be ill mannered, conspiratorial and over the top — since these movements always are, whether they were led by Huey Long, Father Coughlin or anybody else.
When my people are ill-mannered, conspiratorial, and over-the-top, it’s just politics as usual, so deal with it.
What we’re seeing is the latest iteration of that populist tendency and the militant progressive reaction to it.
I am now going to call a bunch of right-wing reactionaries “progressive”, and you are going to buy it.
We now have a populist news media that exaggerates the importance of the Van Jones and Acorn stories to prove the elites are decadent and un-American, and we have a progressive news media that exaggerates stories like the Joe Wilson shout and the opposition to the Obama schools speech to show that small-town folks are dumb wackos.
This is me laughing my ass off, because I am now using the word "populist" to describe Fox News and the word “progressive” to mean Socialist, Commie-symp liberals.
“One could argue that this country is on the verge of a crisis of legitimacy,” the economic blogger Arnold Kling writes. “The progressive elite is starting to dismiss rural white America as illegitimate, and vice versa.”
It’s actually the Left’s fault for starting this mud fight. So of course we have to stoop to their level. And by the way, I have just used the word “progressive” three times to mean three completely different things.
It’s not race.
It’s not just about race.
It’s another type of conflict, equally deep and old.
It’s about welfare queens.