Ever since Barack Obama became president, I’ve pondered the role of racism in regard to his presidency. Now that we are in the final days before the 2012 election, I have finally come to a conclusion about the issue. Racism is alive and well in the US, but you cannot chalk up the large number of people who hate Mr. Obama simply to racism. Instead, I have concluded that base-level racism just puts people at a different starting place. I look at it this way: a lot of people really hated Bill Clinton when he was president, but at the heart of the matter, he more or less was a good ol’ boy Southern white guy. Racism gives the same people a different starting place with regard to Obama. The hatred for Obama is fundamentally probably no worse than it was for Clinton, but the race issue puts these same people at a higher starting point, therefore the overall level of hatred is higher.
I happened to read a little of today’s Austin American-Statesman while I was eating breakfast this morning. Today, the paper’s Politifact Texas column examined the following claim by Rep. Lamar Smith:
“Illegal immigration and unemployment are directly linked,” Smith said on the House floor July 1. “There are 15 million unemployed Americans in the United States and 8 million illegal immigrants in the labor force. We could cut unemployment in half simply by reclaiming the jobs taken by illegal workers.”
Smith later said his assessment reflects “simple logic.”
“If our immigration laws were enforced, illegal immigrants will not be able to get or hold jobs,” he told us in an e-mail, “and they would be available for citizens and legal immigrants.”
I’m always skeptical of appeals to common sense, as they are often oversimplified at best. This claim is a good example. The Politifact journalist talked to several people who are knowledgeable in applicable fields, including some from conservative think-tanks. The consensus is that deporting illegal workers would result in more legal jobs over the long term, but would not result in a short-term one-to-one replacement, thus reducing unemployment as Rep. Smith claims. Factors include:
- Many jobs held by illegal immigrants are ‘under the table.’ If employers had to pay legal wages and taxes to get that work done, they would be able to hire fewer legal replacement workers
- There may not be a big enough pool of appropriate legal workers in places where many illegal immigrants hold jobs (think: the meat-packing towns of the Midwest).
- The skills of the (legally) unemployed don’t match up with the skills necessary for most of these jobs currently held by illegal immigrants. Most unemployed have much higher skills than the mostly manual-labor jobs held by illegal immigrants and would not take such jobs
From How facts backfire on boston.com, this is not surprising, but depressing nonetheless:
In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
From a recent New York Times article, With No Jobs, Plenty of Time for Tea Party:
When Tom Grimes lost his job as a financial consultant 15 months ago, he called his congressman, a Democrat, for help getting government health care.
. . .
Mr. Grimes, who receives Social Security, has filled the back seat of his Mercury Grand Marquis with the literature of the movement, including Glenn Beckâ€™s â€œArguing With Idiotsâ€ and Frederic Bastiatâ€™s â€œThe Law,â€ which denounces public benefits as â€œfalse philanthropy.â€
â€œIf you quit giving people that stuff, they would figure out how to do it on their own,â€ Mr. Grimes said.
Or this guy:
[Jeff McQueen] blames the government for his unemployment. â€œGovernment is absolutely responsible, not because of what they did recently with the car companies, but what theyâ€™ve done since the 1980s,â€ he said. â€œThe government has allowed free trade and never set up any rules.â€
He and others do not see any contradictions in their arguments for smaller government even as they argue that it should do more to prevent job loss or cuts to Medicare.
This just makes my head hurt.
Fred Clark, one of my favorite bloggers, offers the first explanation of the teabagging movement that makes sense to me (I prefer ‘teabagging’ to ‘tea party’ due to teabagging’s delicious double entendre).
What fascinates me here is not just that the Tea Partiers are choosing voluntarily to abandon reality, but that they’ve elected to fabricate a world that’s far worse than the actual one. They’ve chosen to populate their imaginary world with their worst nightmares. That’s a very strange choice.
What I don’t get is the kind of deliberate delusion in which a person chooses to pretend the world is more horrifying and filled with more and more-monstrous monsters. Why would anyone prefer such a place to the real world? Why would anyone wish for a world filled with socialist conspiracies, secret Muslim atheists, Satan-worshipping pop stars and bloodthirsty baby-killers?
But the Tea Partiers cling to these nightmares with a desperate ferocity. They get angrily defensive at the suggestion that this world isn’t actually as horrific as they’re pretending it is. They’re very protective of their precious nightmares. They cherish them.
In trying to understand this choice, this weird preference for a world more monstrous than it actually is, I’ve come around to two explanations. The imaginary monsters are thrilling and they are reassuring.
Read the rest of Fred’s blog post to find out why the teabaggers find their monsters thrilling and reassuring.
The intro to this article by Matt Taibbi describes the current American political scene quite accurately and explains why I think the US is an empire in decline:
The really beautiful thing about the culture war, from an entertainment standpoint, is that it is fundamentally irresolvable. There isnâ€™t a concrete set of issues involved, where in theory both sides could give in a little and find middle ground, reach some sort of compromise.
Thatâ€™s because there are no issues at all. At the end of this decade what we call â€œpoliticsâ€ has devolved into a kind of ongoing, brainless soap opera about dueling cultural resentments and the really cool thing about it, if youâ€™re a TV news producer or a talk radio host, is that you can build the next dayâ€™s news cycle meme around pretty much anything at all, no matter how irrelevant â€” like whoâ€™s wearing a flag lapel pin and who isnâ€™t, who spent $150K worth of campaign funds on clothes and who didnâ€™t, who wore a t-shirt calling someone a cunt and who didnâ€™t, and who put a picture of a former Vice Presidential candidate in jogging shorts on his magazine cover (and who didnâ€™t).
It doesnâ€™t matter what the argument is about. Whatâ€™s important is that once the argument starts, the two sides will automatically coalesce around the various instant-cocoa talking points and scream at each other until theyâ€™re blue in the face, or until the next argument starts.
And while some of us are old enough to remember that once upon a time, these arguments always had at least some sort of ideological flavor to them, i.e. the throwdowns were at least rooted in some sort of real political issue (war, taxes, immigration, etc.) weâ€™ve now got a whole generation that is accustomed to screaming at cultural enemies as an end in itself, for the sheer dismal fun of it. Start fighting first, figure out the reasons later.
Deirdre Walker, a former policewoman and assistant police chief with twenty-four years of experience wrote an excellent essay of her experience with airport security screening.: Do I have the right to refuse this search?
Among her astute observations:
What happened to me in Albany was not the promised â€œpat-down.â€ It was a full search conducted in full public view. It was also one of the most flawed searches I have ever witnessed.
Perhaps in a nod to decorum, [the screener] did not check my crotch, my armpits or either breast area.
These three areas on a woman, and the crotch area of men, offer the greatest opportunity to seclude weapons and contraband. Bad guys and girls rely on the type of reluctance displayed by this screener to get weapons and drugs past the authorities.
Had I actually intended to move contraband past the screening point, my best strategy would have been to refuse secondary screening [get the 'pat-down' instead of other types of screening].
I am also forced to conclude that the purpose of the â€œpat-downâ€ was not to actually interdict contraband. In my case, I believe I was subjected to a haphazard response in order to effectively punish me for refusing secondary screening and to encourage a different decision in the future.
Support John Marcotte, a Sacramento man who has filed a petition with the California Secretary of State to get a voter’s initiative onto the 2010 ballot in California that would make it ban divorce.
We are a Christian nation. Jesus said, “What God has put together, let no man separate.” Divorce is a sin….
People who supported Prop 8 weren’t trying to take rights away from gays, they just wanted to protect traditional marriage. That’s why I’m confident that they will support this initiative, even though this time it will be their rights that are diminished. To not support it would be hypocritical.
We can return this country back to it’s [sic] proud, traditional Judeo-Christian roots.
(Quotes are taken from Rob Cockerham’s interview with John)
Unfortunately, I’m afraid that this MeFi comment is right on target. The heart of the matter:
You may scoff at the stupidity of “death panels”. You may laugh and criticize in a thousand ways the stupid idiotic memes propagated by the right wing forces. But it is you who is missing the point. You are not getting it. Of course the memes are stupid – but that is the point. You get no brownie points for spotting the obvious absurdities. You are missing the point.
The point is to so flood the political discourse with stupidity, that it lowers the IQ of the debate across the board. THAT IS INTENTIONAL. Why?
It bogs down the thinkers – by depriving the thinker – of the very tools which give him/her an edge. When even simple facts are in dispute, when the absurdity of the claims is so huge, it reaches a critical mass – and intelligent discourse is impossible. All the intelligence in the world won’t help, because the discourse is not amenable to the tools of intelligence. Notable example: the Barney Frank controversy re: “dining room table”. People here were crowing on behalf of BF. I took a different view – you are missing the point. Barney Frank lost. How? He was sidetracked. His intelligence was beside the point, because the discourse did not lend itself to intelligent debate – and he was reduced to snark, reduced to the level of insult – exactly what was wanted. He lost. Time was wasted, energy was drained, progress was stopped. Instead of discussing details of implementation, he had to address a dining table. A sick and dying patient was waiting – do you think he’d be more gratified to hear about the dining table, or details about how to pay for his treatment?
God, that’s depressing.