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September 10, 2005

How It Is

By Ezra

Nobody's going to like me for saying this, but Michael Froomkin is 200% correct here:

The Bush administration has an admirable record of appointing African-Americans to top posts. And despite the occasional strange incident, I don't think it is a racist administration. Rather, it's thoroughly classist. Kleptocratic even.

For as far as I can tell, what George Bush -- and his team -- don't care about is poor people. All poor people. No sympathy (in the sense of a sympathetic or shared understanding) at all.

The one thing to remember, though, is that Bush is happy to exploit racism in favor of kleptocratic ends. He didn't, for instance, run for president to screw over black people, but he did win the South Carolina primary by embracing Bob Jones U., home of the nation's most racially regressive dating policies. Intentions-wise, it's not quite the same, but it ends up looking awfully similar.

Nevertheless, when you evaluate Bush, it's helpful not to mix up his opportunism with his aims. The religious fundamentalism, the social regressiveness, this is all subordinate to a pro-big business agenda. That's why we got Roberts rather than Luttig and Bankruptcy Reform rather than the FMA. The real charge against the modern Republican party isn't racism or theocratic dogmatism, it's a tendency towards kleptocratism that infects most every policy decision, foreign or domestic, that they make. And as I'm a big believer that Democrats need to pick a single line of attack and stick with it, I think that's the place to focus.

September 10, 2005 | Permalink


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» Credit Where It's Due from Minipundit
I'll join Ezra and Matt in agreeing with Michael Froomkin on this: Musically, George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People (mp3) is a real catchy bit of rappy pop. [Warning: lots and lots of 'bad' words.] And the feeling is [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 11, 2005 5:01:36 PM


This is one of the things about goo-goo liberals that always kills me. No one CARES if GWB is a racist. A good percentage of the population he represents (Southern Republicans) is. (See, e.g., the last two weeks.) Out of necessity, not simple opportunism, he'll represent some series of views that are congruent with theirs.

Do you really think he's a creationist? Do you really think abortion weighs heavily on his mind? Do you think he even understands the basic arguments about strict construction vs. some varient of the living Constitution? I don't. That doesn't mean I don't have fairly good guesses about which direction he'll use his influence in for all of the above.

Does GWB hate black people? Doubt it. But does he care about them? Why would he? They aren't his base.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Sep 10, 2005 9:10:50 PM

I've been thinking exactly this since I heard Kanye West's claim.

But so what? Can the Democrats run on populism, "George Bush doesn't care about anybody but the rich", in a country where people hold out hope that they'll be rich someday and care about not having their estate taxed?

I agree with the Werewolf that the battle plan should be to regain Congress, then investigate up the wazoo. Cheney's energy commission, the sweetheart deals for Halliburton in Iraq, and Abu Ghraib would be nice places to start.

Posted by: Allen K. | Sep 10, 2005 9:26:53 PM

I tend to think the whole "americans don't do class war because they all want to be rich" thing is total bullshit. If you frame it like John Edwards does, work vs. wealth, Gucci-wearing accountants vs. tired parents at the dinner table, you end up just fine.

Posted by: Ezra | Sep 10, 2005 10:06:35 PM

Maybe it's not "American's don't do class war because they all want to be rich" so much as "American's don't do class war because they think they *are* rich." A couple of years ago in a Krugman article in the NYTimes Sunday magazine he quoted some statistics to the effect that 19% of Americans think they're in the top few %, and another 20% or so believe that, in the next few years, they will be. Most Americans have no concept of what Bush family wealth is remotely like. For most Americans living in most places, an income in the mid-six figures* (which, don't get me wrong, is incredibly handsome and a huge amount of money) would probably be considered quite wealthy, because: (a) that's the level of greatest success in their area, and (b) there's no way, in a mid-sized town somewhere in Indiana, to get much flashier. The opportunity for wealth-flaunting in Middle America isn't what it is in major cities. As a result, they hear "rich" in connection w/GWBush and think "my dentist. Maybe...two or three times as rich as my dentist."

* Not the name of the $ amount, necessarily, but what you can do with it. $500K in San Francisco won't buy you a two-bedroom apartment; in small town Florida it'll buy you a mansion.

Posted by: Quarterican | Sep 10, 2005 10:31:19 PM

Nope, nope, nope, nope. The Bush administration is racist to its core. One half of the prroo is new Orleans. The other half is Condi Rice.

Being an African-American of 58 years ("David Ehrenstein
-- a tradition since 1947") I have been witness to a ton and half of shit. So egregious and of so many varieties that I can't begin to describe them all. But In all my years the most consistent thing I've learned about this country is the fact that Whte People Don't Know What Racism Is -- and more important DON'T WANT TO KNOW!

I can't tell you how many "No it's no racism," conversations I've gotten into over the past two weeks, the lastest with my boyfriend of 36 years. He recognized the racism of select police traffic stops but throws up the "If they were all poor whites it would be just the same" meme re. New Orleans.

Well it just won't wash. This exercise in slow-motion genocide is entirely about white hatred of anything non-white, that it can't count on to be a House Nigger like Condi, or Colin, or Clarence.

Colin has been speaking of his regrets to Baba Wawa. Yeah, sure babe. We know hoemuch you regret being black.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Sep 10, 2005 10:33:32 PM

I agree, Ezra. Bush isn't a racist. Neither was his father. Bush's belief that government shouldn't do anything to help people is pretty much colorblind. At least I think it is. That doesn't IMO excuse the determined respectable-conservative refusal to acknowledge that some groups get hit a lot harder than others when the government goes laissez-faire.

This reminds me. Third Way put out a survey a couple of months ago, which Kenneth Baer wrote about at TPMC:

"Hispanic voters are becoming more like ethnic voters of times passed – e.g. Irish and Italians – than like black voters. As Hispanics earn more, they vote more Republican -- and Hispanics are earning more. Their income levels have increased at twice the rate as the rest of the nation. In 1996, only one in four Hispanic voters lived in households that earned over $50,000, in 2004, one in two Hispanic voters lived in these households. So while Kerry beat Bush by 21 point among low-income Hispanics, his margin over Bush was only 10 points among the middle class and zero points among those with household incomes greater than $50,000."

The study also found that among blacks making more than $100,000 a year, Bush got 21% of the vote in 2004, compared to 11% among all blacks. Obviously, that's still a highly Democratic group, but yhe trend is still there. Even within ethnic subgroups of the population, there's an income bias toward Republicans. I personally think that income bias is only going to get stronger, especially if inequality continues to increase. But by the same token, I think lower-income whites will gravitate back toward a "reform Democrat" if we can find one that passes the smell-test -- and campaigns on some combination of outrage at kleptocracy and appeal to middle-class (everyone is "middle class") noblesse-oblige.

Posted by: tlaura | Sep 10, 2005 10:38:25 PM

Quarter -- I actually meant "think they are rich". I know Krugman's point, I just don't agree with it. Polling showed Clinton's tax increase on the wealthy to be the single most popular aspect of his agenda. I think the GOP has poisoned class war by winning rounds while Democrats screwed about. I do not think it needs to be that way.

Posted by: Ezra | Sep 10, 2005 10:39:40 PM

The fact that a large percentage of poor people happen to be minorities has caused racism and classism to become jumbled together in many, if not most, people's minds. It is probably impossible to separate out whether racism or classism is the prime motivator in people's actions.

And Quaterician's point is very well taken.

Posted by: fiat lux | Sep 10, 2005 11:11:25 PM

What a great comment thread! First I get cited by Allen, then Ezra himself makes the pro-Edwards point that I was thinking to post, then we get good stuff as usual by tlaura. All I have to add is the point that Republican accusations of class warfare are a sign that a Democrat is doing the right thing.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 10, 2005 11:16:39 PM

When it comes to African-Americans, race IS class. When you've got money you're not black. You're Oprah.
And what does Oprah do? Spend inordinate amounts of time proving her exceptionalism to a white public longing for a black "girlfriend."

Rap has turned race into drag. The only difference between Michael Jackson and M & M is that Mathers isn't a pedophile.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Sep 10, 2005 11:31:55 PM

See? He was just a "Poll Watcher." That doesn't mean he was a racist, does it?

Oh it most certainly does.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Sep 10, 2005 11:57:18 PM

To David Ehrenstein: it seems perfectly likely to me that Bush is racist, on some level.
But let's pose the idea slightly differently. Can you think of something Bush has said or done that favors poor whites over blacks (rich or poor)?

Posted by: Allen K. | Sep 11, 2005 1:11:39 AM

I don't know if Bush is racist, or if it is a matter of degree, how racists he is. Most blacks seem to say he is, and I will largely take Ehrenstein's and Gillard's word for it. Katrina did not probably improve his image among blacks.

"The study also found that among blacks making more than $100,000 a year, Bush got 21% of the vote in 2004, compared to 11% among all blacks. Obviously, that's still a highly Democratic group, but yhe trend is still there"

However racist Bush may or may not be, if Blacks say he is racist, I am not one to spend much energy defending him. It is useful among blacks and some swing whites for the Republican Party to be perceived as racist. Noy my job to correct them.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 11, 2005 1:22:35 AM

By the way, if anybody follows the link to discourse.net, the commentators there are making really good points about the racism angle.

Posted by: tlaura | Sep 11, 2005 2:03:47 AM

Karl Rove cares about some poor white people. He needs them to be dupes (the legendary "Base"). He knows that he can play them off blacks, and outsiders such as gays and get them to do the one thing he needs to do - vote Republican to protect America against gays, blacks, pro-choice, etc.

As to whether Bush is racist, I paraphrase Forrest Gump's mom, "Racist is as racist does."

Posted by: opihi | Sep 11, 2005 3:15:27 AM

Allen K : Let's not "pose the idea slightly differently. Let's face reality. You people seem to think that unless Bush personally lynches a black person he's not a racist!

Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Sep 11, 2005 9:46:33 AM

Did you people play ANY attention to what Barbara Bush said about tha Katrina survivors who had been taken to Houston? How "scary" it would be if they stayed? That this was "working out well for thm"?


Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Sep 11, 2005 9:48:40 AM

Well speaking as a native New Orleanian - it is about both race and class - in N.O. the two can't really be separated. I would say it is the same for Bush but with the added "bonus" of doesn't give a rats behind about anyone who won't ever vote for him, give him buckets (or any) of money, or buy into his "image."

Yes what people saw on TV were mostly African-American - but this president didn't bother to care about the whites that were still there or who had gotten out either. So along with race, class, and the things mentioned in my first paragraph I would have to add just doesn't give a damn.

Posted by: ET | Sep 12, 2005 11:05:46 AM

Yes, Ezra you are absolutely correct. No one likes poor people. Everyone blames them for being poor, this goes for the working poor as well. We punish people for being poor. Poor people are viewed as stupid and lazy. Fact is, a lot of poor people aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer, maybe they didn't have the benefit of good nutrition or a liberal arts eduction. So what are you going to do? Shoot em? Fact is there is always someone at the bottom of the continuam. If everybody makes $110K a year, no one is wealthy. You can't have rich people unless you have people not rich. You can't have really smart people unless you have people not so smart to compare them with. Paychek to Paychek people along with the abjectly poor are not allowed dignity in the world, it was ever so.

Fundementally it's not racist. What is racist is the lack of acknoweledgement that black people don't start on a level playing field of opportunity. The entire Bush admin is an example of people being born at 3rd base thinking they've hit a home run. They don't even have the intelligence to realize their mediocraty. They have no idea they aren't doing a good job because they have no idea what the job IS!

Posted by: Cathy | Sep 12, 2005 1:00:56 PM

I would like to remind the commentors that there is the other half of racism that is never talked about...and it is just as evil.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Sep 13, 2005 10:38:42 AM

I'm white and I've got to back David here. What we're looking at is what has been true throughout American history--White people define down racism.

The point white people keep making is that just because Bush has done some racist things (his campaign in SC, the voter rolls in Florida), that's not enough evidence that he's a racist. Also, because the people in New Orleans were, in addition to being black, also poor, it's not really racism, it's classism.

To which I say, um, it's self-evidently both. And that doesn't make it any less racist.

It's obviously and completely racist to call hungry people who take food from deserted grocery stores "looters" if they're black and "finders" if they're white. But it's still racist to overplay stories of black violence while dramatically underplaying stories of police shooting at desperately hungry people who were trying to peaceably evacuate. Sure, there's class there too, but that doesn't mean that race isn't a big part of it. Yeah, they get conflated. But that doesn't mean either one goes away.

But the what should be obvious to everyone is that, as a society, we treat black people and white people differently on every level: rich, poor, powerful, weak. I mean, if Mike Brown had been black, we'd all right now be knee-deep in a discussion of affirmative action. Race had nothing to do with his achievement in spite of incompetence when he was white, but if he were black, it'd be integral to his failure.

Racism today is saying that black people's successes and good fortune are all because of their race, but their failures and sufferings are completely unrelated to their race. And it's the same double-standard bullshit that's been going on forever.

Sorry, but if the only time we're willing to call someone a racist is when their actions unequivocably demonstaate that the only single motivator for them could have been an utter loathing of all black people, well, then we're never going to see any racism. Hell, even in lynchings, the most clear-cut and condemned examples of racism, there was often an underlying charge of some sort (usually raping or whistling at a white woman). One could argue that it wasn't hating black people that led to lynchings, it was ingrained classism as well as a profound respect for women that led to lynchings.

That's one way of getting rid of racism in America, and I can see why many white people would find it a very appealing approach. I can also see why so many black people would find it so frustratingly, insultingly transparent.

All that said, I actually think that racism is a powerful enough force that if New Orleans becomes about black vs. white, then it loses a lot of political power. If people were abandoned because they were black (and not because the government is incompetent and corrupt), then all white people have to worry about is not being black.

I guess what responsible liberals should say, in order both keep Bush's feet to the fire and move the goalposts of 'racist' to reflect reality: "of course it was racist, but that's just icing on the cake..."

Posted by: theorajones | Sep 13, 2005 11:55:06 AM

Posted by: apply for a master card | Nov 29, 2006 4:16:11 AM

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