Thursday, April 11, 2013

how to prove conservative stereotypes about liberals and race

Link in case the embedding doesn't work.

I am, as you know, not a fan of Rand Paul. Being that I am a socialist and that Paul is (sort of) a libertarian, this will come as no surprise. And, I agree that there was much to shake my head at in Paul's remarks at Howard University, from both a policy perspective and on the level of aesthetics. There are many ways to criticize the stuff he said. Just about the worst way to do it is to snark around, giggling and hawing at the rube from Kentucky in a way that makes your disagreement seem cultural rather than substantive. And the really stupid way to do it is to simultaneously claim that we need to move past feelings and dialogue when it comes to race-- a point I've made dozens of times myself-- while ignoring the actual, substantive point a powerful legislator made about a matter of law. From Dave Weigel's far more honest take on Paul's remarks.
I am working with Democratic senators to make sure that kids who make bad decisions such as nonviolent possession of drugs are not imprisoned for lengthy sentences,” said Paul. “I am working to make sure that first time offenders are put into counseling and not imprisoned with hardened criminals.” Barack Obama and George Bush did drugs, after all, and they turned out okay because they got “lucky.”
The drug war, of course, is one of the most damaging weapons that is employed in this country's ongoing war on black people. It's also one of the few places where I ever feel genuine optimism about our coming to legislative progress on race and class injustice. I can actually imagine a Republican coalition working with progressive legislators to help gradually decelerate our ruinous, racist, cruel drug policy. I can't see that happening, though, if prominent liberal voices like that of Hayes are so busy chuckling and snarking on national television that they give up every opportunity to find common cause. 

Of course, because he's Rand Paul, and Rand Paul is a dumbass with generally bad politics, he couldn't help himself:
Paul was on to something, but it didn’t last. “Some argue with evidence that our drug laws are biased—that they are the new Jim Crow,” he said. “But to simply be against them for that reason misses a larger point. They are unfair to everyone.”
Look, we've got a system that is almost sadistically bent away from representing the interests of our cities. High population states are systematically underrepresented compared to their rural, low population counterparts. Our governmental structures emerged from a fetish for compromise, one that holds the whole country hostage to the most extreme conservative minority. No pragmatic political value can be wrung from those structures without occasionally finding common cause with people who generally believe stupid things. If Rand Paul is willing to throw his voice and his vote behind a long-term effort to end the drug war, I'm willing to listen to what he says, even if he turns around and demonstrates that he doesn't understand the full extent of the problem, where it comes from, or what it will take to actually end racial inequality in this country.

Weigel puts it aptly:
When he left the campus, past the students still holding the “White Supremacy” banner and conducting interviews, Paul remained the Republican most likely to reform mandatory minimums. He remained the most prominent Republican supporter of drug law reform. He wouldn’t apologize for the Republican Party, or for libertarianism, or for that 2010 interview about the Civil Rights Act. “Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent?” he said then. “Should we limit racists from speaking?” Now, he was offering African-Americans some accommodation, from time to time.
I wonder if Hayes has considered the possibility that part of the reason why we have such a problem with racial equality in this country-- why we have a hard time getting to those substantive, material changes that he is talking about-- is because people like himself are so busy sneering at the cultural differences of their political opponents that they can't produce common ground. What does Hayes imagine would happen if a conservative who is on the fence about drug law reform were to watch his show? How does this performance do anything but eject such a person from that conversation?

My fear is that Hayes didn't worry about that because he knows that no such person is watching his broadcast. To someone who would never in a million years vote for Rand Paul, who agrees on substance with probably 99% of the things Hayes believes on drug and crime policy, and who can think of a thousand things wrong with Paul's reported remarks, this clip looks like nothing more than pure red meat for Hayes's assumed audience. It's service journalism, reassuring Hayes's Democratic viewership of their superiority on this issue. I am, as you know, not someone who ever insists on compromise or political expediency. If Hayes thinks that Paul's legislative perspectives on the drug war is incorrect, and can't support them, he should say so and say why. I'd support that kind of principled resistance. But to claim to want to focus on the material aspects of our racial inequalities and then ignore the substance of a prominent Republican's take on just those aspects is dishonest and unhelpful. I would turn Hayes's question back on him: what, exactly, is your priority?


Don O'Neill said...

Hayes called Paul out for misrepresenting his own record on the Civil Rights Act, and for condescending to his audience by assuming they didn't know the history of the NAACP. That's all perfectly legit, and I didn't detect a note of Hayes mocking Rand's "cultural difference." There was no mocking of Paul's accent, or Kentucky, or anything like that.

It is perfectly legit to knock Hayes, as you have, for ignoring Paul's more serious remarks about drug policy. But getting on him for smugly making fun of Paul for being an ignorant hillbilly seems a little unfair to me.

Freddie said...

Fair enough, although I personally find his tone to be out-and-out mocking. As you say, the broader point is that Paul is someone who has shown a willingness to actually engage, and that he is amenable to a progressive position on an issue of vast importance. Why mock him for making the attempt at reaching out to black voters? The only reason I can see is playing to your audience, in precisely the way Hayes has constantly mocked the media for.

Don O'Neill said...

Mocking, sure, but mocking his condescending attitude and his personal dishonesty rather than his cultural heritage. That's an important difference. But I think you're absolutely right that the only reason someone would talk about those things while totally ignoring the more important aspects of Paul's speech is because they wanted on some level to gain trade from cheaply validating the preconceptions of their audience.

tonycpsu said...

Or maybe it's just because the mandatory minimum passages were perhaps 5-10% of the content of his speech, while the rest was very much worthy of mocking?

Paul pitched dismantling public education as "choice in education", and he actually said with a straight face that the Republican party favors a less aggressive foreign policy in an attempt to sell his party's platform to a room full of people he assumes haven't read a newspaper in their lives. But you're going to insist that Hayes devote his segment about Paul to highlighting the one praiseworthy thing he said, that, by the way, would be opposed by a vast majority of the rest of the Republican delegation to both houses?

Rasmus Xera said...

The funny thing about Rand Paul is that while he's absolutely terrible on many issues, and seems to have a streak of casual racism / Orientalism in him, he's far ahead of nearly every other representative on a few policy matters which should be progressive no-brainers: the unnecessary killing and imprisoning of large groups of people.

Sure, he may not be against them for "all the right reasons", but not only has he shown he's willing to make an effort to oppose them, he's also receptive to discussion on the merits (as are many libertarians) - two things you can't say for the majority of Congress.

DDP said...


To be fair to him, he said regarding the Republicans and defense:

"Some Republicans, let’s call them the moss-covered variety, mistake war for defense. They forget that Reagan argued for Peace through strength, not War through strength.

The old guard argues for arms for Ghaddafi and then the following year for boots on the ground to defeat Ghaddafi.

I want you to know that all Republicans do not clamor for war, that many Republicans believe in a strong national defense that serves to preserve the Peace."

I don't think he was saying Republicans in general oppose a less aggressive foreign policy. I can maybe buy his suggestion that "not all" clamor for war, but the "many" comment is not particularly believable. I think he was trying to rhetorically hedge his comments slightly, though.

I really don't know what to think of this guy. One part of me looks at some of his more social conservative views and I feel disdain. But then he comes out with some real humdingers that actually kind of speak to me on some limited topics. For instance, if somebody asked whether I trust Obama or Paul more on the drug war or foreign policy, I may actually have to think about it.

In any case, I get the general impression that this is a guy that liberals and progressives shouldn't underestimate. Not that I would vote for him.

tonycpsu said...

"Some Republicans, let’s call them the moss-covered variety, mistake war for defense. They forget that Reagan argued for Peace through strength, not War through strength.

That's a pitch-perfect quote for Rand Paul to cite, because, like Reagan, Paul is all about saying the right thing while doing or at least enabling the wrong thing. Did Reagan use that "peace through strength" line before or after he invaded Grenada?

DDP said...

Indeed. I think he has some shrewdness in him, far more than his father, which isn't saying much.

ohtarzie said...

"I would turn Hayes's question back on him: what, exactly, is your priority?"

Do you really have to ask this?

As with Jacobin's anodyne Thatcher obit, there is zero that surprises me about how Hayes covers Paul. There will be no tactical alliances with libertarians on the DNC's watch.

Your open-mindedness to obvious careerists would be more laudable if it had any predictive capacity at all, and didn't come bundled with all kinda skepticism in regard to minor social climbers like Aaron Bady.

ohtarzie said...

"The funny thing about Rand Paul is that while he's absolutely terrible on many issues..."

It is not obvious to me why Paul is so very much more terrible than the assassination president waging war in what, six countries now and pursuing austerity. They both suck. But still, every reformist left feels compelled to offer a hundred caveats before offering the mildest concession to Rand's superiority on trifles like the Drug War and the War on Terror. Obama is never spoken of in the same way, and rarely do most statist lefts insist, as they do about Rand, that they would never ever support him.

If announcing what team you'll definitely support and which team you'll never ever ever ever support up front is strategy to you, then you're no more interested in tactical alliances than Hayes an Co over at Comcast.

Everett said...

I'd agree that the positive things Paul had to say got lost as people focused on the speech's more embarrassing elements, but isn't that largely Paul's fault? He insulted that audience. I watched the speech anticipating some awkward moments, but still found myself taken aback. If I greet someone with the phrase "You're mother's a filthy whore, and you have lovely eyes," no one on Earth should be surprised when people fixate on the first part of the phrase.

Nathan Wright said...

Yeah, tribal "liberals" make my blood boil. Stupidest, smallest people on the planet.

Rasmus Xera said...

@ohtarzie -

You're probably aware that the few times I speak positively about something Obama has done (and frankly I can't even remember when last that happened), I do so with the caveat that he is a war criminal, corporate lackey, and regularly gets away with concessions to the owning class that Republicans never could. His crimes are far worse than Paul's are and that was the point I really wanted to make: the issues Paul is closer to reality on are far more game-changing (resulting in either death or life in jail) than the ones he isn't.

Unfortunately, if you don't make it absolutely clear that you aren't backing every single one of Paul's positions (note Freddie's very next post), you immediately lose all hope of reaching out to those you're aiming for whenever you say "Rand Paul was right."

But there's another element to it as well. Paul's analysis of these issues is incomplete. We shouldn't stop at saying something is 'wrong' or 'unconstitutional', but instead ask why it was designed and carried out in the first place. How are we going to change anything if we fight individual policies - calling them misguided or ineffective - rather than looking at the big picture where the wars on terror and drugs are malicious distractions used in order to keep the masses in line and ensure the US and it's neoliberal model remain the dominant forces in the world? If we make the wrong critique, it's going to be the Iraq War discussion all over again, where people are opposed to killing these particular people and blowing up that particular country, but end up gung-ho about the next bunch of death and destruction because it has nicer branding.

To sum up:

To the liberal I say, "Why is Rand Paul more progressive on these issues than your beloved president?"

And to the libertarian I say, "Rand Paul is right to oppose these wars, but let's look at why they're undertaken in the first place. What has been the objective of US foreign policy in the last century or so?"

Jay Smooth said...

"There are many ways to criticize the stuff he said. Just about the worst way to do it is to snark around, giggling and hawing at the rube in a way that makes your disagreement seem cultural rather than substantive."

As it happens this is precisely what I thought, when you opted to snicker at my funny name and (your assumptions of) my résumé instead of genuinely engaging with my ideas, a little while ago. Not that we'd be likely to agree if you did the latter. But still...

Dan said...

I can understand the thought that liberals should be more laudable of Rand Paul for talking about the issue, as I find it very similar to some Democrats who are pleased enough that at least a Gun Control bill is being debated in the Senate even if it doesn't do anything about assault guns or high-capacity magazines. But like the Gun Control bill in the Senate, Rand Paul doesn't go far enough in curbing the effects of the War on Drugs on the African-American community.
If you look at Rand Paul's position concerning the War on Drugs, he wants the states to have more control over the issue because he's a libertarian. He doesn't want to necessarily decriminalize drugs, and doesn't want to legalize them at all; Paul just believes mandatory sentences concerning drugs are too much of an over-reach by the federal government. Many liberals agree that mandatory sentences are unfair in many cases, but that does not only pertain to drugs.
So yes, there are similarities between Rand Paul libertarians and liberals on Drug Policy, but they are still few. And as much as liberals resist lending any support to Rand Paul, I find it very implausible and obtuse for them to turn away if an actual bill comes forward seeking to end mandatory sentences for petty drug crimes. I mean is Immigration Reform going to be stalled because Democrats don’t like Marco Rubio? The Daily Show has criticized Marco Rubio over and over, but they’ll still make it known that Rubio is working towards Immigration Reform while his peers rather them be hauled back in chains.
What really boggles my mind is the Hayes is castigating Paul for his history lesson on the Republicans (again for emphasis, Republicans, not Libertarians) relationship with the African-American community, which is obviously obscured and watered down to make the Republican party more appealing! Obviously the other side is going to have a field day, but you’re going to give them shit because apparently we’re destroying our cozy friendship on not giving him more credit for mentioning that the Drug War is destroying the African-American community (which is a threat, but I find poverty and intolerance the real issues which Paul doesn’t really care to deal with). Hayes may be playing towards his audience as was Paul, but the same can be said about you.

Christopher Hazell said...

Something I would add is that I think Paul's speech is itself an example of the kind of alienating effect you're complaining about:

His history of the relationship between African Americans and the Republican party ends in the early 30s, when FDR won African Americans over because Republicans didn't do a good enough job at explaining why the New Deal wasn't so great. After that, apparently nothing of note happened for the next 80 years.

This is a self-serving story that absolves Republicans of blame for any problems except bad PR, and blithely ignores half of his party's history, a half of its history which includes the living memory of everybody in his audience.

I'll give Paul credit for trying to honestly engage with African Americans when he, you know, does that.

PS - I say all this as a person who is basically a fan of Rand Paul.