Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rubin: Patriotism and War on Drugs Remain the (Last?) Refuge of Scoundrels

Gary Kamiya tells it like it is at Salon:

Maybe we really are doomed to elect John McCain, remain in Iraq forever and nuke Iran. Nations that forget history may not be doomed to repeat it, but those that never even recognize reality in the first place definitely are. Last week's ridiculous uproar over Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons proves yet again that America has still not come to terms with the most rudimentary facts about race, 9/11 -- or itself.

The great shock so many people claim to be feeling over Wright's sermons is preposterous. Anyone who is surprised and horrified that some black people feel anger at white people, and America, is living in a racial never-never land. Wright has called the U.S. "the United States of White America," talks about the "oppression" of black people and says, "White America got their wake-up call after 9/11." Gosh, who could have dreamed that angry racial grievances and left-wing political views are sometimes expressed in black churches?

Scott Horton goes back to the Faulkner source of Obama's quote in the speech to tell it like it was and is but doesn't have to be:

What do two short stories by William Faulkner published by Harper’s in the fall of 1940 have to do with the 2008 presidential campaign? Faulkner finalized them in the midst of a presidential election campaign, as Franklin Roosevelt sought his third term, a fact which breaks through in a few spots. These stories seem to be a simple narrative of life in the rural South, one is a rite of passage story and the other a strange tragi-comedy. But these stories are indeed intensely political, and their message was one that the readership would hardly have been prepared to cope with, in those dark days as the specter of war loomed over America. It seems we have to go forward seventeen presidential elections to come to the day when they become a matter of public discussion.

Last Tuesday, Senator Barack Obama, facing a withering assault over his relationship with his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, delivered a carefully measured and thoughtful speech on race relations in America. The speech was by almost every measure something extraordinary. It was delivered against the advice of Obama’s advisors, who felt—probably correctly—that any discussion of the race issue would only be used to isolate him in public debate. But more significantly, the language of the speech was not measured and shaped by focus groups. It proceeded assuming an educated and intelligent audience. As Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan reminded us in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, no political advisor would ever hear of such a thing. She points to two give-aways: the use of the word “endemic” and a quotation from Faulkner.

The words quoted were

‘The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.’

But actually the language is just off. The actual words are “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” They come from Requiem for a Nun. But the meaning and use that Obama takes is taken straight from an earlier Faulkner novel, Go Down, Moses, a brave and profound work about race relations in America. Being bound to, but struggling to overcome the past is a key message of that work. In fact these words could be taken as a sort of moral test that he has put to a focal character: will he remain a servant to the past, or will he succeed in shaking those chains free? The protagonist fails that test, with his very Southern attitudes and bigotries. In fact, Faulkner did himself at least once–in an outburst in an interview in the fifties, which Faulkner later attributed to too much alcohol. But Faulkner left a transcendent message: Some day, he tells us, some day the people will rise above these divisions and will recognize the ties that bind all. They will recognize the fundamental lie of racism. This was not, of course, a message which could be easily delivered to an American audience in 1940. Today, however, the message finds people ready to listen and to believe.

On another topic: UNODC has published the discussion paper on poverty and opium production that they promised would respond to the criticisms I made of their claim that poverty is not linked to opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Of course the paper does no such thing. It once again indicates that while UNODC is very skilled at estimating cultivation and yields, it does not understand social structure. Furthermore, while superficial analysis is unfortunate, UNODC Director Antonio Maria Costa continues to present this analysis misleadingly in a way that supports the "War on Drugs" approach to counter-narcotics.

I will post a complete analysis soon.


Bob Spencer said...

Yes. Perhaps the reappearance of the race issues is a novelty or surprise to white people, but probably that surprise is more a testimony to the isolation of most African American people.

Take, for example, my current hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. Various publications have rated Charlottesville as the number one city to live or at least among the best places to live in America. Mountain Bike magazine even rated it as one of the best places for mountain bikers. However, they added a caveat, “The people are friendly and welcoming ----as long as you have the proper breeding.”

Local studies reveal that 47% of Charlottesville residents can not afford housing, food and health care at the same time. This condition exist while the surrounding Albemarle County is among the top ten localities in the country for the highest per capita incomes in America. The non-poor in Charlottesville surely fit that level as well.

How do you think the non-rich feel about that? Add the factor of race and we have simply ignored a substantial portion of our society.

Charlottesville may be an extreme example, but it really is an example of a regional phenomenon. The Ford Foundation’s consultants say that the poor remain entrenched as poor in the South because southern civil society does very little compared to the Northeast to reach out and enable the poor to join the mainstream economy and society.

Perhaps the surprise and indignant uproar about Rev. Wright’s sermons, shows that the rest of the country is becoming more and more “southernized”. How come white people did not already recognize the plight of poor African Americans? Why should white people be surprised at their frustration?

Isolation (segregation) is a huge reason why people remain poor and even end up in jail.

Bob Spencer

Anonymous said...
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Garth Sullivan said...

i think the fact that the polls show most american's agreeing with the sentiments expressed in obama's speech means it has achieved its purpose of acting as Obama's statement on race.

prior to the right controversy, i think obama had made a calculated decision not to inject race into the race. once it came out, the demands came for him to "throw wright under the bus."

he didn't and i respect him for it. i don't think you will see the obama camp addressing racial issues any more than they have to.

Anonymous said...

Bob Spencer, I telling comment indeed. Thank you.

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