I see your ‘dumb,’ and I raise you an ‘elitist’

The latest debate on the ability of America to hold a political conversation was on display on today’s first hour of Midmorning.

The show purported to ask, “Is racism fueling criticism of the president?” But the fix was in on the answer because both guests had the same perspective: “Yes.”

That’s not to say they didn’t make good points in rebutting David Brooks’ column last week, “No, it’s not about race.

Given all of this, it was guaranteed that he would spark a populist backlash, regardless of his skin color. 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.

A pretty poor example, said Jack White, who writes about politics for The Root. Father Couglin was an anti-Semite, he said.

The discussion intertwined with the “lack of civility” angle right up until it got hit in the kisser with an irony pie.

“The problem is, what is the Republican Party doing to make a bigger space for people like himself?” he said, addressing a caller who said he was a moderate Republican. People who have a disagreement with the president’s policies but don’t want to fall into this trap of falling back on fear and prejudice to move their party forward. You have a handicap, it seems to me, even though you have someone like Michael Steele, who is black, as Republican Party chairman, I would argue that Michael Steele is exactly the wrong kind of person to have?”

“Why? Kerri Miller asked.

“Because Michael Steel is dumb,” White said.

Caller Tim from Minneapolis provided the other side of the discussion.

“Thank you for calling another Republican dumb,” he said. “Ronald Reagan was portrayed on the one hand as being a tired, pre-senile old fool who, nonetheless, stayed up late at night masterminding the Iran contra deal. We still hear jokes about Dan Quayle misspelling potato. Bush was consistently portrayed — hammered, hammered, hammered — on late night comedy shows, everybody that he was dumb. And yet he was also an evil genius who masterminded — in the eyes of some admittedly paranoid people — that he masterminded the 9/11 tragedy.”

“Are you saying there has long been disrespect towards….” Kerri Miller asked.

“What I’m saying is disrespect… has been going on consistently from the left and you mentioned populism and populism is the response to political elitism and I think what you fail to recognize is that the Democratic Washington power circle, as well as the liberal side of the media, is viewed as being highly elitist and certainly Barack Obama did not help his case anywhere along the line when during the election, for example, when he made the comment about the price of irrugula arugula, You’ve assembled a nice panel of people that all seem to see things only one way,” he said.

And that brings us back to Brooks:

What we’re seeing is the latest iteration of that populist tendency and the militant progressive reaction to 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.

  • Bob Moffitt

    When looking to answer the question of “Is racism fueling criticism of the president?,” who could be better qualified to answer than Brooks,a white conservative columnist?

    I like David Brooks. But to use his anecdote about how a race riot DIDN’T break out between tea partiers and African Americans in D.C. (I noted he didn’t mention that nearly everyone in Breck’s Army is white) as proof that we are indeed in a “postracial” debate failed to convince me.

    Frankly, I’m not sure if racism is a factor or not. It’s hard for me to understand where the tea party fear/anger comes from.

  • Heather

    That should be “arugula”.


    Can’t we agree that racism is fueling SOME of the criticism of the president? Paul Krugman engages in some criticism of the president in his NYT column, but racism clearly doesn’t fuel his remarks. The folks calling Obama an “Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug”? Yes, I’d say they’re racist.

  • Jim H

    Well, Heather might be right. OTOH, those folks calling Obama those names might be some slightly-educated people, mightily impressed by the fact they know how to do inferential slurs, and find it is now payback time for eight years of Bu$hitlerism.

  • JohnnyZoom

    I think Brooks’ point was that the elitism/populism issue is a larger driving force than the race issue; more pertinent to understanding what is happening.

    The two probably have some demographic correlation. But I would guess that in terms of the underlying inspirations of people, Brooks is probably right.

    Let’s assume he is, for sake of discussion. Than a big question I have is, can one be both intellectual and populist?

  • http://gboone42.wordpress.com Greg

    @Jim H – that is the exact kind of ad hominem attack on Bush people are using to justify their disrespect and, in some cases, racist attitudes toward President Obama.

    I’ve been watching all this unfold in a country that is mostly homogeneous and highly suspicious of foreigners and is currently considering it’s first anti-racism legislation: South Korea, so I have not been paying as close attention to the 24 hour news cycle, and getting most of my information from the Times, MPR and a few reporters on Twitter, and from what I can tell there are three kinds of criticism going on back home. The loudest has been at best ad hominem and at worst racist, and there is a difference, but both attacks are equally cowardly. Ad hominem says, for example, Obama is an elitist and therefore his ideas are bad. It is not necessary for these people to attack the merits of his plan because any plan from Obama would be equally suspicious because of his alleged elitism. Racism works similarly. What is definitely racist is what Heather is talking about. From what I can tell these true racist attacks are few and far between. What is really troubling about them is not that they still exist—though that is certainly troubling—but that no one is condemning them. An interview with the Tea Party organizer last week highlighted this fact particularly well. He said he didn’t agree with the racist comments, but stopped short of saying they have no place in American political discourse. He stopped short of saying they were not welcome at his rallies. In fact he said they point to a general and growing sentiment among the voters.

    This attitude has absolutely no place in American political discourse. The third kind of criticism that is actually fair, is the kind that actually breaks down his plan and finds its flaws. From what I can tell this is happening, but just not being heard. The people who have something constructive to contribute are being shouted down by people like Glenn Beck and Joe Wilson.