Our basic reactions to Chait’s famous piece!


Overwrought overstatements on race: In our view, Jonathan Chait got dunked in the pond on Sunday’s Harris-Perry program.

For background, see yesterday’s post.

That said, we weren’t crazy about the piece for which the professors tore Chait up. Here’s some reasons why:

Chait wrote a cover piece for New York magazine about—well, what the heck was his piece about? It appears beneath these headlines:
The Color of His Presidency
Optimists hoped Obama would usher in a new age of racial harmony. Pessimists feared a surge in racial strife. Neither was right. But what happened instead has been even more invidious.
From that, we’ll guess that some editor wasn’t real clear about what Chait said either.

We thought Chait’s piece was fuzzy, unclear, unlike his usual work. Here are a few objections:

As he starts, Chait sketches a dystopian vision of life in these United States in the age of Obama. This is what he sees:
CHAIT (4/9/14): Every Obama supporter believes deep down, or sometimes right on the surface, that the furious opposition marshaled against the first black president is a reaction to his race. Likewise, every Obama opponent believes with equal fervor that this is not only false but a smear concocted willfully to silence them.
Does anyone really believe that? Is it true that every Obama supporter thinks those things about the opposition to the president? Is it true that every Obama opponent “believes with equal fervor” in the “smear” Chait describes?

Of course it isn’t true! It isn’t true that every supporter and every opponent sees the scene as Chait describes.

Chait describes “a bitter, irreconcilable enmity” involving every supporter and every opponent. Our advice: Chait should go take a walk on this lovely spring afternoon.

He should speak to the people he meets. It just isn’t like that out there!

Journalists get to overstate, but it probably isn’t a great idea to overstate about race, our most serious topic. That said, Chair overstates throughout his brief introductory section, culminating in this:
CHAIT: A different, unexpected racial argument has taken shape. Race, always the deepest and most volatile fault line in American history, has now become the primal grievance in our politics, the source of a narrative of persecution each side uses to make sense of the world. Liberals dwell in a world of paranoia of a white racism that has seeped out of American history in the Obama years and lurks everywhere, mostly undetectable. Conservatives dwell in a paranoia of their own, in which racism is used as a cudgel to delegitimize their core beliefs. And the horrible thing is that both of these forms of paranoia are right.
In one way, we agree—we think there’s some very dumb talk about race occurring in certain precincts. But according to Chait, “liberals dwell in a world of paranoia of a white racism that has seeped out of American history in the Obama years.” Meanwhile, “conservatives dwell in a paranoia of their own.”

“Paranoia” is a strong term—and Chait then says that both groups are right in the beliefs he attributes to them! Question:

If someone is right in his view of the world, why would you call his view “paranoia?” And why is Chait so overwrought in his own view of the scene?

As we stated on Monday, we think Chait offers one important new observation in his much-discussed piece. He’s willing to cite some of the absurd race talk going on within his own tribe.

In our view, this whole piece could have been built around that important observation. Instead, Chait goes on a very long ramble, creating a great deal of confusion in the process.

What is the basic point of this piece? We have no clear idea. We never thought we’d agree with the claim that some liberal has engaged in “moral equivalence.” But that’s pretty much what Chait does in the paragraph we’ve quoted, where he makes puzzling overstatements about both tribal groups.

Do some conservatives sometimes “feel that racism is used as a cudgel to delegitimize their core beliefs?” Presumably, yes.

That said, are conservatives “living in a paranoia” about this? Are all conservatives in that state?

We don’t know why you’d say that.

Cable liberals sometimes say the darnedest things about race. That would have been a very good topic for Chait, a liberal, to explore.

It’s also true that academics have made all sorts of claims about so-called “racial resentment” within the conservative world. Presumably, Chait could have built a piece around those claims, though the parts of his piece which explore that topic are very poorly explained.

We thought Chait’s was overwrought, unclear, unlike his usual work. If we had a cable show, we’d have lots of questions about it.

That said, it seems to us it makes better sense to ask Chait about his piece than to stage a Salem witch trial, which is what happened on Harris-Perry’s program.

On that show, Chait was banished to the stocks while a gang of professors carped about various things he had said. For the vast bulk of the televised trial, he wasn’t allowed to defend or explain his piece. Largely for that reason, the complaints by the irate professors were about as useful as is normally the case with the cries of angry mobs.

We were puzzled by Chait’s piece. On Friday, we’ll offer one final complaint.

Tomorrow, though, we’ll look at the things the professors said as they dunked Chait in the pond.

In some ways, we agree with the professors. They were puzzled by certain parts of Chait’s piece which we ourselves have discussed.

Example: When they grumbled among themselves, Harris-Perry started with Chait’s remarks about “paranoia,” a place where we might have started. But she had Chait locked up in the stocks. For that reason, he couldn’t explain what he wrote.

We’d say the discourse suffered from his banishment. Few commentators will be at their best with the accused in the stocks, when they’ve reached the point where they feel inclined to exercise such power.


  1. Bob, I think your Chait series is fuzzy and disorganized, shifting back and forth from the article to press and press criticism back to the substance of his work. Your witch trial/lynching analogies, however maintain consistency, as always. This is like your usual work.

    1. You are pretending to believe Bob's piece was fuzzy, because the fact that he criticizes race - card lovers pisses you off. You love Walsh, Harris-Perry etc.

    2. Thanks for the interpretation, Karnac.

    3. Carnac -- because Johnny Carson's name began with Car...

    4. So where did the "nac" come from?

  2. Chait is one of those journalists who thinks being a "centrist" is a sign of high status, intelligence and prestige. So he decided to write a piece both criticizing and praising both sides. The result was a pointless pile of crap. Race card lovers such as Walsh didn't understand the point either, but they pounced just in case.

    1. Mr. Perez, unlike Bob's fuzzy work, your comments are clear.
      Unfortunately just as predictable.

    2. What virtue is there in unpredictability?

    3. I like fuzzines myself.

  3. Actually, Bob's panties are in a bunch because Harris-Perry holds a different opinion about an article Bob himself calls "fuzzy."

    For that, Harris-Perry must be just like the Salem Witch Trial mob and even 20th century lynch mobs.

    Such reasoned analysis leading to such constructive criticism is only found here.

    1. Bob doesn't wear panties. You're paranoid, but I agree with you.

    2. Bob manages to take the topic of an article he didn't like and turn it into a club with which to beat someone else who didn't like the article either. Makes perfect sense.

      All roads lead back to Maddow, Matthews, and Harris-Perry.

      He's also applying false equivalence to a self-parodying degree.

    3. Anonymous @ 2:13

      I too am paranoid. How do you know Bob doesn't wear panties? Do you know what I am wearing?

    4. Somerby complained because, instead of interviewing Chait, Harris-Perry spend considerable time criticizing his argument and then didn't let him respond to those criticisms. He thinks Chait should have been given a chance to clarify his views.

    5. What would we do without Bob fans explaining Bob to the world?

    6. What would you do? Perhaps you'd step in front of a bus.

      We can hope!

      Nevertheless, 3:54 is dead right. If you needed it explained to you because you thought it was "fuzzy" that's rather sad.

      But now it has been explained to you.

      So instead of continuing pretending you still don't get it, you ask an irrelevant question! You are a special, special, little douchebag troll.

    7. My, my, my. Such language!

      FYI, I'm not the one who pretends things are "fuzzy". That's one of Somerby's buzzwords, who then goes on for great length berating that which he pretends not to understand.

      Bob's meaning is quite clear. Whatever anybody on MSNBC says, he's not only agin; it, he's going to express his disagreement in the vilest, most personal manner he can muster.

      "Douchebag troll," huh? You are such a good student.

      But like the tiny band of remaining Bob fans, you just can't stand it when the master is served the dish he himself has cooked.

      You must then call out the waaaaahmbulance and whine about how the "trolls" are such big meanies!

    8. By the way, 6:11, there is no indication of anyone on this thread calling Bob "fuzzy" before loyal Bob fan chimed in at 3:54 to explain what Bob really, truly means.

      There is, however, a comment way above at 102 -- in fact the very first comment under Bob's post, which mimics Bob's constant "fuzzy" complaint because Bob hops back and forth from one subject to the next in his own inimitable way of typing up whatever thought crosses his mind at any given moment -- all leading to the same, predictable conclusion -- MSNBC is just like the Salem witch trials.

    9. No one called Bob fuzzy but the guy who called him fuzzy. But that wasn't me. There are very many of us anonymous trolls, I, I mean, we, aren't just one lonely douchebag troll.

  4. And speaking of "Salem Witch Trials," anybody notice how Somerby gloms on to an analogy he thinks is brilliant then beats the holy hell out of it.

    At least he seems to be off "The Lord of the Flies" for now.

    1. Bob knows squat from squadoosh when it comes to the "Use or Discard By " date on mob killed pork.



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