Part 5—What Lawrence and Reverend Al said: We emerged from last week's Scalia Wars with a basic question.
Why is the freshman class at Texas only 4% black? Even with the university trying to increase black enrollment, why is the number that low?
There's a related question concerning Hispanic enrollment, of course. For reasons no one ever explains, this entire discussion is conducted in the context of black enrollment, even though the state of Texas has tons more Hispanic kids.
If we might quote the state itself: "In 2013-14, Hispanic students accounted for the largest percentage of total enrollment in Texas public schools (51.8%), followed by White (29.5%), African American (12.7%) Asian (3.7%), and multiracial (1.9%) students."
Down in the Lone Star state, public school enrollment is majority Hispanic. But then again, whatever! Also, who actually cares?
For the record, black kids in Texas outperform their counterparts around the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, our one apparently reliable testing program. So do the state's Hispanic kids; so do white kids in the state.
That said, substantial "achievement gaps" still obtain; those significant gaps help produce those enrollment figures in Austin. That said, why do those gaps obtain? What happens in the school lives of Texas kids which helps create this phenomenon?
(Also in their family lives, and also in their preschool lives. What happens to hold back our good decent Texas kids?)
To tell the truth, questions like these are rarely asked within our national discourse. To state the world's most obvious fact, no one actually cares about the answers to these questions. To cite an embarrassing set of examples, you'll almost never see such questions examined at our own corporate liberal news orgs.
Rachel Maddow doesn't care about what happens to black kids in Texas. She wasted her first twenty minutes last night with a ludicrous, embarrassing mess which started with a detailed "argument" from the former Rhodes scholar star, in which she showed that George Pataki and Jim Gilmore aren't really trying to get elected.
Maddow pretended to blow a train whistle, helping us stave off boredom. She incessantly drummed on her table, as she now persistently does; she pretended to snore and fall asleep at the mention of Pataki's name. Our analysts writhed like Salem girls as this incessant, months-long gong show and mental breakdown continued. (It dates at least to May 3.) They looked at us with pleading eyes, asking when someone will finally appear on the set and lead this strange person away.
Black kids in Texas barely exist on The One True Liberal Channel. Our corporate stars don't consider their problems. They show very few signs of caring about their lives.
Last week, though, heaven arrived in the form of a comment by Justice Scalia. Our tribal wars could be fought on this turf! The school lives of Texas kids were briefly mentioned, in passing.
Was there something wrong with Scalia's comment, which we'll review below? Maybe yes and maybe no, but there was certainly room for complaint.
At the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf complained about Scalia's "lazy characterization" of so-called “mismatch theory.” Friedersdorf continued: "I do not think it overzealous 'political correctness' to expect more carefully drawn words on this subject in a high-profile hearing, given Scalia’s prominence and the ugly, wrongheaded belief in black inferiority that persists in bigoted enclaves. A man of his position and intellect is capable of better."
Friedersdorf knocked Scalia's remarks, but also knocked his critics. In a piece for CNN, John McWhorter voiced a softer view. "I don't usually agree with Justice Scalia's perspectives, but we are doing him wrong on this one," he said at the start of a lengthy piece about "mismatch theory." That said, McWhorter complained that Scalia "didn't express himself as gracefully as he could have."
Elsewhere, we liberals pleasured ourselves in our standard way; we accused Scalia of bigotry. This touched off the latest tribal war, with our team complaining about all the bigotry and their team complaining of all the correctness.
Our view? Along the way, our tribal leaders said many things that were dumber than the things Scalia said, which weren't gigantically dumb at all, depending on how you took them. We chose to take them as acts of war--but this is now the only way we know how to take remarks.
The school lives of Texas kids briefly got mentioned, but only in the context of the latest pleasing war.
How offensive were Scalia's remarks? We'll look at his statement below. But in response, a whole of other people rushed to embarrass themselves in the usual mandated ways.
By the night of last week's hearing, it was clear that tribal war was on. On CNN, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin explained "mismatch" theory to Erin Burnett. Was this really the best he could do?
BURNETT (12/9/15): So let me start with you, Jeff. Is this fair that [Scalia's] receiving all the criticism he is receiving when you read that? What did you hear?Was that really the best he could do?
TOOBIN: Well, he is citing a brief that refers to a theory known by the shorthand of "mismatch," that students—African-American students do better, they get better jobs, they graduate more often if they go to lesser schools, say the University of Texas at San Antonio, at Arlington, as opposed to the flagship campus at the University of Texas at Austin.
That is a very controversial theory. A lot of people say not only is there something distasteful about that argument, they say it is simply wrong on the facts. But it is an argument that has been made in the brief.
In fact, "mismatch theory" doesn't say that "African-Americans" (full stop) do better at less competitive schools than UT-Austin. Mismatch theory says that some African-American students would do better, perhaps substantially better, at less competitive schools.
According to proponents of mismatch theory, some kids who are being admitted to highly competitive schools through affirmative action formulas are being thrown in over heads. In current circumstances, such kids are black (and also Hispanic, although those kids are never mentioned). But presumably, most white kids might also be over their heads at our most competitive schools.
Duh. Anyone can be thrown in over his head in some academic setting! This possibility isn't restricted to black kids, except when we don't use our words.
As so often occurs, Toobin forgot to say "some." Somehow forgetting to use all his words, he thereby delivered a burlesqued account of so-called "mismatch theory."
At the Atlantic, you can see Friedersdorf assailing Scalia for using the same formulation. "Scalia’s error was to talk carelessly and imprecisely about a predictably fraught subject," Friedersdorf sensibly writes.
For whatever reason, Toobin couldn't rush fast enough to make the same careless mistake on several CNN programs. That said, tribal war feeds on burlesque, although it's good for network ratings and it provides a welcome sense of tribal moral greatness.
Later that evening, Lawrence O'Donnell played a ridiculous series of cards as he discussed Scalia's bigotry on his MSNBC show. Lawrence spoke with Janai Nelson, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Eventually, Lawrence would tell poor Nelson that he was sorry that she had to be exposed to Scalia's untoward behavior. Nelson agreed that it had been "pretty jarring...to hear a Supreme Court Justice make those types of comments that are just rolled up in assumptions about racial inferiority."
In the end, Lawrence apologized. First, though, he explained how a black kid could do well at his own famous alma mater.
As Lawrence explained, the analysts screamed and howled like a gang of afflicted Salem girls. Had Scalia made remarks that "were just rolled up in assumptions about racial inferiority?" If we wanted to be unkind, we could claim to hear the same assumptions in this great progressive's remarks:
NELSON (12/9/15): It was pretty jarring, I think, for most people in the courtroom to hear a Supreme Court Justice make those types of comments that are just rolled up in assumptions about racial inferiority, just thoughts that you cannot imagine a figure of such stature and in such a respectable position would make.Question: By the time these two progressives got through, who needed alleged bigots like Scalia?
O'DONNELL: And it is filled with just wild assumptions. The first of all, the notion that you can define this hierarchy of schools, "this school is higher that school" and so forth.
Let me just say confessionally, I went to Harvard College. It is the easiest college in the world if you choose the right courses.
You have 6,000 courses to choose from, and I promise you a thousand of them could not be easier. And, so it is, with schools, you know, all over the country. You cannot—these are not apples and apples. They are all different.
NELSON: That is right. It depends on your experience with classes you take.
O'DONNELL: Yes. What your major is.
NELSON: What your major is, what activities you are involved in. It is really unfortunate to cast, again, an entire group of people and suggest that they cannot compete at this high level of higher education.
According to Lawrence, black kids could do just fine at Harvard. They just had to be sure to take all the easiest courses! There must be a thousand courses a black kid could choose from, the cable star helpfully said. Also, please choose a soft major!
It sounded like Lawrence was advising the UNC football program, circa 2005. Recovering from her jarring experience, Nelson agreed with his thoughts.
On the bright side, Lawrence had "confessed" to going to Harvard. Less helpfully, he had instantly run to a stereotype—black kids at a school like that will need to take easy courses!
That statement is probably true, of course, for a lot of black kids. But it's true for tons of white kids too! The large majority of high school graduates of all so-called races don't "qualify" for our most competitive schools. They may therefore attend less competitive schools, after which they may proceed to do great things in the world.
By now, the analysts were writhing. Several swore that they had seen Lawrence turn into a fox, or perhaps even a cat. Earlier, though, they had encountered the strangest comment of the night. It had come from Reverend Sharpton, appearing on All In.
We were big fans of Sharpton for years, due to his humor and his intelligence. In our view, his years on cable haven't done much for his game.
At any rate, he was reporting for Hayes this night. At the start of the show, and then again, Hayes teased what was to come:
HAYES (12/9/15): And amazing new polling on where rank and file Republicans stand on Donald Trump's bigotry. Plus outrage over Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's remarks about affirmative action.Tribally, it sounded good. We'd get some "bigotry" from Candidate Trump, along with "outrage" about Scalia's shocking remarks.
HAYES: And later, the shocking comments made by Justice Scalia in the affirmative action case. Reverend Al Sharpton is here and joins me to respond.
How shocking were Scalia's remarks? In our view, they weren't as foolish as this:
HAYES: Joining me now, Reverend Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC's Politics Nation. And Rev, you were in that room and the Times described that moment when Justice Scalia was talking about a "slower track school" as that comment being met with audible gasps in the chamber.Scalia was calling for separate but equal! He wanted to go back to 1950s America! Or at least, so Sharpton said.
SHARPTON: That's only because we are not allowed to do anything but gasp...
None of us were prepared to hear what Scalia said, because in essence what he was saying is, "Let's go back to pre-Board of Education, Brown versus Board of Education, 1950s America," where blacks are doing all right going to black schools or schools where blacks go. He said, go to less advanced schools where they do all right. We're going back to separate but equal.
And as I said to the press coming out, this is like the biased, anti-Muslim bias at a Donald Trump rally, but we're hearing this on the bench of the Supreme Court, a Supreme Court justice saying that it's just fine for them to go to less advanced schools, they do fine. This is appalling. I don't care who you are.
For our money, those comments by Sharpton were substantially more foolish than anything Scalia had said. We don't disagree with Friedersdorf when he says that Scalia could, perhaps should, have chosen his words with more care. But for our money, Sharpton's comments were more foolish than that.
On the other hand, they gave us the pleasures of name-calling tribal war.
Poor Sharpton! Later that night, O'Donnell would tell Nelson that he was sorry that she had to be exposed to Scalia's remarks. ("Janai Nelson, I am sorry you had to listen to some of that today.") As he ended his session with Hayes, Sharpton described his own jarring experience.
Earlier, Hayes had said he would try to "bend over backwards" to be fair to Justices Scalia and Thomas. Now, Sharpton said this:
SHARPTON: I think Ms. Ifill of the LDF gave every argument backward and forward that you could want. But for Scalia to say this and not have other justices gasp, Justice Sotomayor was absolutely superb, but to have people sit there and not respond to this was something that I walked down those steps— You think you leaned over backwards? I had to lean forward to even get down the steps after being insulted like that by a Supreme Court justice.Justice Sotomayor was superb, even though she forgot to gasp. But Sharpton said, and perhaps even felt, that he had been insulted.
Increasingly, the American discourse, especially on cable, is all about judgments like that. On liberal cable, that means that our tribe will be fed, in Hayes' words, "bigotry. Plus outrage." Also, "shocking comments!"
Tomorrow, we'll look at what Scalia and several others actually said that day. Meanwhile, what about the school lives of our many great kids in Texas?
We've never seen the topic discussed on any MSNBC program. The channel exists to keep feeding us porridge. In the world of its millionaire hosts, with their snoring and clowning, do those good decent kids exist?
Tomorrow: Scalia and Alito and Garre oh my! A long string of jarring remarks