NAEP VERSUS NEWT: A familiar old story!


PART 3—PROFESSOR GATES, SNARLING RACIST: In our view, Newt Gingrich is one of the least constructive politicians of the last several decades.

As a general matter, it isn’t a good idea to speculate about the mental health of public figures. But Jacob Weisberg recently wondered about Newt’s mental health—and it ain’t hard to see why.

Newt has said a lot of deeply unfortunate things through the years. He has said a lot of things which are amazingly ugly. Beyond that, he has said a lot of things which are dumb; some of his recent comments about “really poor children in really poor neighborhoods” might fit in that category. But much of what Newt recently said is, in fact, a very familiar old story—a familiar portrait of the plight confronting many of our country’s really poor children.

It was a very familiar old story—until Newt Gingrich told it. At that point, for unknown reasons, the familiar old tale became false.

Gingrich has been a horrible public figure—an apostle of tribal hatred. But then, we liberals behaved in similar ways when he made his recent remarks about the plight of really poor children—the kinds of children the liberal world rarely deigns to discuss.

Consider something Professor Gates said just a few years ago.

Professor Gates is of course Henry Louis Gates, a pillar of several communities. Back in 2004, he published “America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues with African Americans.” Inevitably, the book was accompanied by a four-part PBS documentary. And PBS is very high-minded, as all good liberals know.

Gates appeared on “Democracy Now” to discuss the project; the program is a pillar of the progressive community. He spoke with Amy Goodman, also a pillar. And uh-oh:

At one point, Gates described the plight of many really poor children in really poor neighborhoods. And omigod! When he did, he sounded a bit like Gingrich:
GATES (1/8/04): Precisely because of the success of affirmative action, our community has been fragmented. What do I mean by that? One of the most eloquent people I interviewed [for the book] was a prisoner in the Cook County jail. He called himself Eric, but he has another name. He said that when he was growing up, he did not see, when he was on his way to school, which he never made it to, he didn’t see, he says, a fireman going to work. He didn’t see a policeman going to work. He saw drug dealers. He saw people fighting and gangs.

Under segregation, curiously enough, we were all forced to live together. You might have a janitor living in this house, and a factory worker in this house, and next door would be an undertaker and next door would be a doctor and across the street would be a lawyer, and of course, everyone was surrounded by the teachers in the local school. The middle class had moved to the suburbs, or to other middle class communities, leaving behind what William Julius Wilson calls the underclass. So we are fragmented in a way that we have never been before, and that’s the tragic outcome of the civil rights movement and affirmative action.
Can Skip Gatessay these things? Citing William Julius Wilson, Gates described a very familiar landscape—the same social landscape Gingrich described when he made his Dickensian comments. “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods” often lack certain types of role models, Professor Gates said. He said the situation has gotten worse since the black middle class was freed to move to suburban communities.

Surely, everyone has heard this story a million times by now. Surely, everyone has heard it said that many of our really poor children have no role models in their really poor neighborhoods—except the neighborhood’s drug dealers. Indeed, you don’t have to turn to an egghead like Gates to hear this amazingly common description. You could listen to Jay-Z, interviewed by Oprah:
WINFREY (10/09): Were the rappers in your neighborhood your role models?

JAY-Z: The drug dealers were my role models. Rappers weren't successful yet.


WINFREY: So tell me how you got into the drug dealing.

JAY-Z: It was natural—

WINFREY: Because drug dealers were your role models. There wasn’t a teacher or lawyer or nurse of doctor or an accountant in the neighborhood?

JAY-Z: Well, we were living in Marcy [Park] by then, so no. And if anyone did become something like that, they moved out. They never came back to share the wisdom of how they made it. If anyone made it, you never knew it. That’s why I’ve always said that if I become successful, I’d come back here, grab somebody, and show him how it can be done.

WINFREY: So you didn't have even one positive black role model?

JAY-Z: Just my mom. She worked two jobs and did whatever she had to do for us.

WINFREY: Did you aspire to be a drug dealer?

JAY-Z: Well, no. No one aspires to be a drug dealer. You don't want to bring trouble to your mother's door, even though that's what you're doing. You aspire to the lifestyle you see around you. You see the green BMW, the prettiest car you've ever seen. You see the trappings of drug dealing, and it draws you in.

WINFREY: How old were you when you got involved?

JAY-Z: Maybe 13.

WINFREY: Did you realize it could cost you your life?

JAY-Z: In my mind, that wasn't risking a lot. You think, "If I'm living like this, I'll risk anything to get more. What's the worst that could happen?”
Jay-Z’s mother “worked two jobs and did whatever she had to do for us.” But many really poor kids in really poor neighborhoods don’t have such a parent—or at least, that’s what Charles Blow wrote in the New York Times.

As you may recall, Blow presented data which showed that roughly two-thirds of really poor children in really poor neighborhoods don't live with a working parent (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/8/11). And yet, for some unknown reason, Blow seemed to think that his data contradicted the vile things Gingrich had said. At the always hapless Times, Blow’s column still appears beneath this puzzling synopsis:
Newt’s War on Poor Children
Gingrich says poor children do not have working parents as role models. He couldn’t be more wrong.
Blow saw the glass one-third full! And please note: Blow was specifically challenging Gingrich’s claims about the lack of working role models for many “really poor children in really poor neighborhoods.” In presenting these data, he wasn’t challenging Newt’s idea that such really poor children should be given opportunities to work. He was saying that really poor children do have “working parents as role models.”

Gingrich couldn’t be more wrong about this point, the Times synopsis still says. But Blow’s data said Gingrich was right; so did Gates and Jay-Z. So what explains the storm of reaction to Gingrich’s basic thesis?

The notion that really poor children may lack role models who work is so familiar that it might even qualify as shopworn. Over the years, we’ve heard high academics like Gates describe this social landscape; we’ve heard revered public figures like Colin Powell, who leads one of many programs to provide mentors to such young people. But the story is very familiar within the world of pop culture too; it has animated endless discussions involving well-known figures like Jay-Z and Oprah. And yet, when Gingrich told this familiar old story, the liberal world rose up in fury, insisting he had to be wrong. “Has he never heard of the working poor?” So our dumbest tribal players complained—everyone from Maureen Dowd on down.

“Has he not heard of the working poor?” this ultimate flyweight wrote in the Times. That said, Maureen Dowd is hapless—and she doesn’t care.

Presumably, Gingrich has heard of the working poor—but in this instance, he was talking about the non-working poor, just like Gates and Oprah before him. Normally, we pseudo-liberals like to complain about the way Bush cost so many such people their jobs. But when Gingrich spoke, we thundered as if people in really poor neighborhoods are currently burdened by too many jobs! On NPR’s Tell Me More, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar heroically called in the thunder:
IFTIKHAR (12/9/11): You know, based on his statements that, you know, kids today, you know, have no work habits and quote, "nobody around them works," I'd like him to go to downtown Detroit or the South Side of Chicago at 4:45 in the morning on a work day and try to get on a city bus. And, you know, look at the people who are working three to four jobs, single-parent households, you know, trying to keep their families afloat, pay the rent and get the groceries.

I mean this was—to me, it was the most patronizing statement from his lily white ivory tower that Newt Gingrich could have ever given.
There! That felt good! Suddenly, poor people all have three or four jobs, despite the giant rates of unemployment within the black community. And needless to say, Gingrich was a snarling racist—presumably unlike Gates and Oprah, who had said the same things when jobs were easier to get. Once again, please note a basic point:

Gingrich’s idea that really poor children should work wasn’t at issue in these remarks. Like Blow, Iftikhar was rejecting the notion that really poor children in really poor neighborhoods often lack working role models. That is ridiculous, Iftikhar said—just like Dowd before him.

Should really poor children work? Tomorrow, we’ll look at Michele Martin’s contrarian reaction, expressed on that same NPR program, of which she is the host. But for today, let’s ask a few basic questions: Why did Gates’ amazingly familiar description suddenly become so racist and wrong when it fell from Gingrich’s mouth? And why do none of these thundering people ever discuss those NAEP TUDA scores?

Uh-oh! In the same week when Blow and them thundered so hard, the NAEP released its new TUDA scores. Predictably, the liberal world couldn’t have cared any less. We didn’t discuss what those new data seem to show—except for Matt Yglesias at Slate, who discussed the data extremely poorly, much as a third-grader would have. It’s hard to avoid a basic thought: We liberals don’t give a flying fig about really poor children in really poor neighborhoods. If we did, we might discuss their interests once in a while.

For ourselves, we find this conduct repellent, disgusting. Your results may differ, of course. After all, they’re just black kids.

Who gives a fig about them?

Tomorrow: Martin on janitorial jobs—and Gates on two Americas


  1. The syllogism seems to be:

    Newt Gingrich is on the other team. Therefore if there's any remotely conceivable interpretation of something he said that's incorrect or improper, his statement should be evaluated as if that's the intended interpretation.

  2. Fair points . . . but . . . .

    It's a bit different when a white rich powerful male laments the lack of good role models in the black community and when a black man laments growing up poor and powerless without good role models. People like Gingrich often use these arguments to implicitly argue that black people are responsible for these conditions and something in their character is responsible for these conditions. People like Jay Z seem to be honestly lamenting this fact.

    Sure, there may be a few conservatives like Gingrich that truly care about the plight of black people--but my impression is that they usually don't care and they make these "observations" about role models in black communities not as a rallying cry for positive action but as an excuse to suppress and collectively punish black people.

    So Gates is probably not "racist" in the way that Gingrich is. It is indeed more "racist" for a white person to lament the lack of good role models (which is subjective in itself--who's to say that the gangster isn't more moral than a bankster for instance).

  3. And it should be noted that white rich powerful male LIBERALS are racist in the same manner that Gingrich is racist. Bill Clinton used the same concern trolling with the Black community that Gingrich is using.

    Clinton increased Jim Crow incarceration of black people via the racist war on drugs. Clinton justified many of these actions using fake concern about the black community and the lack of role models (remember Sista Soulja and Bill Cosby, etc.?).

    But of course it was mostly punishment rather than a helping hand that Clinton and his partners in crime (which just happened to be Gingrich, ha) extended. They took away the ability for people associated with drugs to go to college or get public housing. They severely cut back on welfare. They kept unequal laws like harsher sentencing for black people's cocaine than for white people's cocaine.

    So Clinton pretended he was the liberal good cop that wanted to help black people. Gingrich played the bad cop that wanted to punish black people to get them to behave more correctly (not use drugs, get off welfare, etc.). So what did these partners in crime do? More punishment. Sure, Clinton tweaked the tax code to help the working poor a bit, so that is the main difference between Republican and Democrats: the Democrats will give you a small bit of carrot as they apply the whip. The Republicans simply want to beat you for your own good. But both good cop and bad cop work for the same master.

  4. Slow Down Walt.

    "It is indeed more "racist" for a white person to lament the lack of good role models"

    Says whom? *White Liberals and opportunistic members of the black mis-leadership class*

    Sheesh. Go ahead and get all the "Clintons" out of your system so you don't have to bring him up again. Ever. You'll feel better.

  5. It's curious that in most public discussions of poverty and poor children in the USA, whether in the media, on blogs like this one, or anywhere else, commenters rarely seem to register that there there are more poor WHITE people than anyone else, and almost nothing is ever said, let alone depicted or discussed, about POOR WHITE PEOPLE, except with condescension or indifference. White liberals are some of the worst on this regard, but white conservatives are perhaps the worst of all, since their policies have tended to impoverish people of all races over and over throughout the last 150 years.

  6. Says whom? Says little ole me, that's who!

    I guess what I'm saying is that a member of a community is in a better position to criticize that community than is someone from outside that community. People from outside, especially people that have traditionally abused the community, who give advice on how to better the community, should be treated with skepticism.

    Jay Z and Prof. Gates come closer to representing the interests of the black community than does Gingrich or white liberals like Clinton.

    But even Jay Z and Prof. Gates are compromised because they serve in positions of power that have usually been used to suppress black people.

    For instance, I'm with Low Key re his criticisms of Jay Z. Like Low Key says, how can someone speak truth to power, like Jay Z supposedly does, like all rappers are supposed to do, when he's on speed dial and friendly with POTUS? Same thing with Gates. Gates and Jay Z are pretty much white liberals except for the color of their skin.

  7. And why is Clinton not relevant?

    I'm having flashbacks to the 90s because this very issue was huge then! And Gingrich was a major player . . . along with Clinton on the other side. The original good cop and bad cop.

    At the time I was more of a tribal Democrat so I thought it was *good* that Clinton applied a bit of a whip because I thought it would steal the Republican's thunder (who really wanted to apply the whip to black people and poor people, I thought). Plus, the Democrats could provide a few carrots in exchange for a softer whipping (Earned Income Tax Credit, for e.g.).

    Clinton's welfare reform and escalation of the drug war was the tough love that Gingrich is promoting. He's back for more and has a black liberal 'good' cop to work with this time. This good cop is even better than Clinton! This time instead of welfare reform or escalating the war on drugs it will be privatizing public schools.

  8. Here's Lowkey on Jay Z, Obama and Bush:

    And here's my favorite Lowkey song, Obama Nation Part 2:

  9. Tireless self-promoting sage that he is, Gates remains an unattractive figure, though it's also true that the Ivy League is full of such mediocrities, the vast majority of them white.

    In any case, there IS an obvious between his comments and Gingrich's, even forgetting the legitimate question of Gingrich's motives. The discussion didn't begin and end with the age-old "lack of role models" line. Gingrich had a great deal more to say, all of it ludicrous.

    In Bob's tireless search for equivalence, he's frequently lead to these absurdities. Yeah, our public discourse is crap and it's unfortunate that corporate America won't hire thoughtful liberal talk-show hosts. But what does this discussion have to do with anything of consequence?

  10. Gingrich said, quote: “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So literally, they have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of I do this and you give me cash - unless it's illegal.”

    He didn't say “many poor children” or “too many poor children.” He said “really poor children.” He said that, “literally,” these really poor children – that is, “they,” which means all of them if we are truly going to be literal -- “have no habit of showing up on Monday.” He didn't say these children have “weak” or “poorly formed” work habits, he said “no habits,” and he didn't say there were “too few adults who work,” but “nobody around them who works.” If you can't see the profound difference between what this rich white person said – a rich white person who has less than a stellar reputation for caring about the black community in general who had no problem identifying them – and what Gates or Jay-Z said, you really have a problem.

    The fact that Gingrich's blatant and grossly insulting generalization is derived from but distorts a serious theme being discussed by Gates and Jay-Z does not save it from the completely legitimate outrage it received – especially when it is combined with Gingrich's own (and his party's) political “Southern-strategy” history and his personal circumstances. Adding to the basis for legitimate outrage by liberals, pseudo or genuine, is Gingrich's insult to unions generally and his cavalier willingness to destroy the livelihoods of an entire segment of relatively low-income workers, some of whom probably do serve as the positive role models Gingrich thinks are completely absent in those communities.

    I know, I know, the narrative is everything – in the instant case the adopted narrative that all liberals who have broken through obscurity to achieve a national platform are phony “pseudo-liberals” who don't give a crap about poor black children. If it takes defending an outrageous and grossly racist generalization by a Newt Gingrich to advance the Howler's daily narrative, which is always clothed in the guise of attacking the narratives of others, so be it.

    Many of those attacks on or challenges to other liberals are quite legitimate. The history of the War on Gore and major-media reporting on education have been invaluable. The fact that they too often drip with ad hominem insult unfortunately undermines their legitimacy.

  11. Urban Legend-- well said all the way around.

    I agree with Bob that "professional liberal" critique of Gingrich's comment has been extremely lame, but I agree with you whole-heartedly that it was unusually offensive and rancid, even for Gingrich, for the reasons you lay out very well.

  12. Bob, you have been lambasting clueless professors for several weeks.

    Should you be citing Henry Louis Gates as a credible witness?

    Here's Gates to his own daughter: “Well, the police report was an act of pure fiction. One designed to protect him, Sgt. Crowley, from unethical behavior. I was astonished at the audacity of the lies in the police report, and almost the whole thing from start to finish was just pure fabrication. So yes, I felt violated all over again.”

    Well, a police report of pure fiction is not only unethical, it 's a felony.

    But hey, let's have beer together, as long as the President of the United States is buying, and sit down in the White house and laugh the whole thing off. After all, there was no harm done, was there?

  13. Urban Legend...when you were done writing your comment did you, by any chance, hear a big blown up balloon of an ego go 'POP!'? Well done UL...

  14. Anonymous,

    Urban Legend claims that many of Bob's attacks are legitimate but this one misses the mark.

    Bob is the underdog and has less "pop" in his balloon. The corrupted media and political system has the biggest balloon to pop.

    One is going to occasionally be left hanging out there when one is adversarial to traditional power. At least Bob has a comment section for people to refine the arguments as Ubran Legend has done.

  15. Walter....I think Bob is, increasingly, less "adversarial to traditional power" than he once was. And than you make out. I think that is my point.

    Yes, many of Bob's attacks are legit, and indeed,at times, eloquent and wise. Especially on educational matters. But lately he seems to be going after, admittedly, ambitious, career climbing, corporate,preening, air heads. You think that is going after traditional power...fine. And he is doing it in a manner much like the very people he is going after. That's the way I see it. And sorry for posting as Anonymous. I was in a hurry.

  16. Nobody should be immune from being taken down a peg when they say stupid things, but if no liberals are allowed to be ambitious, career climbing and preening -- we'll reserve on "corporate" -- there will be no liberals expressing any part of a liberal point of view on any issue. By the same token, if no President is allowed to be ambitious, career climbing and preening, and a nearly clinical narcissist at that, we will nave no President.

    However, for all their faults, I am not willing to conclude most of them are not trying their best to be true to themselves while pursuing their ambitions.

  17. But what basis do you have to conclude liberals have good intentions when they put forward the "everyone in the hood is a drug dealer and doesn't work" story but when conservatives do it they are lying racists?

    I sort of agree with you that Jay Z and Gates may have good intentions. (I am now more cynical than I once was so I'm not so sure they do have good intentions.)

    But I see almost no difference between white liberal Democrats (like Clinton) and Republicans like Gingrich that both use the "no hard workers in the hood" story. Sure, most Republicans are going to be more overtly "racist" by saying thins like "crime in these hoods is a direct reflection of the negative character of these communities" while the Democrats won't say that.

    But the Democrats and Republicans agree on the basic Jim Crow type policies like the drug war and neoliberal austerity. It's the policies that matter. What does it matter if the Democrats use politically correct language and black faces to pursue the same policies as the Republicans?

  18. @UL, I have no *meaningful* way to define "to their true intentions". It seems to me to be an extremely flexible phrase, open to numerous, utilitarian, interpretations.

    And to me the question is less whether they are liberal or conservative--and speak of flexible phrases--the question rather is, did you do, and do you do, research about what the hell you opining on?

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