TRIBE AND RACE: Race-fueled street fight on the left!


Part 1—Perlstein belittles Winfrey: Last week, historian Rick Perlstein took out the knives in a street fight he launched against Oprah Winfrey.

Or did he?

This street fight, which we have imagined, concerns the role played by race in the denigration of President Obama. In the course of disagreeing with Winfrey’s view, Perlstein displayed his rather obvious sense of white privilege.

Or at least, a person could say that he did!

In a lusty, name-calling piece at The Nation, Perlstein claimed that the tea party is just the latest example of a well-known, recurrent force in American political history. Name-calling to the side, we’re inclined to agree with that view.

Eventually, Perlstein offered his assessment of the vituperation which has been aimed at Obama. We’re inclined to agree with this too:
PERLSTEIN (11/25/13): This time, liberals are also making a new mistake. Call it “racial defeatism.” Folks throw their hands up and say, “Of course reactionary rage is going to flow like mighty waters against an African-American president! What can we possibly do about that?” But it’s crucial to realize that the vituperation directed at Obama is little different from that aimed at John F. Kennedy, who was so hated by the right that his assassination was initially assumed by most observers to have been done by a conservative; or Bill Clinton, who was warned by Helms in 1994 that if he visited a military base in North Carolina, he’d “better have a bodyguard.”
On balance, we tend to agree with the thrust of that paragraph. Is the denigration of President Obama something new? On balance, we’re inclined to think that it’s more like the denigration of President Clinton than it is different.

Quite often, we liberals act as if the denigration of Obama is an utterly puzzling new phenomenon, like nothing that’s ever been seen on the earth. We then attribute the vituperation to Obama’s race. What else could it possibly be?

As a general matter, we find that reaction maddening. That said, let’s be clear about what Perlstein seemed to be saying in this part of his piece.

Let’s be clear, though Perlstein isn’t! As he continues, Perlstein seems to say that the denigration of President Obama actually is “racism-soaked.” It’s just that the wars against Presidents Kennedy and Clinton were soaked in racism too.

In some ways, we don’t understand the next paragraph in Perlstein’s piece. In particular, we don’t understand what his mid-paragraph examples are meant to be example of.

That said, Perlstein’s overall view seems fairly clear. According to Perlstein, the denigration of President Obama really is “racism-soaked:”
PERLSTEIN (continuing directly): All right-wing antigovernment rage in America bears a racial component, because liberalism is understood, consciously or unconsciously, as the ideology that steals from hard-working, taxpaying whites and gives the spoils to indolent, grasping blacks. Racial rhetoric has been entwined with government from the start, all the way back to when the enemy was not Obamacare but the Grand Army of the Republic (and further in the past than that: Thomas Jefferson, after all, was derided as “the Negro President”). When former IRS Commissioner T. Coleman Andrews ran for president in 1956 on a platform of abolishing the income tax, it was no accident that his war cry—he was fighting against the “degeneration of the union of states into an all-powerful central government!”—was indistinguishable from that of the Southern governors enacting a policy of massive resistance against Brown v. Board of Education. Every time the government acts to expand the prerogatives of citizenship and economic opportunity to formerly disenfranchised groups, a racism-soaked backlash ensues. Defeatism—or ideological accommodation—only makes it worse.

Ironically, liberals of previous generations understood this better than we do now, despite decades more experience watching how the right’s game is played...
Our first observation would be this: everything becomes possible when we let ourselves list the things The Others believe “unconsciously.” (“Liberalism is understood, consciously or unconsciously, as the ideology that steals from hard-working, taxpaying whites and gives the spoils to indolent, grasping blacks.”) Once we grant ourselves that power, there’s no judgment we won’t be able to make about the vile hearts and ugly souls of those in The Other Tribe.

Even granting ourselves that license, Perlstein’s mid-paragraph examples seem a bit hard to parse. Are they meant to be examples of “racism-soaked backlash” fueled by “right-wing antigovernment rage?” For example:

When Jefferson was derided as “the Negro president,” it wasn’t exactly a case of “right-wing antigovernment rage.” The denigration came from forces in the north. They were complaining about the way Jefferson won the White House despite receiving fewer popular votes than his opponent, John Adams.

(For a brief overview, click here.)

Jefferson’s margin of victory came from the twelve electoral votes he won due to the “three-fifths” rule. Under that constitutional provision, an enslaved person in the south was counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of representation.

Because he won the White House on the basis of those extra electoral votes, Jefferson was derided as “the Negro president.” It’s hard to see how this was a case of “right-wing antigovernment rage,” if that’s what Perlstein is saying.

That said:

In the modern liberal world, the need for clarity disappears when we fulminate about the racial bad faith of everyone who isn’t Exactly Like Us. No precept could be more obvious.

Second example: Was T. Coleman Andrews’ very minor campaign in 1956 an expression of “right-wing antigovernment rage?” Did it bear “a racial component?” Was it “racism-soaked?” Was Andrews engaged in “racial rhetoric?”

To us, those claims seem like a large and pointless stretch. Andrews ran in opposition to the “steeply graduated” income tax rates of the day, which included a marginal rate of 91 percent. He received very few votes and is little remembered.

That said, it seems that everyone else agreed with his general view. Over the next three decades, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Reagan kept lowering the marginal tax rate until it reached 28 percent. Under Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama, the marginal rate has bounced around between 31 and 39.6 percent.

Is Obama himself racism-soaked? Can we discern that from his embrace of a sub-91 percent rate? Remember, everything is possible when we liberals get a good snootful, then start to declaim about race!

We’re puzzled by Perlstein’s examples; we’re not even entirely sure what they’re example of. That said, Perlstein’s overall claim seems fairly clear: All opposition to modern Democratic presidents seems to constitute a “racism-soaked backlash” driven by “right-wing antigovernment rage.”

Maybe that isn’t what Perlstein meant. His writing is a bit hard to decipher. Rules of clarity do disappear when our tribe declaims about race.

In fairness, Perlstein’s name-calling is loud and impressive all through his piece. Even so, we’re inclined to disagree with his overall claim, if we understand what his overall claim actually is.

We’re also inclined to think that our tribe should be a bit less promiscuous with our charges and claims about race. Is there a way for us liberals to challenge The Others without scattering R-bombs all over the land? Without scattering our bombs in an incoherent, promiscuous manner?

We know, we know—it feels so good to do it! Still, we think it’s possible to go without this ultimate tribal pleasure.

We agree with one basic part of what Perlstein said. On balance, we think the vituperation aimed at Obama is similar to the vituperation which was aimed at Clinton.

For Kevin Drum’s view, click here.

Tomorrow, though, we plan to examine Perlstein’s race-fueled attack on Oprah Winfrey, the race-fueled attack we’ve imagined. Let’s face it. White privilege is never far from the surface when people like Perlstein start to spout.

Or at least, claims like that can be voiced!

In making that ridiculous statement, we are behaving in much the way Perlstein has done in his lusty piece. We have only forgotten one rule:

That is the way our liberal tribe goes after the people known as The Others. Among Our Own, in best tribal fashion, we’re much more discerning, more sane, more fair.

Tomorrow: What Oprah said!

A fascinating interview from 1956: When T. Coleman Andrews ran for president in 1956, was he involved in a racism-soaked backlash fueled by right-wing antigovernment rage? Was he spewing “racial rhetoric?”

It sure feels good to say so! It makes us liberals feel Better Than Them. It makes Us, the living dead, feel like we’re really alive.

Let’s set that thrill up our legs to one side. What are the actual merits here? Was Andrews involved in a racism-soaked backlash fueled by right-wing antigovernment rage? Was he even offering “racial rhetoric” in any discernible way?

You can judge for yourself! In May 1956, U.S. News published a lengthy interview with Andrews. And oh, what a different world it was! Here you see one exchange:
U.S. NEWS (5/25/56): Shouldn’t everybody have the same income? President Franklin Roosevelt said nobody should have more than $25,000—

ANDREWS: You know I don’t subscribe to such socialistic demagoguery as that. I say everyone should have what he can make honestly, with a minimum of taxes. Everyone should be able to keep a much larger share of his income than he can at present, and everyone’s right to expect to be protected in his possession of what he makes should be respected, especially by the Government.
Things were different back then! Imagine a time when a politician could denounce a “socialistic” proposal without even stretching that much!

Does Andrews seem to be racism-soaked? We link, you decide:

For the full interview with U.S. News, just click here. You will be whisked to a different time—a time when the top tax rate was 91 percent and the most conservative of the weekly news mags might ask a question like that.


  1. I think Perlstein is talking about Producerism, a right-wing populist view where the virtuous and industrious middle-class has its pockets picked by cosmopolitan elites and a parasitic and underserving class of poor people. This theme has played itself out in many political movements in America history. For a basic outline of Producerism, please see here

  2. I, for one, look forward to Oprah's rebuttal, followed by a vigorous explanation of what Somerby meant and its defense from the many fans among his imaginary readers.

  3. Pearlstein was as clear as he can be: the hatred of Democratic presidents and their policies is based in racial resentments even when, as in the case of Clinton and Obama, those policies are hardly "progressive", both being well to the right of Richard Nixon on domestic policy.

    As unlwelcome as this news may be to Mr. Bob, there's nothing difficult to understand here. The right-wing is not coy: if Mr. Somerby doubts that right-wing politics is fueled by the perceived government transfer of wealth, opportunity and privilege to undeserving racial minorities he must be leaving in a bag.

    True, there are no test scores to prove this contention, and since "professors" conduct all social science research in this country, the findings will likely be unpersuasive to Mr. Bob.

    Eyes and ears will usually suffice, however.

    1. How nice it would be if people like you would use your brain as well, instead of imagining what "Mr. Bob" can or cannot understand.

    2. Meanwhile, the far more socially important racial phenomenon of the "Knock Out Game" is getting some mainstream media attention, finally. Winfrey, Obama and Perstein will avoid saying anything about it.

      The message to non-blacks that it is unsafe in the daytime to be in areas where there may be groups of blacks - and not just kids! some attackers have been in their 30's - is going to be a hell of a lot more harmful to black people than the Tea Party.

    3. Lionel, are you actually trying to argue that racial resentments are justified?

    4. I'm saying that political correctness is trumped by personal safety and should be.

      It was hideous that Obama and Holder whined about their feelings being hurt to be viewed as suspects when they were young. I blame them for that young teacher in Danvers, MA getting killed because she wasn't careful about being alone with that kid and very likely her thinking was that she can't hurt his feelings because he's black.

    5. Anonymous 12:05, are you suggesting that racial resentments are not justified? If that's the case, then we can abolish the white privilege rhetoric in Common Core (e.g. The Jacket), affirmative action hiring practices, race considerations in college admissions, race-based scholarships and campus societies, ridiculous Trayvon Martin civil suits, etc. I like where you're going with this.

  4. Many Obama supporters repeated what the right said about the Clintons during the 2008 primary campaign. Now, they act as if Obama were the first Democrat to receive such criticism based on race.

  5. I know, I know, guilt by association, but lookee who agrees with bone-gnawer:

    Ann Coulter:

    August 14, 2013

    Do liberals have any arguments for their idiotic ideas besides calling their opponents "racist"?

    end quote.

    I think bone-gnawer's bottomless hate is coming from loneliness, any chance that he calls up Coulter for a date?

    1. Troll is worried that his dog-eared, dishonest device is losing its potency and he's angry that Bob is so effective in helping this process along.

    2. I am sure the controversy Bob so effectively generated between Perlstein and Winfrey is threatening to overwhelm the servers on Al's creation as we tweet.

  6. I voted for Obama in 2008 and probably will not live long enough to want to vote for another black politician because I am so sick and tired of hearing this crap that criticism of him is "racist," or because he's "African American" (Winfrely). Winfrey also said that "nobody wants to say it." The Hell! They don't STOP saying it.

    I think I'll not vote for any women because you can be sure that all you'll hear is that if you criticize her its because she's a woman and you don't respect women.

    What this Perlstein fellow and his ilk are up to is really elitism, attacking the so-called "Tea Party" and its antecedents as "racist" What they really are is ordinary people as opposed to the mainstream media. Mainstream media made plenty of snarky attacks on Reagan, Ford, Nixon. Watergate looks like piffle next to drone bombing and if there was any integrity among liberals, they'd admit it. But they won't.

    As for Clinton, I have never understood the defense. No one disputes that Clinton sent the state trooper to get the young state employee, Paula Jones, and bring her to Clinton's hotel room. He had a complimentary room at that hotel; thats on the record. Clinton himself does not dispute that he sent the trooper. His defense is that he was "never alone in a hotel" with her. Like everyone is a moron and doesn't notice that he leaves out the word "room."

    What kind of people think its OK for a governor to send a state trooper to fetch a state employee so the governor can proposition her? Liberals have been throwing up gorilla dust about "racism" and Clinton being the "first black president" for the better part of 20 years to evade the simple facts of that matter. Clinton's character is abominable.

    1. Winfrey thinks that when an upscale Swiss boutique refuses to open up after hours for her shopping pleasure, it is being racist.

      On April 1, 1998, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright granted summary judgment to Clinton in Jones v. Clinton.

  7. The Usual Douchebag Troll CrewNovember 18, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    "We’re also inclined to think that our tribe should be a bit less promiscuous with our charges and claims about race."


    Somerby thinks there's no such thing as racism.

  8. Anyone who thinks conservatives don't believe that liberalism is all about transferring their hard-earned money into the pockets of lazy minorities who don't deserve it should look at my FB feed sometime.

    1. FWIW, I'm a centrist that believes approximately 50% of liberalism is about exactly this. It really is shameful what they allege to get the head-patting approval of their ilk. I think it starts with an ingrained desire to please leftist-female teacher with the correct answers while at the most impressionable stages of their upbringing.

    2. Very few centrists go about using "ilk" to reference liberals,
      label teachers as "leftist-female," and, by design or carelessness agree that minoroties are lazy.

      In your case, "for what it's worth" is actually a fairly good example of what Perlstein describes as a racism soaked whacko.

    3. The M/F ratio changes with grade level. It is strongly female in elementary school and shifts to male through middle school and high school until it is strongly male in college (outside of a few female enclaves such as psychology). Teachers are by nature conservative because their job involves communicating shared cultural values to children. Their politics vary and they are by no means mostly Democrat. Depends on the surrounding demographics, or at the college level, on the discipline (economists and business professors tend to be conservative, computer science majors and engineers lean libertarian). More Democrats in Boston, more Republicans in Newport Beach. Stereotypes are unhelpful.

      Are we now going to have a bunch of racist wacko trolls invade this blog again because of references to Oprah? We just got rid of the last bunch (although Lionel seems to be back again, claiming to have voted for Obama while espousing the most naked conservative garbage).

    4. "Stereotypes are unhelpful. Are we now going to have a bunch of racist wacko trolls invade this blog again?"


    5. Most teachers are Democrat [sic] and female.

      Therefore, because *I* am a centrist, I refer to them as "leftist-females."

      What could be more natural, for a centrist?

    6. Are we now going to have a bunch of racist wacko trolls invade this blog again because of references to Oprah?

      It's funny how little effect that word has nowadays.

    7. Yes, the T word is thrown around way to loosely for the taste of the blog's more erudite readers.

  9. Perlstein writes (and Bob agrees): John F. Kennedy, who was so hated by the right that his assassination was initially assumed by most observers to have been done by a conservative

    Wait a minute. Most observers (meaning most liberal observers) wrongly blamed conservatives for JFK's assassination. In reality he was killed by someone on the left. IMHO the fact that most liberal observers were mistaken reflects on the liberal observers. The mistake shows that liberal observers wrongly considered the right to be violent.

    This same type of mistake continues today. E.g., some liberals describe the Tea Party as consisting of "angry white people". That phrase suggests that the Tea Partiers are bigots whose anger might cause them to be violent. Or, consider the nutty claim that the Tea Party aims for a violent insurrection.

    1. Lee Harvey Oswald was another mentally ill person, not a political activist despite his earlier attempts to join the communists. It doesn't make any logical sense that someone happy with Kennedy's presidency would have killed him, so that's why the left wasn't the liberals' first thought for blame. It doesn't mean the right was considered more violent. I think there has been plenty of violence from both extremes. In that time period, you have recent experience with night-riders, but the left didn't become violent until around 1968 (after the convention and Kent State radicalized people, and after Manson appeared and the Black Power movement gained more visibility, supplanting the non-violence of the freedom-riders). That all came a little later.

    2. DAinCA,

      "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."

      Sure enough, a quote from "some liberal" named Lindsey Graham. The phrase suggests that teahadists are mostly white (which they are) and that they're upset (which they claim to be).

      By the way, didja find the section of the ACA that allows HHS to grant waivers for substandard health plans in 2013? You had mistakenly accused Obama of granting these waivers to his political allies in violation of the law. I'm sure you've been looking diligently through the law. Need some help?

    3. Didn't Oswald go to Mexico City and protest for Communist Cuba? And, of course, he did defect to the Soviet Union.

  10. deadrat - The country is "mostly white". The Democratic Party is "mostly white". Obama's cabinet is"mostly white". Liberal journalists are "mostly white". That phrase, taken literally, tells us almost nothing. But, it's got an implicit meaning that non-whites are not welcome.

    deadrat -- An old saw says, "Horses sweat, men perspire, women glow." There's an implicit difference between calling a group "angry" and calling them "upset," and you know it

    1. DAinCA,

      OK, fair point. How about this? The teahadists are significantly whiter (about 80%, compared to 72% of voters in the last Presidential election), significantly older (40% are over 55, compared to about a quarter of the population), and carry significantly more Y chromosomes (62% male, when men are the minority in this country by about two percentage points).
      Unfocused and unthinking outrage is the Tea Party's signature: Obama is Hitler and keep your government hands off my Medicare.

      (It's always wise to remember that the Tea Party isn't your typical American political party. To a large extent, it's an astroturf movement that the Republican Party tried to co-opt.)

      These demographics are facts, as even Lindsay Graham understands. This has led to much hand-wringing in the Republican Party apparat about the Party (and in particular the crazier wing now de facto running it) driving away women and minorities. The reason is not that there are too many white teahadists who make non-whites unwelcome, and to point out demographic facts is not to make this claim.

      The significance of the difference between "angry" and "upset" is entirely inside your own head.

      Found that section of the ACA that allows HHS to grant those 2013 waivers? I know you want to substantiate your charge that the President violated the law to pursue cronyism.

    2. Unfocused and unthinking outrage is the Tea Party's signature.

      I think it's the reverse. I think Tea Party members are, on average, smarter, better educated, and more knowledgeable than the average voter. Talk about unthinking. The ACA was passed with no public explanation of all the new things it did. It was mostly conservatives who complained about now knowing what was in the bill. The liberals didn't mind not thinking about what was in the bill.

      One thing I'm certain about is that the Tea Party is a real grass roots organization. There are lots of people who are very worried about all the unthinking things government is doing. These people have been loosely organized into a most decentralized organization.

    3. DAinCA,

      But you think a lot of things that are utter nonsense, which you demonstrate virtually every time you post. Are teahadists "on average" smarter than everybody else? Hard to define; impossible to know. Are they more (formally) educated? True, probably because "on average" they make more money. Are they more knowledgeable? Again, hard to say. Given the evidence from their public rallies, I'd tend to doubt it.

      The teahadists are not a grass roots organization in spite of what you're certain of. Do we need to review your comment history here to compile a list of nonsense things that you're certain of? The Tea Party is a creature of the Orwellianly-named Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of the Koch brothers. It's really no more than a ginned-up slice of the Republican Party. Given it's astroturf nature, it's membership is hard to pin down, and the only information we have is from polls. I've used Bloomberg, but a CBS poll puts its membership at 90% white, 1% black. 5% say they sometimes or usually vote Democratic, 4% say they don't know, and the rest vote Republican. About a third are from the south, a region with about one-fifth of the US population.

      This is not to say that these people aren't worried about the government. They hate the government. Also, they depend completely on the government. But you said it yourself: "These people have been loosely organized." True enough. A grass-roots movement organizes itself.

      About the ACA. It's a huge bill, and the technical details of implementation got little explanation, but this is pretty much the same for any large bill. Do you have any idea how the farm bill works? The overall plan was discussed at length The ACA has two main parts -- one expands the availability of standard insurance, and the other attempts to cut costs.

      The insurance part was widely discussed:

      - Everybody is supposed to have insurance.
      - The poor are supposed to get Medicaid.
      - The not-so poor get subsidized insurance through state exchanges.
      - Those employed by companies of more than 50 people, get insurance through employers.
      - Those 65 and over keep Medicare.
      - Insurers must cover pre-existing conditions and cannot cap benefits,

      Seriously, if you missed this, then you just weren't paying attention, so don't project your ignorance onto "liberals." The part that attempts to cut costs is less well known. It attempts to reward providers by outcomes and wean them from pay-for-procedures. I'll admit I don't know much about this part.

      Have you found the section of the ACA that allows the HHS to give waivers to companies in 2013? I keep asking if you need help, and I get no response. Remember you accused the President of rewarding his friends by illegally giving them waivers. It turns out that Obama has nothing to do with it. It's HHS that hands out the waivers. Is that a big enough hint?

      I'm here to help.

  11. Dear Bob,

    Are you going to sit there and tell me the presidential nominee of the dixiecrat 'States Rights Party' in 1956 was not a racist? Are you kidding me? You might want to look up a bit more about Mr. Coleman.

  12. Dear Bob,


  13. Note that J. Coleman's States Rights Party which nominated him for President in 1956, was not the Dixiecrat Party (officially the States Rights Democratic Party), which was in business for the 1948 election only. Neither was it the National States Rights Party, a white supremacist group not founded until 1958.

    It's true that the States Rights Party had little support outside the south, garnering over 90% of its votes there. And
    it's true that ol' J. Coleman was a segregationist, considering his support for George ("As God is my witness, I'll never be out-segged again") Wallce and his quixotic campaign to save Jim Crow. But the man could be said to be the original teahadist. He was animated by a fear of the growing size and power of the federal government, especially that enabler, the federal income tax. He became a founding member of the John Birch Society, which is the best clue to his political character.

  14. OMB (In sleepy London town there's just no place for)

    Every hard core Bobfan has to be proud today. An imaginary streetfight between Perlstein and Oprah. Beats an imaginary conversation with a bald spot any week of the last two decades.

    Move over MoDo. There's a new sheriff in town.