Tag Archives: Martin Luther King

SYNDICATED COLUMN: What’s Up with Black Voters?

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Thomas Frank made a splash a decade ago with a bestseller called “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” In his book Frank attempted to answer the question: why do so many Americans — working-class Americans — vote against their economic and social interests — i.e., Republican?

I’ve been thinking about Frank a lot lately. Beginning with the Southern states on Super Tuesday and continuing through Tuesday’s important New York primary, the crucial support of black voters has created a “firewall” for Hillary Clinton against the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic race for president. Yet Sanders is far more liberal than Clinton, and has a far better record on black issues than she does.

What’s going on? Why are so many black Americans voting against their own interests — i.e., for a Democrat in Name Only?

Sanders, the liberal radical, in the race, carries white states. Clinton, the conservative incrementalist, carries those that are more ethnically diverse. In New York this week, the pattern continued (though there’s strong evidence the primary was stolen by Clintonista-Cuomoite henchmen, but that’s another story). According to exit polls, Hillary carried 75% of African-Americans in New York, compared to 49% of whites. Because it’s uncomfortable for liberals to talk about, no one much does. But the data is clear.

There is a glaring racial divide within the Democratic Party.

This appears to be new. On November 7, 1984, posters went up in my old neighborhood, the Manhattan Valley section of upper Manhattan. They were printed by the city Democratic Party, thanking residents for voting for Walter Mondale over Ronald Reagan at the highest rate in the United States. Then as now, the area was diverse: predominantly Latino, with many blacks and, due to nascent gentrification, a growing white presence. We were all — young white people like me, young people of color, middle-aged people of color, old people of color — on the same page politically: as far left as allowed by law. If there’d been a Bernie Sanders on the ballot in 1984, he would have gotten 99% of Manhattan Valley.

Things have changed over the last 32 years. It’s hard to tell when or how or why. Howard Dean and John Edwards (both insurgent liberals who had trouble attracting black votes) included, Democratic Party politics hasn’t seen any major candidate as left or progressive as Bernie Sanders during that period (really, since George McGovern in 1972). Until now, it’s been hard to clearly perceive the race gap.

Privately, many of Sanders’ supporters are paraphrasing Thomas Frank: what, they wonder, is going on with black people? If the Democratic primary campaign were based on the issues and the candidates’ personal histories, we’d expect blacks to be a key voting bloc for Bernie, not Hillary.

On racial justice issues, Bernie is a zillion times better than Hillary.

During the Civil Rights movement in 1963, Bernie Sanders got arrested to protest housing segregation and traveled to the March on Washington to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was an “active young Republican and, later, a Goldwater girl.” Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act.

Sanders has consistently championed racial equality and fought poverty and income disparity, two economic scourges that hurt blacks worse than anyone else. As First Lady, Clinton pushed her husband’s 1994 crime bill, which accelerated mass incarceration of blacks. (Though she and Bill now admit it went too far, neither have proposed actually doing something to fix it, like letting those sentenced under the law out of prison.) She also backed “welfare reform,” which drastically increased extreme poverty, especially among blacks. And while running for president in 2008, she was the only candidate who said she wouldn’t end the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Hillary is essentially a Republican.

Since when do blacks vote Republican?

One possible answer is name recognition. Hillary Clinton has been a boldface name in politics since 1993. As recently as September, 38% of all Americans had never heard of Bernie Sanders. But that doesn’t explain the race gap. Sanders was an obscure figure to whites and blacks alike.

Another is class. Influenced by Marx, Old Left Democrats like Sanders see racism, sexism and other forms of oppression as subsets of class warfare by ruling elites against the rest of us. Today’s Democrats have abandoned class analysis in favor of identity politics.

So even though she’s wealthy, devotees of identity politics see Hillary Clinton as a victim of oppression because she’s a woman. Even though he’s Jewish and middle-class, identitarians consider Bernie Sanders a privileged white male. Perhaps this is why some black voters relate to her more than the old guy.

Then there’s a factor so ugly that many of us on the left don’t like to discuss it: black anti-Semitism. According to Anti-Defamation League surveys, anti-Semitism is significantly more widespread among African-American and Latino voters than the population as a whole. Some black voters may be holding Bernie’s Jewishness against him.

Ageism may play a role too: in part thanks to obvious plastic surgery, Hillary, 68, looks younger than Bernie, 74. But are blacks more ageist than white millennials?

Interesting speculation. But let’s look at what we know about how Democrats chose their candidates in New York. Hillary voters told pollsters they prioritized (in order) experience, electability (though Bernie is actually more electable) and continuing Obama’s policies.

Bernie voters said the factors they most cared about were honesty and trustworthiness, and policies more liberal than Obama’s.

There’s more than a whiff of the identity politics explanation there. Obama has been weak on racial issues. Understandably, many black voters nevertheless value his historical import as the first black president and remain loyal to him, despite his inaction on things that matter to them. Hillary was, of course, Obama’s secretary of state. And she invokes him all the time.

The (false) belief that Hillary is more electable than Bernie is, I think, the most underappreciated factor driving black support for her. The Rev. Al Sharpton ran for president in 2004. After he got trounced in the South Carolina primary, people wondered why a state with so many blacks delivered so few votes for the one black candidate in the race. One answer was instructive:

“The black vote is looking for a winner and they are not looking to make a statement about race. John Kerry is one of the whitest guys, you know what I mean,” David Bositis, an analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, told The New York Times at the time. For blacks, beating Bush was job one.

Times columnist Charles M. Blow recently made a similar point, that in order to survive blacks (especially in the South) have had to be cautious. Black voters think Hillary is better known and thus, in their opinion, more electable.

This year, black Democrats may be trying to make a statement about race, while being cautious. They may instead wind up increasing the chances of a victory by Donald Trump.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: “Selma” and Hollywood’s Sleazy Perversion of History

Movies are the historical record.

Americans experience the Vietnam War by watching “Apocalypse Now,” slavery in “12 Years a Slave,” and D-Day through “Saving Private Ryan.” A lot more Americans watch historical movies than read history books. Which, when done well, is not a bad thing. I’ve read countless books about the collapse of Nazi Germany, but the brilliantly-acted and directed reenactment of Hitler’s last days in his Berlin bunker depicted in the masterful 2004 German film “Downfall” can’t be beat.

When a film purports to depict a historical event, it becomes the only version of what most people believe really happened. So, as we move further into a post-literate society, misleading historical filmmaking isn’t just a waste of 2-1/2 hours.

It’s a crime against the truth.

The Ava DuVernay-directed film “Selma” is at the center of controversy, both due to its semi-snubbing by the Oscars – viewed as backtracking from last year’s relatively racially diverse choice of nominees – and accusations that it plays loose with history.

Former LBJ aide and Democratic Party stalwart Joe Califano fired the first shot with a Washington Post op-ed. “Selma,” wrote Califano, “falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself.”

He’s right.

Robert Caro’s magisterial four-volume biography of Johnson portrays him as a deeply flawed man, but one whose passion to push for desegregation and an end to discrimination against blacks informed his political career throughout his life, though it wasn’t always obvious to his detractors.

It was only after JFK’s assassination brought him to power – actually, a movie portraying Kennedy as reluctant to support civil rights would have been accurate – that he had the chance to push through both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which he did aggressively and quickly, despite what he famously predicted would be the loss of the South to the Democratic Party for a generation or more.

Johnson gave J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI too much latitude, which Hoover used to harass King, but there’s no evidence that, as the movie depicts, it was LBJ who ordered Hoover to send audiotapes of King having sex with other women to his wife. And let’s be clear: every important conversation in the Oval Office was being taped. We have the transcripts. We would know if that had happened.

Califano takes his defense of his former boss too far when he says “[the march on] Selma was LBJ’s idea.” Otherwise, the facts are on his side: the LBJ in “Selma” is not the LBJ King knew.

Fans of the film argue that it doesn’t matter.

“Did ‘Selma’ cut some corners and perhaps tilt characters to suit the needs of the story? Why yes — just like almost every other Hollywood biopic and historical film that has been made,” the media writer David Carr writes in The New York Times.

Yes, in a movie the story is the thing. It’s hard to imagine “The Queen” — about the inner workings of the British monarchy and its relationship to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair in the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana — working without a lot of made-up dialogue between the principals. However, the great detail of these obviously private conversations signals to the audience that they don’t come out of a transcript, and that we must be witnessing a fictionalized account.

There comes a point, on the other hand, where so many corners get cut and so many characters get tilted that a film ceases to resemble history and enters the territory of complete fabulism and, in the case of “Selma” and LBJ, retroactive character assassination.

The clash between MLK and LBJ – King pushing, Johnson resisting – isn’t merely some extraneous detail of the script in “Selma.” It’s the main plot of the film.

It didn’t go down like that, yet thanks to this BS film, a generation of Americans will grow up thinking that it did.

Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post repeatedly calls “Selma” “fiction.” As in: “film and other fiction.” To her, apparently, film is always fiction. But it’s not.

Like books, film is a medium.

Film can be nonfiction.

Film can be fiction.

“Califano’s approach,” she writes, “besides setting a [sic] odd standard for how fiction ought to work…suggests that we should check fiction for inaccuracies.”

As usual, the crux of the debate boils down to an inability to agree on definitions of terms. For those like Rosenberg who believe that everyone knows movies are just for fun, it doesn’t matter that “Schindler’s List” depicts showers at Auschwitz spraying water rather than Zyklon B — even though that never happened, and thus serves to understate one of the horrors of the Holocaust. To the all-movies-are-fiction crowd, “Zero Dark Forty” is cool despite its completely false claim that torture led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

“This is art; this is a movie; this is a film,” director DuVernay told PBS. “I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian.”

That’s sleazy. Truth is, her film is being marketed as fact, as she knew it would be. And it’s doing better because of it.

Audiences need a ratings system to separate films that purport to recount actual historical events from those like “Selma,” which are fictional tales using historical figures as hand puppets.

I suggest that the MPAA institute the following ratings:

Rated H for Historical: a film that makes a good faith effort to recount history accurately.

Rated S-H for Semi-Historical: a film that relies on devices like made-up dialogue and encounters, but whose basic plot line reflects history to the best of our knowledge.

Rated H-F for Historical Fiction: a film in which anything, including the basic plot line, can be made up out of whole cloth.

If the movies are going to lie to me, I deserve to know before shelling out my $12.50.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

A Look Back at the Looks Back

It began with the March on Washington, or more precisely the 50th anniversary thereof: the 50th anniversary of the 1960s. Because Baby Boomers control the media, get ready for a decade of 50th anniversaries.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: 7 Questions You Should Ask About Syria

Lightening-Quick Obama Makes Bush’s “Rush to War” Look Slow and Methodical

Ten years ago, George W. Bush and his henchmen were beginning their war against Iraq. They wanted to invade hours after 9/11. But conning Congress and the public into invading a country that posed no threat to us delayed the invasion until March 2003. This week, as the media celebrates the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s iconic speech, it is shock- and awe-inspiring to see how far America has come. Where it took a white president a year and a half to pour on enough lies of omission, contextual lapses and leaps of logic to gin up a stupid, illegal war in the Middle East, our black president did it in a week.

Here we go again. A Baathist autocrat is in American crosshairs. The justification: WMDs. Also, he “kills his own people.” Which we haven’t cared about before. But: WMDs.

Ten years ago, the Baathist tyrant of Iraq denied the WMD accusations and invited UN weapons inspectors to verify his claim. Which they did. Because he was telling the truth. But the Bushies didn’t want to wait. No time! Had to invade right away!

And: again. “At this juncture, the belated decision by the regime to grant access to the UN team is too late to be credible,” an Obama official said five days after Syrian troops allegedly fired poison gas into a neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus, killing over 1000 people.

“Too late”? Really? Assad’s government OKed the inspection less than 48 hours after the UN asked. On a weekend. I have editors who don’t get back to me that quickly. Doesn’t seem like a slow response from a government that doesn’t have diplomatic relations with the U.S. Also, they’re kinda busy fighting a civil war.

Now is a good time to think about some things the American mainstream media is omitting from their coverage — concerns strikingly similar to issues that never got discussed back in 2002 and 2003.

1. “Chemical weapons were used in Syria,” Secretary of State John Kerry says. Probably. But by whom? Maybe the Syrian army, maybe the rebels. Experts tell NPR: “The Free Syrian Army has the experience and perhaps even the launching systems to perpetrate such an attack.” Maybe we should ease off on the cruise missiles before we know which side is guilty.

2. Assuming the attack was launched by the Syrian army, who gave the order to fire? Maybe it’s Assad or his top generals. Assad denies this, calling the West’s accusations “nonsense” and “an insult to common sense.” Which, when you think about it, is true. As Barbara Walters and others who have met the Syrian dictator have found, Assad is not an idiot or a madman. He is a well-educated, intelligent man Why would he brush off Obama’s “red line” about the use of chemical weapons last year? His nation borders Iraq, so it’s not like he needs reminders of what happens when you attract unwanted attention from the U.S. Why would Assad take that chance? His forces are doing well. If the attack came from Assad’s forces, maybe it originated on the initiative of a lower-level officer. Should the U.S. go to war over the possible actions of a mid-ranked army officer who went rogue?

3. “The options that we are considering are not about regime change,” says the White House PR flack. So why is Obama “days away” from a military strike? To “send a message,” in Beltway parlance. But the air war that the attack on Syria is reportedly being modeled after, Clinton’s campaign against Serbia during the 1990s, caused the collapse of the Serbian government. Regional players think, and some hope, that degrading Assad’s military infrastructure could turn the war in favor of the Syrian rebels. If toppling Assad isn’t Obama’s goal, why chance it?

4. When you bomb one side in a civil war — a side that, by the way, might be innocent of the chemical attack — you help their enemies. Assad is bad, but as we saw in post-Saddam Iraq, what follows a dictator can be worse. Syria’s rebel forces include radical Islamists who aren’t very nice guys. They’ve installed Taliban-style Sharia law in the areas they control, issuing bizarre edicts (they’ve outlawed croissants) and carrying out floggings and executions, including the recent whipping and fatal shooting of a 14-year-old boy for making an offhand remark about Mohammed. Obama is already sending them arms and cash. Should we fight their war for them too?

5. Why are chemical weapons considered especially bad? Because the U.S. has moved on to other, more advanced ways to kill people. And because we claim to be exceptional. Paul Waldman of The American Prospect notes: “We want to define our means of warfare as ordinary and any other means as outside the bounds of humane behavior, less for practical advantage than to convince ourselves that our actions are moral and justified.” And, as Dominic Tierney argued in The Atlantic, “Powerful countries like the United States cultivate a taboo against using WMD partly because they have a vast advantage in conventional arms.” If 100,000 people have died in Syria during the last two years, why are these 1000 deaths different?

6. White phosphorus is a chemical weapon that kills people with slow, agonizing efficiency, melting their bodies down to their bones. The U.S. dropped white phosphorus in Iraq, notably in the battle of Fallujah. The U.S. uses depleted uranium bombs in Afghanistan. Those are basically chemical weapons. The U.S. uses non-chemical weapons that shock the world’s conscience, such as cluster bombs that leave brightly colored canisters designed to attract playful children. Assuming the Assad regime is guilty as charged of the horrors in Damascus, why does the U.S. have the moral standing to act as jury and executioner?

7. Why us? Assuming that military action is appropriate in Syria, why is the United States constantly arguing that we should carry it out? Why not France, which has a colonial history there? Or Turkey, which is right next door? Or, for that matter, Papua New Guinea? Why is it always us?

Because our political culture has succumbed to militarism. Which has made us so nuts that we’ve gone from zero to war in a week. Which brings up a quote from the “forgotten MLK,” from 1967: “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

Some things never change.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL