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Works and Days

Confusions of the Age

October 14th, 2009 - 9:40 pm

4. The Status of Race? As I have written ad nauseam, I was worried about racial relations, given the comments that candidate Obama had made (“typical white person”, the clingers speech, the 95% bloc voting he garnered against a very liberal rival in the primaries like Hillary Clinton, and, of course, the Rev. Wright virulent racism, etc.), and his epigones as well since his election (the Van Jones’ racist stereotyping, the “cowards” outburst by Eric Holder, the Professor Gates matter, the faux-racist charges by Rangel, Paterson, etc.). Now I am confused what is really to be considered racialist, racist, taboo, OK—or what?

I thought Kanye West’s stealing of the mike at the awards ceremony was in part racially-motivated. I could not quite believe Chris Rock telling a confused Jay Leno, “What the hell did Michael Vick do, man? A dog, a pit bull ain’t even a real dog. A pit bull, that’s the white stuff. Dogs are white man’s best friend – dogs have never been good to black people.” Rock went on about “white people” not liking blacks, etc. All that seemed as, or as not, polarizing as fellow entertainer and political commentator Limbaugh suggesting that a controversial black quarterback was treated too kindly in discussions of his effectiveness by sports writers because of politically-correct/racial anxieties. In other words, I think in just 9 months there have been more racially charged rhetoric and more charges of “racist!” than we’ve seen in the past decade. I know that “white person/white people” as a collective stereotype is being employed more than ever before, perhaps because of its initial presidential sanction. My fear is that we are going to see an enormous backlash against this constant racial obsession.   At some point, some one is going to hear a Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, of the  “black” caucus, railing on the House floor about Limbaugh’s supposed seeing people in terms of race, and —well, laugh. The problem with racializing things is that it is a catalyst for all sorts of frightening hatreds given the nature of the human species; as a society we should be talking constantly about “us” and “we”, never about a particular group of people whose skin color binds them rather than shared interests and ideas. When a Chris Rock or Lee or for that matter Van Jones talks breezily about “white people” or “black people” doing this or that, then fairly soon, someone is going to do the same with “black” or “brown” people, not covertly, but overtly in emulation. And then we have all but legitimized the descent into tribalism.

5. Rich? Not you, not me?

All the news agencies picked up this USA story: “Democrats in the House today represent a combination of both the wealthiest and poorest districts across the nation, a different composition than in 2005, a USA Today analysis of Census data indicated Wednesday. Democrats now represent 57 percent of the 4.8 million households that had incomes of $200,000 or more in 2008. In 2005, Republicans represented 55 percent of those affluent households.”

This seems to be an enormously revealing, but mostly neglected, story:

a)    It gives credence to the old impression that the modern Democratic Party is not sensitive to the middle-class complaint that the wealthy can afford the redistribution of money to the poor that falls inordinately on the middle class who can’t.

b)    We have not seen Obama’s promised tax hikes yet. When the lifting of FICA caps, the increase in income taxes on the top brackets, surcharges for health care, etc. are enacted, will those who make over $200,000 continue to support the huge new entitlements and deficit spending? It was easy to rail against Bush as heartless when he cuts your taxes, but will it be so easy to encourage Obama’s spending sprees when yours are actually  raised?

c)    There is something very Roman about this, in the sense of the upper-classes seeking exemption from popular outcry at their exalted status, by a sort of bread-and-circuses entitlement insurance policy. In more practical purposes, the survey would mean in my work area, that those in the Redwood City barrio and those in the East Palo Alto ghetto, who draw more inordinately on food stamps, housing subsidies, and Medical, have a natural affinity with those in $3 million homes in the rather apartheid Palo Alto and Atherton—but neither so much with the working classes in a Sunnyvale or Milpitas (more racially diverse communities than either Atherton or Redwood City). The rich offer bromides for the poor, but are exempt by their capital from the consequences should such social policy prove ill thought-out. Apparently a lawyer who makes $250,000 and hears constantly Obama’s now tiresome rant about the “rich” either thinks that his own liberality exempts him from the charge that he has ill-gotten gains; or that he has enough that an extra 20-30K in income and payroll taxes won’t matter that much; or that Obama will treat taxation as he has Guantanamo—a strident talking point that remains that. (Most likely he will just let the Bush tax cuts naturally expire, and say ‘they’, not he, hiked taxes on the middle classes.)

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