So Much for the Last Fifty Years

Before the main topic, there’s just one little matter.  The American right was gleeful that Canada finally elected a prime minister who was bluntly pro-American, one who thought George Bush was just fine, and the American way of doing things was just fine, in most everything.  No more of those skinny, elegant, articulate whip-smart jet-setters like Pierre Eliot Trudeau – who was just so damned French, even if he was French-Canadian.  And he dressed too well.  And no more embarrassing dullards like Brian Mulroney.  Canada, to most Americans, was, if they thought of it at all, of less than no significance, save for the cheap prescription drugs and something about hockey.  Yeah, we saw a lot of it – Vancouver and Toronto stood in for New York and a few other major American cities in many a film and in all sorts of televisions shows, but no one but the crafts people here in Hollywood knew that.  The unions here were pissed off.  But it was just Canada, up there, being quiet and otherwise inconsequential.  But now we have a friend of the conservative right, Canadian Prime Minister Stephan Harper, who shares “our” perspective on world affairs, what the right calls our “muscular diplomacy” – which doesn’t actually involve much diplomacy, but no one cares much about the details.  Yes, Stephan Harper shares our perspective on world affairs, except he actually doesn’t


Unlike the U.S., Harper said, “Canada has no history anywhere in the world of conquest or domination. It’s probably hard to perceive of Canada being in that type of a position.”


In contrast, Canada is seen in the world as a “positive and non-threatening force,” he said. “What my government is trying to do is to use those values to promote positive change in concert with our allies.”


Damn, that’s cold.  Matthew Yglesias comments


At the end of the day, this stuff isn’t brain surgery. Use America’s leading position in the world to contribute in a positive way to problems that people worry about around the world and you’ll be liked. Use it to pursue a policy of conquest and domination – not so much.


Well, duh.  Oh yeah, Spain is insignificant too, but for this


El Pais, the highest-circulation daily in Spain, today published what it said was the transcript of a private talk between President George W. Bush and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on February 22, 2003, concerning the coming U.S. invasion of Iraq. It took place at the ranch in Crawford, Texas.


… Bush purportedly said he planned to invade Iraq in March “if there was a United Nations Security Council resolution or not…. We have to get rid of Saddam. We will be in Baghdad at the end of March.” 

He said the U.S. takeover would happen without widespread destruction. He observed that he was willing to play bad cop to British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s good cop.


Aznar pleaded for patience and replied that it was vital to get a U.N. resolution, noting that public opinion in Spain was strongly against the war.


So all the “we don’t really want war” stuff with the ultimatums was bullshit, as was the Powell song and dance at the UN, as was the “consulting” with allies before making a decision – but we knew that.  The decision had been made months before.  What’s new is the “official leak” of this transcript.  It seems the bit players have had enough.  This is not good.  Who’s next?  Folks are walking away.


Okay, be that as it may, there are larger issues now at play that require attention.  Something else is going on, internally, and it’s ugly.  This week is the fiftieth anniversary of what many would agree was a seminal American event – the desegregation of Central High in Little Rock Arkansas.  There’s been a bit on that in the news, and a mention on television here and there.  But so much is going on that it barely got a mention.  And anyway, it’s old news.  Everything has changed for the better since then.  We can congratulate ourselves.  We did something right, and righteous.  All fixed.  Canada and Spain can kiss our ass.  We’re not bad people.


Except the controversy in the last week of September, in 2007, not 1957, was this


After eating dinner at a famed Harlem restaurant recently, Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel told a radio audience, he “couldn’t get over the fact” that there was no difference between the black-run Sylvia’s and other restaurants.


“It was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there and they were ordering and having fun,” he said. “And there wasn’t any kind of craziness at all.”


Mr. O’Reilly said his fellow patrons were tremendously respectful as he ate dinner with Al Sharpton.


Well, that was mighty white of the fellow – these folks are just like us, and kind of pleasant.  Who would have guessed?


The comments were made during O’Reilly’s nationally syndicated radio broadcast the week before, and caused no end of grief, especially after the “media watchdog” Media Matters for America posted a transcript and audio clip on the web.  Karl Frisch, the Media Matters spokesman, said the comments were “ignorant and racially charged.”  Bill Shine, the senior vice president for programming at Fox News Channel said this – “This is nothing more than left-wing outlets stirring up false racism accusations for ratings.  It’s sad.”


Maybe he’s just misunderstood


Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly said Wednesday his critics took remarks he made about a famed Harlem restaurant out of context and “fabricated a racial controversy where none exists.” He criticized the liberal group Media Matters for America as “smear merchants” for publicizing statements he made on his radio show last week.

O’Reilly told his radio audience that he dined with civil rights activist Al Sharpton at Sylvia’s recently and “couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference” between the black-run restaurant and others in New York City.


It was just like a suburban Italian restaurant, he said. “There wasn’t any kind of craziness at all,” he said.


O’Reilly told The Associated Press that Media Matters had “cherry-picked” remarks out of a broader conversation about racial attitudes. He had told listeners that his grandmother – and many other white Americans – feared blacks because they didn’t know any and were swayed by violent images in black culture.


He was just sticking up for the black folks, you see.  And he had an on-air chit-chat about all this with Juan Williams, a Fox News analyst, who is black after all.  They allow such folks to work there, you see.  O’Reilly said he believed black Americans were “starting to think more and more for themselves” and backing away from a race-based culture.  In short, the children were growing up, or something.  And that was because of good black folk like Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.


He’s not being patronizing or anything like that.  See this


He also noted that he went to an Anita Baker concert recently where the audience was evenly mixed between blacks and whites.  “The band was excellent, but they were dressed in tuxedos, and this is what white America doesn’t know, particularly people who don’t have a lot of interaction with black Americans,” he said. “They think the culture is dominated by Twista, Ludacris and Snoop Dogg.”


Mr. Sharpton said he was taken aback that anyone would be surprised at how blacks acted at Sylvia’s and will ask Mr. O’Reilly on “The O’Reilly Factor” today to explain what he meant.


Why bother?


CNN was of course all over the story, and O’Reilly seems to have called CNN and “screamed at the top of his lungs for a very long period of time.”  His official position is that CNN “has gone over to the dark side.”  He may have been referring to Luke Skywalker and his father in Star Wars or something, but it was an unfortunate choice of words.


And to quote him precisely –


I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it’s run by blacks.


See the widely-read Digby here


This is not a man who lives in a small town in Minnesota that has few African Americans. He lives in New York City and yet he “couldn’t get over the fact” that a restaurant run by blacks with black patrons is exactly the same as any other restaurant. He revealed himself as someone who has formed his impressions of African Americans based on racist stereotypes. And there is nothing that Bill O’Reilly hates more than revealing himself (unless it’s to one of his female employees).


He explains that he was actually being extremely color blind, because once he had this racial epiphany at Sylvia’s, he spread the good word to all those who hadn’t had the eye-opening experience of seeing black people behaving just like “normal” Americans, that they could finally relax…


Digby comes to this conclusion –


An honest discussion about race would be nice. And it’s entirely possible that if Williams had asked O’Reilly about his assumptions when he said these things, a real dialog could have taken place. But he didn’t. So one must assume that Williams thinks there’s nothing wrong with what O’Reilly said.


Of course, Juan Williams is an employee of Fox News who is also selling a book about how badly behaved black people are, so you have to consider the source.


We all know what we heard from O’Reilly and he knows it too. He was surprised to find that black people act just like everyone else does in a public place, even in their “own milieu” where he apparently expected the patrons to scream for another “glass of motherfucking iced tea.” He thinks he is being very open minded and un-bigoted by revealing to the world on his important radio show that he’s discovered that black people are just like everyone else. The problem, of course, is that only a racist thinks that this is big news.


So where are we after fifty years?  Think about what’s happening in Jena, Louisiana where they hung those symbolic nooses under the “white tree” where African Americans aren’t allowed to sit – and posted the addresses of black students on web sites, calling for their followers to lynch the Jena 6.  You might have followed the story – the schoolyard fight about who can sit under that tree, and the six black students who were charged, as adults, with attempted murder, latter reduced to aggravated battery.  The last of them was just reassessed as a juvenile – the governor had to intervene.  You don’t mess with white folks.


Digby on the Jena Six sees what’s up


It actually isn’t surprising. If you listen to right-wing talk radio these days you will hear more outright racist rhetoric than I can remember in the last twenty-five years. The Internet is even worse. Blacks, “illegal aliens,” Muslims – all day long you hear an endless litany of complaints about these illegitimate people who are allegedly trying to ruin the American way of life through whining and scheming, stealing jobs and trying to kill us all in our beds. The other day, even General John Abizaid’s statement that the world could live with a nuclear Iran was greeted on rightwing forums with a spew of insults about his “Arab” ancestry.


The racist beast is clamoring to be set free.


Perhaps it’s just the old twin pillars of right-wing populism raising their hideous heads: economic insecurity leading to a nativist resentment toward foreigners and African Americans. I suspect it has something to do with the last six years of endless fearmongering and racist subtext of the rhetoric of the War on Terror (it doesn’t matter which ones attacked us!). The war in Iraq has left many of these conservatives unsatisfied and unfulfilled, so they’ve turned to those of darker hue closer to home.


So maybe Bill O’Reilly is doing some good.  He’s letting his audience know they’re not ALL savage murderers and rapists.  And even down there in Jena white folks have rights too


[Mayor Murphy] McMillin has insisted that his town is being unfairly portrayed as racist – an assertion the mayor repeated in an interview with Richard Barrett, the leader of the Nationalist Movement, a white supremacist group based in Learned, Miss., who asked McMillin to “set aside some place for those opposing the colored folks.”


“I am not endorsing any demonstrations, but I do appreciate what you are trying to do,” Barrett quoted McMillin as saying. “Your moral support means a lot.”


You see, you cannot let them get too uppity.


Digby –


Katrina brought the ugly reminder of America’s original sin back to our TV screens in living color. Then, this past summer, the immigration debate erupted in the right-wing noise machine, exposing the great brown underbelly of American nativism once again and scuttling long laid plans for GOP Hispanic outreach. And Jena has reminded us in stark black and white that we haven’t progressed as far as many people assumed, since that day 50 years ago in Little Rock. What’s going on here?


Bob Herbert, the one black columnist at the New York Times, had the answer


The GOP has spent the last 40 years insulting, disenfranchising and otherwise stomping on the interests of black Americans. Last week, the residents of Washington, D.C., with its majority black population, came remarkably close to realizing a goal they have sought for decades – a voting member of Congress to represent them.


A majority in Congress favored the move, and the House had already approved it. But the Republican minority in the Senate – with the enthusiastic support of President Bush – rose up on Tuesday and said: “No way, baby.”


… At the same time that the Republicans were killing Congressional representation for D.C. residents, the major GOP candidates for president were offering a collective slap in the face to black voters nationally by refusing to participate in a long-scheduled, nationally televised debate focusing on issues important to minorities.


… The Republican debate is scheduled for Thursday. But Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson have all told Mr. Smiley: “No way, baby.”


They won’t be there. They can’t be bothered debating issues that might be of interest to black Americans. After all, they’re Republicans.


Well, they also skipped the Univision Spanish language debate.  There’s a pattern here.


Digby points out the obvious, which is the history of it all –


Herbert reminds us about the Southern Strategy – and famed GOP strategist Lee Atwater’s candid admission: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger. By 1968, you can’t say ‘nigger’ – that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.”


But we are reminded that what is unusual now is that the Republicans are getting more overt, rather than less, for the first time in forty years –


In recent campaigns the Southern Strategy had developed into a sophisticated code, even more obscure than Atwater’s examples, where they would support “Southern heritage” symbols like the confederate flag and run on “law and order” but at the same time make a great show of “outreach” and inclusion to the public at large. This has been the pattern for some years now, perfected by the current president in his “compassionate conservative” campaign in 2000.


See Rick Perlstein here


It actually isn’t surprising. If you listen to right-wing talk radio these days you will hear more outright racist rhetoric than I can remember in the last 25 years. The Internet is even worse. Blacks, “illegal aliens,” Muslims – all day long you hear an endless litany of complaints about these illegitimate people who are allegedly trying to ruin the American way of life through whining and scheming, stealing jobs and trying to kill us all in our beds. The other day, even General John Abizaid’s statement that the world could live with a nuclear Iran was greeted on rightwing forums with a spew of insults about his “Arab” ancestry.


It’s not even subtle now, and Digby suggests the country has politically realigned, as least to the extent that the South is now a Republican monolith –


The most profound clash between the South and everyone else, of course, is a cultural one. It arises from the southern tradition of putting values – particularly Christian values – at the center of politics. This is not the same as saying that the Republican Party is “too far right” – Americans consistently tell pollsters that they are conservative on values issues. It is, rather, that the Republicans have narrowly defined values as the folkways of one regional subculture and have urged their imposition on the rest of the country.


Perhaps it’s more accurate that the one folkway and “value” that many right wing conservatives around the country share with their conservative, Southern Republican brethren is racism. It’s a tie that has always bound. Perhaps in this era of epic Republican failure, it’s the one thing they can all fall back on.


No wonder the Canadians and Spaniards would rather quietly back away and do their own thing.  If you thought the “war of choice” marketed on false premises, and Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib, and the kidnapping of who we choose on foreign soil, the indefinite detention without charges or any recourse for even our own citizens, the endorsement of what everyone else thinks is torture, the threats to take out this government or that when we’re upset, and Blackwater and all the rest – if you thought all that turned people against us, well, there’s always more.  There’s the race thing.


It’ll do.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Cultural Notes, Race and Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to So Much for the Last Fifty Years

  1. Third Rail says:

    To view the rebuttal of Juan Williams and Bill O’Reilly in regards to comments made by CNN, go to

  2. Pingback: Inelegance in Political Opinion « Just Above Sunset

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