Avoidance Behavior as the Preferred Option

Friday, October 24, was the day of the worldwide panic sell-off on every market, everywhere – liquidate what you have at a massive loss to cover the redemptions and margin calls. You may be leveraged at thirty or forty to one, but you did promise that if anyone wanted out of the deal they’d get their money back. Now they want out – they have their own obligations to cover and need the cash. So you sell assets and find what cash you can to keep your word, so they can keep their word, so someone else can keep their word – and so on and so forth. There are thousands of layers of global interlocking obligations. And everyone seems to know there’s just not enough actual value in most every one of the fancy investment instruments involved – those mortgage-backed collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps and whatnot – to go around. As they say on the street, everyone gets a haircut, although this was more like a mass beheading.


The headline was bland enough – Stocks Fall on Belief Global Recession Is At Hand – but everyone was talking about the day’s panic, starting with another ten percent drop on Japan’s exchange, followed by the futures on the Dow dropping so far so fast that trading was automatically halted, then an expectation the Dow would open down eleven hundred points or more. It would be the big crash. When the Dow opened down only five hundred points, well, things didn’t seem so bad, and when it closed down only a bit over three hundred points everyone was relieved, or sort of relieved. But the consensus was that bad times are coming – a slow-motion crash over many weeks, followed by what is just starting, all economies around the world slowing down to not much of anything being produced or sold, and massive layoffs with millions unemployed. Whether what’s coming is a global recession or the Great Depression 2.0 – that’s an argument over how you like to define things, as if it matters. Whole countries go flat broke – Iceland already, Hungary soon, and others, possibly Italy to follow. Call it what you want.


You just don’t want to think about it – so you don’t. Yeah, yeah – that’s avoidance behavior, but avoiding what is intensely painful to contemplate can keep you from further panic, or worse, and we have no FDR these days to calm everyone down and stop the panic. The best we can do is, on our own, think about other things.


Luckily, Americans are good at that – really good – and the presidential race helps. That seems to be about other things – about who is a real American, not an over-educated Muslim socialist Paris Hilton celebrity, and who is an elitist who has no respect for the real Americans and hangs around with terrorists instead of NASCAR fans, and who is the real maverick who will shake things up, and whether tall, menacing and over-sexed black men will ravish our sweet and delicate young white woman, and who is too old or too young, who is the hero who deserves the office because he suffered, and so on. There is some chat about policy, specifically tax policy these days, but even the talk of policy seems clouded over with suggestions of just who is one of us and who is the dreaded OTHER. We may be headed for the hardest of hard times, but these other concerns are just easier to consider. After all, when all the hedge funds must finally deleverage – and pay the piper – all you can do is watch. And who can keep all the details straight?


So we attend to what we think we can keep straight, like elitism. In They Only Said They Were the Grown-Ups there was some discussion of that, including this:


“Oh, I guess just people who think that they’re better than anyone else…. So anyone who thinks that they are – I guess – better than anyone else, that’s – that’s my definition of elitism,” Palin replied.


That wasn’t exactly deep thinking, but she doesn’t do much of that – or more like, if she does, she knows you don’t win elections be letting on that you have well thought-out and subtle but effective ideas. That’s for the guy at the top of the other ticket, Obama. You hope that will sink him, betting people don’t like that sort of thing – that it makes them uncomfortable in some sort of mixture of resentment, envy and insecurity.


A note on what she said came in from our friend, the doctor up Boston way:


I think some definitions are in order with regard to what Palin said in this quote. What Palin is talking about here are snobs. Those people who look down their nose at those poor slobs beneath them. According to the OED – a snob is one who despises those who are considered inferior in rank, attainment, or taste.


This is more in line with what Palin is talking about, a sort of “I’m better than you” mentality, helping to foment class warfare. The word elite actually means something quite different from people who merely “think” they’re better than others, as its Latin roots come from eligere, to elect, or to choose. This would imply that to be elite is to be quite distinct and honored – to be one of the “elected” or “chosen.”


Just hoping that this might pass for some “thinking” …


Well, imagine yourself in California, living in Hollywood, perhaps writing a blog, and being the only Democrat in the family – the sole liberal, or progressive. It might seem to you that the family thinks they’re somehow a bit better than you – more authentic or something – because you went to graduate school and used to fly off to Paris each year. That might make the others in the family something like snobs, as the doctor defines the term – proud of their noble refusal to be taken in by the foolishness of education and travel. So, somehow you understand that you’ll never be what they think you should be. They snicker, but they do tolerate you – families do not cast out members, ever. But you’ve been ruined, as they see it – you got the masters degree and almost finished the PhD, and as much as you can try to deny it, they know you used to hang around for weeks at a time in Paris or Arles or Aix. But it’s okay as long as you keep your opinions to yourself. It’s the opposite of making fun of the NASCAR fan who drives a pick-up and cannot even remember how to read. It’s just the other end of the telescope.


And that’s not unusual. There’s a lot of that going around.


You just don’t talk about politics. What would be the point? And you don’t harp on what everyone sees, like the widely-discussed New York Times Sunday Magazine about McCain, the cover story that depicts John McCain’s faltering campaign as a series of failed narratives about the candidate. Anyone can see the current narrative pits “The Fighter” against “The Tax-and-Spend Liberal” – and while that may be a winner the item implies that all the prior narratives – and there have been many – have diluted McCain’s brand, as they say, and pretty much destroyed credibility. But you’re not going to discuss that, or all the juicy details on that campaign adviser Steve Schmidt and how he came to be in charge of everything, or McCain’s newfound willingness to use his prisoner-of-war story endlessly, when he wouldn’t before, and, of course, all the stuff on his running mate pick, which he really wasn’t forced into, and so on. Such details don’t matter. The culture clash matters.


And you don’t point to the New York Review of Books and “What’s at Stake” – fourteen of their regulars discuss the upcoming election. There’s the warning of what will happen to the Constitution in the event of a McCain presidency, and the examination on how religion shaped Sarah Palin, and that item at how race influenced the campaign. Those things are for wonks.


And there is Robert Draper’s Times Magazine story on McCain – also popular – but as Ross Douthat notes, a bit disturbing:


One of the many fascinating things about Robert Draper’s Times Magazine story on the McCain campaign is what isn’t included in its account of the attempts to brand (and rebrand, and rebrand) John McCain’s candidacy: Namely, any real discussion of policy. From Draper’s account, the McCain campaign staff has gone around and around trying to figure out how to sell their candidate – as a fighter! as an experienced leader! as a maverick! etc. – but hardly ever seemed to have spent much time thinking about how these narratives would mesh with or be reinforced by the actual policy agenda the campaign was advancing.


We do avoid the pesky details, or as Andrew Sullivan notes, Republicans now avoid them:


But this is, sadly, the core of what has happened to Republicanism under Rove. We’ve been told over and over again that the Bush administration always put politics before policy – and then made Karl Rove its policy czar! This is how they approached something as grave as war.


We will see a serious conservatism again when Bill Kristol and Karl Rove are banished from the Republican Party and from the conservative media. The Republican implosion is primarily their doing, their achievement, their legacy. It was when McCain ceded his campaign to Schmidt and Palin (creatures of Rove and Kristol respectively) that he threw it all away. As long as they are given any credence, Republicanism will not recover.


Douthat disagrees, as the Republican Party will simply change:


To the extent that geography correlates with ideology among congressional Republicans, a major sweep by the Democrats could really be in a position to completely break the gluons that bind the broader party together. The GOP will lose a disproportionate number of seats in the Northeast, Midwest and West and keep a disproportionate number of seats in the South. So the remnant of the party, as it were, will be right-wing Southern conservatives…. even more so than it is now.


You can already see that from the Kelley Blue Book analysis:


McCain receives the highest support from full-size truck (66 percent), full-size SUV (61 percent) and luxury SUV (61 percent) owners. Obama leads McCain among luxury station wagon (59 percent), station wagon and sport wagon (55 percent), hatchback (52 percent) and luxury crossover vehicle (52 percent) owners. Among owners of hybrid vehicles, Obama leads with 48 percent of the preferences, nine points more than McCain.


Kevin Drum explains:


Among brands, McCain is popular with owners of GMC trucks and Chevrolets, clearly part of real America. Obama is popular with owners of Minis, Subarus, and Saabs, obviously denizens of latte-sipping faux America.


That calls for a disclosure. Your editor lives in Hollywood and drives a Mini Cooper. He is obviously not one of those real Americans.


But all this flight from substance – avoidance behavior if you wish – leads to odd considerations, and by now, everyone knows this story:


A McCain campaign volunteer made up a story of being robbed, pinned to the ground and having the letter “B” scratched on her face in what she had said was a politically inspired attack, police said Friday.


Ashley Todd, 20-year-old college student from College Station, Texas, admitted Friday that the story was false, said Maurita Bryant, the assistant chief of the police department’s investigations division. Todd was charged with making a false report to police, and Bryant said police doubted her story from the start.


Her original story was that she was just getting cash from an ATM when a six-four nasty young black man saw the McCain sticker on her car’s bumper and attacked – he pinned her to the ground, fondled her in nasty ways in her private places then beat her silly, then carved a B for Barack Obama on her face. It hit the Drudge report and Fox News picked it up and ran with the story for two full days – there are obvious reasons you don’t want a black man as president.


But over at Talking Points Memo (TPM) we see things get very interesting:


John McCain’s Pennsylvania communications director told reporters in the state an incendiary version of the hoax story about the attack on a McCain volunteer well before the facts of the case were known or established – and even told reporters outright that the “B” carved into the victim’s cheek stood for “Barack,” according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions.


John Verrilli, the news director for KDKA in Pittsburgh, told TPM Election Central that McCain’s Pennsylvania campaign communications director gave one of his reporters a detailed version of the attack that included a claim that the alleged attacker said, “You’re with the McCain campaign? I’m going to teach you a lesson.”


Verrilli also told TPM that the McCain spokesperson had claimed that the “B” stood for Barack. According to Verrilli, the spokesperson also told KDKA that Sarah Palin had called the victim of the alleged attack, who has since admitted the story was a hoax.


Okay – you see this was hyped. The facts of what happened, such as they were, came from McCain’s Pennsylvania campaign communications director – he added all the embellishment, to what never actually happened. And he said Sarah Plain called the kid to offer her sympathy and support. The KDKA reporter had called McCain’s campaign office for details after seeing the story on Drudge, and he improvised. He seized the opportunity:


The McCain spokesperson’s claims – which came in the midst of extraordinary and heated conversations late yesterday between the McCain campaign, local TV stations, and the Obama camp, as the early version of the story rocketed around the political world – is significant because it reveals a McCain official pushing a version of the story that was far more explosive than the available or confirmed facts permitted at the time.


The claims to KDKA from the McCain campaign were included in an early story that ran late yesterday on KDKA’s website. The paragraphs containing these assertions were quickly removed from the story after the Obama campaign privately complained that KDKA was letting the McCain campaign spin a racially-charged version of the story before the facts had been established, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.


At the link you can see the paragraphs KDKA removed when the Obama folks complained. The same thing happened with another Pittsburgh television station – they took the McCain guy’s account and ran with it, then took it down.


TPM states the obvious:


This is problematic because the McCain campaign doesn’t want to have been perceived as pushing an incendiary story that not only turned out to be a hoax but which police officials said today risked blowing up into a “national incident” and has local police preparing to file charges against the hoaxster.


There’s no evidence that anyone from McCain national headquarters put out a version of events like this, so it was local to Pennsylvania, but weird:


After the story appeared on KDKA’s site and this and other pieces in the local press started flying around the political world, an Obama spokesperson in the state angrily insisted to KDKA that it was irresponsible for the station to air the McCain spokesperson’s incendiary version of events before the facts were fully known, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.


After that, KDKA went back to McCain’s Pennsylvania spokesperson, Feldman, and asked if he stood by the story as he’d earlier told it, but he started backing off the story, a source familiar with the talks says.


Now no one is talking. Jonathan Chait, at the New Republic, sees it this way:


I don’t think the actions of one sick volunteer say anything at all about John McCain or his campaign. They do, however, tell us a lot about right-wing yellow journalists, from Drudge on down, who manipulated primitive racial-sexual fears for partisan gain.


Well, there is Drudge on down, but on up, there is Fox News. There was this piece from John Moody, Fox News’ executive vice president, and a Pittsburgh native, who said the Ashley Todd crime was a real “moment of truth” for McCain:


Part of the appeal of, and the unspoken tension behind, Senator Obama’s campaign is his transformational status as the first African-American to win a major party’s presidential nomination. That does not mean that he has erased the mutual distrust between black and white Americans, and this incident could become a watershed event in the 11 days before the election.


If Ms. Todd’s allegations are proven accurate, some voters may revisit their support for Senator Obama, not because they are racists (with due respect to Rep. John Murtha), but because they suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee.


If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain’s quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting.


Yep, he should not have said that. Steve Benen comments:


To hear the executive vice president of Fox News tell it, if a young white woman was beaten by a black man, voters will revisit whether they know Obama well. If the young woman’s story is a hoax, voters will reject McCain.


This is the most blisteringly stupid political analysis I’ve seen in quite a while. There’s no coherence here whatsoever.


What does the incident have to do with getting to know Obama? What does McCain have to do with Todd’s story? Moody doesn’t say.


Keep in mind, John Moody’s job at Fox News includes sending daily memos to the network’s staff and on-air personalities, explaining how to cover the day’s news.


It tells us quite a bit about the network.


Digby puts it nicely:


So, according to Moody, if a black man assaults someone in Pittsburgh, people can justifiably be suspicious of another black man who happens to be running for president. And that’s not racist.


And why this story would fly in Pittsburgh is a real question. The place is not full of racists in their sixties and seventies, who hate black folk. Maybe you had to grow up there to understand – there were Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell way back when – the heroes. But of course the story was for national consumption, not for the locals.


But such things get your mind off the coming Great Depression, after all – you get to think about the OTHER.


And there seems to be no end to that, as you can see here:


Terrorist strikes on four American cities. Russia rolling into Eastern Europe. Israel hit by a nuclear bomb. Gay marriage in every state. The end of the Boy Scouts. All are plausible scenarios if Democrat Barack Obama is elected president, according to a new addition to the campaign conversation called “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America,” produced by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family Action.


Imagination trumps reality, when reality is a bummer.


And so it goes:


In a gruesome case with powerful echoes of the dragging death of James Byrd a decade ago, a black man was killed underneath a pickup truck in East Texas and two white men have been charged with murder.


Black activists and the victim’s mother are calling last month’s killing of 24-year-old Brandon McClelland a racist attack.


Or this may be something else:


But prosecutors cast strong doubt on that Friday.


McClelland died after going with two white friends on a late-night beer run across the state line to Oklahoma, investigators said.


It seems they all may have been jerks – no more than that.


Still it seems we’ll all find ways to avoid talking about the real problems in the sorry world, and continue the culture war. We seem to be more comfortable with that. And when everything falls apart we’ll be surprised.


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 Ashley Todd, Avoidance Behavior, Black Men and White Women, Changing the Subject, Dividing Us from Each other, Economic Crisis, Elitism, Exploiting Resentment, Financial Meltdown, Panic in the Markets, Pittsburgh, Race and America, Race and Politics, Racism Lives On, The Culture Wars, The Pittsburgh Hoax. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Avoidance Behavior as the Preferred Option

  1. Rick (from Atlanta) says:

    I don’t know whether I should be surprised or not, but I half expected to see that young Republican woman — the one who faked being attacked in Pittsburgh by an anti-McCain mugger, and then received a sympathy phone call from Sarah Palin — I expected to see her become a “poster girl” on the campaign by now.

    Yes, I know it has all now famously been exposed as a hoax, but so has “Joe, the Plumber,” and the campaign is still holding that guy up as an exemplar of conservative virtues. Forget the fact that he’s not anywhere near being in the position of buying a business and becoming wealthy that he claimed to be, that doesn’t make it any less true that, had he been in that position, he should be allowed to keep all that money that he, um, actually won’t ever have. (Say what you will about the McCain campaign, one can hardly question the clarity of its message.)

    So couldn’t they just create some narrative about this woman being driven to making all this up because of her justifiable fear that Obama is not ready to lead from day one? I mean, why should just because she lied about herself disqualify her from representing the apprehensions of “real America” about a potential Obama administration?

    I’m only half kidding here.

    I truly don’t understand why the McCain/Palin campaign is allowed to get away with turning this “Joe, the Plumber” hoaxer into a poster boy for all the things that John McCain and Sarah Palin stand for.

    Does Obama find it just too difficult to point out that a phony plumber named Sam who pretends to be something he isn’t, actually does represent a Navy flier who counts all the time he spent in a POW camp as “foreign policy experience,” and a governor of a state from which, on a clear day, you can see Russia, who somehow thinks that makes her more qualified to be president than Obama, who has given these issues serious consideration for years?

    Well, alright, maybe that is pretty hard to explain to those “undecided voters” who still can’t seem to make sense of any of this. But with all this knuckleheadedness in this election approaching epidemic proportions, I fully expect, if Obama wins, to soon see bumper stickers that say “Palin/Plumber in 2012!”

    And I haven’t yet figured out if that would be good for Obama’s reelection chances or not. I guess, starting this November, we may all, if things go well, have four more years to work that one out.


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