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In the two decades before his death in 1915, Booker T. Washington was far and away the most admired black man in America. He was almost unique in having many supporters in both black and white America. This was a period when black America reached its post-slavery nadir in virtually every area of life – socially, economically, politically. In the South — where 90% of black Americans lived — the successful counterrevolution against Reconstruction meant that Jim Crow was firmly and ferociously in place. In the north, blacks enjoyed more political rights but socially and economically were at the bottom of the ladder.

To this dire situation, Washington offered a path for progress for improving race relations which was designed to appeal to both blacks and whites. In his famous 1895 speech in Atlanta, Washington advocated a compromise whereby African Americans would give up the demands for equal political rights in exchange for assistance in a mutually beneficial program of education and economic improvement. In words of Washington’s most intellectually rigorous critic W.E.B. Du Bois, this program consisted of “industrial education, conciliation of the South, and submission and silence as to civil and political rights.”

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The conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza is in the news lately for a number of reasons. His book Obama’s America , which purports to show the Kenyan anti-colonialist roots of the American president’s worldview, is a bestseller. Accompanying the book is a documentary entitled 2016 which has been been a great popular success, at least as far as polemical political films are concerned.

But aside from his public activities, D’Souza’s private life is now much talked about with the news that he offended his Christian evangelical fans last month when he was spoke at a South Carolina Baptist church. When he arrived at the event, for which he was paid $10,000, D’Souza came not with his wife of two decades but with a much younger woman who was introduced as his fiancé. (This so-called fiancé graduated high school in 2002, when D’souza was 41 years old and the author of nine books).  Further investigation revealed that D’Souza  hadn’t in fact initiated divorce proceedings against his wife when he gave the talk, but did so when he started being questioned about his behavior. (Sarah Posner has an fine rundown of the controversy here).

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National Review makes an appeal to Latinos.

Matt Yglesias and others have raised their collective eyebrows at the fact that Jay Nordlinger of National Review Online was willing to very casually deploy the derogatory term “wetback.” As it turns out, Nordlinger is a repeat user of this word. In 2006, Nordlinger wrote that for many on the right, George W. Bush was “big-spending, wetback-lovin’ squish.” And going back away, I discovered that other National Review writers have used the term “wetback”, notably the magazine’s resident light verse writer William H. von Dreele, who wrote in 1979 that his love of Mexican tomatoes could only meant that “I’m a wetback to the core.”

Words, of course, only have meaning in the context in which they are used. On at least one occasion National Review employed “wetback” in a defensible way, in an article from February 14, 1986 by K.E. Grubbs Jr. deploring anti-immigrant sentiment titled “Just Another Wetback.” But the other uses  of “wetback” have all been as an offhand slur, the type of derogatory term you habitually use when talking about an inferior race.

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Newt Gingrich photo by Gage Skidmore (via Creative Commons).

Today’s Globe and Mail contains a column I wrote trying to explain the popularity of Newt Gingrich among GOP voters. Despite its obvious newsworthiness, the column hasn’t been posted online. So I decided to offer a slightly expanded version of the article for Sans Everything readers:

Bewitched by the Eye of Newt by Jeet Heer

For Republican voters, presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is like an ex-spouse who provokes a complex mix of longing and remorse. Even after the bitterest divorce, people often hook up with their exes, in ill-advised attempts to relive fonder days.

For many Republicans, as his last-minute surge in South Carolina shows, Mr. Gingrich is an old flame who still has that bad-boy charm. Voters remember all his faults, with the intimate knowledge of a former lover, but he has a way of melting their hearts: No other candidate is so adept at caressing GOP hot spots, such as fears of Mitt Romney being a “Massachusetts moderate” or of Barack Obama’s “socialist-secular machine.” (more…)

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Rick Santorum, via Gage Skidmore and Creative Commons.

Rick Santorum was riding high in Iowa earlier this month but his presidential campaign now seems to be faltering. I wrote about Santorum as a lightning rod in the cultural wars for the Globe and Mail in an article that can be read here. Below is a slightly amended and expanded version of the same piece:

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William Randolph Heast, an early Plutocratic Populist

My new Globe and Mail column is about plutocratic populists. You can read it here.

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Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that Andrew Breitbart is offering $100,000 for anyone who can offer him the complete archives of Journolist, a private email list serv that’s been in the news. Since I’ve been outed as a member of Journolist, this prompts a few reflections, mainly that I could have made $100,000 if only the universe was a bit different. For me to have the money:

1. I would have had to have had the foresight to make an archive of the list while I was a member.

2. I would have to be the sort of sleazeball who would be willing to sell private, off-the-record information for money (I think the term “Judas” comes to mind).

3. I would have to be the type of vermin that is willing to do business with Andrew Breitbart, who is a poster boy for the descent of the conservative movement into pure, malicious spite and partisan paranoia.

 Alas, none of these condiditions applies, so I’m out $100,000.

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Ezra Klein: How can you hate this man?

One of the interesting subplots of the recent drama of David Weigel and Journolist (the private list-serv where Weigel made remarks that led to him parting ways with his employer, The Washington Post) is the revelation of how much certain writers hate Ezra Klein, the founder of Journolist. (See this post by Jeffrey Goldberg as an example ). Earlier examples of Klein hatred can be found in the collected prose of Mickey Kaus. Kaus faces is usually twitchy with tics but it becomes especially contorted and grotesque when Klein’s name is mentioned. What’s going on here? Why is Klein so hated in some circles?

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Nikki Haley, the new face of the Republican party.

Over at the Globe and Mail, I look at the efforts of the Republicans to become a more multi-racial party. I had to cover a lot of ground in 900 words. Those who want to read the earlier, longer version (or “director’s cut”) can do so below:

Historical memory might be on the wane elsewhere but it is very much alive in South Carolina, a state whose expansive cotton fields and stately plantations memorialize the paradox of a genteel civilization built on centuries of slavery and segregation. So the world perked up to the news earlier this week that Tim Scott, an African-American legislator, won the primary to be the Republican candidate in the state’s first district, beating Paul Thurmond, a son of the late Strom Thurmond, the fabled segregationist who represented the state as a Senator from 1956 to 2003.

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Below is a fascinating interview of Cyrus Habib by Chesa Boudin; I am reprinting it from The Rhodes Project. I am proud to count Cyrus as a friend, and I have also had the pleasure of meeting Chesa on a few occasions. Apologies for my obscure Hegelian pun in the title of this post.

Chesa Boudin earned two master’s degrees from Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship (Illinois, Merton and St. Antony’s, 2003). In April 2009, Scribner published his latest book, Gringo: A Coming of Age in Latin America. He is currently in his second year at the Yale Law School.

Cyrus Habib (Washington and St. Johns, 2003) an interview

Chesa Boudin

At the Bon Voyage Weekend in September 2003, my class of newly-selected Rhodes Scholars descended on the Jury’s Hotel in DuPont Circle. Cyrus Habib (Washington and St. Johns) was easily the best dressed member of the group. His Armani tie complimented his tailored shirt and crisp pinstripe suit. He had a penchant for details – manicured fingernails, a unique wrist watch, cufflinks, and matching accessories. No matter the setting, he had on perfect designer sunglasses and would often switch between several in the course of a day. This focus on the aesthetic may seem odd for an intellectual powerhouse like Cyrus – or for the introduction to this interview. However, his attention to visual detail is particularly noteworthy because Cyrus is completely blind.

As a child Cyrus was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the retina. In his case it struck one eye, and then the other. He was lucky to receive world-class treatment that prevented the cancer from metastasizing to his brain; he was unlucky in that it left him with no eyesight whatsoever and unable even to distinguish light from dark. Unlike someone blind from birth, Cyrus has an abundance of vivid visual memory from before he lost his sight. Since Cyrus lost his vision in 1989, he imagines everyone today with mullet haircuts and plaid polyester pants. While he can no longer see red or green, he has an acute visual image of those colors and knows not to mix and match them except during the Christmas season. And if Cyrus has a conversation about a skyscraper or a forest, he can actually picture the subject in his head, rather than understanding or imagining it through verbal context as someone blind from birth would have to do. These memories, combined with an uncanny sense of physical space allow him to navigate the world so smoothly that on first encounters he often passes as not being blind at all. Yet for the last twenty years his brain has not accumulated any new visual memory, leaving space to develop in other areas – his sense of smell and hearing, his memory, and his ability to master complex information quickly epitomize the word “extraordinary.”

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