Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Shark attacks. Missing Sexy Interns. Missing White Women. Red Tide. Imams in da Aisles. Death Panels. I've been waiting for this summer's sexy, light, beach reading demagoguery and I think I've finally grasped what its going to be. Think the White House is going to finally get it, too? Andy Card, in George Bush's White House, was smart enough to argue that "you don't roll out a new product in August." That's true for the Administration, if its smart, but the opposite holds true for the opposition. Breitbart's second bite at the apple--driving the news with accusations that Blacks are the real racists, that the government is entirely taken over by angry reparationists--is exactly the kind of filler that the opposition party wants to see in the precious months leading up to the election in November. From the moment the NAACP decided to throw down the gauntlet on the Tea Partiers the domestic team in the White House should have been on the watch for the next ACORN style scandal. And I think, in a sense, they were--Vilsack jumped like a pithed frog at the very thought of the start of a month's drubbing from Fox and Friends.

What is unforgiveable, at this point, is that the White House and its Cabinet Secretaries and Staff seem completely unaware of how this works. We know how it works: Drudge/Breitbart/Rush/Beck dredge up some phrase ("Michelle Obama says "get active") or fake a video (ACORN) and then flog the story until it gets the WaPo Ombudsman to say "Hmm, no smoke without fire!" I think we also know, since we've been saying it for fucking ever, that a lie gets half way around the world before the truth can get its boots on. But you know what--once you grasp this simple fact you should, you know, do something about it. Set up a rapid response team. Have a plan. For one thing the plan should not include letting, or ordering, Cabinet Secretaries to terminate good people without a hearing. Obama chastised the Republicans for failing to have faith in the American People when they accuse unemployed workers of being unwilling to work. Well the Obama team, and that goes for Vilsack and his advisers, should have a little faith in their team--at least enough to publicly declare that actual charges will be investigated thoroughly, while smears from known practitioners of the politics of personal destruction will be ignored.

I don't think its bad, for the Dems, that they overreacted and fired Mrs. Sherrod. Of course, it should have been done in a less craven manner. For instance, Vilsack should have made a really long speech saying

"Given the USDA's long history of racial discrimination against black and hispanic farmers, a history culminating in a landmark case settled in 1999 and which has tarnished us in the eyes of the very people we seek to serve, each and every one of us working for the USDA must be, like Ceasar's Wife, above reproach. I've asked Mrs. Sherrod to step down, temporarily, while we review the tape in question. I'm confident, however, given her life history and work record that there is nothing here except the usual right wing attempts to destroy the career of any public servant who is not a member of their own party. They truly don't care about the people's business or the public good. "

If, as Vilsack apparently thought, the longer tape didn't make Mrs. Sherrod look so good he could have won himself some right wing points by going back on TV and saying that she had been terminated for cause. He would'nt have lost at thing, and neither would the Obama Administration. But if as fifteen minutes of investigation had shown, she was an innocent victim of a right wing scalp hunt, he and the Administration would have been in a very good position to argue that while they acted with propriety and good faith the right wing pimping the story had "rushed to judgement" at the bidding of a well known race baiting provocateur, and smeared an "elderly civil rights icon, a hard working American whose own life is a testament to how far we've come..." blah blah blah....

I know the Obama team has a lot on its plate. I don't fault Obama at all for what happened while he was busy actually running the country. But this was really not a surprise event. The right wing has been gunning for every prominent African American they can find from Van Jones to ACORN to Holder himself to Sherrod. They don't care how they get them. They don't care about the individual person, or what they have or have not actually done. One's as good as the other. They are place holders, almost figures in a distant landscape. The right wing is building a narrative, the kind that their followers like: vague, juicy, filled with anger, built on the notion that Obama brought the angry blacks into power and that its going to be reparations all the way down. Fighting it may be hard, but the Obama Administration has to fight it or its going to go down under it. Ressentiment, especially when aimed carefully at outsiders and other races, is a very powerful force in people's lives. It is a marvellous tool for right wing demagogues and for corporatists because it moves people to anger, despair, and lashing out but it hardly ever moves them to question authority or the monied. In otherwords, its a perfect electoral strategy for a do-nothing party focused on returning to the status quo ante. Get people riled up, beg for money, get your voters out, and then see them subside into quiesence right after the mid terms.

Right now, and no thanks to the White House's clever team, Breitbart looks like he might be flailing for a moment. But Breitbart is just a symptom of a larger problem. If Breitbart goes down does anyone seriously think the right wing doesn't have a bottomless pit of these guys waiting to take over? What were the Young Republicans for, after all? And given the propensity of the Obama people to fire staff (Van Jones) or refuse to nominate people at all for fear of what the right wing is going to throw at them this is a winning proposition. You have to expect that a certain number of attacks are going to fail. If the attack on Obama through Sherrod fails there will be another one, in a week or two. We will never get to the end of the gullibility of the mainstream media, and the viciousness of the right wing attack machine. And why should we? It works: long term it works as long as the Obama administration is discredited in some way either by the unchecked assertion that it is a blackety black black administration or that it is weak and easily pushed around.

We, and the Obama administration, have to be aware that the main target is always the President, his presidency, and the very idea of government. Ultimately this is just a variant on Reagan's old chestnut that the scariest words in the English language are "I'm from the Government and I'm here to help you." The goal is to delegitimize the government and government workers by dragging them into the right's race war. This is a war that they, and they alone, are fighting. The rest of the country is getting on with its life and getting past race as the primary lens through which political and economic issues are seen. The right has nothing left but racism, mixed cleverly with classism, as a goad. These attacks will be ceaseless, throughout the summer, culminating in Right Wing attacks on the legitimacy of the midterm elections. After all the whole point is to bring every instance of the government and the administration under suspicion in order to bring out the angry voters, and to explain away as illegitimate every Democratic victory.

We talk a lot about Obama and his long game. I'm not seeing the Administration's long game here as a very successful one. They need to be thinking a few steps down the road and they seem to be in a purely reactive mode. My advice to the White House is set up a war room that takes the racial component of these attacks as a given and is prepared and authorized to handle them, wherever they spring up, throughout the administration. Because there are going to be a lot more of these attacks.


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