The tea party movement and black conservatism

Recently Paul (Mr Cotterill to you), in the comments thread to a post of mine on conservatism and epistemic closure, said that I’d probably at some stage detail some of my thoughts on the tea party movement. That’s what I am going to do now, albeit exploring another narrative simultaneously; that of black conservatism.

Unsurprisingly, some of the sentiments and placards that stand out from the tea party movement concern Obama’s race, nationality, religious background and myths about socialistic politics – all very low politics.

Some of the intellectual backbone of the movement is provided by such media personalities as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh – who the charge “epistemic closure” had originally been levelled at by Julian Sanchez. It remains almost impossible to separate the politics of conservative epistemic closure from the tea party movement therefore.

Another thing that springs to mind is Pastor Jones and the Koran burning, and the protests over Ground Zero Mosque, which drew support from that most disturbing blogger and tea partier Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs.

There are 61 posts on the above blog which are categorised as Obama’s Birth Certificate Forgery – which should tell you something about the content which appears there. Indeed, the tea party has become inseparable from ad hominem attack of Obama’s nationality, evoking criticisms that at the heart of the movement is racism. Further still, reports have emerged that the English Defence League are forging links with the tea party movement, which will add much fuel to the fire of such criticisms.

But it is of little surprise to me that certain black commentators have come out to deny the movement as ultimately a racist one. The Telegraph had an article on Saturday profiling Tom Scott – who will be the first black Republican congressman from the deep south in more than a century. In it, they quote him as saying, of the tea party movement, “this whole race issue is a diversion away from the real basic platform of the Tea Party”.

The Guardian has started to host a blog by a man called Lloyd Marcus, who is referred to on his homepage as a “Tea Party singer/songwriter, entertainer and speaker” as well as being a “black conservative”.

In a blog entry published last Friday entitled “Why I am a black tea party patriot opposed to Barack Obama” – a really terrible piece – he ends by saying:

…when I hear politicians, such as Barack Obama, pandering to the so-called poor of America, it turns my stomach. I’ve witnessed the deterioration of the human spirit, wasted lives and suffering that happens when government becomes “daddy”.

What is common to both commentators, and common to what Tom Scott called “the real basic platform of the Tea Party” is a dissatisfaction of high taxes and big state. Some of the patent crap about Obamacare having a death panel, uttered in lieu of research by Sarah Palin, was piss in the wind, but the movements’ opposition to universal healthcare was predicated on the idea that universal care is somehow un-American and at odds with the principle of low spending and less government.

In fact listening to some of the members of the movement who are dubious even of the Republican’s spending, views of whom Ed Pilkinton of the Guardian recently had the privilege of interacting with (see video here), one gets the sense that at heart of the movement is a kind of socially conservative, economically fiscal conservative/libertarianism exploiting a low politics platform to reach the hearts and minds of Obama-sceptics.

Therefore I should just clarify, that simply because the movement has black members, this in itself does not prove critics wrong about race – I’m not that stupid – but that there is a little more to the tea party than that – and in fact it hasn’t phased me at all that the movement appeals to black people.

In fact, it rather reminds me of an analysis of black conservatism by the US philosopher and academic Cornel West – whose voice rose once again in light of Obama’s presidency, after saying he wanted him to be a “progressive Lincoln” so that West can be the “Frederick Douglass to put pressure on him.”

It was the opinion of West, in his 1994 book Race Matters, that black conservatism gained much traction, among other things, as a response to a crisis in black liberalism. Black conservatives, for West, seemed inclined to support freedom movements abroad – Europe, Latin America, East Asia – but were disinclined to support the freedom movement in America.

Black conservatives according to West were rather scornful of affirmative action measures, but it is his contention that the well-heeled, middle class black American conservatives were actually biting the hand which fed them. 40 years ago, he stated, 50% of black teenagers in the US had agricultural jobs, 70% of those lived in the South, many jobs disappeared due to measures curbing industrialisation, and in 1980 15% of all black men reported no yearly earnings at all to the Census Bureau while the US army at the time was almost a third black.

In the same breath as questioning why black conservatives couldn’t see the obvious racial disparity in equality of opportunity, West also pours scorn on black liberalism limiting itself to in-fighting and petite squabbling, taking its eye off of the real crisis.

West contends that many viewed black liberalism as inadequate and black conservativism unacceptable, that is until black conservatism began to appeal to a classical liberalism in what West defines as a “post-liberal society and post-modern culture”.

Such a move is not alien to us in the UK; indeed listen to any Tory cabinet minister admit at the moment how the Conservatives are more radically liberal and supportive of the poor than Labour were.

The parallels in what West is saying and the sentiments of contemporary black conservatives and members of the tea party are that not only does Obama purposefully play down his white heritage, but that he is setting back the plight of blacks in society because of it; he represents a failure in black liberal leadership (or, in the words of Timothy Johnson, co-founder of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a group that helps promote black Republican candidates, “His mother was white, his father was a person of colour but every time there’s a racial issue he plays the race card just the same as everyone else.”)

I don’t share this sentiment, but all it takes is the perception that Obama is setting black politics back, and thus arises the crisis of black leadership similar to one diagnosed by Cornel West.

In conclusion to this blog entry, which admittedly took many deviations, I will say that the tea party is marred by a pretty low level of epistemically closed politics, but that stripped down it is a PR-savvy version of the Taxpayers’ Alliance. In the process of its becoming in US politics, it will be a haven for many black people who feel, as Timothy Johnson does, that Obama is doing a disservice to black politics; this may well see a resurgence of black conservatism similar to that assessed by Cornel West – and through the same conditions too. It is incumbent upon Obama to take heed of this possibility, and counter the tactics of the tea party, not because it is racist, but precisely because it is opening itself to Obamasceptics of all stripes.


The Obama pipe dream

Robert B. Reich has a good piece over at The American Prospect about the Democrat party and the dwindling support from left wingers.

Reich refers to his friend “David”. Among other things he is:

upset about tens of thousands of additional troops being sent to Afghanistan, a watered-down cap-and-trade bill that’s going nowhere, and no Employee Free Choice Act.

“They’re all lily-livered wimps [the Democrats], and Obama has the backbone of a worm.”

I’ve written before on the problems of the broad church voting for Obama – not so much a problem for him, it worked well for him – but the problem of groups who saw in Obama the solution to all their problems. As I said last year:

Obama seemed to signify the saviourhood for every group that felt penialised; for Mexicans, despite usually being Catholic conservative and anti-abortion, voted in force for Obama. The socialist/liberal/left saw in Obama a revolutionary streak that gave appeal to the Democrats rather than wellmeaning fringe parties (such was the problem with Al Gore’s election loss, though, of course, Ralph Nader will tell you different). And also from the right, Wall Street voting trends took to voting Obama, Colin Powell cut ties with his party and that once hardcore Hegelian neo-liberal Francis Fukuyama put the final touches to destroying his illusion that libertarianism would be the final stage in history.

Part of the Obama appeal was to symbolise strength from vulnerability; here is an African-American who has been subject to prejudice prevelant in society today, and has come out the other side one of the most powerful man in the world. So straight away Obama had two camps: those who hated/had enough of Bush and/or felt they were vulnerable and/or marginalised, and sought inspiration from the candidate, rather than his predecessor, parachuted in and making a pig’s ear of the whole operation.

What surprised me after Obama’s first year, was how much it was a surprise for people when the honeymoon period was up.

Al Sharpton for example, with inimitable naivety, said in an article: “Obama’s first year has shown that the United States is not a post-racial society“.

While it is a crime that many Americans find themselves without insurance and suffer very much for it, few progressives recognised how little Obama was actually doing to change that.

Earlier this year I noted:

The bill mandates every person (or, rather, around 95% of Americans) to be insured, and for every family not on Medicaid – means tested health program for eligible individuals and families with low incomes and resources – receive public funds from the federal government to purchase what [Bill] Wharton [of the Socialist Party USA] has called “bare bones” coverage insurance plans from private insurers.

Because the reform is not into a single-payer system (like a nationalised, government subsidised system) Wharton suggests that this mandate, among other things, enhances private profit, and is therefore not as radical as it has been promoted to be, particularly by the American right wing media.

So, in keeping with the tone of the article by Reich; who gives a toss about the tea partiers, it’s their job to hate Obama, and they do so for often small beer reasons, other times utterly ridiculous ones (those posters with Obama dressed as Hitler or Stalin were quite stupid). The correct attitude here is to remember those on the left who have awoken from that popularity contest spell, like Reich’s friend David, and others.

His article rightly concludes:

With the election of Barack Obama, many on the left found comfort in the belief that a single man could make transformative change without powerful tailwinds behind him. But that was a pipe dream.

The paradox of the Geek – or, while Dianne Abbott won’t win the leadership contest, she doesn’t have to lose quite so badly

I know the argument: stroppy teenagers and shop floor Mothers can’t relate to men in suits, yet they end up our representatives every time, and we wonder why people don’t engage with politics.

But hold on, how people could relate to politicians didn’t spur on the anti-politics saga circa the expenses scandal, but rather the other way around, politicians obviously don’t quite understand the electorate – and subsequently fairness and respect for tax payers’ money.

Frankly, this extends further to what politicians talk like, look like and smell like; if they don’t get, they don’t get it, and that trait transcends class, age, race and gender boundaries.

For this reason, there is a strange element to Dianne Abbott’s recent trouble making, when she called the other four leadership contenders “geeky,” in an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.

We’re used to the disengaged politician now, but it is patent nonsense for Abbott to suggest that she has more chance listening than they have.

I won’t recycle the fact that the only difference between her and her colleagues (apart from her colour, more of which in a moment) is she has never been a SpAd and that she has been an MP for longer. But she has made decisions, and has said things, where you wonder whether he 20 years listening to her voters has counted for anything, particularly the type of thing she implies here which is that she knows what people want.

The paradox: give me a middle class former policy wonk who admits to needing more knowledge any time, over a middle class, Cambridge educated, long time MP, who implicitly likens herself to Obama, and thinks she knows what the people want.

The world needs a geek.

Now, that Obama quote (where she “doesn’t” compare herself to Obama:

I’m not comparing myself to Barack Obama, because he’s a once in a life-time figure. But two years ago no one could imagine a black man as president of the United States. If that was possible in America, I think people can change here in Britain as well.

Wise words. So do as she says: come next election, vote for the black man.

Obama and American Foreign Policy

Focus on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy have been talk of the town of late.

David Frum for the right wing Canadian newspaper National Post, asked Obama the question “what is [your] expertise? What does [you] think [you] know … a lot about?” to which Obama assertively responded “foreign affairs”.

The G8 and G20 meetings are to begin with smiles, soon sinking into misery when the topic turns to BP and Afghanistan. This will be Cameron’s first visit on official business to the US to see President Obama, and he has already issued the fighting talk, stating his desire to pull troops out within 5 years, but not wanting to set a date for release. When Cameron meets with Obama later for a private meeting, this will surely be the most pressing of subjects.

Another issue today bringing Obama’s foreign policy to the fore is the sacking of General Stanley McChrystal, an event that some have pointed to as proof that the war effort is unpopular, unwinnable and unnecessary. Georgie Anne Geyer has made the point that “It is certainly not unusual for troops, or even officers, in an unpopular war to complain and gripe about officials back in Washington (and just about everything else).”

Obama’s foreign policy can only be understood in the context of the last nine years specifically. In 2008 when Obama becam president he promised to undo the damage of the last seven years. He made further stands against isolationism, fear of talking and negotiating with the enemy, and pledged to spend 0.7% of the GDP on foreign aid.

For some Obama has done next to nothing of any progression to the Bush era.

Frum again said:

The Afghan war is going wrong. Diplomatic outreach to Iran was slapped away. Concessions to Russia failed to buy meaningful sanctions. Pro-Obama European governments have declined to send more troops to Afghanistan. Obama’s personal relationships with leaders of Germany, U.K. and France are cool to chilly. The President’s outreach to the Islamic world has achieved nothing: In fact, more anti-American terrorist plots were launched in 2009 than in any year since 2001. When a pro-Hugo Chavez president tried to hold power illegally in Honduras, the Obama administration backed the lawless president over a unanimous Honduran Supreme Court.

But on the other hand a lot has changed.

Peter Baker of the New York Times points to Obama’s “decision to send another 21,000 troops to Afghanistan arguably returns America’s focus to what he considers the central front against Al Qaeda,” which was the reason why Obama opposed the war in Iraq even when he was a senator.

Talking to Iran, after years of Bush’s arrogant refusal, hasn’t caused a revolution, but a long term course of discursive arrangement is far preferable to full scale war, and could actually deter such an event, something Bush was almost definitely counting the days until – money permitting.

Francis Fukuyama, in his book After the Neocons, describes what he views as the four definitive American attitudes of foreign policy.

Firstly, neoconservative, whether rightly or wrongly, for the time being seen as a platform for regime change, belief that democracy can be imposed and as Fukuyama describes “benevolent hegemony”.

Secondly there are the “realists” of the Kissinger ilk, respecting of power and unfazed by nature of other regimes.

Thirdly liberal internationalists who want to transcend power politics and move to an order globally based on law and institutions.

Lastly, what Walter Russell Mead called “Jacksonian” American nationalists, narrow security based views, a distrust of multilateralism, and supportive of nativism and isolationism (which Obama stated America can no longer afford).

I think critics will want to include Obama in the third camp, on the grounds of his support for the war effort in Afghanistan, but this I feel is a most prominent misunderstanding of the war there. Afghanistan is not a colonial venture or a practice of imperial muscle, but a coalition to fight a present enemy.

This has not always been the case, and I don’t think all those involved will agree with me, but US/UK governments should not be messing around with the government structures as much as it appears they may have in the past, but promoting Afghanistan can protect itself from a homegrown enemy, flexing its own muscle on and around the border of Pakistan, where families are forced to send their only sons to join the Taliban through fear.

I think Obama has set up a fifth arm to Fukuyama’s perceptions of foreign policy. How it should be defined properly might take longer to work out.

On the Moving Train: Howard Zinn, 1922-2010

Right up until the present day did Howard Zinn engage in heated political debate, choosing not to toe a line, but push boundaries, and integrate untypical language and concepts into a political field which has stayed much the same – with war, and poverty. You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train is of course the title of his autobiography, but no truer words have been spoken. Not only must we recognise that if we switch off from affairs that affect us, this allows the unpalatable of this earth to swoop in, but neutrality itself is a position which can not be an option, we are thrown – as Heidegger said – into the world, and the space with which we occupy as a consequence is our starting pad to change the world, to acknowledge that the train is moving, and operate the same.

On Obama, Zinn identified little other than rhetoric, “I don’t see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies” he exclaimed. But the point is not to stop there. Zinn explains further that “people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president … unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.”

The flirtation with whether Obama marked the era of post-racial society would have stirred uneasy with Zinn. A black president is not the end point at which we sit hands on heads, it is necessary to manoeuvre thereon – democracy has no such an end point, democracy is the motion with which neutrality is not an option. Like Dr. Cornel West hoped of Obama, he will be a “progressive Lincoln” so that West can be the “Frederick Douglass [abolitionist who held talks with Lincoln in 1863 on the treatment of black soldiers] to put pressure on him.” Zinn would have wanted Frederick Douglass’ of us all!

Proof of Zinn’s “redemptive politics of activism“, and his Lenin-esque attitudes towards leadership*, can not be found in any better place than during the interview with Harry Kreisler, where upon the question of his first teaching assignment at Spelman college, Zinn noted that “I learned more from my students than my students learned from me”. His time living in the south, before the black movement geared up to fight for their rights, was an enriching experience for Zinn, one in which he notes “I began to look at history from a black point of view. It looks very different from a black point of view.”

In the words of Eddie Vedder, whose song “Down” was inspired by his friendship to Zinn finishes: “So long“.

Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

*Leaders are not born, Lenin held; they must be trained

What to do in Afghanistan

The issue of what to do in Afghanistan is not black and white, there are no simple solutions. Realistically the UK cannot continue to use the plans it is currently applying, the most dignified thing to do is allow a country to make its own mistakes. Further, it is not possible to pick up and go, too much infrastructural reliance is upon us, and in any case, it is not necessary to be pulling the strings of the government of a country for it to take the measures needed to create an army, for the purpose of guarding the Afghan province targeted by Pakistani extremists.

As a reply to the former Former British diplomat Charles Crawford, I wrote the following entry in July. At the time, the hot topic was whether governments should make contact with unpalatable forces in order to ease tension. I was in favour and of the move and admired the Obama administration for championing it. He has now been vindicated of his efforts with the nobel peace prize. The entry was not widely read judging by the stats, and it seems that no new ideas have been brought to the table, and since the meat of the article is something I still stand by I will reprint it.

Kilroy, on question time last night was offensive and laughable (in about equal measure), but he did touch upon something of interest, the conduct of our allies and leaving schedules. I’m not silly enough to believe that the timetable will establish everything we need to know and apprehend – I’m of the Lacanian school (I will send a toy to anyone who gets this reference) – but it will put objectives into perspective, and appease those who claim we have no plan or method in Afghanistan. Not that we need to appease critics, but some critics do have valid questions, and this is one such question: when will the conditions be met for us to leave, and, indeed, what exactly are these conditions?

~ by raincoatoptimism on July 28, 2009

I wonder if it throws up too many images of compromise, but for some, talking with the enemy is not an option even worth thinking about. Tory Rascal notes that his views on the war in Afghanistan are not popular, but efforts to turn locals against insurgents should be done regardless of popularity, and this can all be achieved without dialogue with the Taliban.

TR has it right that his view is not popular, 58% in a recent poll said that the Taliban could not be defeated militarily, and 52% of voters would support an immediate withdrawal. Certainly the argument that troops cannot be removed straight away, as this would undo all the hitherto hard work, is collapsing – just how long can this argument be defended? Indefinitely?

But as for dialogue, does this have any political punch of late?

Former British diplomat Charles Crawford writes off dialogue with the moderate Taleban as “containment”, which in US military is the position between “appeasement” (compromise through negotiation) and “rollback” (military force to destroy the enemy at its root), usually referred to when talking about US military strategy of carefully watching the expansion of the Soviet Union in the hope that this would relax its tendencies.

The parallel here is that talk with the Taleban would determine how it plans to expand its bases and thus, with patient strategy and examination, curb that expansion at the root.

But Crawford is scornful of this move. He views it as an impossibility of the “moderates” to include the extreme elements into the fixture. For him, this talk is cheap.

But talk in the age of Obama is different from the age of the Cold War or Vietnam (where “containment” was a dominant strategy). For the Obama administration dialogue is a requisite of victory. Such talk of talk was completely absent from the Bush era, there would be no communication with Cuba, North Korea or Iran, these were counterproductive. And it got the US nowhere. Obama can be seen making in-roads over discussions with China, questions have been raised on the touchy subject of a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel due to Obama’s engagement with leading authorities from both sides, and efforts to oversee Iran’s nuclear proliferation have not slowed down the process to determine how much is too much.

But on the last point comes the grey area. Attempts at dialogue in Iran haven’t stopped Ahmadinejad being an antagonist towards the US, but is this point enough to dissuade anybody that dialogue itself is a motive we should do away with? To be sure, the non-talk policy of Bush backfired.

What needs to be clarified is the motivation of dialogue. It should be reinforced that it is not a phase before giving in. In fact, quite the opposite, it’s stepping up the strategy so as to try and see these wars to their full closure.

Certainly what is appealing about US and UK moves to open dialogue is that it will shed light on feasible exit dates. Often in previous years the gap to understanding the realities of unpalatable forces in the Middle East was due to refusal of engagement with those willing to speak, not least promoting blind spots for intelligence, but reiterating the commonly held (and perhaps justifiably so) view that the US and UK were arrogant and unwilling to hear all sides (an image far away from the compassionate one with which we tried to justify the war on terror).

But hearing all sides is not a kop out – it serves foremost to understand the situation better. The war in Iraq was wrong, the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, and open engagement, far from giving in, is a concerted attempt to see an end to these unjust conflicts – and soon.

This entry is in response to Charles Crawford’s article Should We Talk To The Taleban? as part of the Bloggers Circle experiment

The Tory showdown in Europe continues

There is a terrifically entertaining showdown, known and acknowledged for some time now, but none the less being added to on a regular basis on the subject of the Tories in Europe.

It started with the Tories breaking with the pro-European conservatives that made up the European Peoples Party detailed here.

It joined ranks with some unsavoury characters, unsavoury to the extent that it figures out that the BNP have not acheived a grouping of their own in Europe.

As a result of unsettled relations in the new anti-federalist grouping to which the Tories are now joined to (the ECR European Conservatives and Reformists), Michel Kaminski, a controversial figure, of Polands Law and Justice Party leads the group, detailed here.

Kaminski’s character is of great interest. He is now unable to deny calls of anti-semitism against him despite the best efforts of right-wing Tories such as Dan Hannan who has also been known to stick up for other unpalatable types in Europe, such as the far-right Spanish group Alternativa Espanola. I’m sure he will not be too fussed over the charges that Kaminski was a fan of General Pinochet for, like Thatcher, Hannan’s free trade support and cosiness with “cranks” knows little in the way of bounds. But surely what is likely to get Hannan’s goat is that Kaminski has recently been won around on the benefits of the Lisbon Treaty. Hannan and William Hague will bend over backwards to show Kaminski as a reformer, but did they think he’d go full circle on the question of Europe?

Jewish groups have questioned Cameron’s future (more here) and Obama might not be too enthusiastic either about sharing an international platform with a leader engaged with such untrusting friends in Europe, despite the attempts to show otherwise.

What will happen next?

Ah ha! I, also, find out from LibCon that (“Straight Talking”) Roger Helmer MEP has denied the existence of homophobia in a blog entry, whilst pictured with Kaminski, inasmuch as nobody he has ever met has actually been physically afraid of homosexuals. That should help the Tories present their case that Kaminski is a moderniser who only opposed same-sex marriage because he is not scared of gay people. Carry on.