A sober re-evaluation of Friday's screed

>> Monday, May 12, 2008

Friday I wrote a pretty angry screed about why I won't possibly be voting for Senator Clinton in any election ever. Infuriated by the Senator's comments, the best I could do was to say "fuck" a lot, which felt good but probably didn't quite make the case just why I think her comments disqualify her as a leader.

And then, today I find myself catching up on the news and reading a piece in Slate from Friday, in which John Dickerson (one of Slate's best writers) explains why he doesn't think Senator Clinton was playing the so-called "race card". And I have to say that, notwithstanding my own comments on Friday, he's probably right. It just doesn't matter: the comment still shows a lack of fitness for leading the country.

There are a lot of reasons the comment is merely stupid. For starters, nobody with any sense thinks the primaries say anything about the general election: John McCain wasn't on the ballot in the Democratic primary (duh), and so a voter expressing a preference between Clinton and Obama isn't expressing a preference between either one of those candidates and McCain. I.e. just because someone prefers Clinton in the primaries doesn't mean they'll vote Republican in the general election if Obama is nominated; nor is there any reason to think that a bigot who votes against Obama for his melanin count won't be a bigot when it comes to Clinton's testosterone count if she's the nominee. It's similar to Clinton's claims that she's shown she can carry big states like California or New York: those states are likely to go Democrat regardless of who the nominee is, her wins there may say something about the Democrats' preferences, but they prove nothing about the nation's.

But the Senator's comments go beyond stupid. I agree with Dickerson that they were probably made thoughtlessly, but that's the whole problem, and that's why I think they made me so furious I was reduced to a sputtering wreck in my earlier post. Much of what Freud had to say about anything has been discredited, and much of what he wrote had little or no basis in objective reality to start with. But the notion of a Freudian slip isn't without merit.

Not every verbal mistake is psychologically revealing, mind you. I'm not saying it is. But when you're putting words together in your head in the process of routing them to your mouth, your brain puts the phrases together in the way that comes easiest to it. I'm not sure that's clear. Think about your speech and your writing: you don't normally think about them that much, the word that follows the next word is almost always the word that seems like it ought to come next. It's almost a free-associational process, no?

"...Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."

Senator Clinton's brain put those words together that way: "white Americans" naturally followed "hard-working Americans" in her brain. I cannot imagine constructing that syntax in my own brain, I can't imagine "white Americans" being the natural successor to "hard-working Americans" in my own head. I'm not holding this out as an example of Wonderful Me: do those phrases naturally and smoothly follow each other in your head? Do you know people for whom those phrases do naturally follow. Maybe I 'm assuming a great deal about my few readers, but I thought so.

Here's the rub: if you live in the South, you almost certainly know people for whom those phrases flow one-to-another like water tumbling downslope. Actually, there are racists everywhere (and readers everywhere will know people who think that way), but I want to talk particularly about the South because if you live in the South you know something else: that this kind of coded language isn't really acceptable in public anymore. That is, even if you actually feel this way, you're not supposed to say it--especially somewhere where black people can hear you say it.

The history of this region is such that we're acutely aware of language, of code, of the jargon of soft bigotry and the technobabble of hard racism. We have the unfortunate historical role of inventing these vocabularies, you know, of coming up with phrases like "Jim Crow" and "separate but equal" and being the fertile soil of a good number of nasty nicknames and epithets. So there's a certain amount of ingrained awareness of these things. A judge I once knew comes to mind, now retired, who would say some horrible things in some settings that this judge wouldn't have ever said in front of the general public--some colleagues and I suffered through a rather unpleasant lunch where we couldn't really say any of the things we normally might have said to an unrepentant racist because, you know, we were going to be in front of this judge later in the afternoon asking this honorable person to not send our clients to jail. (You'll note that even now I'm being quite guarded in how I relate this.) That's how this works as the older generation dies off and is replaced by a slightly-better generation that will hopefully be replaced by an enlightened generation: the less-enlightened older folks still say things in private that we younger folks wince at and hope our kids will never hear, and eventually a kind of natural selection will thin out those who don't belong in the emerging environment. And it can't happen too soon.

How in hell do you serve as First Lady of Arkansas for a decade and not understand this? I mean, ideally I would hope Senator Clinton doesn't think that way to start with, I would hope that the phrases "hard-working" and "white" wouldn't be bunched up so close together in her brain. She was a liberal once, right? But if they are--and they seem to be--how do you live so long in the South and not internalize that there are things that aren't to be said anymore even if you think them?

(I hate the way this sounds, you know. This is a painful and frank discussion: the truth is you're not really even supposed to talk about how you're not supposed to talk about some things down here in the South. It's part of a conspiracy of silence--silent because it's an unspoken agreement and silent because it is an agreement that certain things are not to be uttered. It's not a terrible agreement even if it may seem like a devil's bargain: someday, the people who have a reason to keep their mouths closed, the people who think in the old way, will die. They will be dead, and their ideas will be dead because they were rarely let loose from the tongue; and it will take a while, longer than the three generations I implied above, because sometimes things will be said in private if not in public, and ideas are hardy things, but it will happen and someday people will look back on these codes and see enigmas.)

If Senator Clinton thinks this way, I have to question her fitness for the job of President (or any other position, for that matter). If she thinks that way and can't control her tongue enough to keep it to herself even when she's tired and on the ropes, her fitness is no longer in question.

There. That was the calm and hopefully reasonable version of Friday's rant. Thank you for reading.


Michelle K Monday, May 12, 2008 at 10:04:00 PM EDT  

Actually, I liked Friday's post.

I think it's good for people who are generally calm and reasonable to let people know when they are REALLY MAD and just what has made them mad.

MWT Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 3:14:00 PM EDT  

Heh, seems like she's slowly but surely pissing off everyone these days. I saw your post(s) shortly after I read a post elsewhere where someone got mad about a different thing she said...

Why "People will get used to mandatory health insurance. It's just like mandatory auto insurance, people got used to that." is screed-causing

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