Thursday, May 20, 2010

Goodbye to all that, Part Two

Updated Updated Again On the same day as the post mentioned in my earlier post, May 12, Somerby also wrote about what he called "the race follies." This one is what really did it for me.

The post was triggered by a piece by New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who was responding to recent attempts by TP leaders to portray the racists in their movement as a mere "fringe." Blow said he didn't doubt the sincerity of those leaders in their desire to remove the taint of racism from the movement,
[h]owever, widely cited polling, like the multistate University of Washington survey released last month, has found that large swaths among those who show strong support for the Tea Party also hold the most extreme views on a range of racial issues.
(Parenthetical note: When Somerby first mentioned this column a couple of days earlier, he referred to it as Blow's "latest paint-by-the-numbers column about the Tea Party" and essentially lied about the piece, quoting the opening of the column - which was "Racist. Tea Party." - without mentioning that the very next line is "Are those separate concepts or a single one? Depends on whom you ask." He ignored that to claim "Blow knows only one song" and "he sings it incessantly," that "song" being claims of racism.

In that same post, Somerby found it somehow exquisitely ironic that Blow's column pointing to evidence of racism among TP supporters appeared the day after "the whitest pol in the land" - Bob Bennett - got "blown away." In addition to being of the mind that there are whiter pols around, I'm aware of absolutely no one, including Charles Blow, who says the TP is only about race, so I frankly have no clue what the hell the point is that Somerby fantasizes he is making. What's that he keeps saying about "clownish?")

Anyway. Somerby attacks Blow and Professor Tom Schaller at (which he lazily and inaccurately calls "," which does not exist) as "rushing to embrace" the "pleasing study" cited by Blow and discussed by Schaller, claiming doing so proves "the liberal world's ... bad faith on matters of race." Because, y'see,
liberals love to call conservatives racist; we sometimes seem to love it more than life itself. ... Repeat: Liberals love calling people racists - as long as the people in question belong to The Other Tribe. It often seems that liberals know no other political move.
And then, typically, having just done what he assails others for supposedly doing - making sweeping judgments - he does it again: does what he attacks others for doing. In this case, it's ballooning the importance of points favorable to his view while dismissing with a quick word those that are not.

For example, he points to the charts at the top of Schaller's post at, saying that
[a]s Schaller presents it, this chart seems to say that only 45 percent of white Tea Party sympathizers view African-Americans as intelligent. (Though Schaller doesn’t describe the question which produced those results.) That seems like a rather low figure, as Schaller helps triumphant liberals see - until we look at the comparable figure for white Tea Party opponents. (For simplicity sake, you might call this second group “liberals.” You might even call them “us.”) Uh-oh! According to Schaller’s chart, it looks like only 59 percent of this group view African-Americans as intelligent! Yes, that is a higher number than obtained among the white Tea Party supporters. But are liberals really prepared to parade about, claiming their own moral greatness, on the basis of data like these? On the basis of such minor differences?
Great merciful heavens, how many things can be wrong in the space of a single paragraph? First, Schaller said
[t]he survey asked white respondents about their attitudes toward the tea party movement - and their attitudes toward non-whites, immigrants and homosexuals.
(Emphasis in original.)

How much more of a description did Somerby expect?

Next, I don't know where the bit about "triumphant liberals" comes from: Schaller specifically said his intent was to dispute the recent right-wing claim that TPers are "mainstream" based on their demographics rather than their attitudes, a contention Somerby does not refute or, in fact, even address by any means other than hand-waving. And what's the deal about "until we look at the comparable figure?" Right: It's a chart intended to contrast attitudes of TP supporters and opponents but there was no expectation you'd actually look at both numbers.

"For simplicity's sake?" What the hell? Yet again, Somberby commits exactly the same crime against logic of which he all but daily accuses others: Are we really to think there are no centrists who oppose the TP movement? No libertarians? Is it inconceiveable that there are even some conservatives who are genuinely appalled by a movement marked by rallies heavily bedecked with racist placards and references to Nazis? And are we equally to think that every "liberal" is a "strong opponent" of the TP, even though Somerby himself, who not only minimizes its racism but refers to it merely as "this potent political movement" while claiming to be a liberal, would appear to be evidence to the contrary?

And then there's the crux of it. Remember that Schaller was avowedly challenging the idea that TPers are "mainstream." In attempting to dismiss Schaller, Somerby lamely has to resort to describing a 14-percentage point gap as "minor." In the next paragraph, referring to white attitude toward Latinos, it's a 12-percentage point gap he treats as virtually non-existent. Do the results indicate that there is still a significant portion of the public apart from the TP that doubts the equality of blacks and Latinos? Certainly. Do they indicate that the differences between TP supporters and opponents on that score is insignificant? Bullshit.

Not satisfied with distorting the results of the survey, he also goes after the survey itself.

(Another parenthetical note: For some unknown reason, Somerby, who loves to strut about, smugly displaying his self-constructed "non-elitest" banner, finds it relevant that the study came out of "a big football school." I've really no idea what the relevance is supposed to be and unless he's suggesting that if it came out of "a big football school" it can't be taken seriously as an academic work - which would be patent and extremely elitist crap - I expect that neither does he and it was just an offhand attempt at a backhand slammer.)

He called the survey "pseudo-academic crap," "mishandled," and a "virtual hoax." He also managed to use the word "bungled" in reference to it no less than 14 times in the one column. (And yes, "clownish" appeared twice.)

He can't be bothered to defend that assertion, he just repeats it. And repeats it. And repeats it. Evidence, apparently, is for other people.

Oh, but wait, maybe he just didn't have space or time that particular day to present his surely devastating critique of this "bungled" "hoax," this "mishandled" "pseudo-academic crap." Indeed, he ended the column with this:
Tomorrow - part 3: Parker’s folly
"Parker" being Dr. Christopher Parker, lead author on survey, and "tomorrow" being Thursday, May 13. It came and went with no mention of "Parker's folly." On Friday, we got this:
Doggone it! Yesterday, we were called away from our desk again, on another mission of national import. For that reason, we will postpone our ongoing series until Monday.
But on Monday, there was nothing. Not a word about "Parker's folly." Come Tuesday, it was another excuse, another reassurance:
Like Proust, we’ve regained control of our time. Tomorrow, we expect to resume our award-winning series on race.
And so it came to be Wednesday and guess what: silence. It certainly was appearing that Somerby's grasp of the terms "tomorrow" and "resume" is shaky at best.

But now, today, Thursday, at last, we finally have: nothing.

Somerby, who excoriated Maddow for not offering a "fact-check" on what Lessig said about Greenwald and claimed she wouldn't because he is "one of the tribe," has now failed for more than an entire week to justify his own charge, a justification which - if we are to accept his argument as correct or even reasonable - he must have had in hand before he broached the topic but just needed to somehow find the time - Oh, if only he had the time! - to set it down.

What. A. Clown.

It's hard to say just what the point of his ranting and rambling is. You could try to be as charitable as possible and say he's trying to point up liberal hypocrisy about race in a way similar to the time years back when Northerners were often insisting that racism was a problem confined to the South. Except that he will also go after someone for supposedly talking too much about race. Charles Blow for example.

What's more, this is not the first time he's tried to dismiss a discussion of race and racism as a relevant political topic, a fact that becomes especially significant when you consider that he described the discussion of the University of Washington survey as an example of how "the 'liberal' world keeps showing us how liberals lose," indeed how they "conspire to lose." It's not that "liberals" talk too much about race, it's not that they love "to call conservatives racist ... more than life itself," it's that they talk about race at all.

This had lead me to reach a conclusion about what I think is going on here. I remember how in the 1990s, Alexander "More Radical Than Thou" Cockburn insisted that leftists should not attack the then-focus-of-attention rightwing militia movement; rather, we should actively embrace it, join with it, as the best current expression of "revolutionary potential." At the time, I labeled that as "revolutionary daydreaming," a judgment I think time proved accurate as the movement fizzled out and Cockburn moved on to other obsessions.

I think here that Somerby thinks liberals should endorse the TP, this "potent political movement," to make common cause with it. That is, he is engaging in his own "liberal daydreaming" about a vast, unified front of The People facing down The Man. I think that is every bit as much a fantasy and every bit as much a folly as Cockburn's reveries.

Are there issues where left and the TP overlap? Yes, there are: For one example, many of them hate Wall Street as much as we do and at the beginning there could possibly be common cause about some reforms. (All those qualifiers in there are quite deliberate.)

But if doing that requires ignoring the issue of racism, as Bob Somerby would appear to have us do, if it requires ignoring the pictures of Obama with a bone through his nose, if it requires pretending that the views of the TPers are not only mainstream (even as we acknowledge that "mainstream" does not equal "non-racist") but essentially the same as folks on the left, the price is too damn high.

So I'm done with Bob Somerby, who, it emerges, is not just a clown - he's a concern troll clown.

Footnote: Some other people did raise questions about the methodology used in the survey, some of which were addressed in a subsequent email interview Schaller did with Parker.

Updated to note that it is now Tuesday, May 25, nearly two full weeks after Bob Somerby launched a really nasty attack on that University of Washington survey in a column which ended with a promise to justify the attack the following day. Not only has he not justified it, he's ceased even to promise that he's just about to do so - in fact, he hasn't even mentioned it for an entire week now.

This could be used as a summation of why Somerby is off my list of reliable media critics: Just consider how fiercely and repetitively Somerby would have savaged some "liberal" media pundit who did the same thing.

I'll repeat what I said here: There are those who think simple bile is a valuable contribution to public debate. I am not among them.

Updated Again and for the last time to report that it is now Friday, May 28, and still no discussion or even mention of the "bogus" "pseudo-academic crap" that it was so important to demolish. This despite the fact that yesterday, the 27th, he mentioned Rachel Maddow's interview with Rand Paul and claimed that
We liberals love to call people racists. It’s a way of pimping our own moral greatness....
That would seem to be a perfect opportunity to re-visit Professor Parker's "folly" - but he didn't take it. I wonder if he still remembers having raised the claim in the first place.

As a sort of Footnote to the Update, I note that Somerby raises some decent questions relating to government regulation of the economy but then, after the "love to call people racists" bit, says:
On the other hand, we liberals have proven that we’re no goddamn good at building winning political frameworks. A winning framework could emerge from our nation’s recent string of disasters - but only if we set aside our self-pleasuring instincts and talk about the events which might help average people see a larger picture.
"If only you'd concentrate on what I think makes 'a winning framework,' we'd be golden!" As I have suspected all along, the problem with "liberals" in Bob Somerby's mind is that they are not Bob Somerby.

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