Mike Kueber's Blog

August 28, 2014

The New York Times on white privilege and whether we are all racists

NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wondered if everyone was a little bit racist. Prompted by the Ferguson incident, Kristof started his column, titled “Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist?,” by admitting that we really don’t what happened in Ferguson, but he went on to assert that we do know the following:

  • But here’s what evidence does strongly suggest: Young black men in America suffer from widespread racism and stereotyping, by all society — including African-Americans themselves. Research in the last couple of decades suggests that the problem is not so much overt racists. Rather, the larger problem is a broad swath of people who consider themselves enlightened, who intellectually believe in racial equality, who deplore discrimination, yet who harbor unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior.

If Kristof’s train of thinking confuses you, join the club. Although he begins by asserting “widespread racism and stereotyping,” he quickly walks that back to “unconscious attitudes.” And then, when he describes the various studies that provide evidence of the unconscious attitudes, he fails to explain why these unconscious attitudes exist, such as there are a plethora of psychological studies showing that people are inherently suspicious of people different from them.

Kristof seems to think that if everyone tries to be more sensitive to the issue, it can be willed away. He concludes his column as follows:

  • Yet an uncomfortable starting point is to understand that racial stereotyping remains ubiquitous, and that the challenge is not a small number of twisted white supremacists but something infinitely more subtle and complex: People who believe in equality but who act in ways that perpetuate bias and inequality.

The problem with Kristof’s prescription is that it ignores the scientific fact and common-sense understanding that people behave based on their life experience. It is also a fact that young black males, especially those who present themselves like gangsters, are more likely to commit crimes and violence that almost any other distinguishable group. What sentient human being would not consider that fact?

When Kristof advises people to behave in a politically correct fashion, he reminds me of the Marx Brothers’ line – “Who are you going to believe – me or your lying eyes?”

p.s.,

Shortly after Kristof’s column, the Times published a similarly-themed column by Charles Blow titled, “Bill O’Reilly and White Privilege.”  In the column, Blow takes O’Reilly to task for arguing that the problem in the black community is internal (black behavior), not external (white privilege). O’Reilly’s argument:

  • Last night on ‘The Factor,’ Megyn Kelly and I debated the concept of white privilege whereby some believe that if you are Caucasian you have inherent advantages in America. ‘Talking Points’ does not, does not believe in white privilege. However, there is no question that African-Americans have a much harder time succeeding in our society than whites do.

O’Reilly also pointed out that Asian-Americans have achieved success despite their obstacles, which included a different language, but he also noted that the black experience was unique:

  • One caveat, the Asian-American experience historically has not been nearly as tough as the African-American experience. Slavery is unique and it has harmed black Americans to a degree that is still being felt today, but in order to succeed in our competitive society, every American has to overcome the obstacles they face.”

Blow explained away the Asians as “model immigrants” based on immigration policy, which he said resulted in high-achieving people being selected for immigration. [What an novel idea!]

Then for a solution, O’Reilly makes two points, according to Blow:

  1. In arguing that it isn’t, O’Reilly goes on to raise the seemingly obligatory “respectability” point, saying: “American children must learn not only academics but also civil behavior, right from wrong, as well as how to speak properly and how to act respectfully in public.”
  2. Then he falls back on the crux of his argument: “Instead of preaching a cultural revolution, the leadership provides excuses for failure. The race hustlers blame white privilege, an unfair society, a terrible country. So the message is, it’s not your fault if you abandon your children, if you become a substance abuser, if you are a criminal. No, it’s not your fault; it’s society’s fault. That is the big lie that is keeping some African-Americans from reaching their full potential. Until personal responsibility and a cultural change takes place, millions of African-Americans will struggle.”

Blow then turns the table on O’Reilly and seems to compare him to Al Sharpton:

  • No, Mr. O’Reilly, it is statements like this one that make you the race hustler. The underlying logic is that blacks are possessed of some form of racial pathology or self-destructive racial impulses, that personal responsibility and systemic inequity are separate issues and not intersecting ones. This is the false dichotomy that chokes to death any real accountability and honesty. Systemic anti-black bias doesn’t dictate personal behavior, but it can certainly influence and inform it. And personal behavior can reinforce people’s belief that their biases are justified. So goes the cycle. But at the root of it, we can’t expect equality of outcome while acknowledging inequality of environments. Only a man bathing in privilege would be blind to that.

Finally, something we can agree on. There is a cycle between anti-black bias and the black personal behavior. O’Reilly’s solution is for cultural change in the black community while Blow seems content to merely vent against O’Reilly. At least Kristof has a plan, albeit a Pollyannaish one for non-blacks to will away their unconscious bias.

April 14, 2011

Obama takes a whack at the deficit by raising taxes on the rich

Yesterday, President Obama announced his plan to gain control over America’s deficit.  Part of his plan is to raise the taxes of the rich.  Not surprisingly, the NY Times editorial board and columnist Nicholas Kristof commended Obama’s plan, but they both thought a truly courageous stand would have been to increase the taxes of the middle class, too, so as to avoid draconian spending cuts.

Of course, there are counter-opinions that any tax increase is political suicide.  If you doubt that, recall that the last person who campaigned on broadly raising taxes was presidential candidate Walter Mondale, who suffered one of the most lopsided electoral defeats ever in 1984.

Obama, of course, is constrained to raising taxes only on the rich because of his famous campaign pledge against raising taxes on anyone except those who make more than $250k.  Violating that pledge would expose him to the same ridicule that Bush-41 received after breaking his “Read My Lips” promise.

Personally, I agree with the NY Times that the taxes of the middle class should be raised, but I would also raise the taxes of the lower class.  Conservatives have always loved the idea of everyone paying something, and Obama seemed to accept that concept in his speech yesterday:

  • As a country that values fairness, wealthier individuals have traditionally borne a greater share of this burden than the middle class or those less fortunate. Everybody pays, but the wealthier have borne a little more. This is not because we begrudge those who’ve done well -– we rightly celebrate their success. Instead, it’s a basic reflection of our belief that those who’ve benefited most from our way of life can afford to give back a little bit more.” 

Obama’s rhetoric makes sense, but it doesn’t reflect the fact that nearly half of American taxpayers pay no income tax.  In fact, because of the earned income tax credit, millions of Americans are refunded tax money that they never paid. 

Because of demagoguing by liberals, you might not recall that the Bush tax cuts were not solely for the rich.  Instead, his tax cuts were designed to benefit all taxpayers, with the rich to benefit proportionately less.  That same approach should be used to increase taxes.  Shared sacrifice means everyone, including poor, middle class, and rich, as well as seniors, juniors, and tweeners.

Other carps

The following are some incidental carps that I have about the Obama address yesterday:

  • Obama paid lip service to America’s fundamental faith in the free market, but the bulk of his speech revealed that he placed a higher value on the role of government:

“From our first days as a nation, we have put our faith in free markets and free enterprise as the engine of America’s wealth and prosperity. More than citizens of any other country, we are rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.  But there’s always been another thread running through our history -– a belief that we’re all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of our first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.”

  • Obama acted like everything was rosy until Bush-43 screwed things up.  Personally, I have no recollection of those halcyon days in 2000 when America wasn’t obsessed with the actuarial time bombs associated with Social Security or more problematically, Medicare and Medicaid:

As a result of these bipartisan efforts, America’s finances were in great shape by the year 2000. We went from deficit to surplus. America was actually on track to becoming completely debt free, and we were prepared for the retirement of the Baby Boomers.”

  • After noting earlier in his speech that no one wants their taxes increased, Obama opined that the rich actually do want their taxes increased:      

“I say that at a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more. I don’t need another tax cut. Warren Buffett doesn’t need another tax cut. Not if we have to pay for it by making seniors pay more for Medicare. Or by cutting kids from Head Start. Or by taking away college scholarships that I wouldn’t be here without and that some of you would not be here without.  And here’s the thing: I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me. They want to give back to their country, a country that’s done so much for them. It’s just Washington hasn’t asked them to.”

I suppose I shouldn’t have expected Obama to stake out a reasonable budgetary position like the Bowles-Simpson plan to start with.  The Ryan budget proposal obviously was unacceptable to most Americans; rather it was designed to satisfy conservatives.  Similarly, Obama’s position probably appears reasonable to liberals.  I hope there are enough pragmatists in the middle, like the “gang of six” in the Senate, who want to end the posturing and actually do something to get a handle on our deficit.

March 25, 2011

Should we be in Libya?

I recently posted on my Facebook wall a NY Times column by Nicholas Kristof that approved the American intervention in Libya because, according to Kristof’s reporting, American was being welcomed as a liberator in Libya.   By way of contrast, Kristof said that our intervention in Iraq was seen as an occupation.  On my Facebook wall, I commented that liberal Kristof was being as generous toward the actions taken by liberal President Obama as he had been oppositional toward the actions taken by his Obama’s predecessor, conservative George W. Bush.  That comment prompted a Facebook friend to ask what I thought about America’s actions in Libya, and I responded as follows:

  • My first position is to defer to the president. I hate it when Republicans and Democrats argue foreign policy to the voters.  That’s usually above our pay grade.  I agree with the Libya move because of the 10-0 vote in the UN and the universal support, but I think America needs to reserve the right to act unilaterally, too.  Cowboy up.  E tu?” 

Upon further reflection, I decided to expand on that response.

When I grew up, there was a generally accepted adage that “politics ends at the water’s edge.”  Huffington Post blogger Chris Weigant says the phrase has come to mean “that when presidents act in fast-developing situations around the world, they shouldn’t be undercut by partisan griping at home, while the events are still in motion,” and he suggests that Egypt was a perfect example of when it should be applied.  Weigant supports his argument by citing the complete quote from Michigan senator Arthur Vandenberg, who coined the phrase in the late 40s:

  • To me, bipartisan foreign policy means a mutual effort, under our indispensable, two-party system, to unite our official voice at the water’s edge so that America speaks with one voice to those who would divide and conquer us and the free world.  It does not involve the remotest surrender of free debate in determining our position. On the contrary, frank co-operation and free debate are indispensable to ultimate unity. In a word, it simply seeks national security ahead of partisan advantage.  Every foreign policy must be totally debated (and I think the record proves it has been) and the ‘loyal opposition’ is under special obligation to see that this occurs.”

I think Weigant’s interpretation is entirely too narrow because a one-voice foreign policy extends to more than “fast-developing situations … while the events are still in motion.”  As I indicated in a recent blog, I think Senator Harry Reid was irresponsible when he said the following shortly after George W. Bush ordered the surge in Iraq – “The war is lost, the surge is not accomplishing anything.”     Respectful debate is fine, but Senator Reid was clearly pursuing partisan advantage. 

So, should we be in Libya?  Ultimately the president is the commander in chief, subject to Congress’s exclusive authority to declare war.   As I mentioned to my friend, I think that, because foreign policy decisions are ultra-complicated and are affected by information not available to us, we should not be second-guessing the president.  Foreign policy should become a partisan issue only rarely – e.g., Vietnam.