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October 9, 2009

The Nomination Thing
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 02:47 PM * 98 comments

As I said earlier, the Nomination Thing looks to become a one of those tiresome canards that get trotted out to discredit an entire worthy endeavor (in this case, the Nobel Peace Prize). Basically, I see a lot of comments implying that, because nominations close in February, the Nobel is not based on anything Obama has done since then. These comments are almost always one-liners, and feel like unthinking amplifications of some earlier source. The meme rests on two assumptions:

  • He should not have been nominated because he had just started his term (and, by extension, that nominations are quality controlled)
  • The evaluation period closes when the nomination period closes. In other words, nothing that occurs after the nomination date is taken into consideration.

I decided to investigate these assumptions, using the highly sophisticated technique of actually reading the Nobel website.*

So, first. What, exactly, goes on with Peace Prize nominations? The qualifications to submit a nomination are quite broad:

  1. Members of national assemblies and governments of states;
  2. Members of international courts;
  3. University rectors; professors of social sciences, history, philosophy, law and theology; directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes;
  4. Persons who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize;
  5. Board members of organizations who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize;
  6. Active and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee; (proposals by members of the Committee to be submitted no later than at the first meeting of the Committee after February 1) and
  7. Former advisers appointed by the Norwegian Nobel Institute.

That’s a big pool of nominators, many of whom (at least in the US) will have strong partisan agendas. Considering the current American political scene, I’d be willing to bet that in addition to Obama, Biden, McCain, Palin, and Clinton were all nominated. According to the page on the award process:

In recent years, the Committee has received close to 200 different nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. The number of nominating letters is much higher, as many are for the same candidates.

Now, we won’t know who was nominated for 50 years, because the Nobel foundation keeps nominations secret for that long. But I thought I would test the breadth of the historic pool by searching the database of nominations from 1901 until 1956. Did you know that Hitler was nominated in 1939? (It was withdrawn.) Stalin was put forward in 1945 and 1948. And, not to be left out, Mussolini was also nominated twice, both in 1935.

More recently, Tony Blair and George W Bush were jointly nominated in 2002, according to one qualified nominator.

So I think we can conclude, based on process and available results, that the nomination pool isn’t significantly vetted as long as the nominators meet certain standards. A newly-inaugurated US President with a record of community organization, a voting record against the Iraq war, and a message of international collaboration wouldn’t even be a controversial submission.

As for the second assumption, that the committee based the award on Obama’s actions as at the closing date of the nominations? Once again using my super-secret technique* of reading the website, I see that the investigative and voting process lasts right up to the beginning of October:

February-March - Short list. The Committee assesses the candidates’ work and prepares a short list.
March-August - Adviser review. The short list is reviewed by permanent advisers and advisers specially recruited for their knowledge of specific candidates. The advisers do not directly evaluate nominations nor give explicit recommendations.
October - Nobel Laureates are chosen. At the beginning of October, the Nobel Committee chooses the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates through a majority vote. The decision is final and without appeal. The names of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates are then announced.

In other words, the committee evaluated the nominees until August, and then voted on them in September. I’m certain they didn’t do this in Grand Jury-level seclusion, either, so if Obama had been going along promisingly until the end of August and then lobbed nukes at, say, Madagascar, they’d have adjusted their voting accordingly.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that the choice is open to some serious debate. But I think that questioning it on the basis that nominations closed at the beginning of February is classic disinformation: spinning a fact into a lie.

* I’m being sarcastic here because I’m surprised how many people whom I otherwise respect seem to be incapable of looking at an original source that’s readily available online.

Comments on The Nomination Thing:
#1 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 04:09 PM:

Read the applicable source material? That's cheating!

We should never let facts interfere with our carefully considered narrative.

#2 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 04:17 PM:

#1: Hear, hear! Reality has a strong liberal bias that must be compensated for.

#3 ::: James Moar ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 05:09 PM:

"lobbed nukes at, say, Madagascar"

Well, if they will keep closing their port....

#4 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 05:10 PM:

I think at this point the Republican narrative can be summed up as "Obama continues to exist; conservatives outraged."

#5 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 05:10 PM:

I predict we'll keep hearing this endlessly, even from people who've just been told what bullshit it is.

#6 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 05:14 PM:

Xopher @5:
One of the reasons I posted this is so that, if anyone finds it useful, they can link to it.

It's a bit wordy, though, containing as it does actual information. Anyone fancy coming up with a one-liner response?

#7 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 05:19 PM:

It's a bit wordy, though, containing as it does actual information. Anyone fancy coming up with a one-liner response?

The Nobel people have been doing this awhile and might actually have a clue about the process...

#8 ::: Matthew Daly ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 05:22 PM:

The drawn-outedness of the process does seem like a legitimate problem anyways. There has been a lot of peacemaking and a lot of struggle for democratic justice since February that evidently the panel is not allowed to consider. I'm not saying that the parties involved in the end of the Sri Lankan civil war or the Iranian election protests were more deserving of the 2009 award, but it seems like a failure of the system that they weren't even considered.

Don't get me wrong, it's their award and they can conduct it any way they want. But if they want to be perceived as authorities on world peace then they owe it to themselves to have a process that maximizes their relevance.

#9 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 05:25 PM:

Matthew Daly @8:
There's always next year.

Srsly, there has to be a cutoff, and there will inevitably be someone who comes in just after it. I would love to have seen someone from the Iranian situation win, and I hope that by next year they can put that kind of moral leverage in those hands.

The alternative to a drawn-out decision is a hasty one, like choosing a VP you haven't vetted.

#10 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 05:31 PM:

Well, checking US presidents, everyone from Wilson to Eisenhower was nominated at least once except for Coolidge. (Cordell Hull and FDR nominated each other in 1938, and Hull won in 1945.) Hoover arguably should have won for his humanitarian work. So the answer is that yes, presidents do seem to be routinely nominated. (Molotov, BTW, was nominated by two groups of Romanians in 1948.)

Abi, I have to say that your meme's second assumption doesn't obtain. It doesn't matter whether the committee looks at what happened between February and the present; one has to assume that they do. The point is that the nomination, when it was made, wasn't based on any track record at all beyond a few weeks of presidency. It's clear that the first assumption is wrong insofar as people are even aware of a nomination process-- but then again, it doesn't make the Obama nomination better knowing that there have been a lot of bogonic nominations through the years.

#11 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 05:35 PM:

One-liner: Nominations close in February, so they can consider the hundreds of nominations until they make their decision in October.

#12 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 05:40 PM:

Don't get me wrong, it's their award and they can conduct it any way they want.

Well, more correctly, it's Alfred Nobel's award, and they can conduct it any way they want that falls within the guidelines and strictures of Alfred Nobel's will. If Nobel's will could have been broken, his heirs would have done it a long time ago. Heaven knows, they tried.

#13 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 05:41 PM:

In 1939 Neville Chamberlain had the most nominations for Peace Prize, but there was no award that year.

#14 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 05:47 PM:

C. Wingate @ 10:
The point is that the nomination, when it was made, wasn't based on any track record at all beyond a few weeks of presidency.

Obama didn't emerge from a Sontaran clone tank in mid October. He did have a rather notable career going back a few years. also, as has been noted elsewhere, the Nobel Prize isn't a life time achievement award. It's a recognition that a person in a position to do good deserves support in their causes. Makes sense to award a peace-minded president early on, so he can go on to disappoint us grandly in in high style, rather than waiting to see what he fails to accomplish first.

#15 ::: jere7my ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 05:48 PM:

C. Wingate, the point is that, apparently, any history professor (like, say, my wife) can nominate anyone they like by writing a letter. Given that, it's inconceivable that Obama wouldn't be nominated. And once he's in the pool, the committee then has to consider everything he's done between the nomination and the voting.

In other words, there doesn't seem to be anything stopping people from nominating a fire hydrant that they hope will do something awesome in the next nine months. If the fire hydrant does do something awesome, the fact that its awesomeness was only potential at the time of nomination doesn't factor into its consideration for the award.

#16 ::: Matthew Daly ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 06:47 PM:

Abi @9: I agree that there does have to be a cutoff. But eight months srsly? I can see how it might have legitimately taken that much time to research five international nominees in 1901, but today? If they could collate their forms into a list of 200 then wheedle that down to five finalist and one laureate in two months instead of eight, then that increases the chance that someone can actually be leveraged out of jail before the world has forgotten about her. There will be the potential justice delayed no matter what, but at least then the news story will only be fourteen months old instead of twenty.

Ulrika O'Brien @12: I wonder. Nobel's mandate was to select "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses". The Committee seems to have broadened the definition over recent years to include environmentalism and poverty abatement as legitimate vectors of peace, and of course they overlooked the fact that President Obama has doubled down on his land war in Asia and scaled back his plans to shut down a prison that is in violation of international law. I don't have enough facts, but it seems possible that the Committee is more in charge of the vision of the prize than Nobel's estate.

#17 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 06:50 PM:

Keith Kisser @ 14: "Obama didn't emerge from a Sontaran clone tank in mid October."

On the other hand, if he had, it WOULD explain why he's unable to produce a birth certificate...

/rightwing troll trolling

#18 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 06:56 PM:


#19 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 07:18 PM:

I eagerly await the Fox news interview with the Rutan foreign minister, offering a counterpoint against the Obama/Sontaran hegemonic media monopoly.

#20 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 07:50 PM:

Matthew @8:

Manifestly, the process does work in that sense: they are considered authorities on world peace, and the process is known to be somewhat political. How could it not be? This isn't something that can be reduced to quantifiers in a meaningful way. For example, there are countries that could disband their armies entirely and reduce the number of soldiers in the world by far less than in China reduced theirs by a few percent. Should the numbers be absolute or percentage, and if so, percentage of previous standing army or of national population? Do you get a peace prize for building up your army in 2002 and shrinking it again in 2008, while someone else kept theirs small? Do all things called "peace conferences" count equally?

There's some politics even in the science prizes (though much less than Conservapedia would like to think, or like us to think): look up the wording of Einstein's award. Yes, explaining the photoelectric effect was worth a Nobel, but putting the rest of his work under "and other contributions to physics" was to placate someone who didn't like relativity.

#21 ::: Andrew Kanaber ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 09:02 PM:

On the other hand, Obama had already made a major contribution to world peace by preventing John McCain from becoming POTUS.

#22 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 10:04 PM:

And probably being succeeded shortly thereafter by Palin.

#23 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 11:00 PM:

The impressive thing is how few distinct nominations they receive. On the other hand, I suspect that at least some of those eligible nominators don't realize they're eligible; I doubt it's in the orientation packet for new professors in most history departments.

I wonder: what would the average member of the U.S. Congress, or the British Parliament, make of letters from constituents urging them to nominate specific people for the Peace Prize?

#24 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 01:21 AM:

Slightly off topic. What if SF fans lobbied their reps to nominate a SF writer? I leave it as an exercise for the reader to pick the writer.

#25 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 01:22 AM:

Slightly off topic. What if SF fans lobbied their reps to nominate a SF writer? I leave it as an exercise for the reader to pick the writer.

#26 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 01:22 AM:

Sorry for the double post.

#27 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 01:26 AM:

Vicki @ 23: "I wonder: what would the average member of the U.S. Congress, or the British Parliament, make of letters from constituents urging them to nominate specific people for the Peace Prize?"

Given the variety (and asserted urgency) of issues upon which said Members of Congress / Parliament receive communications every business day, this would probably rank (on average) somewhere around issue #463-B. For some it would be much higher, of course, and correspondingly lower for others. But on the average, "lost in the ambient noise level" probably sums it up.

#28 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 02:47 AM:

Wanna laugh? Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire Italian PM, was also nominated for the Peace prize this year, allegedly for brokering a minor agreement between Russia and Ukraine. Note that the two countries never said Mr.B was ever involved, and there is no proof (and no reason) for him being consulted on the matter. He even self-invited himself to the signing ceremony, only to be gently rebuffed.

#29 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 02:49 AM:

C Wingate @10:
So should the Nobel Committee have rejected the nomination out of hand? A sitting President, one who said the things he was saying during the campaign (and with a record of voting against the Iraq war) doesn't even get on the list of people to look at?

#30 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 03:58 AM:

Giacomo @28:
Was he? I'm sure it was partly to do with how well he's bearing up despite being the most persecuted man in history.

#31 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 04:24 AM:

heresiarch @ 18... Wait a minute. I thought the Sontarans were related to Rush Limbaugh.

#32 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 06:15 AM:

Serge: Sontarans are short and stocky but muscular. They're from a high-gravity world originally. They look a bit tubby in places but it's all muscle and armour.

If anything, Rush resembles a Hutt.

#33 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 07:00 AM:

Which makes me wonder: Does anyone here, or anyone close to anyone here, get annual letters or something from the Nobel folks asking for nominations? If so, how do they look like?

#34 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 08:59 AM:

Raphael @ 33: Does anyone here, or anyone close to anyone here, get annual letters or something from the Nobel folks asking for nominations?

Why yes, I get those all the time. Here's one that turned up this morning:

Dear friend,

My name is MRS DR MIRIAM NORDQVIST and I am chairperson of the Noriges Riksbank in Oslo Norway. Some years ago a client of this bank MR ALFRED BERNHARD NOBEL of Stockholm Sweden died most unfortunately in San Remo Italy. On checking our accounts ledgers I find that he had deposited with us the sum of 31,000,000 Kr (THIRTY ONE MILLION KRONOR) with instructions that if he died we should not give this money to his family but should instead give it to deserving people around the world who would help the world peace and the brotherhood between countries, because Mr Alfred Bernhard Nobel had gained this money through manufacturing of weapons and arms which were killing many peoples. I therefore am writing to you to invite you to nominate any such deserving people, possibly including your good self. (Please be sure to include your bank address and all account numbers for the easy disbursement of funds.)

Many thanks from the bottom of my heart,

Mrs Dr Miriam Nordqvist

#35 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 10:21 AM:

Paul Duncanson @ 32... I was struck by the resemblance between Rush and Sontarans when I saw just a head shot of one of the latter. Yes, the physical similarity ends there.

#36 ::: KristianB ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 11:17 AM:

As an Oslo-inhabitant I decided to head on down to the Nobel Peace Center today and check out this exhibit they're running, "From King to Obama" (put up in September... My first thought was that in hindsight that was a bit of a hint, but once there I learned the exhibit had been planned all year, from long before the winner was decided.)

While I was there I happened to catch the unveiling of the Nobel Diploma (or... whatever it was called) by the Nobel Committee Chairman (and former PM of Norway) Torbjørn Jagland, and listened to him hold a little lecture about why they picked Obama, in particular challenging the notion that he hasn't "done anything yet". He listed such things as Obama's speech in Cairo earlier this year as entering a dialogue with the Muslim world that was urgently needed; his leading a meeting in the UN Security Council (the first time a US President has ever done so) that unanimously passed a resolution for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament; his making diplomatic contact with Iran for the first time since the Islamic Revolution; his active participation in the Israel-Arab conflict from the very beginning of his term (he said other Presidents tend to leave that to the end of their terms, I don't know how true that is); his scrapping plans for expansion of the European missile defense shield and thus significantly improving US-Russian relations, and probably some other stuff I don't remember. "Obama has lowered the global temperature," he said, quoting Desmond Tutu.

All these things, of course, happened long after the nomination.

#37 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 12:54 PM:

Serge @ 31: "Wait a minute. I thought the Sontarans were related to Rush Limbaugh."


#38 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 01:02 PM:

"I have been a friend of Rush's for many years. I have golfed with him, eaten meals with him, gone to the Carribean to--well, I know him very well. The very idea that Rush Limbaugh, an American hero, could have ties with Sontaro--Sontinista--whoever--is ridiculous! It's a smear job, plain and simple."

#39 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 01:05 PM:

"Thank you, Senator. Up next on CNN, we'll hear the Democratic side of the story: why have the Dems chosen to pursue this smear strategy?"

"What? I'm not saying anthing of the sort--"

"Stay tuned." *Cut to commercial*

#40 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 01:06 PM:


#41 ::: giltay ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 01:58 PM:

This echoes birtherism: if your enemy wins, claim he should have been disqualified from the nomination.

#42 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 03:15 PM:

heresiarch @ 40... Those vicious rumors were probably orchestrated by the Doctor, who is a well known proponent of Universal Health Coverage.

#43 ::: Rick York ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 05:49 PM:

I have been a pinko for nearly 50 years. I love Obama. (Although, I have to say that the relationship has been rather strained in recent months. Isn't that always the case after the first blush of new love?) Given that, and, in spite of the informative comments of KristianB, this Nobel does seem premature. There is much screaming and hollering from the nutcase right. So, what else is new? Heresiarch @#4 nailed it.

By the way, has anyone compared the abuse Obama is getting to Clinton's? We tend to forget how Newt et al. went after Billary.

#44 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 06:28 PM:

Rick People have, and the Obama abuse is worse; the outright calls for his murder are more common, and more open, if nothing else. They also started before the election was done.

#45 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 06:37 PM:

C. Wingate @ 10: Okay, I give up. What does "bogonic" mean? I've tried various dictionaries--mostly online, because I assumed it was a recent coinage--and got nothing. The best I've been able to figure out is that it's a derived from "bogo," in the sense of "buy one, get one."

Apologies to all for the off-topic question, but it's been driving me crazy.

#46 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 06:42 PM:

I think "bogonic" was intended as a portmanteau of "bogus" and "moronic", but I Could Be Wrong/

#47 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 06:46 PM:

heresiarch @ 4:
"Obama continues to exist; conservatives outraged."

I suspect for many "conservatives" it's more like "Obama remains black". Now if he were to suddenly change color, preferably on national TV ...

And thumbs up for your insightful coverage of wingnut news.

#48 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 06:57 PM:

The bogon is the fundamental elementary particle of bogosity, in quantum bogodynamics theory.

#49 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 06:59 PM:

The awards for the Peace Prize have shown highly varying quality over time. Some years the guy who dropped the fewest bombs is the best candidate. Proof by example: Henry Kissinger, architect of the bombing of Cambodia and very likely the bombing of Hanoi and the mining of Haiphong harbor. Note that after all that bombing, he was awarded the prize jointly with Lec Duc Tho of North Vietnam for negotiating a cease-fire (which later failed). Tho declined the award, saying that Vietnam was not yet at peace.

#50 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 07:00 PM:

Argh! Noted in the onosecond: that's "Le Duc Tho".

#51 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2009, 09:03 PM:

The following came up on Comcast's site...

President Barack Obama says he will end the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy.

It doesn't say when.
But it says it.

#52 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2009, 12:24 AM:

The one thing that pisses off conservatives more than having a black guy in the White House is being told that they're racist.

#53 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2009, 12:48 AM:

The Nobel does have the advantage of distracting the wingnuts from bouncing off the wall about stuff that's even more important (for a while, at least).

#54 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2009, 08:11 AM:

Bruce Cohen@47

James Vega argued on October 2 at the Democratic Strategist
here that the teabaggers aren't (mostly) tapping into the usual anti-black sterotypes. What they are tapping into are the tropes of xenophobic nativism.

(The paragraphs preceding the first two paragraphs quoted below note that the stereotypes of Obama that predominated among the 9/12 marchers aren't the usual anti-black sterotypes but are actually closer to the old "Yellow Peril" sterotypes.)

(begin quotes)

The “yellow peril” comparison suggests a much more robust conceptualization of the protesters attitudes – not as an antagonism against African-Americans in particular, but as a broader antagonism to the growing racial and social diversity of America in general – to the replacement of a white-dominated, traditional, conservative small-town American culture with a “Tiger Woods” racial mélange of white, black, brown red and yellow Americans and an eclectic urbanized culture of diverse tastes, values, music, clothing, slang and even sexual preference and expression. It is a reaction against a new world of Spanish signs on stores, Asians and Indian families moving in next door, gays calmly accepted as part of ordinary daily life and the necessity of having to be retrained in new jobs and fields in response to the economic demands of a complex globalized world. The “real America” the protesters want to restore is the America of Tom Sawyer and Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” – a culture rooted in the rural and small town values that are still a very real and significant part of America.

Democrats need to call this perspective by its correct name. It is not simply anti-Black racism, but rather a modern version of the “nativism” or cultural xenophobia that has been a recurring feature of American culture and politics throughout the country’s history – a fear not simply of alien and foreign ideas but of wrenching social and cultural change in general.


It is easy to view the demand to “give me back my country” as nothing more than a racist resistance to a Black chief executive. But it is not. The protesters real enemy is the complex and uncertain multiracial and globalized future that Obama represents and which they desperately wish to hold at bay.

(end quotes)

It occurs to me that this might partly account for the persistance of "birtherism". "Foreign influences" are, after all, the particular obsession of nativists.

#55 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2009, 08:16 AM:

On closer rereading of James Vega's commentary that I linked to in 54, I noticed that he does specifically mention that "birtherism" is a more dramatic expression of one of the two main anti-Obama attitudes held by the marchers.

#56 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2009, 09:36 PM:

Leroy @27: Then again, the PM of the UK apologized for the UK's treatment of Turing based on a web petition. Want to get the man who saved the world from nuclear annihilation nominated? No better way than to ask.

Michael @54: That's an interesting point, and certainly a point of view I've observed. I can't figure out how to address it... some kind of voluntary exchange program to send high school kids in the rural Midwest to cities out East for some months and vice-versa, perhaps. The only real cure I've found for fear of that kind of society is living in it and discovering that it's just made up of people and they're no more scary than anyone else.

#57 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2009, 02:16 AM:

I was looking for the part that says they may consider achievements up to the day when nominations are closed. After that, of course, is the blackout period where the judges are sequestered, so their decision making process isn't influenced by recent events or, worse yet, hope. But I can't find it. Where is it? So many people are citing it, it must be there somewhere.

#58 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2009, 05:28 AM:

They're probably just confusing it with the process of selecting a new Pope. Many wingnuts still hate Catholics, so I suppose it's easy for some of them to connect the dots that way.

#59 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2009, 08:09 AM:

Andy Wilton @34, fun, but I thought that if the committee sends out letters to everyone who's technically qualified to nominate people, then, with Making Light having the collections of people from different fields that it has, we should have some people here who get these letters or at least know someone who gets these letters, and might be able to say something about them.

#60 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2009, 09:35 AM:

Kevin Riggle @56--

Your solution is one of the things that scares these people--not only are they afraid of having to adjust to a brave new multi-culti world, they're terrified of losing their children to it. If Teresa, with her clear recollections of old Reader's Digest memes, had the time, she could probably give us a history of "our children will be taken from us by outsiders and changed until they are no longer ours", a terror that's been a favorite for years and years and years, in one version or another.

In many cases, the teenagers are busily widening their horizons already, to their parents' and grandparents' everlasting horror--in Mississippi, they decide that having a high school prom for black students and another for white one is dumb, and ignore their elders' predictions of disaster to come when they combine them. In other places, they roll their eyes when warned about the dangers of teh gay. Everywhere, they send each other these incomprehensible messages via text and twitter, and generally behave as if they thought it was their right to decide how to live the rest of their lives. Every time they go on line, they're in danger of being in contact with people from all over the planet, including (horrors!) New York City. They might even have shared a file or two of favorite bands with a Muslim kid in, say, Michigan, and have concluded on the basis of shared musical tastes that Ahmad and his sister Leila are pretty cool, and that Leila's decision to wear a headscarf, as explained on her Facebook page, is no stranger than the people at Aunt Betty's church who refuse to have a piano or an organ played during services because they aren't in Scripture.

No, offers to make their children more comfortable in this dangerous new world are not what these people want. There's a very real risk that soon enough they'll go away to college, or join the military, or something else that removes them from their parents' direct, caring supervision, and then who knows what disasters will follow?

Terry Pratchett is well on top of this when he las Lord Vetinari observe that what people wish for most is not good government, or even justice, but merely for things to stay the same. Even if same is /= good, it's familiar and thus comfortable.

#61 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2009, 11:07 AM:

re 14: Looking back in the 1950s, nominations of US congresscritters were quite rare: the one I found was for someone who was big on world government and who even today has a foundation named after him. No congressman or senator has ever won. Saying that Obama was nominated for his legislative record is a stretch. It's not a bad record, or even mediocre, but it's not a record that makes him stand out from a fairly large pack either.

re 15: One would therefore postulate that GWB got a nomination every year too, so therefore that nomination was also good. See, I don't think the assertion that certain kinds of nominations might be routine (and I have to emphasize the speculative nature of that hypothesis, because it isn't borne out in the Nobel database) does anything for their quality. Indeed, it is perverse to point at Hitler, Stalin, et al. in trying to justify the nomination; at most they serve as examples that the nominating process has always tossed bad apples into the hopper.

re 29: Voting against the Iraq war would count under "being not George Bush". It's not that hard to decode the message from the committee, which (as they to some degree say) "we like you undoing Bush's policies, and we want you to continue." And if one doesn't think Bush was that bad, then this is a lame reason for a nomination, much less the prize. A more subtle critic might observe (as a lot of liberals have) that Obama's foreign policy, in practice, hasn't been all that different from Bush's, whatever the rhetoric. Either way, though, on February 1 all of this was no more than a promise. It's not unreasonable to expect that promise to borne out in part, especially considering the criticism from people who want a "not George Bush" president and who think that this promise has not been borne out.

#62 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2009, 11:55 AM:

C. Wingate, #61: does defeating John McCain on an antiwar platform count? I daresay that's a contribution to world peace. We corvids are very disappointed.

#63 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2009, 12:53 PM:

Raven, I think it would count a lot more if we weren't at war in Afghanistan and if we weren't still policing Iraq, and if the economy hadn't started to tank, and if there weren't so many people voting to make sure that Palin was at risk of becoming president (count me in this last group). Why wouldn't one expect a nomination based on campaign promises to be borne out in action before it is realized in a prize?

#64 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2009, 01:37 PM:

people voting to make sure that Palin was at risk of becoming president (count me in this last group)

You missed a n't there—at any rate, I hope so.

#65 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2009, 02:11 PM:

re 64: Um, yeah. Make that voting to make sure that Palin wasn't at risk of becoming president".

#66 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2009, 02:48 PM:

fidelio, #60: Spot-on. Never mind that their parents or grandparents probably approved wholeheartedly of the forcible removal of Native American children from any exposure to their own culture and language -- that's DIFFERENT.

#67 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2009, 04:56 PM:

re 60: I'm sure plenty of those small town people might think it was about time for those city slickers to get out and experience some of the Real WorldTM. Back in my student days it was amusing in an annoying way to listen to all those NYC kids at UMCP complain about the Hicksville that was the DC suburbs. And I hate to disappoint you, but the dominant church in bleeding-red Kansas is those boring old mainline Methodists-- United Methodist, at that.

#68 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2009, 11:48 PM:

My grandparents were all immigrants.
I have neighbors who are from India.

Meanwhile, a few of the measures of demerit of the regime 2001-2008:

o Conversion of equal opportunity monitoring, data collection, and investigatory positions and offices in government agencies into untenanted dead letter offices. That includes dead-lettering complaints of 15,000 darkskinned farmers to the FDA... a lawsuit against the government resulted in an award of $1,000,000,000 to them, which the current President is proposing adding another 1.5 billion to. However, a different federal judge rules that Hispanic farmers could not go forward with a class action suit, they had to sue individually...
o Disestablishment of the collection and analysis of data regarding the status of women in the US workforce--data which had been the basis for convicting employers of systematic discrimination of women
o Conversion of the Defense Advisory Council On Women In The [military] Service into a Family Values organization with that hypocritical credential-faking harpy Elaine Donnelly one of the members
o Slotting Creatonist pseudoscience literature claiming that Noah's Flood in the Bible created the Grand Canyon in the supposed "science" section for books in the store in the Grand Canyon
o widespread gag orders on federal scientists regarding global warming, Pacific salmon, and many other topics where the research data and results failed to coincide with the offical dogma, views, and opinions of the regime
o censorship and revision in federal reports supposedly documenting studies and results and conclusions and recommendations so that the conclusions and recommendations were the regime opinions, and rewriting of the bodies of the reports to support/coincide with the directed conclusions and recommendations
o Bowdlerization and redaction and censorship and revision of federal websites to the religious dictated opinions and beliefs and values of anti-abortion and anti-birth control, and removal of all content with the temerity to mention prophylactic benefits of condoms, and any material otherwise which cast fertility control as having any social merit, and instead replacing information with mostly false horror stories and lies and screed....
o Coverups of all sorts regarding use of torture and abuse of detainees, regarding refusal to provide data on all sorts of things, the outing of Valerie Plame, the awarding of no-big contracts to cronies, etc. etc. etc.

Harding was merely inept and incompetent, he was not a willing figurehead and front person for intention rape and plundering of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, US taxpayer, and citizens of the rest of the world (especially Iraqis, and the long-suffering citizens of Afghanistan who wanted freedom from religius tyranny, emancipation to live lives in which going to school to become literate, and having self-determination in economics (aka jobs earning income...), self-determination in travel (e.g., being about to go outside without a keeper and without being also swathed head to toe in modesty attire)were realities instead of grounds for being attacked and murdered....)

#69 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2009, 09:34 AM:

C. Wingate @#60--I'm not in the least amazed to find out that people from large cities can be quite parochial, and can have difficulties adjusting to new situations. I have seen it myself, and felt my eyes roll reflexively in response.

However, the problem is not just a matter of small towns versus large cities.

I spent the first 21 years of my life* in small towns (actual small towns, with populations under 20K, not just what people from large conurbations think of as small towns), and many of my relatives still live in small towns. I live in Nashville, a city which is determined, despite its levels of growth and increasing degree of multiculturalism, to think of itself as a very large variety of small town**. I can think of many good things to say about small towns, without even stretching myself, as well as some common shortcomings. I even have relatives in Kansas (OK, it's a Kansas City suburb, but still...)

That mindset I discussed in #60--it sounds like it's just a small-town thing, but it's as common in the suburbs and exurbs of large cities (whether Atlanta, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Washington, Los Angeles, Houston or any of their ilk) as it is in actual small towns. I wouldn't be in the least astonished to discover it in plenty of cities as well.

It can be found in lots of places because fear of change, and fear of what's different, is a wide-spread thing. You'd be wise to take a serious look at the problem (even if it's a little too close to home--and I know this is the case for me from time to time; knowing that makes it easier to keep some perspective) instead of gibing at it. Many people have it; some deal with it better than others. While there are always people willing to exploit that fear for their own ends (Andrew Comstock, anyone?), there have been times when the exploiters have greater concerns that just uncontrolled sex, and this is one of them.

Some people accept that there's change, but would like some of it to be a bit slower so they can catch their breath, or at least figure out the not-so-latest technology before they have to wrestle with the very latest, or learn how to say their new neighbors' names without mangling them rudely and being offensive. Some grumble that the world isn't what it once was (go figure), others fixate on a specific annoyance which is a symptom of All The Bad Changes, whether it's slang, the designated hitter rule, or the clothes those kids wear these days, and gripe about that. One way of dealing badly*** with it is to turn to the various nativist or racist factions; another is to retreat as far into the wilderness (or at least a very small community) as possible and isolate your family as much as you can from "dangerous influences"; there are men and women both who slip of the edge of sanity and common sense and try to control every action and contact of their spouses and children, because they know their loved ones will "go to the bad" if they aren't watched every second.

None of these strategies help much in the long run, nor does trying to dismiss or deflect attention from the problem (which is how your post reads to me) and we'd be better off talking seriously about how and why change is so unsettling at times, thinking carefully about our own reactions, and learning how to channel the reaction in constructive ways.

*The 1960s and early 1970s in a small town in the Ozarks--now there was a time and a place with a powerful fear of change--and a great deal of it was aimed at "our greatest treasure, our children". Maybe having been a target then makes me more aware of the attitude now when I run into it.

**Interestingly, many of our incomers like this mindset, whether they are Eritrean, Honduran, or
from Illinois.

***For values of "badly" that mean everything from "doesn't really produce a useful approach to the fact that change happens, like it or not" to "passing by mere anxiety to become batshit crazy". The latter group at times devolve into violence, aimed as often at their (supposed) nearest and dearest as at any outsider--whther it's assault, intended to keep potential rebels in line, and so safe from the threats they don't understand are out there, or murder when all else fails.

#70 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2009, 05:22 PM:

Fidelio, fearing change (in the abstract) is not irrational. It's especially not irrational if you are the kind of powerless person who populates all those small towns or exurbs, and who believes (correctly) that the people who are going to make the decisions aren't like you and don't live in a community like yours and don't share your values and are not subject to the same economic and social risks that you are. To welcome change, you have to either like change for change's sake, or you have to have some expectation that either you won't come out on the short end of the stick, or that you'll be able to deal with adverse changes.

One of the things one hears from Episcopal pulpits (or as often from the floor, because a pulpit is one of those things that gets set aside for Change) is the Change Sermon. What it really means is that the rector wants to change something and doesn't want any resistance on the change's merits; besides, in that milieu a variety of positive arguments can be made for stability as the default. The subtext is that the rector actually has absolute power over the worship of the parish; the canons say so. The point is really to legitimize adverse changes as something other than a simple exercise of power.

And to take a different example: "the clothes those kids wear these days." Having a daughter at That Age, I look at the clothes and see that a lot of the stuff that is aimed at her is very sexualized in a way that creates undue attention towards a child who isn't really interested in sexual activity. I don't really care whether this development (and in some respects it's a revival of some of the styles worn when I was her age) is change or not; all I care about is that I don't want her in the habit of sending out a lot of false sexual signals-- or more subtly, having her indoctrinated in a culture of sexualization without really being aware of it. Saying that I'm resisting Change because I'm afraid of it is pretty much entirely backwards. What's really happening is that I am aware of the semiotics of her (potential) apparel, and I'm aware of the social dynamics of sexuality at her age and the realities of teenage responsibility. There is absolutely nothing wrong in me resisting the culture on this, and there's little wrong with someone else acting on their sense of unease if they are less actively aware. Nobody has an obligation to take the surrounding (sub)culture's mores as a pig in a poke. And since I'm feeling judgemental at the moment, the obtuse refusal to recognize the sinning going on in those more benighted places is part and parcel of the refusal to confront the consequences of the more relaxed attitudes found in more enlightened locales. They're both quite parochial, just in different ways.

I need to break off at this point, so if this feels truncated or incomplete, it probably is. More later.

#71 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2009, 06:29 PM:

Seen this one?

#72 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2009, 09:46 PM:

C. Wingate--

I have the distinct feeling that you are not so much debating me and what I have written here as you are trying to articulate your own issues with the world as it is now. Have you bothered to read the piece by James Vega that Michael I linked to in #54? Please do so if you haven't, because what Vega has to say is very important, and needs to be considered carefully, and not just by Democratic strategists. In fact, if you respond to this post, or add to your repsonse to my previous one without reading Vega's piece, I shall take it as indicator (true or false, I shall not care) that you are more interested in complaining about this modern world we live in than in carefully considering what other people have to say here. I have no interest whatsoever in becoming an enabler in one of your screeds about the things you don't like in what you see around you. You might also update your knowledge of nativist movements in American history, because this is what we were talking about, not whether it's right or wrong to feel some discomfort, discontent, or disapproval of the way the world seems to be going.

Here is where I stand:

Many people feel varying degrees of unease with change in their worlds. This is in no way unusual, and is not a sign of weakness of failure on their part. There are very few people anywhere who can confront significant change over which they have little or no control without any qualms at all. I know that I have trouble at times, and have to find my own ways of coping usefully, rather than turning into a ranting cat lady who can't come to terms with the fact Petsmart no longer carriees my preferred version of cat litter and has to tell the world all the way from the back of the store on into next week.

However, there are useful and constructive ways to deal with one's fears and anxieties, and harmful and destructive ones. There are wise choices we can make about coming to grips with the things that can happen about us, and foolish ones.

One helpful way to deal with (as an example) the changing demographics of the United States is to become acquainted with the new people on the block as people, and not just as indicators that things are different from what they used to be. Some of the things we have projected our fears and anxieties on to turn out to be paper tigers when we study them closely, and we can turn our attention to the issues that are more serious problems.

However, there is a small but effective group in our public life that has no interest in seeing people learn to manage these fears and anxieties constructively. Rather, they see this as an opportunity to be exploited, a chance to recruit useful fools. They are quite happy to not merely take advantage of these anxieties, but to stoke them, groom them, nourish them, and aim them at the targets them consider most useful. The people they find most consistently vulnerable to this are those people I mentioned in #60, and touched on briefly in my second post--those who are least likely to respond well to Kevin Riggle's exchange situation (letting kids find out how other people live and what circumstances they have to deal with is not a bad idea--and there are useful things to learn wherever you go). People like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck and their ilk, and their masters, are certainly not the first to take advantage of this problem, however.

How do we come to grips with the problems this situation presents? How do we both disarm the people who are working to exploit this situation, and keep others from being overwhelmed and drawn into this destructive round? Certainly, telling people they have nothing to worry about is a bad idea--it's not true, even if what people think they need to be afraid of is not what they really need to worry about. (Did you bother to check Patrick's Sidelight link to Jonathan Schwarz's useful and insight post at A Tiny Revolution, "Every Ideology Is Right"? Schwarz makes some excellent points in that short and simple piece, and ends with some good questions.) How do we defang the prople who aren't just trying to fish in the troubled waters, but are taking extra steps to keep them stirred up to conceal their own agendas?

Most parents want to protect their children form the risks and hazards they aren't able to handle well as yet, whether that's trying to drive before they're ready (I have a 6-year-old greatnephew who wants the wheel now), wearing clothes to school that would, at least, be better suited to a night of clubbing on somone a decade or two older, if not a crack whore. However, there are those who are so worked up by this point that they are afraid to risk exposing their children, at any age, to something they have decided (or have been instructed) is "dangerous", whether it's being around people who are not white-skinned Christian (for definitions of "Christian" that might well not include the Episcopal Church) Americans at any age, to reading the Harry Potter books at age 12, or Lord of the Flies at age 16.

Being anxious and fearful of change is not the problem, although you seem to feel that it is a position you have to stand up and defend. Dealing with these fears unwisely is a problem, and so is the use being made of that fear by those who do not love the idea of the United States as an egalitarian democracy.

This is not about you and about your issues with change. You are entitled to them, and do not have to defend them, and I have no interest in reading any efforts of yours to do so here. What I am interested in is how we keep those fairly common concerns from being exploited into birtherism and other unhealthy preoccupations, and used to sidetrack efforts to actually improve the situations most of us live in. Having grown up in the southern US and living there now, I have had plenty of opportunities to see how this sort of fear and anxiety about stability and security can end up being deflected onto an issue pretty nearly orthagonal to those fears, to the immense advantage of those doing the deflection. As I have said several times now, this is not a new problem, but we can't afford to ignore it just because it's been around before.

#73 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2009, 11:16 PM:

C Wingate @70

I realize this is incidental to your main point, but as a long-time, though now lapsed, Episcopalian, I'm not sure which churches you're going to. The only pulpitless Episcopal church I've ever seen was the one in the unfinished basement of the Episcopal house at my college, and having watched some almighty rows between the rector and factions of the congregation over minor adjustments to the order of service, I can say canon law or no, the priest's omnipotence in matters of worship is not all it's cracked up to be.

As to your larger point: No one here is arguing that change is a good in and of itself. And no one is arguing that fear of change is either irrational or even substantively wrong.

What they are saying is that unfocused fear of change can lead people to think and act in ways that don't help anybody. And that when large numbers of people believe outrageous things (e.g. that Obama is a super-secret Kenyan Communist Nazi Manchurian Candidate bent on America's destruction) it's worth asking whether feelings of powerlessness and fear in the face of change aren't the real drivers here.

Because sometimes it's less scary to believe that someone's out to get you than to accept that things can happen to you for reasons beyond anyone's control or even comprehension.

#74 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2009, 03:22 AM:

fidelio @ #69, "This is just to say"

I have looked upon
the designated hitter rule
and found it horrid.

#75 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2009, 03:34 AM:

Change isn't always good, but it's what led to the birth of America.

#76 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2009, 08:34 AM:

Linkmeister @#74

Is there nothing we cannot (or will not) do to that poem?

#77 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2009, 08:56 AM:

Fidelio: Is there nothing we cannot (or will not) do to that poem?

This is just to say

I have parodied
the poem
that we reuse
so many times

and which
you were probably
hoping never
to see posted again

Forgive me
it was silly but
so easy
and so obvious.

#78 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2009, 11:32 AM:

Chris W @ #73, my family was barred from our Episcopal church when the Diocesan powers-that-be decided that an Episcopal University chapel should ONLY be attended by current students, faculty and staff of said university. The rector, who disagreed with that position, and whose presence was one of the main reasons we chose to attend that church, was not-so-gracefully urged to retire at the same time.

That pretty much put an end to our church attendance. It wasn't the first time I experienced organized religion as an extended spell of banging my head against a brick wall, but it was the last.

#79 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2009, 01:59 PM:

# 70 C. & #72 fidelio

I think that the two of you are on different wavelengths and discussing different issues.. C. is referring to commercial realities, that the clothing for females above the age of 3 or 4 is basically all slutwear these days... I was in a fabric & craft store looking through patterns a week or two ago and didn't seen patterns for female clothing for daily wear, that weren't slutwear--all the pants stopped not more than two inches below the waist, all the shirts were open down to the bra level, etc. "Is there anything out there that isn't slutwear I remarked out loud in disgust, and a woman nearby who heard me, said, "No."

It's intentional disempowering and marginalization and objectification, along with the promotion of high heels--Barbietoyism or worse.... physical restriction and cultural limitation.

I still remember ROTC Summer Camp, where I got excoriated for the crime of climbing a ladder to the cockpit of the F-106 supposedly parked for the ROTC cadets to inspect, go up the ladder and look in the cockpit--the female cadets were in uniform of shirt and skirt, nylons, and, stupid hat, and relatively low-heeled pumps or "granny shoes." The male cadet were almost all from the Deep South. I wanted to look at the plane, I went up the ladder. None of the other female cadets did, because it violated the unwritten social modesty rule, "Females do not climb ladders in skirts."

Obviously proper females were not interested in airplanes--none of the proper females were over to the plane on display to get a close look and inspect the cockpit. Only the aberrant Yankee freak who was behaving completely improperly and immodestly and wasn't any sort of proper female or person, went over the to the plane, and acted immodestly and aberrantly....

Creating conditions which deter women from going outside rigidly defined roles and which punishe them for the transgressing the rules, reinforces the whole social repression and constraint, and is self-regulating of "see, women aren't interested/able in those areas, and they LIKE that clothing...." rationale and pressure. Trying to resist the pressure, and complaining, gets one punished and ostracized and demonized....

As for who's putting out the Lolita and worse clothing, my jaundiced view is that it's the same oligarchs as put the Schmuck in Washington for eight years....

#80 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2009, 07:57 PM:

I dunno, we stopped going to our Episcopal Church for a while, but that was because the new Music Director had an unholy fondness for the loud pedal for such a small building.

I hear he's gone on to play to a much larger room (and I mean that nonmetaphorically).

#81 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2009, 08:58 PM:

fidelio @ #76, hey, that's about the only poetry you'll ever see me attempt here. I know when I'm outclassed, out-read, and out-practiced.

#82 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2009, 09:10 PM:

Try Sandra Betzina from Vogue ('Today's Fit'). They're probably more like what you think clothes should be.

#83 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 02:16 AM:

Some people deal with 'change' they don't like worse than others.
Murder suspect disapproved of his victims
Headline is rational & logical compared to the rest. The mentation involved is fascinating & horrifying – can see it as a Poe story. Sounds like some people described in Dysfunctional families thread.

#84 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 05:52 PM:

I'm a little more functional today, so maybe I can give a more coherent response.

Let's start with the Democratic Strategist article, because I think (a) its wrongness is more easily circumscribed, and (b) I think it is especially illuminating to consider why they came up with an incorrect answer. To start with, I think they are on the right track in rejecting racism as the principal empowering force to the crazy Obama opposition. (We can take as given that the tea-bagging and birther accusations and the like ARE crazy, at least for now.) And there is something to be said for their empirical determination that this is so, if only because empiricism-- which is to say paying attention to reality-- has always had a hard time gaining traction in political science. But the question this leaves hanging is this: they (or their fellow travellers) expected racism to be a central factor; so what does the error of these expectations say about they conventional wisdom about race in the USA? From my perspective it seems to me that at least part of the factor is that the automatic association of race and class has broken down; or as SWPL says, even a black person can be "white" (meaning upper middle consumer class).

This omission doesn't contribute to the big mistake they make, though I think it illuminates what they then do wrong. Here's the passage where they go off track:

Obama as a modern Hitler or Stalin – a would-be dictator seeking to impose totalitarianism on America. More broadly, this view pictured Obama as a man who is the exponent of a foreign ideology, an alien, a stranger and an enemy of the American way of life. The two most dramatic expressions of this view were the notion that Obama is a secret anti-western Muslim and/or literally not an American at all – that he was not born in the USA.
This goes wrong at the sentence I've italicized, and the way in which it goes wrong is, to me, really jarring. I would imagine that the immediate reaction of almost any American, and certainly one with a centrist or right-wing viewpoint, would be "evil", not "foreign". Therefore if one can convince someone that Obama is like Hitler or Stalin, fear would be unjustified (because Obama doesn't really resemble either), but it wouldn't be irrational, because H. and S. are fearful figures. That Hitler in particular was foreign proved quite beside the point, since we waged war to eradicate his power and influence, though there was never any real threat of him to North American territory.

Still, there is something going on here that some people might want to call xenophobia going here. For the sake of argument I'll call it "Not Sweden!", a synecdoche for the centralized social planning that characterizes that and other European countries held up as models. I'm not going to go into whether Sweden is even a good social model for itself, much less for the USA; one can find people all over both theses, but that's not the point I want to get at here. The part where the xenophobia, if you want to call it that, is subtext that "Sweden" shows what a bad job the USA is doing. On one level, it's a strike against national pride; on another level, it's a class and regional conflict. The thing is that within this one can consider the birther meme as tactical rather than essential; I'm going to have to break off at this point, but it seems to me that if you are inclined to think of Obama as EVIL (or at least really bad), then you're likely to believe anything that discredits him; but not only that, the birther meme is strong because it plays into the larger meme, a meme that the opposition likes too, that there are Powerful Forces behind the badness of the government (the opposition version being "Gore wuz robbed"-- it's not all that important here which theories are true). The really bad guys aren't foreigners; they are members of the liberal establishment.

As I said, I gotta go now. More later, but feel free to address this independently.

#85 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 08:37 PM:

C Wingate @84. Assuming what you mean is "[To them] the really bad guys aren't foreigners; they are members of the liberal establishment", I hope?

Glad to hear you're feeling better.

#86 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 10:28 PM:

re 85: right-- didn't mean to imply that I thought the liberals are the really bad guys.

#87 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:50 AM:

The Vega piece makes some good points -- although I do have to ask, is racism not racism just because it's directed at brown people rather than black people?

However, one thing that does occur to me rather forcibly is to wonder whether this is the opening salvo in the New Denial of American Racism. The Obama campaign, and the ongoing shenanigans since the election, have pretty well put paid to the old claims that America was "a post-racist society". Are people now digging out and shining up new and different ways to start making that claim again?

#88 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:39 AM:

Lee, show me some claims that we have/had a "post-racist society"; then we can talk about that. We don't have a post-racist society, but we do have a post-Jim-Crow society. But we also have a political-mortal-combat society, and that's what I think is keeping the rhetoric blowing. Let's take another polarizing figure: Sarah Palin. She is a remarkably easy person to loathe, but she is also a class-A representative of what the American white underclass is coming to look like, particularly in her um, non-traditional family structure. She revels in the offensiveness of it, and her fellow white trash eat it up, because they hate the condescension of snooty upper class people like, well, Hillary Clinton. And that's particularly where things get interesting, because of course by the conventions of the class theory that we all heard from the Marxists, the Clintons aren't upper class.

American political dialogue has never recovered from the failure of the destruction of overtly institutional racism/sexism/etc. to effect the transformation it was supposed to.

#89 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:51 AM:

C Wingate @88:
show me some claims that we have/had a "post-racist society"; then we can talk about that.

Google "racism is dead" and start reading. A few examples off of the first page, all from conservative blogs:
The American Thinker

I hear it in the comment threads of conservative sites I read, too. "Racism is dead/we live in a post-racial society. Obama's just playing the race card to shut his opponents up."

("Playing the race card" is another good Google term for finding a particular slice of conservative opinion.)

#90 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:49 AM:

This reminds me I haven't watched A Day at the Races in some time.

#91 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:35 AM:

#84 C.

Compare attitudes toward Barack Obama and Clarence Thomas. The coterie which the Schmuck was the eager figurehead for played the race card in nominating the future Injustice to neutralize the opponents toward the Injustice's misogynistic attitudes and behavior and oligarchical allegiance. That is, by playing the race card, the coterie effectively squelched effective opposition to getting the Injustice appointed to the Supreme Court.

Important points to note in a compare and contrast Obama and Thomas include:
o different segments of US society and political geography residents, really do have different values, different attitudes, different memes, different ethics, different moral senses and sensibilitie, different limits, different thought patterns, different worldviews...
o That which one group considers irrelevant, is a galvinizing call to action for another group
o That which neutralizes one constituency, another constituency reacts to as tripwire for media promotion and marketing (that is, the race card neutralized the liberal and moderate Democrats in the Senate and the Republicraps binned Thomas as desirable oligarch and ignored skin color, looking at Thomas... I have a friend who is brown. When she was a schoolkid, the mothers of her white friends, would say, in front of her, how horrible people with dark skin color were, and the friend would think, "Are they blind, to not notice that they are saying these horrible bigoted things about people with dark skin color in front of me with my brown skin?!")
o Hypocrisy appears to be a virtue for quite a number of constituencies...
o Social and political behavior is not linear, not monotonic, and not single-valued.... two people saying exactly the same thing, get treated differently and reacted to differently


#92 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:46 AM:

Lee, I shall attempt a half-assed explanation of why negative reactions towards Latinos (and others) are not the same thing as systemic prejudice against African-Americans. Corrections and clarifications welcomed, as I have probably made a few mistakes in this simplification, or left something important out, or both.

Although racism in the US has been aimed at Latinos and people of Asian origin or descent, as well as American Indians and others on a local or personal level, the prevailing nationwide target was (and still is, as far as systemic racism, rather than personal racism is concerned) people of African descent.

In other words (to greatly simplify things) if you take the Jim Crow system as the basis, you see places (such as California) where that structure was specifically adopted to apply to Asian immigrants and people of Asian descent and places where it was not adopted to apply to Asian immigrants and people of Asian descent. (There were, frex, anti-miscegnation laws on the books in California preventing white-Asian intermarriage until the 1950s at least.) The original Jim Crow set-up, on the other hand, was aimed at people of African descent, and whether formally, through law, or informally, through prevailing social custom, was in play nationwide*.

The argument, as I understand it, is that this systemic racism is the method of rigging the game so that African-Americans could not compete on anything like a level playing field with whites, whether politically, socially, or economically. Therefore, it's possible to benefit from systemic racism without being intentionally racist oneself, just as it's possible to have racist reactions towards people and groups who are not affected to a significant extent by systemic racism. No other group has been so significantly targeted on a nationwide basis so consistently or for so long.

Jim Crow laws are often thought to have been in force only in the southern states; it's worth remembering that Brown v. Board of Education came from Kansas, not eactly a southern state, but one where some Jim Crow laws were in place and enforced.

*To take an example, Ossian Sweet didn't actually break any laws of the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan when he and his wife bought a house in a white neighborhood in Detroit in the 1920s; the local reaction, including that from the legal system, was not much different than it would have been if it had been illegal for him to so do.

#93 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:36 PM:

#92 Fidelio --

From the keynote being presented by spouse in another hour or two at the Zócolo Conference on Hispanic Immigration to New Orleans:

After winning World War II, the country was as united as it ever got, as much of a nation as it’s ever been, reaching new heights of prosperity. But this feeling of general well-being was not extended to African Americans, who were literally second-class citizens. They hadn’t been slaves for a century by then, but under a color-coded caste system called “race,” a word with no useful biological meaning, they were a legally distinct class whose access to education and whose participation in the professions was very largely blocked. We heard a lot of talk after the flood here that – well, it’s not race, it’s class. But what is race, if not a class? My years of historical research have strengthened a conviction I already had – that racism is more than ignorant, individual prejudice. Racism is a system that encourages and organizes that prejudice, with the ultimate end of having a subservient class that will work cheap. What is happening to Latino laborers right now is racism in action.
The attainment of civil rights for African Americans, sometimes referred to as the Second Reconstruction, was perhaps the great social achievement of the century. It’s no accident that along with strong unions and civil rights there came a loosening of United States immigration laws. A new class of cheap laborers would be needed.

Love, C.

#94 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:44 PM:

Ah, but Constance: immigration laws were racist, as people had known for, oh, since at least 1900 or so; they always reflected pressure to keep out the riff-raff. Immigration "reform" was something that an enlightened non-racist liberal couldn't oppose, because the law was so manifestly unfair and had always been intended to be so. Powerless underclass whites opposed reform partly because they were racist, and partly because they saw those immigrants as competition exactly as they had seen the end of Jim Crow restrictions as increasing competition for their jobs.

#95 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:04 PM:


I would say that nativism IS a type of racism, but it can be distinguished from anti-black racism (even though many people hold both views) because it has a different set of standard tropes and calls on a different set of stereotypes.

#96 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 05:32 PM:

#93 ::: Constance:

That reminds me-- the cliche about WWII in the US is "we all pulled together", but aside from the people (blacks, Japanese-Americans) who weren't well included in the "we", was there any increase in inclusiveness, or was it more that people were making greater efforts, but with a little more division than before the war?

#97 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 06:26 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @96:

I'd say the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles in 1943 are a counter-example to the claim that "we all pulled together". The riots, in which several thousand soldiers and sailors (and some white civilians) marched around downtown LA, beating anyone wearing a zoot suit, lasted for a week before military authorities confined the troops to barracks (while still insisting the rioters had acted in self-defense). The LAPD refused to arrest the rioters (though they did arrest more than 500 "Latinos", including some African-Americans and Filipinos).

It's ironic from the viewpoint of the 21st century, given the recent racist cant and "Communist" name calling, that The LA Times responded to Eleanor Roosevelt's description of the events as "race riots" by saying she had "communist leanings" and was stirring "race discord".

#98 ::: A Nonny Mouse ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2009, 11:34 AM:

Mussolini was probably nominated in 1935 because of his role in blocking Hitler's first attempt to annex Austria in 1934-see the Wikipedia article on the Stresa Front for a summary.

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