Comment of the Day: “Unethical Quote of the Week: Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson”

Presenting one of the very best Comments of the Day

Rick Jones, whose own blog Curmudgeon Central should be on everyone’s list of bookmarks and visited often, delivers one of the finest and most thoughtful comments ever to grace Ethics Alarms, and we’ve had many excellent ones. His topic is my post regarding Professor Dyson’s comments on ABC this Sunday about criticism of President Obama, but Rick makes a perceptive connection to the Trayvon Martin controversy as well.And here is the really amazing part: there is not a word here that I don’t agree with completely.

Here is his Comment of the Day, on the post Unethical Quote of the Week: Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson:

“It strikes me that President Obama has come in for at least his share of sniping—legitimate and otherwise. But that isn’t the issue here. Rather, how much of that criticism is based on race? The honest answer is that we can’t say with certainty, but we can make some pretty fair conjectures.

“It is beyond stupid to assert that either all of none of the commentary is race-based. To say that all is would be to make him the Messiah that the right accuses the left of claiming him to be: I honestly know of no one on the left who thinks that, but it’s a common trope of the right to allege that the left has pledged blind allegiance… whereas in fact a good share of the left kind of wishes President Obama were indeed anything like the radical socialist portrayed by the Hannitys and Limbaughs of the world.

“Similarly, much of the birther movement can legitimately be traced to racial animus. And no small number of protest signs carried by Tea Partiers would indeed be viewed as racist by a dispassionate observer. That doesn’t mean that the Tea Party as a whole is racist. It does mean that some of its members are.

“There’s a case to be made that the current GOP leadership will oppose any initiative supported by President Obama, even those they’d hitherto supported (e.g., the individual mandate), to a greater degree than any previous opposition party had done. Is this because of race? Chances are, the answer depends on the individual politician and the individual issue, and is more likely to be found along a continuum of thinking rather than a disjunctive yes/no dichotomy. That is, 60% of Senator A’s antagonism on Issue B is race-based, but Representative X had an honest change of heart and now opposes Initiative Y for reasons completely apart from any racial dimension. More importantly, there are cases—the majority, in fact—in which racism might be a factor, but we have no way of knowing. In these circumstances, we can but place our faith in the good will of our fellow travelers, all the while remaining wary. Trust, but verify, as President Reagan famously said.

“All of which leads us to this particular incident. President Obama said something remarkably stupid—surely, he knows better—and soon walked it back, the way he and countless other politicians have done in the past. His initial comments drew criticism, and should have, from a broad spectrum of commentators. To suggest that such analyses are inherently racially inspired is damaging in two significant ways: first, it diminishes the discourse. Everyone, politician, pundit, and private citizen alike, makes mistakes. No one ought to be immune from criticism, and it is unworthy of the democratic system we try to uphold to suggest that every argument advanced by one’s political rivals is based on unethical or nefarious motives.

“Equally important, however, is the Crying Wolf Syndrome. I stopped believing any evidence distributed by Andrew Breitbart after his duplicitous editing smeared everyone from innocent ACORN workers to Shirley Sherrod to University of Missouri faculty, only to have him actually be right about Anthony Weiner. Similarly, silly charges of racism—and those of Professor Dyson in this case will indeed be perceived as silly by the overwhelming majority of thinking people—will ultimately detract from the rightful scrutiny of remarks which really are (or could be understandably construed as) racist.

“The polarization you’ve written about in the Trayvon Martin case, Jack, is an ideal case in point. Were George Zimmerman’s actions racially inspired? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else except Mr. Zimmerman himself. We can but look at the evidence—the real evidence, not the stuff of Geraldo Rivera’s musings—and do our best to figure out what happened and why. Is it possible that Zimmerman is a bigoted jackass who initiated a confrontation just because Martin was black? Yep. Is it possible that Zimmerman was really acting in self-defense, just as he said he was? Yep.

“One of the most valuable words in a free society is “maybe.” Professor Dyson and his ilk, left and right, black and white, male and female, straight and gay, threaten to take that word, that concept, away from us. This cannot be allowed to happen.”

18 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Unethical Quote of the Week: Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson”

  1. Wow, make that a triple blue medal for Rick Jones. Finally, finally, as Fox News is wont to say, a fair and balanced assessment of multiple issues. How unfortunate this is so rare, the acknowledgement that the truth is multiple shades of gray and only black or white in the eye of the beholder.

    • I wouldn’t go that far, but he definitely has identified himself as part of the left by the way he wrote the article. He has singled out instances of Republicans behavior that has been interpreted as racist (and he insists that are is at least partially racist) and is encouraging the left not to insist that something that could be based on racism is completely based on racism. Fair and balanced, no. Highlighting dangerous trends and knee-jerk impulses, yes.

      • I have long ago given up trying to identify who these individuals are, i.e., “THE” Right and “THE” Left. Such labels leave an unpleasant memory in the mind’s ear from scores of decades ago (like, “nigras sure do have rythym, don’t they!”)

  2. Rick is, I think he would say, on the left end of the political spectrum, but I see nothing inaccuate or slanted about his conclusions. Oh, I’ll grant you that “There’s a case to be made that the current GOP leadership will oppose any initiative supported by President Obama, even those they’d hitherto supported (e.g., the individual mandate), to a greater degree than any previous opposition party had done. Is this because of race? Chances are, the answer depends on the individual politician and the individual issue, and is more likely to be found along a continuum of thinking rather than a disjunctive yes/no dichotomy.” sets my teeth on edge, because if there is such a case, I haven’t heard anyone articulate it persuasively. The Democrats opposed any initiative Bush proposed to the great detriment of the nation in the cases of social security and immigration, and there was just political animus there.

    While I agree with Rick, I also think seeking racial bias as the source of political opposition is a fool’s game.Any President with Obama’s politics would be detested in core GOP ranks, just as Roosevelt was. We don’t need to attribute it to racism, no matter what influence that may have in individual cases.

    • I absolutely cannot agree with your political comments.

      The Democrats opposed any initiative Bush proposed to the great detriment of the nation in the cases of social security and immigration, and there 2was just political animus there.

      You equivocate on the word opposed. Refusing to negotiate and demanding 60 votes for everything is not the same as what occurred during Bush’s time.

      You make false comparisons. Opposing some policies is not like opposing all.

      .Any President with Obama’s politics would be detested in core GOP ranks, just a Roosevelt was.

      “core GOP ranks”? This isn’t core GOP ranks, this is the entire GOP infrastructure. It’s not similar.

      Obama’s policy’s aren’t far left. Ending DADT? That’s not a left-right issue. Univeral healthcare? You mean national Romneycare that’s more similar to Gingrich’s proposals than Clinton’s? Not prosecuting war crimes? That’s just totalitarian. Everyone should be opposing it.

      All of that said, you did hit on a critical issue. The racism of Republican lawmakers and how that affects policy is likely negligent. Are we to believe that all republican lawmakers are somewhat racist? I can’t follow that.

      The idea of racism, though, does seem important. Just a step back: what lawmakers believe their constituents want, the lawmakers reasoning, and the populace’s reasoning. It’s not that Lawmaker X has a 60% racist belief against the President, it’s that the lawmaker believes that his constituents have problems with the President’s race, so opposing the president and letting his otherness go is a good strategry.

      How in the world do we measure this? I don’t know, but I believe it’s prima facie case is clear. The tea party wave of elected representatives of 2010 (but not 2008 or 2006 or 2004 when spending WAS out of control) is exhibit 1. The birth certificate brouhaha and the large percentage of the population that believes Obama is a muslim is exhibit 2. It would be shocking (and wonderful) if republican politicans did not seize the opportunity provided by those wrongheaded beliefs.

      • It’s not that Lawmaker X has a 60% racist belief against the President, it’s that the lawmaker believes that his constituents have problems with the President’s race, so opposing the president and letting his otherness go is a good strategry.

        tgt, call me naive, but isn’t what transpires in Congress an effort to corral the greatest number of votes? More quid pro quo. It is less what your absolute beliefs may be but what deals you can provide and/or are given. Thus, an elected official is going to operate in one’s best political interests opposed to those of one’s constituents. Strategy is more about relationships with fellow members, once an elected official, than those of one’s constituents.

        • I agree on the best political interests comment, but I disagree that it’s in anyone’s best political interests to disregard the desires and beliefs of one’s constituents. Strategy for getting law passed involves relationships with other members of congress, but strategy in maintaining your position involves dealing with constituents. Also, when your fellow lawmakers have the same constituent biases as you do, working with those lawmakers reinforces the benefits of pandering.

      • You equivocate on the word opposed. Refusing to negotiate and demanding 60 votes for everything is not the same as what occurred during Bush’s time.

        Baloney! Bush was facing an opposition Senate and House for the last two years, and a Democratic House for much longer. When the Democriats had the vote to block any initiative, they did. They held up appointments just like the GOP now. I see no substantive difference. Amnesia or confirmation bias, that’s all you are demonstrating. And this is not a political comment. It’s an objective observation.

        You make false comparisons. Opposing some policies is not like opposing all.
        Bush made some proposals that could have been Democratic ones, like No Child Left Behind and the drug benefit. They were supported, early in his administration, when hsi popularity was soaring…that was just political expediency. During the period where the forces were at relatively the same strength, I see no difference. None.

        “core GOP ranks”? This isn’t core GOP ranks, this is the entire GOP infrastructure. It’s not similar.
        Pardon…I don’t see your point or objection.

        Obama’s policy’s aren’t far left. Ending DADT? That’s not a left-right issue. Universal healthcare? You mean national Romneycare that’s more similar to Gingrich’s proposals than Clinton’s? Not prosecuting war crimes? That’s just totalitarian. Everyone should be opposing it.

        You’ve got to be kidding! The idea that we can run up obscene and ruinous deficits rather than make responsible reforms to Medicare and Social Security is far left. The individual mandate is far left. The stealth encouragement of open boarders is far left. Cap and trade is far left. Banning light bulbs is far left. Strangling the coal industry with regulations is far left. Opposing ID cards to vote is far left. Undercutting Israel is far left. Weenie foreign policy that will allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon while we make empty warnings is far left. Announcing troop withdrawals by specific date is far left—and stupid, too. Cutting Defense to the bone is far left. Nationalizing health care is far left (states can do what states want…the comparison with Mass is bogus, because the the Mass plan was a a popular state plan, duly and easily passed, rather than an unpopular and deceptive national plan, passed with gimmicks, maneuvers and ball-hiding tactics. DADT shouldn’t be a left-right issue, but it is. So is refusing to enforce a duly passed law, DOMA. I’m not getting into the ‘war crimes’ debate—but it’s irrelevant. Some of the above may even be good policy, but my point is that Obama’s policies, not his race, guaranteed GOP opposition. It takes amazing and determined contrariness not to see it.

        The tea party wave of elected representatives of 2010 (but not 2008 or 2006 or 2004 when spending WAS out of control) is exhibit 1.

        Again, baloney 1. The rebellion was against the health care bill and its method of passage and the deficits. The Tea Party was not and is not racist. It has some racists—so does the Democratic Party.

        The birth certificate brouhaha and the large percentage of the population that believes Obama is a Muslim is exhibit 2.
        He was elected President with more votes and higher percentage than Clinton. None of this nonsense is substantive. Most Americans are ignorant—that’s how Obama tries saying the Supreme Court reversing a law is “unprecedented.”

        It would be shocking (and wonderful) if republican politicans did not seize the opportunity provided by those wrongheaded beliefs.
        With or without those beliefs, Republicans would find Obamas policies (and especially his feckless leadership) just as obnoxious. It wouldn’t matter if he were all Irish, red haired and his name was O’Bama.

        • I pretty well agree with that, Jack. I’ll say this, also. In 2000-08, President Bush tried to lead by compromise and being a “nice guy” with a hostile Democrat Congress. It didn’t work well… and rarely does. These are times for tough, principled leadership. Romney is also the “nice guy” type. I’ve met them both and see the similarities. Of course as President, Romney will have the advantage of a GOP House and (likely) Senate; one that he didn’t have as Governor of Massachusetts. In 2012- assuming he’s elected- we’ll see if his vaunted administrative abilities rise to the challenge. But most of all, we’ll see if he’s prepared to stare down a bitter Left establishment and take the necessary measures. Obama’s disastrous policies and orders call for this.

          • Uh what now? The guy and party who called any opposition nonpatriotic was leading by compromise? Well, I guess I shouldn’t expect accurate analysis from someone who thinks the founding fathers created a Christian country.

            • Ethical compromise based on an honest divergence of views is one thing. But that’s not what Romney will face from the Democrat opposition… any more than any other Republican President has in modern times. It’s a result of the vast ideological gulf between those who believe in divinely ordained standards of honor and decency in regard to their fellows and those who seek political dominance devoid of any higher standards… and have no constraints on how they do it. This is precisely WHY a Godless state cannot be free or prosperous, as the Founding Fathers so well knew.

              • Moving the goalposts and double standards.
                Appeal to Religion.
                Equivocation on “higher”.
                False assumptions (without religion, people don’t act ethically, but with religiong, people do)
                And then outright lying about history.

                Throw in some random capitalization (President, Founding Fathers, Godless) and your post hit nearly all the notes I’ve come to expect from you. Unfortunately, no strawman arguments this time.

        • 1) You see no substantive difference in needing 60 votes to pass routine legislation compared to 50 votes. What was filibustered in Bush’s last two years? An attempt to legalize gay people as second class citizens. That’s a far cry from filibustering the annual budget.

          2) Cross the aisle policies were supported under Bush, but were opposed under Obama. Yup, that’s no difference whatsoever.

          3) You’re saying that Obama’s policies would be opposed by “core GOP ranks”, but his policies are being opposed by the entire GOP. You actually showed evidence that the opposition Obama is facing is unusual.

          4) Far left:

          The idea that we can run up obscene and ruinous deficits rather than make responsible reforms to Medicare and Social Security is far left.

          The position of ever President since Roosevelt is far left. Your scale is busted.

          The individual mandate is far left.

          Something enacted by Romney and proposed by Gingrich is far left? Do you know what actually is far left? Single payer.

          The stealth encouragement of open boarders is far left.

          So, this is something Obama’s doing by not doing. Good one. Like the stealth banning of guns. That’s also a libertarian idea, not a far left idea.

          Cap and trade is far left.

          So, The H.W. Bush policy is now far left. Stop buying into the hype.

          Banning light bulbs is far left.

          First, bulbs aren’t banned. Second, the law that everyone harangues about is a Bush law, not an Obama law.

          Strangling the coal industry with regulations is far left.

          1 point for you.

          Opposing ID cards to vote is far left.

          Really, it’s far left to defend the right to vote against a made up threat of voter fraud? I think you’re confusing “far left” with “opposing far right attempts at political invasion of rights.”

          Undercutting Israel is far left.

          Ugh, ugh, ugh. Not being pushed around by a foreign power is now far left. Black is now White.

          Weenie foreign policy that will allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon while we make empty warnings is far left.

          So the most devestating sanctions since the cuban embargo is weenie foreign policy. I just don’t understand.

          Announcing troop withdrawals by specific date is far left—and stupid, too.

          Wait, weren’t the dates of troop withdrawls Bush’s plan? Wasn’t the president lambasted from the right for not setting timetables for withdrawl? Yes and yes. Far left is now defined as whatever the President does, no matter what it actually is.

          Nationalizing health care is far left

          What nationalized health care? Oh wait, nationalized means anything the federal government does now. I forgot that the meaning of that word has changed.

          the comparison with Mass is bogus, because the the Mass plan was a a popular state plan, duly and easily passed, rather than an unpopular and deceptive national plan, passed with gimmicks, maneuvers and ball-hiding tactics.

          The difference between far left and center is popularity and means of passage. This is idiotic.

          DADT shouldn’t be a left-right issue, but it is. So is refusing to enforce a duly passed law, DOMA.

          This shows that your argument is circular. Far left is defined as anything opposed by republicans, but you’re saying the republican opposition is because the President is far left. Fail.

          Some of the above may even be good policy, but my point is that Obama’s policies, not his race, guaranteed GOP opposition. It takes amazing and determined contrariness not to see it.

          Or it takes not begging the question. It has nothing to do with actual policy. I could see someone arguing that any liberal would be equally opposed, based simply on being liberal, but basing it on policy is a losing argument.

          Prima Facie case:

          5) The tea party response predated the healthcare bill. So post facto justification for you. It also is silly to pretend the tea party movement is actually about deficits. If it was, it would have followed Bush, not Obama. It also wouldn’t have been pro-tax cuts, and, ironically, believing that Obama had raised taxes on the middle class. Now, you could say this is just opposition to a democratic president, but your attempt to make up other excuses is pretty telling.

          6) The vote percent is irrelevant. The pro-voters weren’t the ones who thought he was a muslim. Some numbers for you, 41%-14% is the ratio of Albaman Republican voters who think Obama is a Muslim to those that correctly identify Christian. It’s 51%-12% in Mississippi for the same group. What could possibly be the root of this disbelief? This is one spot where being a Democrat can’t explain the problem.

          7) You left off the birth certificate issue. That’s clearly race driven.

          8) So, whether they’re racist or not, Republicans wouldn’t like Obama. Sounds like rationalization to me.

          • I continue to be surprised that your usual rigor is discarded regarding the presumption that a significant proportion of Republicans are racially biased and that it influences elected officials. I have checked the polls on relative approval ratings by party for Clinton and Obama after three years. Obama’s GOP approval goes from a low of 10% to a high of 22%. Clinton: 13%-29%. I just don’t see that as significant, especially since conditions in the nation were much, much, MUCH better during the Clinton years. I was surprised, frankly, that there wasn’t more of a difference.

            Your argument, like that of Obama’s surrogate race-baiters, boils down to: Obama is black, we all know some whites are racists, we all know that the most racist whites tend to be Republicans, Republicans oppose President Obama, that means they don’t like him, it must be because he’s black. It’s a circular argument, completely, supported by anecdotes, random signs at tea party rallies, and confirmation bias. The evidence just isn’t there.

            • What you see as an insignficant difference in approval rating, I see as a 25% drop.

              I don’t believe my argument is circular. My argument is based on the attempts to paint Obama as different. To repeatedly reference Kenya. To think he’s Muslim. To think he can’t possibly be American. The otherization, if you will.

              Opposition to Obama’s policies is not evidence that the opposers are racist. It’s the racist language, actions, and beliefs or willingness to exploit such, that shows the racism.

              While there are stupid race baiters on this topic (and I hate that), I don’t believe I am one of them.

              • I don’t either, tgt, and if I gave that impression to you or anyone else, that was not my intention. I apologize.

                I’d say that most of the 25% is attributable to the fact that Clinton, while an untrustworthy, cynical cur, was in fact an effective and talented leader, though I will never forgive him for minimizing the benefits he could have gleaned from them. In fact, he was a true moderate; unlike Obama, Republicans should have loved him; in many ways, he was a conservative. That his ratings were so close to Obama’s rules out racism as anything but a minor factor. Similarly, Obama’s race doesn’t help him as much with black voters as I would have assumed. Clinton was only a bit less popular.

                The comments you reference get a lot of media attention, but they are just not very common. I agree: every commentator and talk radio host who insists on calling Obama “Hussein” is appealing to racism. I don’t deny that the racists are out there—I just don’t think it has any substantive impact. His critics would be critical of the same policies and performance no matter what his color was, and the polling data backs that up.

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