FOR ONCE IT WOULD ACTUALLY BE GOOD FOR OBAMA TO LISTEN TO DAVID BROOKS

If Barack Obama only listens to one piece of advice from David Brooks (and unfortunately, he seems to listen to a lot more than that), this would be a good one on the Supreme Court:

I think, if I were sitting there in the Obama White House, from a Democratic perspective, I would say: Hey, we’re going to lose six to eight senators. We’re never going to get another shot to nominate a liberal. Let’s take our chances with this one.

If Obama’s going to give David Brooks’ views more weight than Paul Krugman’s (let alone Barbara Ehrenreich’s), let’s hope he at least takes this rare bit of good advice.

MCCARTHY’S TORTURED LOGIC

Andy McCarthy (you may remember him as the guy that thinks Bill Ayers is Obama’s ghost writer) doesn’t seem to see much distinction between criticizing the American government and being an enemy of America:

CCR has pushed for the indictment of Bush administration officials for war crimes and bragged that its recruitment of lawyers effectively shut down interrogations, depriving the United States of vital wartime intelligence. What more does CCR need to do to prove that, as between the United States and the Islamists, CCR is with the Islamists?

Well, in 2006, [Daskal] campaigned for the UN Human Rights Committee to condemn the United States for its waging of the “so called ‘war on terrorism,'” for what she portrayed as our serial violations of international law obligations, for our “cloak of federalism” (which she described as the means by which the U.S. defies international governance at the state and local level); for our purported infliction of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on Muslim detainees at Gitmo and on all prisoners held in U.S. “supermax” prisons, etc…most people would find Daskal’s role at DOJ frightening.

In other words, US Government = America, and Critics of US Government (or of torture) = Enemies of the State. Besides the obvious weakness and shameful history of that kind of argument, it’s a pretty awkward one for someone to make in the process of attacking US Government appointees in the Justice Department.

If US Government = America, Critics of US Government actions = America’s Enemies, what happens when people who’ve criticized the US Government become…part of the US Government. What punishment will Andy McCarthy mete out for enemies of the state like Andy McCarthy?

Fortunately for McCarthy and company, this paradox is avoided if you don’t accept that Barack Obama is legitimately the President of the United States.

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

Two weeks ago, lots of folks were predicting that Scott Brown would win the next day’s election. I don’t think as many people predicted (I didn’t) that by February it would still be left to Washington Kremlinologists to try to figure out what exactly Obama, Pelosi, and Reid want to see happen, and how quickly, on healthcare. I thought by February, the American people, let alone the American Congress, would have a clear idea what the leadership wanted to see. I definitely would not have predicted that an hour after the vote Barney Frank would be on TV talking about scuttling the bill.

It’s like a thousand-times-magnified version of the 2006 dust-up over who would chair the Intelligence Committee in the new Democratic majority. It didn’t captivate the media, but it did provide a slow burn of embarrassing stories for the Speaker-to-be speculating whether she would tap hawkish Harman or impeached-as-a-judge Hastings. In the end, she went with the 3rd most senior Democrat. In the weeks it took Pelosi to make that call, I kept wondering: Why didn’t Pelosi mull this one over ahead of time in October when it looked clear she was headed to victory?

Speaking of what Dems should do now, Jon Stewart got at something last week: “No matter what you do, the Republicans are not going to let you into the station wagon. They’re never going to let you in. And here’s the worst part: You’re the majority. It’s your car!”

If Pelosi and Reid’s folks are indeed working on how to make the reconciliation sidecar work (we can only hope), now would be a good time to be reminding the members why it’s gotta happen. Nature abhors your vacuum, but Dick Armey doesn’t.

JARRING

I think Matt Yglesias is going too easy on Harry Reid when he says

To clarify what I said yesterday it’s the very lack of having really done anything wrong that makes Reid’s situation to sticky. It’s just jarring for those of us under a certain age to think of an old white guy walking around saying “negro” and wielding political influence. But Reid can’t really apologize for being the sort of old white guy who would say that because he is, in fact, just such an old white guy. On the merits, the observation that it’s a political asset for Obama that he doesn’t speak in a manner that’s racially coded as black is pretty much banal conventional wisdom.

First, I’m sure are plenty of senior citizens, including African-Americans, who still find it jarring that the US Senate is run by a guy who uses the word “Negro” in conversation with journalists. Beyond that, I don’t think Matt believes that Harry Reid is just physically incapable of not saying Negro. I’m sure he’s done much harder things in thirty-some years in public life.

There’s a range of readings of what someone could mean by using the word “Negro” to describe the “dialect” Obama doesn’t use, from “the way Black people talk in my racist stereotype,” to “the way Black people talk in the minds of ignorant racists,” and I don’t know any way to discern exactly where Harry Reid’s intended meaning falls on the spectrum. But he was right to apologize.

That said, any comparison between Harry Reid’s comments about his support for a Black man for President and Trent Lott’s support for a White supremacist for President can only make Harry Reid look very, very good. And Republicans’ attempts to conflate the two just leave the impression that they never really understood what was wrong with what Trent Lott said in the first place. On this, I agree with Matt entirely.

LEAPING TO JUDGMENT?

Something else on Henry Louis Gates: It’s not surprising to see the congealing conventional wisdom that Barack Obama screwed up by saying anything about what the Cambridge Police did to him, but it’s disappointing that a number of pundits seem to think not just that it diluted Obama’s focus on healthcare, but that it’s categorically wrong for the President of the United States to take any position in such a situation. I think that position is easy to maintain if you start from the premise that it’s not clear who’s at fault – the premise for much of the media, and the premise Obama implicitly granted credence with the much-hyped Beer Summit. But it is clear that James Crowley was at fault in arresting a man in his own home for being rude to the police. It would still be wrong if it were a young Black man without a cane. It’s wrong regardless of what particular proportions of race, pride, and police authority motivated him to do it.

Was it wrong for our Head of State to come out so quickly in praise of Captain Sully for landing his crew safely in the Hudson river? If not, why shouldn’t he have said that what Crowley did to Gates was wrong?

30 ROCK, RACE, AND CURRENT EVENTS

Alyssa didn’t just respond to my criticism of 30 Rock’s racial humor, she responded with a level of detail and erudition about the show I will not attempt to match. Alyssa is right to say that the show can’t be judged fully on one episode, and I agree that some of the others do better on the topic. But I chose that one – “The Given Order” – because it was the moment in watching 30 Rock when I said to myself, “This is what’s so frustrating about this otherwise great show!” Her response didn’t fully salve my misgivings, either about that episode or about the show in general. Consider this a partial response.

Defending the episode in question, Alyssa says (emphasis added, Yglesias-style):

Seriously, dude? There is a serious and substantial debate over business functions held at strip clubs (tax-deductable according to the IRS, at least as of 2006. Woo!), whether women should feel obligated to attend, whether it’s sexual harrassment, and whether it’s a sign of empowerment (or of a pragmatic sucking it up) to be able to go on a guy’s-night-out events in order to ingratiate yourself in the workplace. I think mocking the self-deception of that latter motivation is pretty funny. There’s a huge difference between equal standards for work performance and rigid equal treatment-and-experience feminism that refuses to acknowledge sexism and different styles, and it’s pretty entertaining to watch that carried to slightly absurdist ends. But most importantly, the episode isn’t really about race! It’s about a famous person doing a non-famous person’s work, about someone who’s pretty quiet taking on the hard-partying identity that another person works to maintain. And ultimately, it’s about the fact that everyone relies on certain kinds of privilege, no matter how vociferously we cast ourselves as disadvantaged.

Alyssa seems to be making a few points here: first that the use of strip clubs for business functions is a real-life issue, second that feeling like you’re not a strong woman unless you go along to a strip club is problematic, and third that this episode “isn’t really about race!” I agree with those first two points, but I don’t see how they exonerate the episode. And I don’t see how this episode is not about race.

This is the episode where Tracy hands Liz a literal race card. Which could be funny in another context. But the context here is Tracy wanting to get away with being late to work and unreliable because he’s Black. The whole plot is borne out of Liz’s attempt to get Tracy to be more disciplined about his job. She tells him to show up to work on time and prepared, and he hands her the race card. Then he calls her a racist. Then – in a scheme to prove her wrong – he says since we’re in a post-racial Obama era, he doesn’t want any more special treatment. And the moral of the story is that Liz has to go back to letting him be unreliable because he’s Black if she wants to be excused from strip club outings because she’s a woman. So he gets his special treatment back.

Alyssa points out that Tracy is also a celebrity, and certainly I doubt that even in the 30 Rock universe we’re supposed to think that a working class Black guy could get away with Tracy’s shenanigans. But what Tracy the celebrity leverages over Liz for why she should fear holding him to the same standard as everyone else is his race (relatedly, I don’t think Tracy’s self-description in the pilot as “straight-up mentally ill” softens the racial angle of his plotlines). And he gets her to back down by ostensibly proving that staying out of strip clubs is also special treatment. That’s the message Alyssa describes as “everyone relies on certain kinds of privilege, no matter how vociferously we cast ourselves as disadvantaged.” But being Black doesn’t make you come into work late, while being a woman does change your experience of a strip club – and of your co-workers in that environment. What if the episode were about a gay character whose Mexican co-worker equates making a Mexican work hard to making a gay man have sex with a woman? Would that be clever?

The “everyone relies on certain kinds of privilege” argument in and of itself is logically undeniable. But in the world of 30 Rock, and on most TV sitcoms with mostly white casts, it tends to manifest as a series of scenarios of extortion of the majority by the minority. It bothers me that a show with writers as clever as 30 Rock so often choose to mine the vein of Black people (et al) getting away with stuff, and White people (et al) being burdened with the fear of seeming prejudiced. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I don’t remember anything “utterly brilliant” about the episode with “Tracy’s business manager exploiting Liz’s fear of being perceived as racist to keep him dating her.” Didn’t that already happen on Seinfeld and Frasier? Ditto for the one where “Liz’s then-boyfriend Floyd loses a promotion to an African-American guy in a wheelchair.”

That’s why I was surprised to see Alyssa close by saying

But what I think 30 Rock does that is subversive and extremely effective is to puncture the idea that when it comes to race, good intentions will save us, that we can really understand what other people experience, and that race and sex can only be disadvantaging factors for people who are black or female. Is the show universally applicable? Of course not. This is a series about relatively wealthy, privileged people who work in an extraordinarily strange, distorting industry. But in 2009, are those truths that people have a hard time accepting? If the last couple of weeks have taught us anything, I think they’ve demonstrated that the answer to that question is an emphatic yes.

I think there are ups and downs to emphasizing the limits of racial empathy. But what strikes me most is the last truth Alyssa lists. If a major thrust of 30 Rock’s humor on identity is demonstrating the advantages Blacks and women can get over Whites and men, that helps explain why I often find that humor annoying.

What confuses me most is why Alyssa would say that this truth – that “race and sex” are not just “disadvantaging factors for people who are black or female” – is one that “the last few weeks” have shown us “people have a hard time accepting.” What’s happened in the last few weeks?

The mainstream of the Republican party took the position that our first Latina Supreme Court nominee would favor women and people of color over White men and for that reason should not be confirmed. She was pilloried for supposedly having depended on affirmative action each step of her career and mainstream journalists stated as fact that she was chosen based on race and gender. Mark Halperin declared “White Men Need Not Apply” (to say nothing of Pat Buchannan). Her confirmation hearing and its coverage centered on whether or not this Latina woman could be fair to White men. Some left-of-center journalists joined conservatives in denouncing the injustice that White firefighters didn’t get a promotion because none of them were Black.

Meanwhile, a Black professor was arrested in his own home after showing ID for being “disorderly” in loudly questioning the police officer’s motives. The first Black President opined that making such an arrest was stupid. Much of the media questioned why the President was siding with the Black guy, forcing him to retrench. And the President and the Professor both were accused of using their power as Black guys to ruin the reputation of the White police officer.

(Meanwhile, on a lighter note, charges were traded regarding cinematic sexism by the star of a comedy where a woman is involuntarily brought to orgasm by electronic underwear in a business meeting, and the star of a comedy where a woman is raped while drunk enough to pass out.)

What about the events of these past weeks has shown Americans to be not willing enough to chalk things up to the advantages people get from being a woman or a person of color?

THINGS I’VE BEEN WONDERING (NON-SNARKY, EARNEST EDITION)

Points for answers. Extra credit if you can identify the podcasts I’ve been driving with recently.

Do GOPers make their global warming messaging about attacking Al Gore because they think he’s unpopular and they want to discredit science? Because they think he’s popular and they want to discredit him? Or just because they want to change the topic?

If Barack Obama combined a blue ribbon panel with a moratorium on firings of service members for being gay, how many Democrats in Congress would back him up?

Does having Democrats running the federal government make people who don’t like abortion but want it to stay legal feel more (not 8%, but maybe 1%) comfy identifying themselves “pro-life” without worrying about an abortion ban?

How do thousands of already-and-now-permanently married same-sex couples affect the fight for equal marriage rights for everyone else in California?

When will America have its first Supreme Court nominee who’s open about having had an abortion?

Is Obama serious about using our leverage to push Bibi?

Is Bruce Springsteen the only liberal immune from being tarred with the “elitist celebrity” brush? If so why?