aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
More praise for Stephen
I was afraid that maybe I went over the top comparing Stephen Colbert to Edward R. Murrow, but I’m happy to see that I am far from alone in healing praise on last night’s show.
In last night’s episode of the Report, Stephen staged one of the most touching displays of love to the picketing writers that I have seen since the start of the strike.
Before introducing the night’s guest, Ambassador Andrew Young, the last living member of Dr. Martin Luther King’s inner circle, Stephen rolled a video celebrating Young’s efforts in a certain strike in 1969. In Stephen’s hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, hundreds of black hospital workers went on strike, demanding fair pay, equal to their whiter counterparts. Young played a huge role in leading the community to support the workers. However, when he attempted to have some private negotiations with the hospital, the only administrator that was willing to speak with Young was a man named Dr. James Colbert, Stephen’s father.
A good portion of the interview with Young was spent discussing Dr. Colbert’s influence in the strike. I was really touched by the way Stephen was listening to the stories. For anyone that doesn’t know, Stephen lost his father and two of his brothers in a plane crash when he was only ten years old, and I think maybe that’s what made it so touching to me. Young also went on to say that he was Stephen’s destiny and told him that he’s the one that will end the writers’ strike, just the way his father helped to end the hospital workers’ strike. It was really an incredible moment that could have been topped only by a rousing rendition of “Let My People Go”, lead by Stephen and backed by Andrew Young, Malcom Gladwell (the night’s other guest), and the Harlem Gospel Choir.
Stephen Colbert is a great entertainer, but the reason he has resonated so strongly with audiences particularly during this administration is because he has a core of earnestness that deeply reflects a strong moral sense and a desire to educate, illuminate, and do good works. If you think I’m being overblown, all you need to do is watch last night’s episode of The Colbert Report, which was uniquely inspiring, edifying and touching - all while still managing to be completely hilarious. [...]
In a clip that the WGA should blast to every studio, network and media organization across the country (which we have below, of course), Young said the current striking writers weren’t a whole lot different than the striking hospital workers in 1969, fighting to be paid the same wages as their white counterparts - in both cases, said Young, it was about a small amount, fair money for fair work, but more than that it was about respect. He called on Stephen to start the behind-the-scenes work to start settling the strike...just like his father. Even though Colbert is as jovial and joke-cracking as ever during this, it is hard not to respond to all of this - the historical and personal context, the moment of the meeting between Young and Colbert, the fact that Stephen was actually getting a mission from this giant of the civil rights movement and American history. Who turns down Obi Won Kenobe? Probably not Colbert, who has always had a thing for fantasy. Liken Young to Gandalf and it’s pretty much a done deal.
Jim Crow’s Last Stand: racism North & South
Matt Bai had a piece in the NYTimes Magazine Sunday taking issue with what has become the received wisdom on the South:
It has been in vogue throughout the Bush years for Democrats to assert that the South is unredeemable and politically unnecessary. I remember seeing Kerry speak at Dartmouth College in the days before the 2004 New Hampshire primary, when he flatly told the audience that a Democratic nominee could win the presidency without worrying about the South. (He went on to test the formula; it didn’t work out so well.) Two years later, Thomas F. Schaller, a political scientist and liberal blogger, won over a lot of his fellow progressives with an entire book devoted to the premise that Democrats should ignore the South and instead focus their finite resources on the growing and more diverse states in the West and Southwest. In “Whistling Past Dixie,” Schaller marshaled a pile of statistics to argue, essentially, that the region’s long legacy of prejudice left it hopelessly blind to the nobility of the Democratic cause.
Nobility of the Democratic cause. Kind of smug, no? I’ve argued before that they should get down here and do something, not follow Schaller’s advice and tactically write off one of their main constituencies, African Americans.
Another book I’m looking forward to is coming from Thomas J. Sugrue, Professor of History and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. From the podcast of his lecture, Jim Crow`s Last Stand: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Suburban North, he discusses the book, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Unfinished Struggle for Racial Equality in the North, a history of civil rights in the united States from the Great Depression to the present.
Sugrue says that fifty years after Brown v Board of Ed, forty since the Voting Rights Act, and thirty since metropolitan school desegregation, we have to confront a paradox:
That paradox is that patterns of racial inequality in the United States remain deeply entrenched, especially in housing and education. And those patterns of racial inequality are most deeply entrenched not in the region of the country that has attracted most of our scholarly and media attention, the South, but instead up in the North.
Consider a few factsâ€¦ that point to this pattern of persistent racial inequality in the North. Today 23 of the 25 most segregated metropolitan areas in the United States are in the Northeast and the Midwest. Here are the top 10:
8. New York City
10. St. Louis
The states with the highest degree of educational segregation by race are also disproportionately in the Northeast and the Midwest.
Sugrue argues that our focus on race in the South comes at the great detriment of racial understanding in modern American.
According to Bai, this election isn’t playing out the way Schaller had strategized.
Other Democrats, like Mark Warner, the former Virginia governor, short-lived presidential hopeful and now Senate candidate, have argued that if the party aspires to build a real governing majority like the one it enjoyed for much of the 20th century, it will have to at least compete seriously in the South. (After all, recent history would suggest that while it is “possible” for Democrats to win without making any inroads in the South, it’s possible only in the same way that it’s possible to shoot 10 straight free throws with your eyes closed.) These Democrats insist that the party’s problem isn’t Southern voters but the way Northern and coastal Democrats tend to relate to them or don’t. In other words, if you condescend to Southerners or simply don’t show up, then it’s all but impossible to erase the legacy of mistrust left over from the era of desegregation.
This argument seems especially relevant now. The nationwide dismay over the Bush years may be opening a door for Democrats in Southern states. What’s more, as some of the sharper Democratic strategists have realized, reaching voters down South isn’t only about the South. Culturally and ideologically, there isn’t much that separates most Southern, independent white voters from those who live in exurban Ohio or in rural Missouri. (It was the native Southerner James Carville who famously observed that Pennsylvania was, for all practical purposes, just Alabama sandwiched in between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.) If Democrats want to win those perennial swing states by anything other than the tiniest of margins, then they will probably have to put forth the kind of candidate and argument that will also resonate in much of the South, whether they care about the region or not.
We’ve got real racial problems in America. Schaller-style pointing South does nothing to fix them.
Stephen Colbert to producers: LET MY PEOPLE GO
At around the time of Stephen Colbert’s infamous speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Robert Thompson, a professor of Television and Popular Culture at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, dubbed the practitioners of fake news The Fifth Estate:
I think what Colbert has proved is that Comedy has moved in as the Fifth Estate when the Fourth Estate had dropped the ball. The press, of course, as others have said, completely rolled over in the lead-up to the war and the only good commentators out there were all coming from the perspective of the support of the president - the Bill O’Reillys, the Rush Limbaughs and so forth and so on - and comedy moved into that vacuum ... if you continue to watch Comedy Central shows you get a sense that boy, you know, maybe this isn’t a bad place to be getting some of our news information.
Last night Colbert demonstrated how true that is. Proving he is nothing less than the modern embodiment of Edward R. Murrow, Colbert addressed both race and the writers’ strike in a stunningly effective way. The show demands to be seen. This being Comedy Central, it’s likely to be repeated throughout the day today. Watch it.
Colbert begins with an interview of Malcolm Gladwell discussing his important New Yorker article on what race doesn’t tell you about IQ.
In the article Gladwell convincingly refutes the arguments of the “I.Q. fundamentalistï¿½? that blacks have an innately lower IQ than whites. He discusses the article on his blog here, here and here and manages in the difficult format of a Colbert interview to get across the very complex point that IQ is rooted in modernity; we answer those IQ questions in context--a context more favorable to some than to others.
The interview isn’t funny. Colbert’s in character, poking at Gladwell throughout, but - as in the correspondents’ dinner - the laughs are really beside the point.
We come back from commercial to learn that it’s all about Stephen. In a remarkable piece of history tossed in the center of a comic fake news show, we learn about the 1969 hospital strike in Charleston, SC (watch especially for the white policemen beating the black women strikers):
So you see, Stephen’s father ended that strike by brokering a deal with Andrew Young.
Now Andrew Young has been the subject of intense criticism over some frank remarks he made last fall in favor of Hillary Clinton. The whole clip remains online here.
Andrew Young was Colbert’s guest last night. Together they reminisce about Colbert’s dad:
Stephen: Do you remember my father?
Andrew Young: I do. Very, very wellâ€¦ your father apologized. See, he was a southern gentleman from New York. That’s kind of unusual.
And all I aspire to be.
Young is an old man and not the most articulate. He has walked the walk, not just talked the talk. We have much to learn from his experience even if some of us today may disagree with the lessons he’s learned. To trash him as a jealous cranky old man for supporting Hillary is despicable.
(For more on the post-civil rights era fallacy, see Salim Muwakkil in In These Times.)
Back from commercial and it all comes together. In the earlier interview Colbert asked Young, “Were you guys fighting over internet residuals?ï¿½? Young answered, “it’s the same thing:ï¿½?
YOUNG: I am your destiny. See this strike was 100 days. And your father and I settled it. But the key to settling it was neither of us got credit. So you have to settle this strike.
COLBERT: And not get credit.
YOUNG: And not get credit.
COLBERT: I like credit for things.
YOUNG: Being humble is a difficult task.
COLBERT: I have trouble with strikers. If you don’t show up to work, then that’s like not playing in the gameâ€¦ how is striking the right thing to do?
YOUNG: Well, it’s not. You only strike when you can’t talk. And the right thing to do is to talkâ€¦ A Teamster union organizer told me strikes are never about money, they’re always about respect. And when people can sit down and respect one another and work a problem out, it’s settled. And that’s what your father and I didâ€¦
COLBERT: Nowâ€¦ this is the first strike I’ve ever been involved in. And the way that strikes go is that one side makes a proposal and the producers get up and leave and they don’t talk anymore.
Now Colbert closes the show with the power of song. He dedicates it to “everyone involved in the WGA strike, but especially my writers.ï¿½? I choked up as I watched Colbert on stage singing with Andrew Young, Malcolm Gladwell and the Harlem Gospel Choir, carrying on Martin Luther King’s fight for economic justice:
LATER: More praise for Stephen.
LATER STILL: I wanted to know if Dr. Thompson shared my view that Colbert had approached the writers’ strike “in a stunningly effective way” and that the Colbert episode “demands to be seen.” So I called him up. Thompson saw it differently. He called it a missed opportunity to educate.
THE difference between Hillary Clinton & Barack Obama
George Packer, writing in The New Yorker on The Choice, nails it:
The alternatives facing Democratic voters have been characterized variously as a choice between experience and change, between an insider and an outsider, and between two firsts-a woman and a black man. But perhaps the most important difference between these two politicians-whose policy views, after all, are almost indistinguishable-lies in their rival conceptions of the Presidency. Obama offers himself as a catalyst by which disenchanted Americans can overcome two decades of vicious partisanship, energize our democracy, and restore faith in government. Clinton presents politics as the art of the possible, with change coming incrementally through good governance, a skill that she has honed in her career as advocate, First Lady, and senator. This is the real meaning of the remark she made during one of the New Hampshire debates: “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do-the President before had not even tried-but it took a President to get it done.”
In the overheated atmosphere of a closely fought primary, this historically sound statement set off a chain reaction of accusations, declarations of offense, and media hysteria, and for a few days the Democratic Party seemed poised to descend into a self-destructive frenzy of identity politics. The Times editorial page scolded Clinton for playing racial politics and choosing a bizarre role model in Johnson; the columnist Bob Herbert accused her of taking “cheap shots” at King. But Clinton was simply expressing her belief that the Presidency is more about pushing difficult legislation through a fractious Congress than it is about transforming society. In the recent debate before the Nevada caucus, Obama, who confessed to being disorganized, said that the Presidency has little to do with running an efficient office: “It involves having a vision for where the country needs to go . . . and then being able to mobilize and inspire the American people to get behind that agenda for change.” In reply, Clinton likened the job of President to that of a “chief executive officer” who has “to be able to manage and run the bureaucracy.”
It’s also why I favor Hillary.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll be happy if Obama wins. And to favor Hillary does not require that I oppose Barack.
I prefer that presidential powers be more limited to the bully pulpit and less the kind executive of executive authority Bush has wrangled from the congress, the courts and the country. But the model I will vote for is the Hillary model.
Nor does the fact that I do not oppose Obama mark my support for Hillary as soft. I support her even more because I firmly believe that if she loses she will continue in the Senate to work for and move change incrementally and through good governance.
That’s the kind of strength and commitment I admire.