Friday, May 02, 2008

"They're All Happy Campers"

Remember years ago, when Dan Quayle visited American Samoa?
You all look like happy campers to me. Happy campers you are, happy campers you have been, and, as far as I am concerned, happy campers you will always be.
Exceptionally patronizing and condescending, right? Well, maybe not. Because if you read the likes of Michael Gerson, it's "patronizing" to suggest that blocks of voters are anything but happy campers.

The roots of Gerson's thesis, of course, are the wishes of his Republican masters to expand upon Barack Obama's "bitter/cling" comments, and advance the idea that he is "elitist" for generalizing in any way, whatsoever, about any group of people. Well, no, scratch that - as far as his masters are concerned, it's fine to generalize about blocs of voters who lean Democratic. Not a one of them would criticize somebody for alluding to Democrats or liberals as part of a "Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show". What's forbidden, apparently, is to generalize about voters who lean Republican or who are in the amorphous political "center". The only way to escape that trap, it seems, is to follow the Quayle model of treating them as "happy campers".

Moreover, you must plug your ears to political reality. The "happy campers" of this nation have no resentment of affirmative action. They have no fear of crime. They don't "feel their dreams slipping away". African-American "happy campers" who came of age in an era of Jim Crow and segregation (and here Gerson seems to be speaking both individually and collectively) cannot be said to have "bitterness and biases" resulting from their experiences with legal and institutionalized discrimination.

Gerson explains, "The only thing more insulting than being attacked is being explained." Except it's not "insulting" to be explained, unless the explanation is wrong or "the truth hurts". It's insulting to be "explained away", but that's very different from being "explained", and that expansion on Gerson's actual words doesn't fit Gerson's accusations against Obama. (Besides, Gerson's prior profession was speechwriter, so we shouldn't need to read extra words into his column to have it make sense.)

Gerson proceeds to exemplify how, despite his earlier claims, it's okay to generalize about "they don't vote for us, anyway" voter blocs. Gerson presents extreme elements of "Black theology" that he attributes to James Cone, then tells us that Rev. Wright was mentored by Cone (guilt by association) even though Gerson has apparently been unable to put Cone's words directly into Wright's mouth, then he implies that anybody who goes to a church that is in any way associated with "Black theology" (guilt by association by association) must either accept those views as basic beliefs of their pastor or have been "asleep in the pew".

Although not offered as an defense of his generalizations, Gerson writes, "Most people would rather be termed right or wrong than be dismissed." See? So Gerson wasn't being patronizing, condescending or dismissive when he generalized what he sees as the worst of "Black theology" to all churches that advance some aspect of "black liberation theology" (those are his terms and his capitalization, and it is he who uses the terms as synonyms), and in suggesting that those churches follow a philosophy that is "not Biblical." He was simply telling all of the ministers of those churches, and everybody in their congregations, "You are wrong." Don't go reading a James Baker-type attitude into that. (And don't you dare suggest that Gerson wouldn't dream of offering a similar analysis of a mainstream white Christian movement.)

What's perhaps most interesting about these continuing, relentless right-wing assaults on Obama, Reverend Wright, and his so-called "elitism" (the difference in that regard between Obama and the other candidates being principally one of image, not substance) is that it suggests that Obama remains the Republicans' most feared opponent for the fall campaign.

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