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At the beginning of the last century, on October 16, 1901, the country found itself in an uproar. President Theodore Roosevelt had invited an African American to dinner with him and his family. The reaction of Senator James K. Vardaman of Mississippi exemplified conservatism as it existed in those days. He complained of a White House "so saturated with the odor" ...and here he used the "N" word ... "that the rats had taken refuge in the stable."
Sadly, that reaction finds its echo in the reflexive core of much of today's conservatism. It also represents a remarkable loss of conservative opportunity.
Booker T. Washington's autobiography, Up From Slavery, was intended as a walking guide to success, not only for individuals, but for an entire oppressed people. The recipe included learning a trade, hard work, getting an education, and developing relationships with white people, even the most hostile of white people. The model was Booker T. Washington's own life.
He was a child when emancipation reached him. He taught himself to read, attended school, met and made friends with white benefactors, went to an institution of higher learning, and became the head of a teacher's college, Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
In 1895, he made the speech that pretty much defined him and the movement he led. He urged what became known as the Atlanta Compromise.
He told his audience that white people had a responsibility. They should guarantee due process of law and should allow at least some limited training for black people.
Black people, he said, should stop agitating for equal rights, the ability to vote in fair and free elections, integration, or anti-discrimination laws. They should accept limitations on their education, staying with vocational training, and acquiring the ability to teach. Prohibitions against liberal arts, science, literature should not be challenged. Above all, black people should submit to white rule in the South. There should never be resistance or even objection to racist behavior.
In time, he felt, the descendants of slaves would earn the respect of southern whites. Equality would come in increments if black people would stay in their place, the place in society assigned to them by white conservatives.
It is difficult for those of us living today to imagine the degree of hardship endured in those days. At the time of Booker T. Washington's 1895 speech, the practice of lynching was at an all time high. Slavery had been replaced with random kidnappings, legal authorities pulling people off the streets or from gathering places, charging them with breaking laws that were often unwritten and unknown, made up on the spot. Those taken were then rented out to businesses or plantations who would pay. Outright ownership of slaves was replaced by the leasing of human prisoners. The practice was widespread and has been documented through to the beginning of the Second World War.
Booker T. Washington was concerned about the reaction of black people then living in the south. Active resistance was pretty much always fatal. Those looking for a viable alternative found it in a vast migration to the cities of the north. Washington thought of the migration as a form of collective abdication.
In his Atlanta speech, he told a parable about a ship adrift, helpless in the Atlantic, its passengers dying of thirst, surrounded by undrinkable saltwater. They were rescued by a signal from another ship, instructing them to cast their buckets where they were. Finally, following the advice, they discovered that they had drifted into the outflow of the Amazon River. The water was fresh, drinkable. And they were saved.
The lesson Booker T. Washington preached was to "Cast down your bucket where you are." Freed slaves in the South and their descendants should stay where they were, accommodate, develop slowly, earn the friendship and respect of the white people around them.
There were those who rejected the Booker T. Washington approach of serving meekly and waiting patiently for the long arc of the moral universe to bend toward justice. Those who wanted a more activist approach toward equal rights, were considered in their day as black militants. W.E.B. Du Bois and Monroe Trotter took the radical step of becoming civil rights advocates.
Booker T. Washington died in 1915, but his influence continued through generations. White politicians pointed to him as a dual example. Black people were happy, contented to live without rights, including the right to vote. And, if Booker T. Washington could become successful in Alabama, any black person could become successful without all the bother of rights.
Successful black people have often been used as an argument against social change. The phrase "Be more like Booker T. Washington" became a cliche, used by white people who lectured black people on living successfully. Others joined him in the pantheon of icons, successful people who proved that anyone could succeed.
President Obama is an odd case. It would be easy to understand conservatives seeing him as a mixed blessing. We do get some of that logic from time to time. Racism is ended. A black President is proof.
Hatred of policies and viewpoints is understandable from those who disagree. But the hatred exhibited toward the Obama family by conservatives frequently goes beyond policy. The challenge goes to personhood itself, to personal legitimacy. He is not one of us, not truly American. He is alien from the American experience.
The personal opposition that goes so far past policy is hard to explain rationally.
He is the example conservatives have professed to crave. He is a son abandoned by his father, raised by a single mother, who devoted himself to community, putting himself through college, shining brightly in the academic world, earning the leadership of a prestigious law journal. He is a devoted father, a steadfast husband, who eventually rose to become the head of the free world.
When he was first elected, I pictured a conservative friend pointing to President Obama. "I completely disagree with his philosophy and his policies," I could imagine my friend saying. "But he is proof that anyone can make it in this country."
It is a remarkable story that fits neatly into the "Be like Booker T." narrative of conservatives. And that story, the story of Booker T. Washington, has not been entirely in the province of racial conservatives. When I was young, parents were still holding him, and others, as an inspiration to youngsters to work hard to succeed.
Denzel Washington, Michael Jordan, Frederick Douglass, and now Barack Obama have had their turns as icons. They are exceptional. They have served as examples offered by generations of parents. Parents want to think of their children as potentially beyond exceptional, and always hope that it will be true.
It has been that way with me. The lecture is one with which I am familiar. The words have been mine. You can be frozen by an unfair playing field, or you can devise a strategy of winning on an unfair field of play, working harder and smarter, overcoming. What is unfair does not need to be unstoppable.
It is often a seesaw argument, used as an example to inspire and as an excuse to deny solutions for historic wrongs.
Becoming exceptional should be an aspiration, not a requirement for fair treatment. Exceptional achievement, especially against great adversity, should be an inspiration, something to be admired, not yet another obstacle, another argument against fairness.
Even in that regard, even as a new Booker T. example, conservatives have missed their latest, best, opportunity.
This President of the United States is the very model of conservative standards - hard working, talented, purposeful, resolute, and ultimately successful. He is the example conservatives can embrace as a reason to to hold off on what the rest of us see as social progress. Instead, many conservatives, perhaps most, treat him with denigration, treat his accomplishments with derision.
History may forgive them as they argue against themselves. They know not that they have sacrificed the best moral case they could ever have wished to make.
From Green Eagle:
Benghazi is over? Not likely. The Republicans cannot leave it at this point, with Hillary having stomped them into the ground and made them look like the dishonest demagogues they are, on national TV for eleven hours. They were reeling a bit after the end of the hearings, but they have to begin the task of rewriting history to blot out this colossal humiliation.
And remember something I have said before: the number of people who saw any part of these hearings, or any other political event, is very small compared to the number that will be told by the right wing media what happened. In the end, their constituency will jump at any chance to believe the worst about Hillary; obviously, without that being true, the Benghazi frenzy could have never existed at all.
So, on the day after the hearings, here's how things stand:
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From The Moderate Voice:
Most of the polls, verdicts, analyses, post-mortems, etc. on the GOP Select Inquisition on Benghazi are in, and the overwhelming majority calls it a shameful loss for the Trey Gowdy-led gang of prosecutors and a definitive win for the outnumbered, yet gallant and effective Elijah Cummings-led let’s-have-some-sanity team.
But he biggest winner was, without a doubt, the target of the inquisition, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Below are excerpts from two analyses.
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A libertarian presents the conservative case against anti-discrimination laws.
From Michael A. LaFerrara at Principled Perspectives:
Last spring’s controversy over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act , which was intended to protect Christian businessmen’s right to act on their religious convictions but was widely seen as a legalization of discrimination against gay couples, raised important questions about what kind of country our Founding Fathers tried to create.
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From Associated Press:
WASHINGTON (AP) — If carbon dioxide emissions continue at their current pace, by the end of century parts of the Persian Gulf will sometimes be just too hot for the human body to tolerate, a new study says.
How hot? The heat index — which combines heat and humidity — may hit 165 to 170 degrees (74 to 77 Celsius) for at least six hours, according to numerous computer simulations in the new study. That's so hot that the human body can't get rid of heat. The elderly and ill are hurt most by current heart waves, but the future is expected to be so hot that healthy, fit people would be endangered, health experts say.
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From The Hill:
Ben Carson says he would not get rid of the Department of Education, a position contrary to several of his Republican White House primary rivals.
Instead, the retired neurosurgeon said the agency should be used to monitor America’s colleges and universities for “extreme political bias.”
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Here we are – another presidential election season, with big choices to make. The battle is in full swing, with the candidates trying to build up support and solidify their positions. I am a #BlackBerner and I am with #Women4Bernie.
I sat down with the intention of writing a response to an article about why black people are not supporting Bernie. But I realized that what we really need is a conversation about how to engage in the political process this election season and beyond. Despite being a Black woman from a socially conscious family, I could not adequately articulate reasons for why Black people are reluctant to support someone whose platform coincides with many of the issues that have been long neglected in Black communities. To me, it is a no-brainer.
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From Jon Perr at Perrspectives:
During the 2012 Republican National Convention, Jeb Bush proclaimed of his brother George, "He is a man of integrity, courage, and honor, and during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe." In the face of the inconvenient truth that Dubya presided over the slaughter of 3,000 Americans on U.S. soil on 9/11, deadly anthrax and ricin attacks, the needless Iraq war that killed 4,500 American soldiers, wounded 30,000 more, converted Baghdad into an Iranian satellite and birthed ISIS, Jeb hasn't stopped making the "he kept us safe" claims since.
But of all the national security failures that made the national headlines during Bush's 43's watch, one that didn't is among the most heartbreaking of all.
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From Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg:
Donald Trump is no longer winning everywhere. The new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll has Ben Carson on top in Iowa, with a 9-percentage-point lead over Trump. Combined with another national survey released yesterday, the HuffPollster estimate now has Carson at 26 percent to Trump’s 20 percent in the Hawkeye State.
Yes, it’s still very early. We’re a bit more than three months from the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, and it would be a lot more surprising if today’s polls match the eventual results than if there are still plenty more major swings to come.
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From Ted McLaughlin at jobsanger:
Last month the most common thing the mainstream media was reporting was how much trouble the campaign of Hillary Clinton was in. They said her numbers were fading, and predicted that Joe Biden would cause her trouble by entering the race. It wasn't true of course (her numbers had remained firm), but the media didn't seem to be as concerned with the truth as creating a "horse race" in the Democratic primary contest.
But it's now a month later -- and things look very different. They look different because Clinton has had a very good month of October.
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A conservative argues that Democrats who decline to vote out of principle have also taken a vow of public silence.
From James Wigderson:
For giggles, I watched on Wisconsin Eye the “debate” in the state Assembly from Wednesday night about the campaign finance reform law changes. By now everyone is aware the Democrats took turns claiming they were recusing themselves. However, if they were seriously recusing themselves, they shouldn’t have spoken against the bill, yet several of them took the opportunity to do just that.
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President Barack Obama on Thursday gave a strong defense of Black Lives Matter, arguing that the movement's concerns about racial disparities in the criminal justice system are legitimate. He also clarified that the cause doesn't claim, as some critics allege, that only black lives matter — but rather that black lives are emphasized in the movement's slogan because black lives aren't currently treated as equal to other lives.
Here's a transcript of Obama's remarks, made during a forum hosted by the Marshall Project:
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From NBC News:
Acting on a tip that dozens of ISIS-held hostages were about to be slaughtered, U.S. and Kurdish commandos stormed a prison in northeastern Iraq before dawn Thursday, rescuing the captives in a firefight that ended with an American soldier being shot to death, officials said.
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From the Maine Beacon:
At a town hall meeting in Auburn on Wednesday night, Governor Paul LePage once again lashed out against Question 1, a citizen initiative to increase election transparency and strengthen Maine’s Clean Elections Act.
“That’s like giving my wife my checkbook. I’m telling you, it’s giving your wife your checkbook,” said LePage.
LePage was referring to the part of the initiative strengthening Maine’s system of limited public financing.
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Among the donors to Gov. Christie's presidential campaign are individuals who work for companies in New Jersey that have been awarded more than $60 million in state and local government contracts, campaign finance records show.
Many of these firms are restricted by New Jersey pay-to-play laws in what they can contribute to state campaigns. Those rules do not apply to federal elections, such as the presidential campaign, however.
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From Jon Perr at PERRspectives:
Stung by Donald Trump's self-evident truth that history did not begin on September 12th, 2001 and end at noon on January 20, 2009, Jeb Bush asked, "Does anybody actually blame my brother for 9/11?" As it turns out, this is hardly the first time the former Florida governor complained about the unkindness the calendar has shown his brother. In August 2012, Jeb declared it was "unbecoming" for Barack Obama to continue to "blame others" for the economic calamity he inherited from George W., and went so far as to suggest the President should be "spanked" for pointing the finger at his brother. And in April 2009--just weeks after Obama entered the Oval Office in the midst of the greatest American economic calamity since the Great Depression--Jeb protested:
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It has been a season of conservative paradox. The old expression is about being called ugly by a frog.
I try to be fair. If every stray comment I made was noted for the record, if I was judged by the worst of the worst, I have no idea how long it would take me to to learn to think before exercising my voice. I can only imagine the sort of professional pressure that causes the occasional strange political outburst.
It is sometimes hard to fathom some of what floats by in politics.
It was an obvious question. The surprise was that a candidate for President, or some member of a campaign staff, would not anticipate it. The question to Jeb Bush was about the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, on the Pentagon, on whatever unknown target was saved at the cost of another planeload of passengers and crew. The question was about the thousands of lives that had been lost.
The issue was the angry response to criticism of President Bush. The three pronged attack had come on his watch.
He was president. Blame him, or don't blame him, but he was president. The World Trade Center came down during his reign.
- Donald Trump, October 16, 2015
...if your brother and his administration bear no responsibility at all, at all, how do you then make the jump that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are responsible for what happened at Benghazi?
- Jake Tapper, CNN, October 18, 2015
In fairness to Jeb Bush, the parallel is not fair unless some of the questions he raises are examined. Were there differences in preparation? In taking reasonable efforts at awareness of danger?
Well, I -- it's -- the question on then Benghazi, which is -- hopefully we'll now finally get the truth to, is, was that -- was the -- was the place secure? They had a responsibility, the Department of State, to have proper security.
There were calls for security. It looks like they didn't get it. And how was the response in the aftermath of the attack? Was there a chance that these four American lives could have been saved?
- Jeb Bush, on CNN, October 18, 2015
When the same questions are asked about both tragedies, do the answers reveal moral differences? Could either of the attacks have been prevented? Was security reasonable? What was done in the aftermath?
was the place secure? Was the United States secure?
We have available 36 documented, now declassified, CIA warnings to President Bush and his closest advisors, and additional warnings from other national security experts within the administration. We have urgent warnings from the outgoing Clinton administration.
It does not take much word substitution to apply the same standards, to ask the same questions.
Well, I -- it's -- the question on then Benghazi, which is -- hopefully we'll now finally get the truth to, is, was that -- was the -- was the place secure? Was America secure in 2001?
There were calls for security. It looks like they didn't get it. The Bush administration dismissed those calls for security right up to 9/11.
Was there a chance that these four American lives could have been saved? Multiply those lives by many hundreds and ask the question again.
I am disinclined to go too far with the logic of blame. The dozens of frantic official warnings ignored by top officials in the Bush administration, ignored by the President, do take on amplified meaning in retrospect. But a backwards view is natures own amplifier. It is easier to be right about the known past than the unknown future, even in the face of warnings.
It was that perspective that seemed to guide Democrats in the months and years following the 9/11 attacks of 2001. There was little effort to look for ways to blame President Bush for his dismissive attitude toward the warnings before the attacks.
I sometimes wish the more rabid conservatives among my friends were capable of the same rational reserve. It is as unreasonable to attack Secretary of State Clinton for her lack of clairvoyance before a close friend and three other associates were murdered.
The admission by Congressional Republicans Kevin McCarthy and Richard Hannah combined with charges by a conservative former staffer cast a pall over the Benghazi committee. The barely hidden mission to seek out and selectively leak misleading bits of information to discredit Hillary Clinton have now gone blazingly overt.
Chairman of the Benghazi Committee Trey Gowdy reacted in frustration:
I would say in some ways these have been among the worst weeks of my life. Attacks on your character, attacks on your motives, are 1,000 times worse than anything you can do to anybody physically — at least it is for me.
- Trey Gowdy, House Benghazi Chairman, October 18, 2015
Congressman Gowdy speaks of his pain at attacks on his character, attacks on his motives, as he and members of his committee attack Hillary Clinton's character and motives.
Politics being what it is, life being fluid, this will not last. But right now, in this instant, those conservatives who have been throwing accusations are surprised, unbelieving as their shimmering target survives, still glaring back through the dark glass of Benghazi investigations. The dark glass has become a mirror.
The frog has been screaming "ugly" at what turns out to be a reflection.