Thursday, January 19, 2006

Off the plantation

Last night on Fox News' "Hannity & Colmes," amidst fulminations against Hillary Clinton's "the House is run like a plantation" remark, the hapless Alan Colmes repeated asked how it was different from Newt Gingrich's rather similar 1994 comment ("Since they [the Democrats] think it is their job to run the plantation, it shocks them that I’m actually willing to lead the slave rebellion"). Dick Morris brushed him off with a dismissive accusation of reciting talking points off Hillary's faxes (which really seemed to get under Colmes' skin, and I don't blame him). Larry Elder at least took the question seriously, and stressed that the big difference was Hillary's line, "And you know what I'm talking about!" which, addressed to a black audience, clearly had an implication of, "The Republicans who run the House are racist bigots."

At first I thought that Elder was reaching for excuses; now I think that he has a point, but he should have made it better. And he should have been much tougher on his comrades-in-arms on the right who have used plantation metaphors to score political points.

Robert George comments:

First, as a quick aside, the left is really stretching in claiming that Gingrich's comments are the same as Hillary's. Not to defend a former boss, but the context here matters: He said those words in the course of a Washington Post profile of the man identified as the likely next Speaker of the House. If the context is about the majority abusing its powers when running a legislative body, then the partisan analogy holds.

But -- important difference. He was not speaking to a black audience -- or even obliquely referring to one; there was not an implicit racial connotation to his words. Yes, talking about plantations usually conjures up images of American slavery, but referring to oneself as the "leader of the slave rebellion," one could be referencing Spartacus as much as anything.

Hillary, on the other hand, made a clear -- "and you know what I'm talking about" line to a black audience. I'm actually a little surprised that those on the left whose eyes were raised when Ross Perot made reference in 1992 to "you people" when speaking to a Southern black audience, didn't find Hillary's implied "you people" just a little it pandering.

But conservatives don't get a free pass on this. I don't know who started it -- though this was an early entry -- but too many on the right have adopted the "plantation" language as a favorite trope in trying to dislodge minority (particularly African American) allegiance to the Democratic Party. It matters little whether those comments have come from black conservatives or white conservatives (or Latino conservatives), it is inherently insulting and counterproductive to the very principle that the writer is advocating.

It's very difficult to convince someone of the validity of your argument by suggesting that continuing to vote for the other party is evidence of a slave-like mentality. Invite individuals over with the power of your positive arguments, not by trashing the "family" that they have been part of for large segments of their lives. In short, suggesting that blacks have a plantation mentality for continuing to support Democrats -- and then expecting them to support Republicans -- makes about as much sense as trying to convince a Republican to switch parties because, well, "the GOP are Nazis."

It's actually worse really.

The plantation rhetoric is the manipulation and exploitation of American racial tropes that are better of dead and buried. Yes, the left-wing will often use it against black conservatives. (We've been down that road before; no need to dredge all THAT fun stuff up again.) But that is hardly an excuse. This country will never move beyond its history until it decides to leave noxious racial references dead and buried -- especially on King's birthday.

I think Robert's a leetle too easy on Newt; when you're talking about plantations and slave rebellions, in an American context, it's pretty clear you're not talking about Spartacus. But other than that, I think Robert's comments are right on the money, and I don't have much to add to this except to say, "Right on!" I will add, though, that the demagoguery of HRC's speech is amplified by the fact that she made it not only to an African-American audience in Harlem, but also on Martin Luther King Day. In this sense, the analogy to Newt's comment in the Washington Post interview is a bit thin.


Anonymous said...

Was anyone in Hillary's audience put off by her statement?

Anonymous said...

Cathy pointed out:

Larry Elder at least took the question seriously, and stressed that the big difference was Hillary's line, "And you know what I'm talking about!" which, addressed to a black audience, clearly had an implication of, "The Republicans who run the House are racist bigots."


Yep... it's that "and you know what I'm talking about" line that puts Hillary in checkmate.

Heck... only if she had said "you people" could the line have been more condescending and frankly degrading.


Cathy continued:

At first I thought that Elder was reaching for excuses; now I think that he has a point, but he should have made it better. And he should have been much tougher on his comrades-in-arms on the right who have used plantation metaphors to score political points.


Hmm... that's interesting that you first thought he was reaching. From the first moment I saw the clip from Hillary's speech I focused on the "and you know..." line.

As to Gingrich's 1994 plantation crack... Gingrich was right.

Oh... and Cath... thanks again for highlighting Robert George's views. He makes a lot of sense.

Anonymous said...

From this discussion on

"Gone with Hillary's Wind"

Mammy to Hillary:

Mammy: The Senate would be better for ya. You just get in trouble in The House.
Hillary: What trouble you talkin' 'bout?
Mammy: You know what trouble I's talkin' 'bout. Legislation be comin' to The House when it get's proposed, and you sattin' there waitin' for it, just like a spider.

Rhett to Hillary:

"Take a good look my dear. It's an historic moment you can tell your grandchildren about - how you watched the Old House fall one night."

Hillary as Prissy:

"Lawzy we got to have a Republican. I don't know nothin' 'bout' birthin' legislation"

Hillary as Scarlet:

"I can't think about Republicans right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about them tomorrow."


"As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be in the minority again. No, nor any of my Democrat folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be in the minority again."

Anonymous said...

Over on Alas some time back, Ampersand was musing about Jack Balkin's musing that I commented with this after this decision came down:

I thought it interesting how prophetic this is. In the first real significant case of the post O’Conner era - Gonzales v Oregon - (I know SDO was involved but she really is a lame duck now) it seems quite an interesting coincidence (or maybe not) that Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion for the majority. Furthermore, assuming Alito were on the court and would have sided with the dissenters, Kennedy would surely be considered the “swing” vote in what would have then been a 5-4 decision. (BTW did you read Scalia’s dissent? - Very Alito-like analysis, albeit with Scalia-like sarcasm and disdain)

Anonymous said...

Well that sure didn't come out right. It looked fine on the preview. The Alas post is "It's Justice Kennedy's Court Now"

Jeremy Pierce said...

Isn't there some context when it's appropriate to notice that some scenario has something in common with slavery? If insisting on voting for the party that has harmful policies for your people, regardless of how much they pretend to do for you but don't in fact do for you, then wouldn't it be in a way something like willing enslavement? If the conservative complaint about the Democratic party's unwillingness to do anything positive for black people is correct, then that's pretty much an accurate assessment. Black people as a whole have thrown out their ability to choose who to vote for based on what's good for them and simply vote for someone who gets treated as a master.

I agree with you that this may not be the most effective rhetoric, but I can't see how it's outright evil to say it, and that's what I thought you were suggesting. Given the conservative's premises, there is some key element common to the cases, and thus a comparison isn't entirely inapt.

Dustin Ridgeway said...

"As to Gingrich's 1994 plantation crack... Gingrich was right."

Oh I see, and so if Gingrich is supposedly 'right' in his thinly veiled plantation metaphors, that absolves him and his compatriots from any consequences of using the same tactics?

At least you didn't try to present yourself as intellectually honest this time.

Lori Heine said...

The Democrats have shown themselves more than willing to exploit bigotry any way they can. They think they were the first folks on earth to have discovered its existence, and doggone it -- they've got the copyright.

This includes calling attention to it in every Republican utterance, whether it's there or not. And making it up when it's not there. And even exploiting the bigotry they are so smugly sure exists among all Republicans whenever they think they have something to gain from it.

Just look at the smarmy, eleventh- hour tactic taken by Kerry and Edwards in the last Presidential election. "Oooohhh, Dick Cheney's daughter Mary is a LESBIAN!!!" They hoped all those "rednecked yokels" in the Bible Belt would stay home and not vote for Bush and Cheney. Turns out they banked upon a cheap-and-easy stereotype that could not be counted upon to exist.

Where, indeed, were their bigots when they needed them?

There are bigots in every party. And there may be more in the Democratic Party than anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

I think this is somewhat relevant here. From Slate's Human Nature column:

Brain scans confirm the irrationality of partisan political thinking. MRI's of 30 partisan Democrats and Republicans show each group judging flip-flops by the other's candidate (Bush or Kerry) harshly. But when exposed to flip-flops by its own candidate, each group shows activation of brain regions that regulate negative feelings, administer forgiveness, and express relief and happiness. "The 'cold reasoning' regions of the cortex were relatively quiet."


Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm too "inside the Beltway" for my own good, but we call the big white building at the end of the Mall "The Last Plantation". The kicker? It's not a racial thing - it's about terrible working conditions (low pay, long hours, etc.) for the underlings.

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