A Place for Cafe Refugees and Others Like Them

I do not know what it’s like to be discriminated against because of my skin color or accent. I have never had that experience. Oh I have been razzed for being a geek and rather nerdy. But I have never had people decide I am of a lower species because of my skin color or racial background. So I cannot say I can identify with those who have. So for me to come out and attempt to have some sincerity concerning the issues that face those who have would be phony at best. That does not mean that I do not support them. On the contrary, it is because I cannot truly relate that I need to. 

I came across this essay Ishmael Reed and though I do not agree with it completely, he does make a number of good points concerning the values of a number of white progressives. And these points quite often apply to their advocacy in general.

Moreover, the status of whites during the 1930s was different in Roosevelt’s time. Nichols ought to read the fiction of Jack Conroy, or Tillie Olson, proletariat writers who wrote about the millions of whites whose 1930s existence was one of desperation. Read William Kennedy’s Ironweed. Though white poverty still exists (check the Jerry Springer show any day or the films of Debra Granik) millions of whites, after entering the middle class, became Reagan Democrats. Where once there were Italian Americans, Irish Americans, Jewish Americans, there are now “whites.” Some of those who had forged alliances with blacks went uptown on them. Started playing the Harpsichord. Started giving money to the Metropolitan Museum. Some Irish Americans began publishing a magazine called The National Review, which supported quack Kantian anthropology about African inferiority. Ironic because early Nativists didn’t want the Irish to come here because they said that the Irish had a “crime gene.”

Though his essay is concerned with how white progressives (and some minority ones as well) view racial problems, I think he misses a point. That progressives in this country are notorious for choosing causes and social and economic crusades that are convenient. Where there is little personal risk involved. Where they are not likely to be seen as biting the hand that feeds them. After all, like those they profess to eschew on the right, they identify with those in the same social and financial strata.

The Nation’s John Nichols suggested that President Obama make a Roosevelt-styled speech about Us, the masses of people, against Them, the moneyed interests. What Mr. Nichols doesn’t understand is that millions of whites identify with the Them.

There was an article that I wish I gad kept, a story about a fellow who had lost his job through no fault of his own. A corporate take over. Where he was not immediately able to secure employment again. Because of this he missed a credit card payment that impacted his credit rating. He was then told a number of times that this was the reason he would not be considered for employment on a number of interviews. As I recall, he would up loosing is house, his wife and reputation and would up having to take a position far below the one he originally had. He was no longer one of Them.  And for blacks and other minorities it is even worse. There was a very good movie with Godfry Cambridge called Watermelon Man where a white insurance salesman wakes up black and finds himself having to live the live of a poor black man simply because of the color of his skin even though his employer, wife and family are supposed to be liberal.

I cannot help but wonder just how many self professed progressives would have sufficient personal integrity to be  willing to put their current life styles in jeopardy for the causes they believe in.  My father did. He had a very good job in the personnel dept. of a large Cleveland Corporation. One of his duties was to mark applications as to whether the applicant was black, of jewish or some other ethnicity.  These of course would not be pulled. After all this was the 1950s. He could no longer handle this blatant racism so one day just before Christmas he came home and announced to my mother that he had just quit his job. He had not any other employment at the time. He did eventually get a job teaching at a local High School. It was in a Lilly white area that was also restricted. And it remains so to this day. I myself have been working at a state university for about two thirds of what I would get in the private sector. Feeling all self righteous because I was not working for the military industrial complex. But truth is that nearly all the research that is done there is military. But I have chosen to ignore this little fact.

The point to this is that it takes more than just a feel good initiative for enact real change. It requires taking the kind of risks that do show some integrity and passion and yes even biting the hand that feeds you. It means stand up for and raising ones voice for that which is not popular and de rigueur. Change is not safe and comfortable. It it was, we would have a good deal more of it.


Comments on: "Why some progressives can make me sick" (22)

  1. another trope said:

    There is a lot to this blog but the first thing I would say there is a lot truth to: “Change is not safe and comfortable. It it was, we would have a good deal more of it.” This kind of change will never come from the top. Although those at the top can create help create an atmosphere which facilitates it. So many people voted for Obama expecting him to by dictate create this change. It doesn’t work that way. There is a truth to his phrase “we are the change we were looking for.” Emphasis on we.

    • We aren’t the f’ing change we’re looking for when it comes to policy criticism Obama is currently facing. What kind of absurdist nonsense is that? Shoehorning the political criticism of Obama into the long-term struggle for mutual human understanding between members of a diverse citizenry just doesn’t work. Apples meet oranges.

      You’d be hard pressed to find an actual breathing human who voted for Obama expecting him to rule by some sort of magical dictate. Americans other than yourself didn’t just emerge late 2007 covered in amniotic fluid, clueless to the ways of the government that has been in place their entire lives.

      What they also didn’t expect was for Obama to cut secret deals killing the public option before the Senate debate ever began while simultaneously enticing the “professional left” to abandon single-payer advocacy with an implied promise of a strong public option and national exchange. Then publicly pretending as if there was an honest legislative struggle happening over the issues – with a final theatrical throwing up his hands saying “I would so TOTALLY love to do the public option, but this darn Senate won’t let me!” Likewise with secretly hiring Gruber in May to craft the whole excise tax thing and then publicly hiring him in August as an “impartial” expert to hawk his own plan. The excise-tax decision was pre-planned by Obama’s team well before the HCR issue was taken up by congress in earnest (it was the needed offset to recover savings people were expecting based on his published campaign policy lost when he gave up the ability to negotiate drug prices and PO). There’s a fucking paper trail of official no-bid contracting documents that prove it. But Obama stroked Labor all the way through December with it – at times used as a carrot, at others a stick – throughout the entire process the outcome already pre-negotiated by Obama in classic secret back-room deals.

      Being pissed over an administration defined by such abject triangulating dishonesty (on every topic from detainees through the deadly failure addressing Bush-era laxity in the coal and oil industries in furtherance of his drill-baby-drill and nukes energy plan) is a far cry from having had the expectation Obama would rule by fiat and being disappointed when America’s system of government mysteriously doesn’t accommodate a dictator king. To pretend the former attitude can be construed as the latter is intellectually dishonest. Nobody believed nor expected what you are asserting – you answer your own straw man. Using the frame may be personally gratifying, but it doesn’t really advance your position well beyond preaching to the choir.

      One must ignore mountains of documentation showing otherwise to pretend “legislative reality” is the reason HCR (and financial regulation) are total sell-outs to corporate greed and don’t really address the needs of our nation. Those sell-outs originated and were consummated in Obama’s White House. But beyond the documentation, he’s the head of the Democrats and Democrats control every lever of power in American government. I have to wonder if you yourself actually understand how our government works (or the reality created in a “democracy” controlled by a duopoly of political mega-corporations).

      America is a representative democracy. We elect. Those elected enact the change they promised. Or they don’t. That’s how America works. The other option is retaliatory violence a-la second amendment solution (and then one STILL must organize an effective operational policy after avoiding being killed in the ensuing war). Beyond that, the power we have to affect policy change is to judge how effectively and aggressively the elected agents of said change fight tooth and nail to get every shred that is expected and needed delivered for those with whom they made the promise to represent an agreed upon platform of policy objectives. That’s it, man.

      [The following section has been censored. Yes, censored. A fundamental principle of this site is that all should be able to express how they feel and how they see things. Another fundamental principle is that we can express those things without being offensive. To understand this I would refer people to read about the precept Right Speech of the Eightfold Path. Sometimes in our attempt to explain a point, we unintentionally cross a line. So, it is not the larger point that was being made that this section has been censored, it was the means by which that point was conveyed. While we want people to feel free to express themselves here at Once Upon a Time, we also want people to be mature spirits who seek to express themselves with compassion. It is something I myself must work on constantly.]

      Obama has done worse than not fight. Defending him in his sell-outs and capitulations just seems to ensure the change we need will never occur from within the Democratic party. Those critically holding the Democrats accountable – and willing to back that criticism up by voting third party if necessary – seem to best embody the idea of “we” being the change we’re looking for (to whatever extent that phrase means anything beyond being a cop-out allowing Obama to blame his own choreographed “failures” on supporters). Blindly supporting the status quo … playing the triangulated least-worst game … notsomuch. IMO, that is the dictionary definition of playing it safe – sickeningly progressive I guess.

      • In every political community there are varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals. An outspoken group on many subjects. Ten degrees to the left of center in good times. Ten degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally. Here, then, is a lesson in safe logic. Phil Ochs

      • another trope said:

        First: The public option was dead before he cut the deals, if you knew how government worked (which I think I do). Nelson would have joined the filibuster to the bitter end, not to mention other members. To think otherwise would make you an idiot and I know you’re not one of those. So to argue against Obama cutting deals is disingenuous. It is sour grapes that the People elected a Congress as a whole that could not carry out a progressive agenda. It is in my opinion the left’s denial that they have not reached enough of America to generate a Senate that is remotely progressive.

        • big pharma was also threatening to bring its billions of dollars of ready cash into the fray, in support of a campaign to kill the HC bill completely.

          drives me nuts when that little piece of info is simply left out.

          • another trope said:

            you and me both. that was the whole point of the “back room deal” – to keep them out – which in a country that has a thing called freedom of speech (along with a supreme court giving corps personhood) they had every right to say as much as their money could buy. It is as if the fiasco of Clinton HCR never happened. And KGB says I’m living in lala land.

      • another trope said:

        Second; right now we have coal miners, not coal executives, protesting Obama’s attempt at climate change legislation. So again to expect Obama to be successful in this current America is to deny where so much of this country is at.

        Since you are so keen on “how government really works” then you understand how crippling it is for an administration to lose a fight in the way that the media portrays these failures. They aren’t given props for fighting the good fight. The are shown as weak and ineffectual. Which makes it the next cause all the more likely to fail.

        D.C. is primarily controlled by corporate interests – one reality – and the majority of Americans are unwilling to undermine the basic foundations of corporate power through government intervention or takeover – second reality.

        Americans who thought Obama could somehow change this dynamic in a few short years as it appears you do are the ones who have just come into this world unaware of how things work.

      • another trope said:

        Third I find your rape analogy highly disturbing. It is a kind of rhetoric that stinks of misogyny and creepiness aside from the fact that it is completely off the mark in terms of explaining the dynamics of government.

        Congress along with every administration has always been at some measure a group of sell-outs, and in the history of U.S. it has definitely been worse. That somehow this moment is somehow is more egregious is again either being idiotic or disingenuous. When Americans collectively stand up for, say, the nationalization of banks, that the people take precedent over an individual’s right to make profit, etc. and start electing representatives who proudly say so, along with saying things like taxes are a patriotic duty, then we might see a change in Congress.

        But in the end, to hold Obama to some higher standard, that he needed to govern as if the swamp was a field of daisies is once again the left denying that we the people haven’t become the change we needed to be.

        In the end, I would say you should read Barth’s blog on this site. And then come back to me.

  2. Marinus van der Lubbe said:

    I would ask you the same thing I would ask one of my students: So, now that you’ve made your point, had your epiphany, what now?

    • It’s not an epiphany. Just some thoughts and observations.
      What in the newspaper biz use to be called a Think Piece.

      • It might be the title of your post, C. It makes us progressives prick our ears up when we see a title like that. I like the part about your dad up and leaving his job the way he did, when he found he couldn’t abide by the hiring regulations.

        • It is my honest feelings about it Lis. I have very little BS about me and tolerate very little from others as well.

          • Well, our politics have always been different, C, as you and I well know. But the fact that we’re able to find a lot of common ground, in spite of that, is an important one.

            Good, thought-provoking post. As proven by the comments.

    • Of course I expect certain progressives to be condescending. That is a good part of the problem with them.

      • Marinus van der Lubbe said:

        Yes, as condescending as cafe members when someone disagrees with them. Again, what is your point? Is it to alleviate something you see in yourself? Simplify it and get down on the deckplate: you cant shoot all the dogs because a few have fleas.
        I trealize you are used to people having blind faith in what you say, but if challenged, again, youre a folding chair.
        Good to see youre consistent and brought that same pointless cafe-esque ‘I’ll just write some think piece’ and think it actually is valid. If you want to validate it, then what will you do now? You have named yourself as a problem; the progressive that still seems hesitant to make a stand. You work at a school that does military research yet you take a milquetoast attitude.
        I’m not here or was invited by Lis to be a pot stirrer, but I also tell my students that when you speak or write something you had better be accountable and take responsibility for what you say.
        And don’t bother answering as I’m unsubscribing from here. This is just cafe without the steroids.

        • Gee, what’s the point of living if I can’t please you?

        • OldenGoldenDecoy said:

          Herr van der Lubbe … a tout a l’heure … if you’re lucky.

          Paddlin’ on…


        • another trope said:

          I would say before going after others making an observation in a blog (which is one of the functions of this type of writing. Blogs by their nature are not dissertations with the underlying demand that all bases be covered) you might want to present your own ideas on what next needs to happen.

          If Upton Sinclair points to the evil that was the society around at the time, I don’t ask him “what next” or because he didn’t offer a what next discount his observation. An observation is valid or it isn’t regardless of whether someone offers the next step forward.

          And I have to say that I am glad you are leaving since you seem incapable of entering a dialogue within a community. You sir, are the type that give academics a bad name.

    • another trope said:

      And as one of your students I would say the same thing we have been doing. Sometime it is important to stop and take a look at the look the landscape and regain one’s orientation before moving forward.

  3. There is a direct and undeniable correlation between the social compromises we are willing to adhere to in deference to our employers and our paychecks.

    I have always taken serious issue with this ability of a corporation to operate without ethical constraints and sometimes in defiance of constitutional protections. This is very oddly treated as an opt in or opt out idea where an applied policy can be grieved by an employee even though agreement to such a policy is an implied prerequisite for employment.

    This is like the fine print of contracts the type of which Elizabeth Warren rails against where consumers contractual rights are laid out but are effectively nullified by rights granted to the corporation.

    Nobody should have a right to require, for compensation, a person to act in an anti-social or unethical, but not illegal, way. This is the very reason the fabric of our society is in tatters.

    The out of court settlements that go on all the time aren’t to avoid large awards by juries. The real purpose of those out of court settlements is not to create legal precedent for all the unethical corporate behavior that goes on.

  4. I compliment you on a thoughtful article, and the Ishmael Reed link is good, too.

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