« Whining | Main | More Disgrace »

July 10, 2008

Comments

Sister Souljah was a progressive rapper. She didn't advocate killing anyone, at least not that I was aware of.

shah8: Sure she did (or might have, depending on whether you think she was kidding, indulging in hyperbole, etc. -- I opt for hyperbole):

""If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?""

Nice post. I like the analysis (made more piquant by Jackson's son wading into the fray) that this is a generational divide, and seeing it that way can help us understand some of the dynamics of it.

I'm also horrified by the term 'nutsgate', a phrase so lacking in notions of language rhythm that I can't say it without making my face scrunch up. I know you work with what you get, but there has got to be a better name for this.

Great post, as usual. I found it very odd that the immediate reaction to Jackson's comments was "Oh wow, good for Obama! He's lucked out this time!", like he was patiently waiting for a chance to cuss out a black guy on cable TV or something.

lj - is that an open thread proposal? name "nutsgate"? :)

Chicago Talk Radio is all over this. A couple of observations:

Jesse Jackson doesn't much like the "changing of the guard" scenario, and Jesse Jackson wasn't very fond of Mayor Harold Washington, either.

No, what’s really going on is more depressing. When I hear many people talk about what good politics all this is for Obama, what they are really saying is that "it’s good politics to be distanced from black people."

I disagree with that. The basic idea is that Obama's take on black fathers is essentially a conservative one (i.e., it focuses on the "character" of the father, it favors direct causation over systemic causation, and it focuses on personal rather than societal responsibility). From other things he's said, it's obvious that Obama understands the systemic side of the breakdown of poor families. But Jackson's anger reinforces to more conservative-minded people that Obama is not necessarily a moonbat, all-victimhood-all-the-time liberal.

When I hear many people talk about what good politics all this is for Obama, what they are really saying is that “it’s good politics to be distanced from black people.”

No, what they are really saying is it's good politics to be distanced from Jesse Jackson. And it is - if Jesse Jackson likes something, people in West Virginia automatically hate it. The whole thing seems all too perfect, wouldn't it be amusing if Fox was set up?

lj - is that an open thread proposal? name "nutsgate"? :)

I'm cool with that. An open thread suggesting a good name would be good nutty fun...

A better description of what Jackson did to himself would be souljah de se. Not to mention--in a bit of poetic justice--he managed to do to his political influence for the rest of this campaign what he said he wanted to do to Senator Obama. Between his role in the Clintons' self-immolation and now this, it's becoming increasingly hard not to like Obama.

I never understood a "Sister Souljah" moment to mean one in which a politician takes a stand away from party orthodoxy, I always understood it as a candidate's rejection of a scary extremist. This reassures the center, and even the other side, that the candidate is not one of the far-out nuts in his party.

Also, just the right elements have to come together: the repudiated figure has to be larger than life, and there must be some reason people are afraid the politician might be one of the nuts. McCain, for example, repudiated Hagee (sort of) but that wasn't a Sister Souljah moment because nobody thought McCain was a fanatic evangelical and nobody had much heard of Hagee, at least nobody liberal.

Clinton and Obama were both fairly new to the national political scene, and both were outside the mold -- Clinton with his hillbilly accent, Obama as a black man with a funny name. So they each had to work extra hard to seem normal.

The only thing that Obama is distancing himself from is Jesse Jackson – a black man who lots of white people (and the press) dislike and caricature unfairly.

Your sophistry is showing. Sure, it is true Jesse Jackson is a black man who is often unfairly disliked by white people. Do you think this proves your thesis? There are many people of all descriptions who fairly and legitimately disagree with him on substantive grounds and dislike him as a consequence, black and white people alike. The implication that to distance oneself from Jackson is to distance oneself from a more general class of unfairly maligned black people is complete crap. You are making a cartoon of a complex issue and further muddying the waters.

You go on to say:

No, what’s really going on is more depressing. When I hear many people talk about what good politics all this is for Obama, what they are really saying is that “it’s good politics to be distanced from black people.”

Again, you over-simplify and muddy the waters. Sure, there are people who have exactly that vile opinion you point out, but so what? I can easily find an equally valid if not more valid interpretation of the issue. If you were trying to deliver a political message of personal responsibility, it would un-arguably also be a benefit for a high-profile public figure like Jackson to highlight your position in such stark terms. Now everybody and their cousin knows about Obama's Father's Day speech and the message he was trying to convey. You may not like that message and you may disagree with it, but in my mind, Obama's main benefit is getting his message out. Now white racists may interpret it in a racist way and black progressives will have an entirely different interpretation. However, given the subject matter of "improving personal responsibility", it will be hard pressed to be viewed as a disadvantage in nearly every demographic. Who wants to say it is bad?

Your position is analogous to the following. A position allowing gays to serve in the military may be twisted by homophobes to a perceived benefit towards their prejudice with this vile argument, "I'm glad they can serve now because I hope more will be killed as a result." However, just because a hateful group of people may find solace in an event doesn't taint others that also find solace in that event. If one thinks gays serving openly in the military is a good thing, then that person need not also assume the baggage of bad people who agree for different reasons.

Excellent post, publius. But I disagree with you conclusion that we should retire the term "Sister Souljah moment." We should just use it more precisely.

What you call a conflation of two "interpretations" of the term actually points in the direction of an accurate use of it.

Clinton's original Sister Souljah moment was, indeed, his distancing himself from black people ("interpretation" #2). But it was framed by the media as distancing himself from an interest group in his coalition ("interpretation" #1), even though, as you point out, Sister Souljah represented no such group. And I think that was precisely the intent of Clinton's statement: to separate himself from black people in a way that provided some plausible deniability by taking the form of a criticism of an ostensible part of his own coalition. These are not two conflated interpretations of the phrase, but rather the two necessary components of a true "Sister Souljah moment."

As long as our politics are infected with racism, and as long as that racism is most frequently publicly expressed using dog whistles, there will be Sister Souljah moments in this precise sense.

"Nutsgate" certainly isn't an example of such a Sister Souljah moment. But the term unfortunately remains useful. We just need to use it more precisely.

This is NOT a Sista Souljah moment. Jesse Jackson committed a gaffe, apologized, then Obama accepted his apology. Obama didn't actually distance himself from Rev. Jesse at all.people who talk about a Sista Souljah moment are simply trying to squeeze what happened into their own preconceived category.
Besides, Obama's " Sista Souljah: moment, if you can call it that, was his denunciation of Rev. Wright-and even that event doesn't really fit that category.
Coiunt me asd someone who rants to retire the whole "Sister Souljah' designation. Its simply being misused and abused- often by folks who weren't even around for the original Sister Souljah moment.

I had always understood a Sister Souljah moment to be special case of speaking truth to power - when the "power" is an influential interest group.

The idea is that one's allies shouldn't be allowed to do and say offensive things, even if there is a chance that criticizing a particular person or group of people might be politically unpopular.

For example, Joe Lieberman made most of his current fame from his Sister Souljah moment criticizing Bill Clinton.

I realize that there is a racist aspect to the term, though. Lieberman's criticism of Bill Clinton was never termed a Sister Souljah moment.

To a certain extent, therefore, I do see Nutsgate as a Sister Souljah moment - but only because Rev. Jackson criticized the comments. Otherwise, Obama's speech would have come and gone. By expressing his disgust with Obama's speech, Rev. Jackson *made* it into a Sister Souljah moment by injecting the necessary political risk into the speech.

Ben Alpers wrote:


"Nutsgate" certainly isn't an example of such a Sister Souljah moment. But the term unfortunately remains useful. We just need to use it more precisely.

Actually, another term that needs to be retired is '[anything]gate.' Attached -gate to every conceivable scandal was a GOP gambit to erase the obvious distinction between the party of Richard Nixon and the Democrats. But after Watergate, Iran-Contra and --well-- virtually everything you can imagine relating to Bush & Co., there's no point in perpetuating the myth that there's no difference between the 2 major parties (regardless how craven the Dems often are).

that wasn't a Sister Souljah moment because nobody thought McCain was a fanatic evangelical and nobody had much heard of Hagee

You think that more people had heard of Sister Souljah?

John Cole has a good list of phrases that need to be retired from discourse about the election.

1.) flip-flop
2.) throw under the bus
3.) Sister Souljah moment
4.) slap in the face
5.) but how will it play in Scranton? (or whatever city that is supposed to signify middle America).
6.) Middle America
7.) “Elitist,” when what you actually mean is able to read at a fourth grade level or higher
8.) homeland
9.) “He’s comfortable in his own skin”
10. “Would like to have a beer with him.”
11.) practicing partisan politics or practicing politics as usual
12.) Maverick
13.) Ethnic cleansing
14.) “rock star” to refer to anyone not engaged in the actual playing of actual music.
15.) “give them the tools they need.”
16.) “played the x card” (where x = race, gender, whatever)
17.) white working class and “Reagan Democrats,” who now consist of Geraldine Ferraro and the 6 folks running the 400 sockpuppets at NoQuarter
18.) Adding the ‘-gate’ suffix to any scandal (or, as it is most of the time, non-scandals)
19.) “commander in chief” threshold
20.) stab in the back
21.) family values
22.) pain at the pump
23.) change agent
24.) “my friends”

The only ones I'd quibble about are 13 and 20. I'm not terribly up on Darfur, but from what I understand, "ethnic cleansing" is an accurate description of what's going on. And "stab in the back" is necessary to translate "Dolchstoßlegende", an apt metaphor for the Republican attempt to blame the Iraq fiasco on the Democrats.

For once, I agree with John Cole. Only I think I'd expand the list a bit to include such threadbare items as "kabuki dance", "nanny state", and adding -ian to someone's last name to make it an adjective. I'm sure there are others; those just happened to be close at hand.

What those bring to mind is this guy I worked with about fifteen years ago that sprinkled his conversation liberally with "good to go". I mean, close to one use per sentence. Sometimes two, if you can believe it.

Political speech is so jam-packed with cliche that I often render myself nearly speechless in avoiding the overused turn of phrase.

adding -ian to someone's last name to make it an adjective

Really? Seems about as offensive as adding 's to someone's name to make a possessive.

Yeah, KC, but -esque is so much better. Think of "making a Faustesque bargain." ...SEE?!

Great. I see at 09:50 that we've been infested with a smarter-than-average sp*mbot (copies part of a previous comment and appends the sp*m).

That's a really stupid sp*m filter. It catches messages that contain the word, but when does sp*m actually use that word?

Dave C: Jesse Jackson wasn't very fond of Mayor Harold Washington, either

That's complete b.s., aside from being largely irrelevant to the topic at hand.

Jackson led the massive voter registration that made Washington's election possible, that was designed to lead to Washington's election.

It created a new situation for Rev. Jackson, in that he was no longer the most powerful black politician in Chicago, and I'm certain that there were some tensions. (Name me any two Chicago pols who've never clashed!) But given that Jackson went right from being one of the architects of Washington's victory to the strongest African-American presidential candidate ever at that point, they weren't even working in the same arenas much of the time.

KC: deleting as we speak. Thanks.

@Brock at 9:24: Who has used the phrase 'ethnic cleansing' wrt the election or anything in American politics?

Brock, I realize you had the same reaction to 'ethnic cleansing' being on that list that I did, and my question's really for John Cole.

The term itself, in its normal context, is offensively euphemistic, and if I'm remembering correctly was originally used by the people conducting a campaign of murder, arson, and assault to drive one ethnic group from their homes and communities. The only imaginable excuse for perpetuating it is the lack of a succinct phrase that isn't 'genocide'.

"I never understood a "Sister Souljah" moment to mean one in which a politician takes a stand away from party orthodoxy, I always understood it as a candidate's rejection of a scary extremist."

This is how I always understood it too. It is an attempt to show that you are part of the center by distancing yourself from extremists. It doesn't really have anything to do with distancing yourself from a core part of your constituency. It is an attempt to demonstrate that you are not an extremist and that extremists aren't a core part of your constituency.

The original moment was especially good for Clinton because it allowed him to embrace the black community while repudiating the scarier (at the time) rapper element.

"When I hear many people talk about what good politics all this is for Obama, what they are really saying is that “it’s good politics to be distanced from black people.” "

This isn't right either. It is good to distance yourself from Jesse Jackson *because he doesn't represent black people* in any strong sense and has lots of other negative baggage (which contra some above is mostly earned IMO).

Seems about as offensive as

I'm not offended. I'm just bored.

I'm pretty much with trilobite and Sebastian on the meaning of the phrase.

I think that besides distancing oneself from extremists it is an effort to demonstrate integrity by saying, in effect, "I'm so principled that I'm willing to offend part of my constituency by telling them off when I think they deserve it."

Jesse Jackson – a black man who lots of white people (and the press) dislike and caricature unfairly.

And some dislike fairly.

Okay, "Seems about as boring as", then. Ordinary use of linguistic conventions doesn't seem like something particularly notable, but then the Slartibartfastian milage has always varied.

Castrgate?

Maybe an impossible word will sooner shove the flap (and the drive to seek Moments) into the past.

The extremist explanation makes sense, but it sort of supports my definition (I think) in the end.

After all, why does denouncing extremists matter? Why do you get political points for it? If they're truly extreme figures, that's just restating the obvious.

Distancing yourself from "extremists" only gets political points when the perceived extremist is linked to some part of the coalition or to some idea. Otherwise, it's a pointless exercise.

Applied to Clinton, it wasn't just that he denounced an extreme view. It's that he denounced an extreme view that had larger political implications.

I know that "[whatever]-gate" is overused, but I must express a certain fondness for "nutsgate".

I mean, if we can have a []-gate over nuts, we can have a []-gate over anything. The opportunities are endless!

Sebastian: [Jackson] has lots of other negative baggage (which contra some above is mostly earned IMO)

If you're counting me as part of the 'some above', you can take me right out of that group. Lots of Jesse Jackson's negative baggage was richly earned by Jesse Jackson.

My comments above were to dispute Dave C's false claim that Jackson was hostile to Harold Washington.

This post was pretty off--I agree with trilobite and sebastian on the "extremism" read. But I'd make another point that brings the two "SS moments" together. In 1992 Clinton wasn't really out to distance himself from either Sister Souljah or black people generally. He was trying to distance himself from JESSE JACKSON.

Remember that Jackson was hosting the event where the SS moment occurred and that Jackson was a huge presence in 1992. He had run a competitive race in 1988, taken his futile fight to the convention, and damaged Dem party unity and Dukakis's nomination victory. His shadow loomed large over the party and the press acted like Jackson held a personal veto over Dem policies on a whole range of issues. When Clinton went after SS as a proxy for Jackson in Jackson's own back yard, he looked like he was standing up to a corrupt party boss, one who had hijacked the party's general election viability in the name of his own vanity.

Jackson '08 is a greatly diminished figure. The only reasons Obama-Jackson ranks as a story are: 1) it reminds of '92, and in a positive way for Obama, 2) though JJ is a diminished figure, Obama's race and name revive a lot of irrational white fears, and 3) an ascendant FOX News is running this non-stop w/o recognizing that it probably helps Obama.

Like the column. And, I agree about the racist connotations of it.

In 1992 Clinton wasn't really out to distance himself from either Sister Souljah or black people generally. He was trying to distance himself from JESSE JACKSON.

That's a good point, and one I was about to make myself. At the same time, that oversimplifies things a little bit.

Yes, Clinton was trying to distance himself from Jackson. And yes, Jesse had bedeviled both Mondale and Dukakis in previous elections. But I don't think you can so neatly separate JJ from AAs. The problem with Jackson's actions in '84/'88 was that they made the nominees seem weak and at the mercy of the "special interests". And everyone knew exactly what that euphemism meant. The Dems were the party of minorities, and they were never going to get the Reagan Dems as long as that was the perception.

So Clinton wasn't just trying to show up Jackson, he was using Jackson as a proxy for all blacks -- or, at least, the kind of blacks that Middle America most feared.

Anyway, my biggest problem with SS moments is that when everyone's always calling for them, they lose their effectiveness. Whenever a pol has one, all anyone talks about is whether it was a SS moment, which makes it seem calculated, cynical and worst of all, derivative.

how can you say that sister souljah s a great person .she speaks the truth...white people always had there way sence....FOREVER!! and now we have a sister that speaks about it.white people been getting away with murder FOREVER so when she so called said that...all hell brakes lose no no no its not fare.i meet her befor and she speaks the truth.so now you people need to see the truth. oh yeah we going to have a black president how you like that .....but i beat you a white person will try to kill him and get away with it cause thats how it is whites get away and blacks dont. but i will be damn if that happens to him cause he will be a great president.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad