Ignorance, Facts, and Betrayal of the Dream

Ignorance, Facts, and Betrayal of the Dream


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I suppose the fact that  Obama has been added to this select

club of threatening white males indicates that the Negro has

finally become something other than a Steppin Fetchit minstrel

clown.  We have finally arrived!  We have made the big

leagues!  Oh Lawdy!  De day of jubilee am finally here.



Ignorance, Facts, and Betrayal of the Dream

A ChickenBones Commentary on the 2012 Presidential Election


To Rudolph Lewis, Editor of ChickenBones

2 September 2012


I’m still betting on Ignorance—the most powerful force in the universe!—Wilson  

But, Wilson, what we have before us, on the whole, is not a matter of “ignorance,” but rather outrageous lies, deception,

 and self-deception. It is immorality, dishonesty, hypocrisy—all of the worse sins that bring about inhumane acts.—Rudy


Rudy, you are right, once again.  Well, sort of.  Ignorance is nominally defined, after all, not as a force, but simply as the absence of knowledge. . . .  Aquinas argued, similarly that evil is only the absence of good.  Hmmmmmm. . . . Since boyhood, I have devoted many a pleasant winter evening to the contemplation of Thomistic propositions.  But I shall take my tongue out of my cheek, before I bite it off. 

This evening, I have been watching Juan Williams interviewing Donald Barlett & James Steele, co-authors of The Betrayal of the American Dream.   I know Williams is a “conservative,” and that he has been anathematized at NPR, but he did a better job of exposing Mitt Romney and the Koch Brothers than have most of our so-called “progressives.”  

One of the points Barlett and Steele make—far too tacitly, in my opinion—is that the so-called “Reagan Democrats” are indeed ignorant, superstitious, and susceptible to the constantly repeated lies etc. that you correctly list above.   Juan continually attempted to get Barlett and Steele to address the reasons why it is the Republicans are so successful with their lies.  Juan repeatedly probed them on the problem that American working people blame Washington, not the Romneys and Kochs.   


Obama, Stalin Hitler.  Skillful extension, and abuse, of Hanah Arendt’s paradigm.

Only ignorance could allow anyone to accept the parallelism implied in this visual.  

Hanah Arendt gathered Hitler and Stalin together under one seme, in a way that is as confusing and as dangerous as the addition of Obama to the list.   I heard a very interesting discussion at Christmas dinner in the home of a French family concerning Hanah Arendt’s concept of totalitarianism.  Despite the limitations of my French, I could certainly follow that the mother viewed Arendt’s construct of “totalitarianism”  as valid, but her son felt that lumping together Hitler and Stalin under the construct of “totalitarianism” obscured the very real differences in the evils that the two men represented.  In my own view, Hitler practiced a kind of “affirmative action,” in which Jews were first in line for slaughter, while Stalin practiced an “equal opportunity,” in which everyone got it in the neck.   But I digress. 

My point is that intellectuals have proven themselves to be weaklings in the battle of making clear the important distinctions between Nazism and Stalinism.  Hanah Arendt, who is often appropriated by liberals, and Ayn Rand, often hijacked by conservatives, are both intellectually sloppy in their lumping together of Hitler and Stalin under their controlling paradigms.  Aside from the fact that both murderers had mustaches, and were both mass murderers, who employed a populist rhetoric, they had little in common.  

On a brighter note, I suppose the fact that  Obama has been added to this select club of threatening white males indicates that the Negro has finally become something other than a Steppin Fetchit minstrel clown.  We have finally arrived!  We have made the big leagues!  Oh Lawdy!  De day of jubilee am finally here.  Obama has got his “golden slippers to walk the golden streets!” 

The ignorance of the masses and their inability to understand semantical and sociological concepts is what empowers people who construct images such as the above.  Am I suggesting that education is the answer?   Please!  Give me some credit!   Education cannot be the answer!  Education is part of the problem, so long as education is controlled by the Koch brothers and the Texas school boards which are the testing ground for the content of social studies text books.   

Barlett and Steele continually present their facts, and Williams keeps very patiently explaining to them that the facts ain’t worth diddley. Williams continues to ask why the unemployed, the people who have lost their homes and pensions, the people whose kids cannot get jobs, the armless and legless veterans are all on the side of the “Plutocrats.”  Williams even calls them plutocrats.  Barlett and Steele continue to respond that jobs are being off-shored, and that college educated people are taken in by the constantly repeated propaganda generated by the “Wall Streets of the World.”  

Williams keeps saying that the American people don’t know their own best interests, but the authors show no anger, although their predictions for the future are dire.  What this discussion revealed to me is that the ignorance of the white working class is so profound that they are cutting off their own noses and the legs of everyone else.

Sure the plutocrats are telling lies, but the white working classes are ignorant enough to believe these lies.  Just as they were ignorant enough to vote for Reagan, just as they were ignorant enough to take out interest-only adjustable rate mortgages.  Just as they were ignorant enough to vote for the tax cuts, that drove up the price of college education and left their children holding tens of thousands of dollars in debt.  Just as they were ignorant enough to oppose single-payer healthcare of the sort that exists in Israel and the advanced North Atlantic nations.  

Juan not only gave his guests a sympathetic hearing, he constantly had to push them to clearly state their points.

Next show on C-Span was sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, James Sherk welcomed Malory Factor, a professor of Economics at The Citadel, blaming unemployment in Michigan on the teachers’ unions, and praising Scott Walker‘s reforms for lowering taxes in Wisconsin.  These guys are making the argument that it is the Unions that control the U.S. government.   It is the government unions that “drive our nation into debt.”  They don’t blame Reagan, and his cynical successor Bill Clinton, who served the interests of speculators, bankers, and financial privateers, just as Obama has done and as Romney promises to do.  

Rudy, you and so many of my friends make intelligent and well-informed arguments, but you underestimate, in my view the abysmal ignorance and the mindless fears of the white working class and middle class.   Narrow engineers, semi-educated doctors, union-less plumbers, along with the honors students at Penn State, who support Rick Santorum—these middle-class ignoranti, along with their underpaid and undereducated counterparts among the white working class are the ignorant masses.  Ignorance is indeed something more than the absence of knowledge; it is the inexhaustible oil well that is constantly tapped by the oligarchs as the inexhaustible source of power to keep government under the control of the plutocrats.  

Bill Moyers treatment of the revitalized Ralph Reed this evening was highly informed and equally as futile as Juan Williams exposure of plutocracy.  


2 September 2012

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Wilson, certainly we will both agree that every person that defends

Mitt Romney

, the plutocrats, and the Koch brothers are not as ignorant as your “middle-class ignoranti.” Facts are devalued not because they are not known. They are devalued because they are inconvenient and do not serve their particular goal (e.g., to win, to gain power, to have influence in certain desired quarters, to have certain privileges and advantages, to profit). Now if we want to say that giving in to these short-sighted or narrow interests is ignorance in that such individuals do not submit to God or the Good, okay, I can agree with that proposition.    I can indeed acknowledge the ignoranti of the working classes. I am willing to pardon them in that the science of propaganda is of great impact on those who have few intellectual defense, especially when billions of dollars are spent years to keep them as drones and subjects of corporate programming. In any case,  I do not think that “ignorance” or “knowledge” are the compulsive forces you suggest that they are. People do not violate the Law always because they are ignorant of the Law or the right thing to do, to say, or to believe. They violate the Law because they are sons of bitches and they don’t mean to uphold the Law for itself, or others or even for themselves. At a particular moment it serves their interest to violate the Law or they are too weak in mind or spirit to stand up for the Law because of fear of their neighbor or their boss or their group. So on and so on. I might say further there is a Group Ethic that supersedes the Law or the Good.   I remember responding in my head to Du Bois in a similar manner. He believed that knowledge could transform. Like MLK propounded the Law of Love and John Lewis believes that Love could transform people to do the everlasting Good. In the 1860s American leaders thought that passing amendments to the Constitution and civil rights acts that we could move as a people into a postracist society. We assumed that again in the 1960s. But the sons of bitches found holes or sidestepped the intent of such laws. And we remain in that same struggle to create a postracial society and we have gone light years beyond the pseudo-science of the 19th century.   There are people who are not ignorant who willfully espouse ignorant shit because it makes them feel good, allows them to obtain some particular selfish desire or need. We might say that Race and Racism are greater compulsives than Ignorance or Knowledge. Why? Because Race and Racism produce profit, money, beaucoup d’argent. And we have not found means or situations in which they fail to do that wondrous task for the elite who know how to exploit those ideas implanted so long ago in the nation’s social fabric.   Oh well, maybe I do not make any sense here at all. Maybe I am really just restating my initial position with just a proviso, namely, that the ignorant lie to themselves that they don’t know any difference. The Devil made me do it! Like that GOP official in California who said she was ignorant that she was doing anything racist in suggesting that Obama is a monkey.   In any case, I quite enjoyed reading your very thoughtfully composed discussion of our present war against the facts of America’s present crises of confidence and redemption.—Rudy, 4 September 2012

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Team Romney’s War Against Facts—Clarence Page—1 September 2012—I’ll give Eastwood a break, but there’s no excuse for the fantasies repeated by myth-building politicians, like the evening’s star speaker, GOP presidential nominee

Mitt Romney

, even after nonpartisan media fact checkers have found the statements to be untrue. For example, Romney grandly promised, “I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began with an apology tour.” Ah there goes “apology tour” again. The line lives in Republican stump speeches, despite its winning “four Pinocchios” months ago from The Washington Post‘s Fact Checker Glenn Kessler, among others. In fact, the president has never apologized for anything on his foreign trips, although previous presidents have. George W. Bush, for example, in a news conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah apologized for the humiliation suffered by Iraqi prisoners. But apologies were not such a big issue then. Both parties spin some whoppers, of course. But the most significant quote last week, in my view, came from Romney’s pollster Neil Newhouse at an ABC News/Yahoo panel in Tampa. “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” he said, because fact checkers bring their own “thoughts and beliefs” to the process. He was speaking about the Romney ad and stump speech lines that attack Obama’s welfare waiver process, an attack that a variety of media fact checkers have found to be bogus. Funny thing, but I thought the credibility of a fact checker should be judged by the accuracy of his or her fact checking, not on what we think might be going on in their heads at the time. Newhouse, I believe, is blurring the line between spin and outright lies. Spin, by its nature, is a view of reality that depends on the eye of the beholder. Lies are a willfully false reconstruction of reality. When the welfare ad, for example, says the Obama administration has ended the work requirement in the landmark 1996 welfare reform law, that’s simply false. The administration is offering states a chance to apply for more flexibility in determining their own work requirements, if they agree to actually raise the number of people they move from welfare to work. Critics argue that states might weaken the work requirements by assigning activities that are not really “work.” But that arguable possibility, which always has been present and deserves sensible monitoring, does not change the reality that Obama has not ended the work requirement. Yet, fact checkers could hardly catch up with that remark before Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, unleashed a few more fibs and convenient omissions in his own convention speech. For example, he had the audacity to poke at the “$716 billion funneled out of Medicare by President Obama” without noting that his own past budget plans counted on the very same savings. The same one-sided charge that Obama “raids” Medicare to pay for Obamacare appears in Romney campaign ads too. I’m sure the Democrats will have plenty more to say about such omissions and other matters in the weeks to come, just as Republicans will attack shadings of truth from the left. But the push-back by the Romney campaign sounds like it’s unveiling a new morality: In some minds, you don’t need fact when you have super PACS. It is against such Machiavellian cynicism that independent fact checking has become a healthy and necessary development in today’s information explosion. Fact checkers give voters a little more of a fighting chance against the well-funded propaganda wars waged by both political sides.—chicagotribune

*   *   *   *   *

Cruel Conservatives Throw a Masquerade Ball—Maureen Dowd—Tampa, Florida—1 September 2012—It was truly thrilling to watch the blindingly white older male delegates greet their young, blue-eyed future: Paul Ryan, the 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman who turns out to be more talented than anyone had anticipated—a prodigy of prestidigitation.  In his speech Wednesday night, the altar boy altered reality, conjuring up a world so compassionate, so full of love-thy-neighbor kindness and small-town goodness, that you had to pinch yourself to remember it was a shimmering mirage, a beckoning pool of big, juicy lies. (The fitness freak may have also fibbed about running a sub-three-hour marathon in 1991; Runner’s World reports that his time was 4 hours and 1 minute.)  

As the writer Dermot McEvoy notes, Ryan has “the so sincere, so phony air of a gloomy Irish undertaker standing outside the funeral parlor where you’ve come to plant your mother, shaking his head consolingly and giving you that firm two-handed Irish handshake.” Except with Ryan, it’s the safety net in the coffin.  The convention was an unparalleled triumph of mythmaking, or Mittmaking. Romney was so eager to woo Hispanic votes and join the cascade of speakers sharing immigrant family tales, from Rick Santorum to Ann Romney to Marco Rubio, that he made his father, George Romney, sound Hispanic.  “My dad had been born in Mexico,” he said, “and his family had to leave during the Mexican revolution.”

It was fitting that David Koch was the beaming financial god presiding over this Orwellian makeover of Republicans as generous communitarians who care about grandmas, cherish immigrants and defend Medicare, so movingly described by the vice presidential nominee who tried to turn Medicare into a voucher system as “an obligation we have to our parents and grandparents.”  Koch leads the Orwellian movement of oil billionaires playing grass-roots activists. The industrialist ideologue wants to use his money to shrink government the way those vacuum sealers on infomercials suck the air out of plastic bags stuffed with clothes until they’re a mere sliver—shriveling all the social services, environmental regulations and taxes on the wealthy.

Koch, who infuses gazillions to build up the Tea Party and tear down the president, was a member of the New York delegation. On Tuesday, he was in the hall, sitting in what had to be one of the most expensive single seats that anyone ever bought.  The stage show looked like America, but the convention hall did not. The crowd seemed like the sanctuary of a minority—economically wounded capitalists in shades from eggshell to ecru, cheering the man from Bain and trying to fathom why they’re not running the country anymore. The speakers ranted about an America in decline, but the audience reflected a party in decline. . . .

The convention rebranding as compassionate conservatives is encouraging in that it shows that Republicans feel they are at a disadvantage with their Ayn Rand disdain for altruism, their Kempian trickle-down economics stripped of the humanity of Jack Kemp, their worship of the wealthy as the engine of economic prosperity.

Expected to draw Catholic votes, Ryan has been forced to renounce the atheist, Russian-born Rand, but he channeled her when he talked about wanting to define his own happiness, adding, “That’s freedom, and I’ll take it any day over the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners.” Ryan’s lies and Romney’s shape-shifting are so easy to refute that they must have decided a Hail Mary pass of artifice was better than their authentic ruthless worldview.

The Grand Old Party illusion is Romney’s latest attempt to figure out how to pull ahead in a race where the rivals are mired in one tiny little margin. “A masquerade party,” scoffed David Axelrod, the president’s strategist, “to cover up the final takeover of the Republican Party by the right. It was like Barry Goldwater in ’64.” — nytimes

*   *   *   *   *

Bill Clinton signs repeal of Glass-Steagall

Don Barlett and James Steele on New Book—Part 1 of 3 Don Barlett and James Steele on New Book—Part 2 of 3

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 The Betrayal of the American Dream


Donald Barlett and James Steele

America’s unique prosperity is based on its creation of a middle class. In the twentieth century, that middle class provided the workforce, the educated skills, and the demand that gave life to the world’s greatest consumer economy. It was innovative and dynamic; it eclipsed old imperial systems and colonial archetypes. It gave rise to a dream: that if you worked hard and followed the rules you would prosper in America, and your children would enjoy a better life than yours. The American dream was the lure to gifted immigrants and the birthright opportunity for every American citizen. It is as important a part of the history of the country as the passing of the Bill of Rights, the outcome of the battle of Gettysburg, or the space program. Incredibly, however, for more than thirty years, government and big business in America have conspired to roll back the American dream. What was once accessible to a wide swath of the population is increasingly open only to a privileged few.

The story of how the American middle class has been systematically impoverished and its prospects thwarted in favor of a new ruling elite is at the heart of this extraordinarily timely and revealing book, whose devastating findings from two of the finest investigative reporters in the country will leave you astonished and angry.

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Punishing the Poor

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The punitive turn of penal policy in the United States after the acme of the Civil Rights movement responds not to rising criminal insecurity but to the social insecurity spawned by the fragmentation of wage labor and the shakeup of the ethnoracial hierarchy. It partakes of a broader reconstruction of the state wedding restrictive “workfare” and expansive “prisonfare” under a philosophy of moral behaviorism. This paternalist program of penalization of poverty aims to curb the urban disorders wrought by economic deregulation and to impose precarious employment on the postindustrial proletariat. It also erects a garish theater of civic morality on whose stage political elites can orchestrate the public vituperation of deviant figures—the teenage “welfare mother,” the ghetto “street thug,” and the roaming “sex predator”—and close the legitimacy deficit they suffer when they discard the established government mission of social and economic protection. . . .

Punishing the Poor shows that the prison is not a mere technical implement for law enforcement but a core political institution.

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The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry

By Rita Dove

Selecting poets and poems to represent a century of poetry, especially the riotous twentieth century in America, is a massive undertaking fraught with peril and complication. Poet Rita Dove-a Pulitzer Prize- winning former U.S. poet laureate, professor, and presidential scholar- embarked on what became a consuming four-year odyssey. She reports on obstacles and discoveries in an exacting and forthright introduction, featuring striking quotes, vivid profiles, and a panoramic view of the evolution of poetic visions and styles that helped bring about social as well as artistic change […] Dove’s incisive perception of the role of poetry in cultural and social awakenings infuses this zestful and rigorous gathering of poems both necessary and unexpected by 180 American poets. This landmark anthology will instantly enhance and invigorate every poetry shelf or section.—Booklist

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Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent

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This remarkable biography, based on much new information, examines the life and times of one of the most prominent African-American intellectuals of the nineteenth century. Born in New York in 1819, Alexander Crummell was educated at Queen’s College, Cambridge, after being denied admission to Yale University and the Episcopal Seminary on purely racial grounds. In 1853, steeped in the classical tradition and modern political theory, he went to the Republic of Liberia as an Episcopal missionary, but was forced to flee to Sierra Leone in 1872, having barely survived republican Africa’s first coup. He accepted a pastorate in Washington, D.C., and in 1897 founded the American Negro Academy, where the influence of his ideology was felt by W.E.B. Du Bois and future progenitors of the Garvey Movement. A pivotal nineteenth-century thinker, Crummell is essential to any understanding of twentieth-century black nationalism.

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Middle Passage

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The White Masters of the World

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posted 4 September 2012




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