Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Reading

It’s more than race — Leonard Pitts, Jr. responds to Keith Olbermann’s claim that the tea party movement is motivated in part because they “haven’t yet made peace with the fact that their president is black.”

Ask yourself: would we even be having this discussion if Condoleezza Rice were president? If Rice, Republican stalwart, conservative icon, and black woman were chief executive, would the first pot of tea ever have been brewed?

One suspects the average tea party participant would tell you emphatically, ”no,” and that this ”no” serves as his personal shield against charges of racism. How can I be racist, he would demand, when I know in my heart that I would’ve supported Condi to the max?

If you concede him that, then you have to ask yourself what it does to Olbermann’s contention that racism is the whole raison d’etre of the movement.

The answer leads us back again to nuance, albeit in mirror image. The tea party people distrust Obama’s policies, his eloquence, his fierce intelligence and the fact that he is black then becomes the final straw, the difference maker and deal breaker. To put that another way: I doubt most of the tea partiers hate Obama strictly because he is black, but it sure doesn’t help.

My point is not that Olbermann’s argument is wrong but, rather, that it is incomplete.

Yes, race is obviously a component, and a major component at that, of the reaction against the president. The recurring use of racist imagery and language, the attendance at tea party events of a racist group like the so-called Council of Conservative Citizens, settles that definitively.

But ultimately, people seem moved by something even bigger than race. This is race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, culture, and the fact that those who have always been on the right side, the power-wielding side, of one or more of those equations, now face the realization that their days of dominance are numbered.

There is a poignancy to their responsive fury because one senses that the nether side of it is a choking fear. We are witness to the birth cries of a new America and for every one of us who embraces and celebrates that, who looks forward to the opportunity and inclusiveness it promises, there is another who grapples with a crippling sense of dislocation and loss, who wonders who and what she will be in the nation now being born.

One hopes they will find answers that satisfy them because the change they fear will not be turned back. No one ever volunteers to return to the rear of the bus.

So for all the frustration the tea party movement engenders among the rest of us, one also feels a certain pity for people like the woman last year who cried, plaintively, that she wanted her country back.

As if she didn’t realize that it is already, irrevocably, gone.

More below the fold.

Frank Rich — The lesson and the warning for the GOP of Joe Stack’s murder/suicide plane crash into the IRS building in Austin.

It is not glib or inaccurate to invoke Oklahoma City in this context, because the acrid stench of 1995 is back in the air. Two days before Stack’s suicide mission, The Times published David Barstow’s chilling, months-long investigation of the Tea Party movement. Anyone who was cognizant during the McVeigh firestorm would recognize the old warning signs re-emerging from the mists of history. The Patriot movement. “The New World Order,” with its shadowy conspiracies hatched by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. Sandpoint, Idaho. White supremacists. Militias.

Barstow confirmed what the Southern Poverty Law Center had found in its report last year: the unhinged and sometimes armed anti-government right that was thought to have vaporized after its Oklahoma apotheosis is making a comeback. And now it is finding common cause with some elements of the diverse, far-flung and still inchoate Tea Party movement. All it takes is a few self-styled “patriots” to sow havoc.

Equally significant is Barstow’s finding that most Tea Party groups have no affiliation with the G.O.P. despite the party’s ham-handed efforts to co-opt them. The more we learn about the Tea Partiers, the more we can see why. They loathe John McCain and the free-spending, TARP-tainted presidency of George W. Bush. They really do hate all of Washington, and if they hate Obama more than the Republican establishment, it’s only by a hair or two. (Were Obama not earning extra demerits in some circles for his race, it might be a dead heat.) The Tea Partiers want to eliminate most government agencies, starting with the Fed and the I.R.S., and end spending on entitlement programs. They are not to be confused with the Party of No holding forth in Washington — a party that, after all, is now positioning itself as a defender of Medicare spending. What we are talking about here is the Party of No Government at All.


In the heyday of 1960s left-wing radicalism, no liberal Democratic politicians in Washington could be found endorsing groups preaching violent revolution. The right has a different history. In the months before McVeigh’s mass murder, Helen Chenoweth and Steve Stockman, then representing Idaho and Texas in Congress, publicly empathized with the conspiracy theories of the far right that fueled his anti-government obsessions.

In his Times article on the Tea Party right, Barstow profiled Pam Stout, a once apolitical Idaho retiree who cast her lot with a Tea Party group allied with Beck’s 9/12 Project, the Birch Society and the Oath Keepers, a rising militia group of veterans and former law enforcement officers who champion disregarding laws they oppose. She frets that “another civil war” may be in the offing. “I don’t see us being the ones to start it,” she told Barstow, “but I would give up my life for my country.”

Whether consciously or coincidentally, Stout was echoing Palin’s memorable final declaration during her appearance at the National Tea Party Convention earlier this month: “I will live, I will die for the people of America, whatever I can do to help.” It’s enough to make you wonder who is palling around with terrorists now.

Dogged determination — The Toledo Blade looks at a different approach to dealing with stray dogs.

Two different approaches to dog wardening have reaped very different results for their respective communities.

The older method, exemplified by roving and aggressive dog catchers, breed-specific targeting, and frequent euthanasia, was perfected by former Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon. The outcome: 1,951 impounded dogs killed last year in a county of about 440,000 people and 357 “investigated” bites or attacks.

The flip side is a system of service-oriented patrols, incentives for self-regulation, and a philosophy of punishing irresponsible owners rather than dogs.

Those are the methods adopted by the Canadian city of Calgary under Bill Bruce, director of animal and bylaw services for this city commonly known among Midwestern Americans for the Flames, of the National Hockey League, and the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Although Calgary has more than twice the population of Lucas County, its animal shelter euthanized 203 dogs last year – just under 5 percent of all impounded dogs, compared with Lucas County’s 72 percent kill rate – and reported only 158 dog bites, most of the “no puncture” variety.

But similar to Lucas County’s dog warden department, Calgary’s operation receives no government subsides – running solely on the proceeds from licensing fees and fines.

As local officials search to hire a new head dog warden with his or her own approach to animal control, the Calgary model of Mr. Bruce illustrates how effective public safety and humane treatment of dogs are not mutually exclusive concepts.

The key, according to Mr. Bruce, is giving people the right incentives to be responsible pet owners.

Consider it a tough-love approach: tough on bad owners but loving of the animals.

“The whole model is about responsible pet ownership,” Mr. Bruce, 56, said in a phone interview.

“In North America, we don’t really have an animal problem; we’ve got a people problem. I think that’s the first realization you’ve got to come to – it’s not about the animal, it’s about the people.”

Doonesbury — Values.