A number of pieces this time argue that, contrary to news outlets that habitually equate the USA’s two major political parties, Republican leaders are demonstrably more likely to tell lies about public policy issues such as antipoverty spending than are their Democratic counterparts. A piece on The Nation’s website expands on this theme, showing that Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan had privately requested that funds from a federal program he publicly opposed be sent to the congressional district he represents, and that Mr Ryan and the Romney/ Ryan campaign have made a variety of statements explaining this request. Mr Ryan at first denied that he had requested the funds, then “confessed” (that’s the word The Nation uses) that he had when he learned that a letter with his signature had been released. The Romney/ Ryan campaign claimed that the funds Mr Ryan requested came from an older program that Mr Ryan had supported, a claim explicitly contradicted by the text of the letter.
Columnist Gary Younge agrees that the Republicans are trying to fool us, but is not as enthusiastic about the Democrats as are some other Nation contributors. After documenting glaring examples of tokenism he saw while attending the Republican National Convention, Mr Younge writes:
There is nothing inherent in the Republicans’ support for rapacious free-market capitalism that insists on racism. Its role is not ideological but electoral. Racism is simply the means by which the GOP wins over a huge section of the white working class—who, in the absence of class politics, feels its whiteness is its sole privilege worth preserving. Racism may be central to the Republicans’ message but not to its meaning.
Equally, there is nothing in the promotion of a nonwhite politician that need pose a challenge to racism, so long as that person works within the existing racial hierarchies and is dedicated to maintaining them. It is clear what this kind of “progress” can do for Republicans. It’s far more difficult to see what’s in it for blacks and Latinos.
Such is the nature of “diversity” in the modern age—a shift from equal opportunities to photo opportunities that eviscerates the struggle against discrimination of their meaning until we are left with institutions that look different but operate in exactly the same way. A method that, like so many, has traveled seamlessly from the corporate to the political world.
Republicans are not alone in this. Obama’s rise was not consistent with a rise in the economic and political fortunes of African-Americans but, rather, aberrant to it. Under the nation’s first black president the economic gap between black and white Americans has grown. One might argue about the extent to which Obama is responsible for that—but one cannot argue about the fact of it.
The trouble with these symbolic advances is not that they are worthless but that in the absence of substantial advances, the symbolism is all too easily manipulated, misunderstood, discounted and disparaged. The result is stasis for those suffering discrimination, cynicism for those combating it and indifference from those trying to preserve it.
Mr Younge has in the past quoted the line about “diversity” as another word for “black faces in high places.” That sort of diversity may be preferable to a system where black faces can be found only in low places, but if the system is such that the favored few join with their white colleagues to enforce policies that keep the majority of nonwhites down, it is hardly an inspiring model. Mr Younge is surely right to argue that it is impossible to make real progress towards equality in either race or class without a politics that challenges both racial and class inequality simultaneously.
Lawrence Joseph offers a poem called “Syria,” about the war currently underway in the country of that name. A few lines in the middle won’t leave me alone:
“You won’t believe what I have seen”—her voice
lowered almost to a whisper—“a decapitated
body with a dog’s head sewn on it, for example.”
Yes, I know, it’s much more complicated than that.
More complicated, of course, and worse, and worse, and likely to grow still worse. Graham Usher expresses hopes that the war won’t spread to Lebanon, at least that’s something.
Mark Mazower is a talented writer and a well-informed observer of international affairs. Readers with high standards will therefore be glad to know that the next time they have trouble falling asleep, an author worth reading has provided that unfailing cure for insomnia, an essay about the European Union. May almighty Brussels grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.