What's goin' on?


This front-page Washington Post story, titled "Civil Rights Groups Seeing Gradual End of Their Era," fails to make clear that at least one of the groups it treats as a "civil rights" group is actually an anti-civil rights group devoted to promoting dictatorship and nepotism.

Darryl Fears notes that "the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which helped shape the movement's philosophy after adopting Mohandas K. Gandhi's doctrine of nonviolent protest, is scarcely known outside Manhattan. CORE conceded that it now has about 10 percent of the 150,000 members it listed in the 1960s." The reasons he offers include:

The groups' decline has been slow but inexorably driven by factors both within and outside their control. They were the subjects of government spying and harassment. A proliferation of black organizations with niche audiences -- lawyers, engineers, accountants, journalists -- took away middle-class members. The rise in the 1970s of groups such as the Black Panthers, which espoused a melodramatic militancy, made them seem tepid.

Some activists say that the more traditional civil rights groups may be victims of their greatest successes: the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of the mid-1960s. Those laws paved the way for an exploding number of African American politicians who seized a share of the leadership. Today, radio deejays, Internet groups such as Color of Change.org and organizations such as the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights are orchestrating bus rides, marches and other actions once performed by civil rights groups.

Eventually, deep down in the story we learn: "As the groups were drained of power, they sometimes hurt themselves. CORE's most charismatic liberal leader, James Farmer, resigned and was replaced by a conservative." But this is only by way of introducing this: " 'Not enough of us had recognized change,' CORE Chairman Roy Innis said. 'We were spoiled by the heyday of the civil rights movement, where attention came whether we recruited or not.' "

But besides giving Roy's right-wing chip off the block, Niger Innis, a job, and getting into fistfights, and offering cover to African dictators and right-wing Republicans, CORE's main business appears to get money for its annual dinner from corporations that feel like they are giving money to "civil rights" when, in fact they are promoting the opposite. The odd way in which this front-page article in The Washington Post is written will no doubt further their odd, and ultimately destructive, operation.

The rest of the article may be spot-on. I myself am much more interested in organizations that promote the class interests of all poor Americans than those that purposely divide us on the basis of race. I may be wrong to feel that way, but the fact that many liberals do is perhaps an explanation as to why such organizations are not as vital as they once were. But to treat CORE as a genuine civil rights organization is like treating North Korea as a "republic" because it calls itself one.

We are obviously a historian-friendly website here, and so when we see our comrades taking note of the likely historical place of the Bush presidency, here, we take note. The title of the post is "Worst. President. Ever." We concur.

I will be on a panel on the media Wednesday morning in Washington at a conference titled "Toward a New New Deal: FDR's Liberalism and the Future of American Democracy," sponsored by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the Roosevelt Institution, which is something different. It is described thusly:

This one-day symposium will explore the intellectual heritage, policies and political implementation of the New Deal and look at how the liberal vision of government embodied in the New Deal can be applied to the very different circumstances our nation confronts today.

Confirmed speakers include: Henry Aaron, Jonathan Alter, Eric Alterman, Joel Barkin, Deepak Bhargava, Robert Borosage, Alan Brinkley, Robert Greenstein, Robert Kuttner, William Leuchtenburg, Nell Minow, Larry Mishel, Tony Payton, Miles Rapoport, James Roosevelt Jr., Simon Rosenberg, Margaret Simms, and Katrina vanden Heuvel.

It's free, and you can read all about it here.

I will also be speaking at the Scarsdale, New York, library on Thursday evening at 8 or so, talking about you-know-what.

FCC watch: "In an unusual move, the Justice Department sued Fox Broadcasting Co. and another broadcaster Friday to collect $56,000 in fines for the broadcast of a raunchy reality show in 2003 that included scenes from bachelor and bachelorette parties.... It is unusual for an indecency fine to be challenged in federal court. Most cases are resolved at the administrative level within the agency. The case against Fox will essentially start from scratch in a 'trial de novo.' " More here.

From TomDispatch:

Since April 2003, each Bush administration misstep in Iraq, including the recent Maliki government offensive in Basra, has only led to ever worse missteps. Unfortunately, little of this is likely to be apparent in the shadowboxing about to take place among Washington's "best and brightest," when General David Petraeus, American surge commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker will testify before congressional committees (and all three presidential candidates). We will again plunge into a "debate" filled with coded words, peppered with absurd fantasies, and rife with American mythology and symbolism of a sort only an expert like professor of religion and TomDispatch regular Ira Chernus is likely to be able to decipher.

The latest Chernus piece, "General Entrap-Us or General Entrapped?" offers the necessary "scorecard" for this week's hearings. Chernus explains just why Democrats, and war critics generally, enter the "debate" over surge "progress" or "success," or engage in a discussion of whether levels of violence have or haven't been "lowered," at their peril -- because they immediately step onto the Bush administration's (and Senator John McCain's) playing field. "No matter how logically persuasive their arguments may be, they will ensnare themselves in the general's -- and so the President's -- trap, because they will make America and its cherished myths look like losers. And that may very well end up making the Democrats losers."

Just as dangerous, Chernus argues, is the myth that the U.S. brings "stability" in its path and must bring the same to Iraq before departing. If they buy into that idea, they will also be lost (and end up with blame for a lost war too). He concludes: "The Democrats have already demonstrated that they value a myth of American stability even above winning the presidency. Think Florida in the weeks following Election Day 2000. In the months preceding Election Day 2008, they may very well make the same choice again, and that would be tragic. With the polls showing that many Americans may consider voting for the war-makers even while opposing the war itself, this year's election offers a rare opportunity to confront the difference between symbol and reality. It's time to insist that war should be seen not through the lens of myth and symbol, but as the brutal, self-defeating reality it is."

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman --

Why hasn't the media talked/written more about John McCain being against a holiday in honor of Martin Luther King? I saw a very short article in the Washington Post, that allowed Mr. Straight Talk Express to get off the hook by just saying it took him a little longer than others to realize greatness. There are only two reasons to be against the holiday -- you are a racist, or you care more about not offending racist voters. Neither of those gel with McCain's media created straight-talk persona. Can you imagine the media frenzy there would have been had it been Hillary Clinton who was against the holiday for MLK?

Name: Don Schneier
Hometown: Springfield, MA

Dewey regarded a definition as first and foremost a formulation of a course of action. It follows that just as an oversimplification expresses narrow operational rigidity, a condition that is too complicated to explain is one of dysfunctional incoherence. So, while the troubles Liberals have explaining themselves might accurately reflect how complicated Liberalism actually is, this does not mean that this is a healthy condition, rather than a problem that needs to be solved. The solution to the problem, as recent history suggests, e.g. FDR and Reagan, is political leadership that is visionary enough and/or charismatic enough to forge a pervasive, effective coalition. In other words, Liberals will stop having difficulty explaining themselves once the right leader comes along.

Name: Andy
Hometown: Granger, IN

I found the irony in Tim Graham's last line in his column about your appearance on Colbert:

"I also have to take exception to Alterman and others who attempt to place modern political arguments into the mouth of Jesus who during his life had nothing to say about the issues of our time because...he didn't live in our time. To try and fit Jesus into any modern political paradigm is incredibly facile."

Makes me smile. They just don't get it.

Name: Chrissy N
Hometown: Louisville, KY

I love the John Adams series, and, like Mr. Pierce, could have done without the reunion sex scene. But I do believe that the inoculation was for diphtheria, not smallpox. I actually loved that scene, since I got to sit my daughter down, and show her why shots aren't so bad.

Eric replies: Sorry, at the premiere of the program, David McCullough said it was smallpox. Horse's mouth and all.

To the New York Times:

April 7, 2008

The Battle of Manhattan

To the Editor:

Re "East Side vs. West Side: Who's No. 1? Who Cares?" (news article, March 31):

With regard to the "East Side vs. West Side" contest, in lieu of said contests, I propose a contest in which each side makes an argument for his or her neighborhood using only one word.

I'll go first:


Point, game, match, I'm guessing.

Eric Alterman
New York, March 31, 2008

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.