Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Spinning Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates has carved out a controversial corner for himself in this election cycle.  He quickly got on the bad side of many progressives when he questioned the Bern's bonafides.  The cries echoed through the halls:  "Why aren't you going after Clinton?!"  Ironically, if Coates has shown bias at all, it is against Hillary.

Yes, Coates jumped on Bernie's sharp "no" in response to the reparations question, and rightly so.  Coates' argument was about what it means to be "the candidate of the radical left."  Nobody would identify Clinton as a radical.  It goes without saying that Clinton is not going to stake out a radical position on reparations.  The question is, why won't Bernie?  The more challenging question to Bernie's supporters is, do you want to support somebody who claims to be a radical, but who does not seem to understand what is arguably the most important moral question the nation has faced in its entire history?

If Bernie had shown more compassion and understanding, acknowledging the importance of reparations but explaining why he believes it cannot be a priority at the current moment, he would still have disappointed many progressives, but the backlash would not nearly have been as sharp.  At least when Clinton talks about reparations, she doesn't sound tone-deaf.  She sounds like what we expect her to be:  a tactful politician.  Bernie disappointed people because he didn't sound like what he is supposed to be:  a representative of the radical left.

Coates' conclusion is not that Bernie is only posing.  He doesn't conclude that Sanders is a phony.  He concludes that the radical left isn't what it should be.  It isn't free of racism.  It does not squarely confront the differences between white and black poverty.  Coates is saying that if you're on the radical left, Bernie is your man, but if you think that means Bernie represents what the radical left should be--if you think this means Bernie is going to stand up squarely against white supremacy--then you are mistaken.  Coates is indicting the left more than he's picking on Bernie Sanders, and his argument is fair and charitable.  Coates is practically endorsing Sanders, but yes, he is also criticizing him for falling short.  Bernie's supporters couldn't get past the critical stuff, though, and so they accused Coates of being biased in favor of Hillary.  I guess if you don't unequivocally Feel The Bern, then you're on the wrong side of things.  (The extremism is supposed to be part of the charm, right?)

In his follow up on the Sanders issue, Coates showed where he stands.  His bias against Clinton is extreme.

First, Coates claims that Hillary Clinton would not call herself "left-wing" or a "liberal." Why would he say that? Hillary has called herself a "progressive." She was ranked the eleventh most liberal Senator in Congress. There is no doubt in my mind that she would embrace the terms "liberal" and "left-wing." (You can say the terms don't rightly apply to her, and we can discuss that, if you want, but it is entirely beside the point.)

Second, Coates wrongly implies that the 1994 anti-crime bill can be held against Hillary Clinton, but not Bernie Sanders. He calls out Hillary Clinton for echoing the "superpredator" myth when she was First Lady in 1994.  While that would indirectly implicate her in the passing of the bill, Bernie Sanders is directly implicated because he voted for that bill.  There is no excuse for Coates's failure to mention that.  Coates' failure is even more profound, however: The fact is that Hillary's "superpredator" remark cannot be used to indirectly implicate her in the passing of the 1994 bill, because she made the comment in 1996!

Third, Coates observes that there is nothing "as damaging as the carceral state in the Sanders platform," implying that there is something as damaging in the Clinton platform. That is simply false. Clinton has made criminal justice reform a key part of her campaign, and has called for an end to mass incarceration.

Fourth, Clinton has consistently done a much better job of pointing out that racial inequality is not just a part or a symptom of economic inequality. Clinton has referred to slavery as America's "original sin." She is much more sensitive to the historical and practical issues.

In sum, Coates entirely misrepresented both Clinton and Sanders in a way that is meant to shame Clinton and over-inflate Bernie's image.

If that wasn't bad enough, Coates issued another attack on Clinton in yet another recent article, accusing her of parroting the Dunning School when she said that Lincoln would probably have enabled a better postbellum reconstruction than Andrew Johnson.  Coates' interpretation of Clinton's comment is extremely uncharitable, though that hasn't stopped several left-leaning pundits from repeating it.  (For a detailed defense of Clinton's comment in historical context, see my previous post.)

 If you had any doubts about Coates' loyalties, you can put them to rest. Coates is willing to spin left, right, up and down to make Clinton look as bad as the devil.