Culture

What to Do about Conyers

Making the click-through worthwhile: John Conyers’ disorientation and Nancy Pelosi’s strategic obliviousness, Senator Al Franken’s implausible claim that he’s a victim of a witch hunt against hugs, and that big New York Times profile of a white nationalist and how it revealed more than the editors thought.

John Conyers’ Disorientation and Nancy Pelosi’s Strategic Obliviousness

Congressman John Conyers should have been removed from office a long time ago, for his own good:

He has already handed over much of the day-to-day committee work to staff aides and other Democratic members in recent years, and has often appeared disoriented. In at least two separate occasions — once at a United Automobile Workers event in Michigan and once at a meeting of top Democrats on Capitol Hill — Mr. Conyers showed up wearing pajamas, according to two people familiar with the incidents.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Conyers said she had “no knowledge this ever occurred.”

When members of Congress are exhibiting signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s, and no one around them takes steps to ease them out of governing responsibilities . . . stop asking why Americans don’t have more faith in their leaders! Our old colleague Tim Alberta observed last week, “John Conyers has not been all there, mentally, for some time. Every top Dem in MI and DC knows that.”

You wouldn’t let your grandpa operate heavy machinery if he started wandering around in his pajamas. Why did Democrats allow Conyers to keep operating as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee all this time? Forget stepping down as ranking member on the committee; he does not belong in Congress, for his own good.

How the hell does Nancy Pelosi not know that the guy set to run the Judiciary Committee is wandering the walls of Congress in his pajamas? How does she not do something about that?

Yesterday morning, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked Pelosi, “Do you believe John Conyers’ accusers?”

She responded, “I don’t know who they are. Do you? They have not really come forward.”

As Perry Bacon of FiveThirtyEight.com observed, “Seriously? One of them talked to the Washington Post. Another filed a lawsuit against Conyers. A third reached a settlement with him.”

Back in 2012, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, then chair of the Democratic National Committee, had a simple solution for dealing with the question and moral complications of President Obama’s “kill list” for drone strikes: She simply didn’t read about it and acted like it didn’t exist, telling reporters, “I have no idea what you’re talking about” — even though it had been reported upon, in detail, on the front page of the New York Times.

The easiest way to deal with difficult or inconvenient information is to simply never encounter or acknowledge it.

No, Senator Franken, This Is Not an Anti-Hug Witch Hunt

Sports Illustrated writer Peter King titles part of his weekly column, “What I Think I Think” — laying out conclusions and ideas that he’s leaning towards, but not quite completely believing yet.

I think I think that the public discussion of sexual harassment scandals will continue to focus upon serious and indisputable abuses of power, not innocent misunderstandings of nonsexual physical gestures or mundane flirtation.

One of the reasons the current controversies may seem like a witch hunt against mundane gestures is because the accused men are using mundane gestures as their cover stories.

Note Senator Al Franken’s statement issued on Thanksgiving:

I’ve met tens of thousands of people and taken thousands of photographs, often in crowded and chaotic situations. I’m a warm person; I hug people. I’ve learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too many.

Except that no woman is complaining about him being too warm or “hugging” too much. They’re complaining about him allegedly reaching out and squeezing their tushes.

Franken started doing interviews with local media Sunday, and continued to suggest this was just a matter of accidental, incidental touching that was misinterpreted by the women.

Franken said he would “never intentionally do that.” And he underscored that he has stood for pictures with thousands of people.

“I’m someone who, you know, hugs people,” Franken said. “‘I’ve learned from these stories that in some of these encounters I have crossed the line for some women.”

Accused men will continue to use this blurred line defense — this suggestion that they’re just big-hearted affectionate guys, and that their well-meaning gestures of warmth and reassurance have been misinterpreted by uptight, prudish women.

I could be wrong, but I think very few women will get that upset over an unexpected and not-particularly-wanted hug. No doubt that those women exist, but they are not what’s driving this spate of scandals.

We’ve probably all had that sort of moment, either with an old friend or perhaps someone with a different culture where their expected form of greeting is not what we expected.  (By the time someone’s lips are going for my cheek when I’m expecting the half-hug, I’m thinking, “Oh, we kiss on the cheek ‘hello’ now? I missed that memo.”) But most of us give a cordial-to-unenthusiastic reciprocation and life goes on. The current spate of scandals is not driven by accusations of unwanted hugs.

Dissecting the New York Times Profile of a Mundane White Nationalist

How often do you see the Times national editor declare he regrets how much one of the big feature articles in his paper offended readers?

Perhaps the more interesting conclusion about seemingly ordinary Ohio white nationalist Tony Hovater can be found in Times correspondent Richard Fausset’s column about what he learned, and didn’t learn, while interviewing the man:

 . . . what, of any of this, explained Mr. Hovater’s radical turn? What prompted him to take his ideas beyond his living room, beyond the chat rooms, and on to Charlottesville, where he marched in August alongside allies like the neo-Confederate League of the South and the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement, which bills itself as “America’s Premier White Civil Rights Organization”? Where was his Rosebud?

(Is it possible the notion of a tidy, easily-summarized “origin story” is a psychologically erroneous one from fiction and literature, and that real-life human beings are shaped by dozens of events and interactions in formulate years and young adulthood?)

After I had filed an early version of the article, an editor at The Times told me he felt like the question had not been sufficiently addressed. So I went back to Mr. Hovater in search of answers. I still don’t think I really found them. I could feel the failure even as Mr. Hovater and I spoke on the phone, adding to what had already been hours of face-to-face conversation in and around his hometown New Carlisle, Ohio.

In other words, no, his choice of fashion, restaurant, Twin Peaks-inspired cherry pie tattoo, enthusiasm for Seinfeld, polite manners — none of them are particularly distinctive or meaningful to the story that the Times set out to tell, which was, presumably, what makes a seemingly ordinary guy start saying things like, “I think [Hitler] was a guy who really believed in his cause. He really believed he was fighting for his people and doing what he thought was right.” You don’t become a hater by reading William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and you don’t become a white nationalist by ordering the turkey sandwich at Panera Bread.

I’d argue that the Times profile does offer a clue or two about Hovater’s radicalization, but the correspondent and editors missed them.

In his follow-up, Fausset writes:

He spoke of a number of moments that soured him on mainstream politics, none of them particularly exotic. One was the Republican National Committee’s rule changes, during the 2012 convention, that worked against Mr. Hovater’s preferred candidate at the time, the libertarian Ron Paul, and in favor of Mitt Romney, the eventual Republican nominee.

Not everyone associated with the Ron Paul presidential campaigns was a hateful anti-Semite, but a lot of hateful anti-Semites sure took an interest in the Ron Paul campaigns. There was the big dust-up about his old political newsletters, which frequently veered into nutty conspiracy theories about the Mossad committing terror attacks on American soil. The congressman insisted he had no idea what was being written in the Ron Paul Political Report, Ron Paul’s Freedom Report, the Ron Paul Survival Report, and so on. His former aide claimed that Paul’s perspective on World War Two was that  “saving the Jews,” was  “absolutely none of our business.” As far back as 2007, white supremacists were discussing the benefits of a Ron Paul presidency. Maybe Ron Paul genuinely never did anything to attract or encourage this kind of support. But if he didn’t, it sure is a mysterious coincidence the way members of these kinds of groups kept trying to jump on his bandwagon, cycle after cycle.

Secondly, in Fausset’s profile, Hovater is quoted as saying he wanted to see the United States become “an actually fair, meritocratic society.” We can argue how much this country is genuinely fair and meritocratic; I wrote earlier this year, “America has a quasi-aristocracy that is completely convinced that it rose to the top of a meritocracy.”

My guess is, Hovater sees himself as smart and hard-working and feels like he should be doing better. He feels like he ought to be closer to the top than being a welder in New Carlisle, Ohio, registering for his wedding at Target. I suspect he feels like he has followed “the rules” and been inadequately rewarded, and that others have broken “the rules” and gotten ahead. He has probably concluded this means “the rules” are not legitimate, and they are there to keep him down and help others get ahead.

If you conclude the rule “work hard and you’ll be rewarded” is nonsense, is it possible that you grow more inclined to break the rule “don’t praise Hitler”?

People seek scapegoats, and a lot of hate is seeking someone to blame. I’d argue the greatest antidote to hate in society is individual responsibility. If your life stinks, at least half of your problems are a result of decisions you’ve made. People loathe hearing this. Taking a hard look at your own past decisions, habits, excuses is probably one of the most difficult things to do in life. We want to think well of ourselves, and a serious examination of our own bad decisions, irresponsibility, laziness, short-sightedness, gullibility, and other faults challenges the vague notion that gets a lot of us through the day: ‘I’m doing okay.”

It is much, much easier and more reassuring to conclude someone else caused your problems. Sometimes the scapegoat is personal — parents, teachers, bosses, co-workers, the cop who gave you a ticket instead of letting you off with a warning — and sometimes It’s easier to shift to abstract groups: Jews, blacks, “the government,” bankers, vast obscure conspiracies, big corporations, the military-industrial-complex. If they’re keeping you down, it’s not your fault. You’re just one person. You did the best you could. Your decision to drop out of school, not study, slack off at work, have a bad attitude, lose your temper, drink too much, try drugs, have unprotected sex, do something stupid and reckless — none of that really mattered, so long as the Bilderbergers and the Trilateral Commission are working together to ensure you never get ahead.

People hate other groups because that mindset is reassuring. Because the alternative, to examine your mistakes, bad judgment, and worst impulses, would mean redirecting all of that frustration and anger in the direction of the person most responsible: yourself.

How many people in hate groups are trying to suppress or escape the fact that they hate themselves?

ADDENDA: Thanks to the fine gentlemen at TurnOnTheJets.com and the Play Like a Jet podcast for hosting me yesterday afternoon. It was a familiar, revealing, frustrating day for Jets fans – a team good enough to hang close with New England, Atlanta and Carolina for three quarters, but not good enough to keep it together in the fourth quarter. But even defeat is easier to bear as a shared experience.

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