Politics of Intolerance

On Dobbs, the Census and Fighting for a New Politics of Tolerance

This year NDN has been involved in two consequential campaigns critical to our ability to reform our broken immigration system next year, and to push back on the rising tide of intolerance in our national politics. In the past week each has been resolved in our favor, a hopeful sign for those who share our commitment to a more tolerant, diverse America. A quick report, and some broader thoughts on what this all means:

Defeating the Effort to Disrupt the Census and Reapportionment - Last week, by refusing to accept any amendments to the appropriations bill for the Commerce Department, the U.S. Senate defeated an effort by Senators Vitter (LA) and Bennett (UT) which would have disrupted the orderly conduct of both the census next year and the reapportionment process the years after. The Vitter-Bennett Amendment was a highly charged effort to use the presence of a large number of undocumented immigrants in the US - who constitutionally must both be counted and incorporated into reapportionment and redistricting - to politicize these processes to the point where the ability for them to even happen at all would have been called into doubt. It was just the latest in a long line of conservative scapegoating of immigrants for their own perceived political gain.

The strategy behind the Vitter-Bennett Amendment was something NDN had been warning our leaders about in public writings and private briefings since the spring. When the legislative effort by Senator Bennett began this summer, NDN was the first to report on it, helped explain to allies what was going on, organized a broad and diverse coalition to fight it, held press conferences and private briefings to expose the malevolent intent of a seemingly innocent amendment, posted several front page op-eds on the Huffington Post bringing attention to it all, and ultimately prevailed last week when the Senate invoked cloture, and defeated Vitter-Bennett.

In the many years at the helm of this organization, defeating Vitter-Bennett was one of the most satisfying and consequential efforts I've been involved in. But then, incredibly, came Wednesday's surprise announcement that our great foe, Lou Dobbs, was leaving the powerful national platform of CNN. A remarkable week indeed.

Dropping Dobbs - Getting Lou Dobbs off CNN is something many of us have talked about for years. His presence on the CNN election night sets, masquerading as he a journalist, had caused me to switch allegiance, after 20 years as a CNN watcher, to MSNBC. Many other people we know had taken similar steps.

But it was this summer and fall when we all witnessed the wild anger and intolerance exhibited at the town hall meetings, the primal racial scream of Rep. Joe Wilson, the spiraling rhetoric of Dobbs, Limbaugh and other right wingers that we at NDN said enough. We have to do something. We need to fight back against all this. I released this video at the time, but we kept asking what else can we do?

It was around that time that Andres Ramirez, our Senior Vice President here, began meeting with Media Matters staff to see if we could put together a different kind of campaign against Lou Dobbs. And on September 15, Drop Dobbs was born, and we had our way of pushing back against the rising intolerance we saw across the country. NDN acquired the web address, and conceived of the strategy and simple name - Drop Dobbs. Working with Media Matters' remarkable research and sharp team, our internet strategist Dan Boscov-Ellen built the website, created the logo and got the thing on the web. Andres and the Media Matters folks then went out and began building what became a powerful and unprecedented coalition to encourage people to sign a petition to ask advertisers to drop their advertising from the Dobbs show, a strategy inspired by Color of Change's recent success with Glenn Beck. Then other efforts sprouted, including the highly influential BastaDobbs efforts, and away we all went. Press stories followed. Hundreds of thousands signed petitions and watched videos of Dobbs. Dobbs began talking about the effort on the air. The thoughtful and well-produced CNN series, Latino In America, was overwhelmed by questions of Dobbs and his anti-immigrant rage. In something that has not been reported, advertisers we had approached were agreeing to pull their ads from Dobbs and were telling their ad buyers to shift their buys. Included in that group were among the most significant consumers brands in America.

And on Wednesday came the announcement that the most intolerant voice in mainstream American media was leaving CNN. It was a great victory for our coalition, and for those working to beat back the rise of intolerance this year in America.

While each of these victories were important in themselves, taken together they are truly significant. In each case private citizens and organizations organized, rose up and fought against angry voices of intolerance and divisiveness - and prevailed. In each case NDN was in the lead, building coalitions, encouraging and involving many others in the battle, helping set strategy and message. In each case our effort was led ably and deftly by Andres Ramirez (a big thanks to him).

Over the past few years many have questioned NDN's commitment to passing immigration reform and all that "Latino stuff" we do. Whatever the reasons I and our organization began working on these issues many years ago, the reason we are working on them now is that America is undergoing one of its most profound demographic transitions in all of our history and needs leaders to step up to ensure that this transition is as smooth as possible. We are in the midst of transitioning from a white-dominated America to one that will, within my lifetime, become majority "minority." This transition means many things – a need to modernize a broken and anachronistic immigration system, closer ties to our neighbors in the hemisphere, ways of redefining mixed race and mixed ethnic identities, etc - but above all what this transition can be is an extraordinary opportunity for this nation to redefine what "race" means. For most of American history, race has been a malevolent, exploitive experience—one where an overwhelming majority subjugated and mistreated a small minority. How race has manifested itself in American history has been the greatest moral failure of a nation whose very existence and vision of self-government and free and open society has been an inspiration to so many around the world for literally hundreds of years.

But with our people going through profound racial and demographic change - driven by historic waves of immigration from across the world - the American people now have the chance to redefine "race" in a way that is less exploitation and more tolerant acceptance of people not like me. It is in many ways the great American project of the next generation or two, fashioning a coherent society from much greater diversity than America has ever faced before. Given our history, helping America come to a better understanding of "race," of people not like me, is an exciting and thrilling project, and one NDN and its team has embraced with all that we can muster, and one that we will not ever back down in our commitment to. It is just too important to who we are, and who we are becoming. As Americans.

Which is why these two political victories this past week are so important. Together with allies from across the political and ideological spectrum, we fought back and defeated remnants of an old order, an old way, a old politics which does not share our excitement about what America is becoming, and the opportunity we have to create a "more perfect union." But that's okay, for old orders and ideas don't just fade away - they have to be battled, again and again, and defeated. And while we have won these two recent battles, and should celebrate appropriately, we should also, soberly, steel our selves for the even more and significant battles to come in the years ahead.

Waking Up To the Coming Battle Over the Census

Tonight's reports of the murder of a US Census worker will bring national attention to the emerging politics of the Census count, something that we've long been worried about at NDN. 

In August I posted the following about a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed which signaled the beginning of a new campaign by the right to disrupt the vital Census count next year: 

For many months now NDN has been making the case that inevitably the right would make a spirited case to prevent the Census, to be conducted next year, from counting undocumented immigrants, or at least using their numbers to influence reapportionment or the allocation of resources by the government (the primary purpose of the every ten year count).

Today the Wall Street Journal is running a well-articulated early salvo in this coming battle by John S. Baker and Elliot Stonecipher.  It starts off......

"Next year’s census will determine the apportionment of House members and Electoral College votes for each state. To accomplish these vital constitutional purposes, the enumeration should count only citizens and persons who are legal, permanent residents. But it won’t.

Instead, the U.S. Census Bureau is set to count all persons physically present in the country—including large numbers who are here illegally. The result will unconstitutionally increase the number of representatives in some states and deprive some other states of their rightful political representation. Citizens of “loser” states should be outraged. Yet few are even aware of what’s going on.

In 1790, the first Census Act provided that the enumeration of that year would count “inhabitants” and “distinguish” various subgroups by age, sex, status as free persons, etc. Inhabitant was a term with a well-defined meaning that encompassed, as the Oxford English Dictionary expressed it, one who “is a bona fide member of a State, subject to all the requisitions of its laws, and entitled to all the privileges which they confer.”

Thus early census questionnaires generally asked a question that got at the issue of citizenship or permanent resident status, e.g., “what state or foreign country were you born in?” or whether an individual who said he was foreign-born was naturalized. Over the years, however, Congress and the Census Bureau have added inquiries that have little or nothing to do with census’s constitutional purpose.

By 1980 there were two census forms. The shorter form went to every person physically present in the country and was used to establish congressional apportionment. It had no question pertaining to an individual’s citizenship or legal status as a resident. The longer form gathered various kinds of socioeconomic information including citizenship status, but it went only to a sample of U.S. households. That pattern was repeated for the 1990 and 2000 censuses.

The 2010 census will use only the short form. The long form has been replaced by the Census Bureau’s ongoing American Community Survey. Dr. Elizabeth Grieco, chief of the Census Bureau’s Immigration Statistics Staff, told us in a recent interview that the 2010 census short form does not ask about citizenship because “Congress has not asked us to do that.”

Because the census (since at least 1980) has not distinguished citizens and permanent, legal residents from individuals here illegally, the basis for apportionment of House seats has been skewed. According to the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey data (2007), states with a significant net gain in population by inclusion of noncitizens include Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Texas. (There are tiny net gains for Hawaii and Massachusetts.)

This makes a real difference. Here’s why:

According to the latest American Community Survey, California has 5,622,422 noncitizens in its population of 36,264,467. Based on our round-number projection of a decade-end population in that state of 37,000,000 (including 5,750,000 noncitizens), California would have 57 members in the newly reapportioned U.S. House of Representatives.

However, with noncitizens not included for purposes of reapportionment, California would have 48 House seats (based on an estimated 308 million total population in 2010 with 283 million citizens, or 650,000 citizens per House seat). Using a similar projection, Texas would have 38 House members with noncitizens included. With only citizens counted, it would be entitled to 34 members."

....You get the idea. 

We've been arguing, aggressively, that it is important for the Obama Administration to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform by March of 2010 (the count begins in April, 2010) in order to avoid what could become a very nasty debate indeed - in the middle of a very important election - about who exactly is an American.   To me the need to conduct a clean and accurate census, so essential to effective governance of the nation, is one of the most powerful reasons why immigration reform cannot wait till 2011, as some have suggested.

In launching DropDobbs.com along with 14 other groups this past week, I cited my own personal weariness with the summer's angry talk and the still all too virulent politics of intolerance.  We have long believed the debate over the Census would unleash the reactionary hounds, so to speak, and rather than letting them gain the upper hand in a debate over who we are and who we are becoming, it is essential now for reasonable people of both parties to stand, together, to prevent an angry few to hijack what is, in this case, a process so integral to the very functioning of our democracy. 

Next year is shaping up to be an extraordinary one in US history.

Miami Herald columnist takes a look at Drop Dobbs

The Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer has a column this morning which asks a good question - Will boycott against CNN's Dobbs Work? 

Oppenheimer writes:

`CNN gives Dobbs an unparalleled and powerful perch from which to spread right-wing misinformation and promote hate and fear. And his advertisers help make that possible -- and profitable -- for CNN,'' says the Dropdobbs.com website.

``These advertisers depend on the loyalty of a broad consumer base that includes millions of Latinos who are tired of being demonized by Dobbs. . . . Let's send a message to these advertisers that they will be held accountable for financially supporting the spread of hate.''

According to Simon Rosenberg, head of the New Democrat Network and a former television journalist himself, cable TV shows such as Dobbs' are fueling a dangerous social polarization in the United States.

``Dobbs spreads things that are clearly untrue and uses wild and extreme rhetoric, particularly about Hispanic Americans, that should have no space on a mainstream network like CNN,'' Rosenberg said. ``He is free to say whatever he wants on his own website, his books and on his radio show, but CNN and Time Warner, which are globally respected companies, should take a stand regarding this kind of speech.''

Should we support this petition?

Edward Schumacher-Matos, a lecturer at Harvard and Miami Herald ombudsman, says that ``the boycott is perfectly legitimate. As much as Dobbs may not mean to demonize immigrants and Latinos, he does. He hammers at this issue night after night, and he takes so many facts out of context, that even if I don't think he is a racist, he feeds into racism.''

In addition, Dobbs often misleads the public by presenting opinion disguised as news, Schumacher-Matos added.

Edward Wasserman, a journalism-ethics professor at Washington and Lee University and a Miami Herald columnist, added that just as Dobbs has a right to free speech, news consumers have a right to boycott companies that sponsor irresponsible journalism.

``If you find the general drift of Dobbs' commentary to be incendiary, reckless, deceitful, then you shouldn't be buying these advertisers' products,'' Wasserman said.

and then concludes:

My opinion: If Dobbs' show was presented as an opinion show -- ``The angry-white-male nightly diatribe'' would be a proper name for it -- I would be against a boycott drive because it would curtail his right to free speech. But if Dobbs, Beck, and other cable TV entertainers continue to deceive the public by using news formats to disguise opinion as news, and cross the line from dispassionate discourse to fire-brand crusading, they must live with the consequences, including boycotts.

(If you wonder why The Herald runs my column under the banner ``In my opinion,'' and why I always end my columns with the words ``my opinion,'' it's precisely to let you know exactly what you are reading.)

The key issue should not be where Dobbs or other Hispanic-phobic TV show hosts stand, but whether they present themselves as what they are -- opinionators. And Dobbs clearly doesn't pass the test.


Chairman Steele Confronts His Party's Intolerant Past.....and Present

For the last few years I've written a great deal about how I believed that there was no way to understand the recent conservative ascendancy in American politics without understanding that at its core was an ugly intolerance, a sustained and strategic exploitation of racial fear, a divisive politics which became known as the Southern Strategy.  I discussed this idea at length in a recent video essay called The Politics of Intolerance. 

I have also argued that for the modern GOP to have a fighting chance at appealing to the more racially diverse America of the 21st century, it would have to do more than adapt to the new demographic realities of our country.  The new leaders of the GOP would have to acknowledge and repudiate the ugly intolerance at the core of the Southern Strategy.  It is also something that I have never been terribly optimistic that would happen, certainly not in the next few years.

Which is why I found this passage from a NY Times blog, reviewing an interview with RNC Chairman Michael Steele, so interesting:

During this interview, Wolf Blitzer, the CNN host, confronted Mr. Steele with the composition of the Republican House and Senate — displaying the nearly all-white makeup on the G.O.P. side against the polyglot of the Democrats during the joint session of Congress which Mr. Obama addressed. (The setting where Congressman Wilson uttered his outburst.)

Mr. Steele acknowledged the racial divide between the parties: “I’ll accept the indictment. I’ll accept it, you know. And I — and I know we’ve got to change. And our party has, for over a generation, employed a strategy that right now we wish — many of us wish we never had."

"Many of us wish we never had."  Wow.  All of us need to hear more about this from Michael Steele in the days ahead.  What exactly does this mean, Chairman Steele? That you have regret over Willie Horton, the demonization of Hispanics, the caricatures of the Welfare Queen, of systemic voter suppression and so much more?

There are many reasons we helped launch this new campaign, Drop Dobbs, these past few days.  But chief among them is the desire to continue to liberate America from the destructive racial politics of the Southern Strategy era of American politics, an era which Lou Dobbs seems to be relentlessly unwilling to let go of.   This statement by Michael Steele gives me hope that the once proud party of Lincoln can once again embrace its heritage and help us confront - and then move beyond - the modern GOP's shameful Southern Strategy brand of politics.

Dropping Dobbs

As you may be aware yesterday we joined a broad coalition of groups in launching a campaign to get CNN to drop Lou Dobbs from their thoughtful and respected airwaves.   The site can be found at dropdobbs.com.  Check it out, watch the video if you have a few minutes and add your name to the petition in the take action section asking CNN and Dobb's advertisers to take a stand.

This kind of campaign is not the usual thing NDN does.  But the decline in civil discourse that we've seen this year (what I call the rising "politics of intolerance") and Dobbs' increasingly wild and irresponsible performance on the air of late convinced me - and the whole NDN team - that it was time to take a stand.  Lou Dobbs is free to say whatever he wants on his own website, in his books, on his own radio show.  I am all for free speech.  But he should not be given a daily platform on the globally respected CNN, or on a brand owned by the well-regarded and innovative Time Warner.  It is time for them to drop Lou Dobbs.

There is a precedent for something like this - what Disney/ABC did when Rush Limbaugh was bounced from Monday Night Football for racially offensive remarks.   Mainstream, respectable network bouncing a hate talker off their air because it simply didn't fit their brand, their values, their vision for America.  Every day CNN and Time Warner keep Dobbs on their air they are telling us a great deal about their values - that they care more about making money than they do about creating a civil and just America; that they are willing to tolerate divisive, ignorant talk to make a few extra bucks here and there.  I'm not sure about you but that is not how I see CNN or Time Warner.  Dobbs is antithetical to their brands, and it is time for them to make clear that they believe this is so.  Leave all that crazy talk to News Corp, am radio, blogs and the angry, intolerant right.  But please my friends take Lou Dobbs off CNN.  Your brands, and the country, will be better for it.

I offered up some thoughts, and some video, on all this Dobbs and Beck stuff a few weeks ago.  For me this new campaign is about taking a stand against the rising politics of intolerance we've seen spread across the country in recent months.  As a nation we are better than the screamers, and it is time that those of us who believe that to do more, to take a stand - and in this case lets start by getting Lou Dobbs off CNN.

The Politics of Intolerance - A Video Essay

I've been thinking a lot these last few weeks about Glenn Beck, assault weapons at Presidential forums, Lou Dobbs, nullification, Rep. Joe Wilson, the re-emergence of FAIR and other hate groups, the Southern Strategy and the conservative movement's descent into a reactionary, incoherent nihilism.

I attempted to put some thoughts together into a video essay this afternoon.  Not sure I totally nailed it but check it out and let me know what you think:

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