Monthly Archives: January 2009

Did you Know the New Deal Sucked?

Because that was news to me, and yesterday, I was sitting around in a Percocet-induced haze, with a hurt back, bored out of my mind, and able to do little but read short things. So I decided to check into this recent, odd right-wing theory that the New Deal was a failure. I don’t know why this seemed like a good idea when I was lying in bed slightly nauseous with one functional arm. Yesterday, like I mentioned, was hazy.

But do remember that I did find a few very interesting posts over on The Huffington Post explaining the basis of the new critique of the New Deal as a failure. Hale Stewart takes Amity Shlaes to task for her misleading statements in The Forgotten Man (2007), the book where she charges that The New Deal prolonged the Great Depression because government spending plans discouraged private investment. Here is Shlaes discussing her New Deal theories with a bemused Jonathan Alter on Talk of the Nation.

According to Stewart, the new talk about the failure of government intervention from the Right Wing is justified by the arguments of Shlaes’ book, as well as a few papers by right wing economists who work at UCLA.

Here is Paul Krugman debunking Shales’ theory as mouthed by George Will.

And, in slightly unrelated economic news, here is the best plan for economic recovery I’ve heard so far, from none other than Jon Stewart.

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Filed under economy, financial crisis, TV

Change is so. . . change-like

So far in Week 1, Obama has announced plans to close Gitmo, declared he will dismantle the system of American secret prisons abroad, and has rolled back the global gag rule. Had I been able to pen Obama’s first-week To Do list myself, these three things would have been pretty close to the top of the list.

As I watched the decisions unfold this week, I realized that my life on the Left has made me virtually unprepared for this sort of success. I supported Bill Clinton, and he gave us Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Welfare-to-Work programme. I supported Hillary and watched her get more and more hawkish as she tried to prove she was a tough as the boys. My whole adult life, I’ve been told by the mainstream radical Left (if I can be forgiven the seeming contradiction in terms) that the American political process was fundamentally bankrupt and that there was no significant difference between Democrats and Republicans. I never believed it so much that I voted for Nader, but I believed it enough to cast my votes for Gore et al wearily and warily.

Now it seems that the American democratic process has actually produced something very like…a difference. People seemed to want to take a new direction, and they seemed to see that new direction in Barack Obama–both because of his policies and because by electing a black man America offered itself, and the world, a dramatic symbol of America’s ability to transform and progress. And then, in his first week in office, Obama actually went and did different things from what your average Democrat, much less your average Republican, would have done. Things, moreover, that he had promised to do.

As I’ve watched myself struggle to take in this unprecedented series of events, I’ve realized that it’s not just the pessimism build from years of Democratic betrayal that has made it so difficult to take this on board. It’s also a certain Left-academic habit of mind which reacts to every seeming victory by looking for the underlying defeat. Don’t get me wrong: this kind of critical thinking is an indispensable political tool. We do need to remember how quickly conservative forces recoup movements to the Left for their own purposes–as when the 1960s radical rhetoric of empowerment was transformed into a means of arguing that welfare only increased ‘dependency’ among the poor. But when that is our only approach to events, we find ourselves baffled by an actual, straightforward victory. Of course Obama is going to make mistakes and make political decisions that genuine progressives, of which he is still not one, find reprehensible. But apparently he is also going to make some decisions that we can endorse wholeheartedly–provided we can figure out how.



Filed under African Americans, election 2008

Mr. President

These words juxtaposed with Obama’s face on the Chicago Sun Times unleashed a torrent of tears on Oprah today. She held up the soon to be iconic covers during her interview with James Smith, the Page One Editor of the Sun Times.

The front page featuring the Bushes greeting the Obamas with the caption “welcome” was a tearjerker too.

This is what Smith said of what he was thinking when he created the headline: “Slaves built the White House.”

And I wondered at the sudden mood of racial reconciliation. Where did it come from, in an era where national discussion of race have been confined to a few series on CNN and in the New York Times? This marvel that Obama was elected because of his qualifications, and his appeal, not because of his race?

Has it been simmering under the surface this 10 years now, simmering like our apparent national shame of the Bush administration, unleashed in a torrent of flag waving on the mall as Obama was sworn in?

I’ve always loved the idea of America. I am simply amazed to see that I wasn’t alone in that love, and for the first time, this week, I felt proud of the actuality of the U.S.


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Filed under African Americans, election 2008, race, Social Justice

Shameless self-promotion

I just wanted to take a mo and let y’all know about a new book, Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape. Disclosure being that I have an chapter in it called “Queering Black Female Heterosexuality.” And while that’s exciting for me, I’m psyched the opportunity it offers to talk positively about sex and to add some specifics to vague notions of “empowerment.”

I’d noticed, in the last few years, my own weariness with always looking for/finding the negative in politics, pop culture—hell, in everything. A great deal of my work focuses on stereotypes of African American women’s sexuality and I, admittedly, detected a myopic view that was leading to apathy on my part. “Nothing ever changes, blah blah blah.”

Trying to get my attitude in check, I wanted to take notice of black women who I thought were saying really interesting things about sexuality despite continued tensions and controversies. So, while we grappled with the race, class, and sexuality issues that the ugliness the Duke assault raised, I also decided to look closely at how women such as performance poet Sarah Jones and fine artists Renee Cox and Kara Walker pushed historical boundaries around black women and sex. One result was the essay in Yes Means Yes in which I propose that straight women would do well to take a cue from queer theory and figure out how black women, who are always already defined as Other, can define our own sexuality without fear of falling into traps of the jezebel, the Sapphire, or the Mammy. In short, what have we got to lose?

The anthology is just out from Seal Press and attempts to reclaim the terrain of the discussion around rape by tackling consent, media, sexual taboos, race relations, and a host of other topics. There will be book events happening across the U.S. in the next few months. Contributors are also blogging at Yes Means Yes.


Filed under African Americans, Books, feminism, race, Rape, sexism, sexual health, sexuality, Uncategorized