Issac J. Bailey

Republican governors are weaponizing a Reagan-era myth to punish those in need

Years ago, I was conducting a months-long journalistic investigation into the street violence plaguing a small community in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Doing that reporting was brutal. But a theme emerged among the moms that has never left me.

They felt shame, so much shame they forwent government help. That's the opposite of what too many conservatives had been telling the public for decades about welfare, a narrative popularized by the welfare-queen myth conjured up by Ronald Reagan.

It illustrates the cruelty of recent decisions by a growing number of Republican governors to cut off extended unemployment benefits to working families because the benefits are supposedly so generous they discourage those on the economic margins from re-entering the workforce as the covid pandemic winds down.

Those moms had lost children to that street violence in multiple ways, often because of the violent drug game. One recounted having to identify her son's body in the medical examiner's office. A piece of preserved skin was unrolled in her presence. On it was a tattoo. That's how she confirmed it was her son. It was all that was left of him. His body had been recovered weeks after he'd been shot in the head and left rotting in an abandoned SUV deep in the woods during a sweltering southern summer.

Another mom told me about how her son as early as 5 years old began cooking full dinners for the family. She worked late, holding down multiple low-wage jobs, meaning he was often left alone to fend for himself and had to grow up fast. By his early 20s, he was dead. Another mom lost two sons a few years apart. She, like the others, was a hard worker often away from the house trying to make ends meet.

Each of these women said they refused to take welfare, even if it would have helped pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads instead of having to work a dozen hours a day for effectively pennies on the dollar in an area with some of the nation's lowest wages. Work was too important. Receiving government help in any form is so frowned upon in states like this, South Carolina, that countless numbers of struggling people would go without even if getting help meant an improved personal-financial picture.

Welfare means shame. Welfare means you have failed. Welfare means you are less than. The sentiment is so ingrained here that when I was growing up and my mother would send me to the grocery with a pocket full of food stamps, I'd do everything in my power to find a checkout lane where there was no line. I didn't want anyone to see me pull out that coupon book and hand those funny-looking things to the cashier. It didn't matter that those food stamps and the free government cheese and free lunches at school and so much more helped sustain my family and me through really dark days.

That's the context you need to understand as an increasing number of Republican governors have decided to scale back enhanced unemployment benefits.

They claim that it's necessary, that it's the only way to get those who have been receiving benefits through this pandemic to go back to work. In short, those governors, along with conservative economists, have convinced themselves the working poor would rather be on the dole than man hot kitchens, wait on tables or stand on their bunions for several hours a day in retail settings to earn poverty wages.

In their minds, there isn't a labor shortage because wages are too low. Or because the pandemic is still literally killing hundreds a day. Or because it's going to take awhile for some of us to get back to normal given we've just survived the worst plague in more than a century, and the emotional and physical scars that have resulted. To men like South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, it can only be because the working poor are lazy and want to be taken care of, instead of wanting to take care of themselves.

McMaster and others know that's not true. They know how much shame has been associated with help of any kind in places like these. They spend their time during campaigns for office saying as much, couching it in the language of the "dignity of work." They know it took a lot for constituents to apply for unemployment benefits even as covid shut down the world. Sheer desperation convinced them to take it, not laziness. This truth isn't anecdotal. Numerous studies have shown time and again that unemployment benefits are hardly ever the reason people don't go back to work.

No one struggling on the margins should be shamed for accepting the help they need. Neither should they be punished for being strong enough to ignore the unearned shame and do what's best for their families anyway. If there should be shame, it should be borne by the wealthy elected officials, executives and economists who keep finding new ways to spit on the working class. If they wanted to help, they'd join Democrats who are trying to enact policies that will help the vulnerable earn a living wage.

Nikki Haley is spreading myths for white people that cover up the truth of her own personal history

White fragility is real. Whatever else you think about educator Robin DiAngelo, she has correctly identified one of the most persistent and pernicious phenomena of 21st-century American life, the discomfort and defensiveness white people feel when they are exposed to information or discussions about racial inequality and injustice. It's a major threat to furthering racial progress. But I'm not sure she even realizes just how noxious the phenomenon is because like white supremacy, it doesn't only affect white people, even though it is almost always deployed in service of white people.

Take a recent exchange between former South Carolina Governor and Republican Nikki Haley, an Asian American, and Dennis Prager, a white American whose brainchild, something called Prager University, alludes to higher education but actually just dumbs things down and distorts history. In fact, Prager "university" is white fragility in its purest form. It is a safe space for mostly white people, though not exclusively, who'd rather hold fast to American creation myths than have to grapple with harsher truths. Haley was so proud of the exchange that she tweeted out a video of it under the heading "Critical race theory is harmful to a child's education."

In the video, Prager urges parents to take kids out of schools that teach the 1619 Project by The New York Times. That's no surprise. White fragility is all about helping white people avoid difficult conversations about race, and the 1619 Project dared to bring to light ideas and facts left out of often white-washed history books generations of students were exposed to. This is how Nikki Haley, the first woman and person of color to serve as governor of deep-red and deep-south South Carolina, responded:

Kids should not be taught that they are racist. And that's literally what the, the Critical Race Theory and all of those things are doing is they are automatically looking at these kids that know no difference. No, they don't see color. They don't see gender. They don't see anything. They're just kids. And then you're going to teach them that they are racist. I mean, this is a problem that really needs to stop.

The video is part of something called "Stand for America," which Haley claims promotes "freedom at home and strength abroad." The video ends with her essentially arguing that states' rights are the right bulwark against such supposed indoctrination.

I'm willing to bet Haley knows next to nothing about Critical Race Theory, its origins, its creators or primary practitioners, or where it diverges from Ibram X. Kendi's popular anti-racism philosophy that has gotten as much or more attention than DiAngelo's book on white fragility. But that's how white fragility works, too.

It cares not about facts. If it takes distortions and half-truths to comfort white people about race, then they will be deployed—even by a woman who should know better. Haley grew up in a rural part of South Carolina, like I did. She faced discrimination early in her life, which contradicts what she said in the video about children not seeing color or gender. How do we know she faced childhood racism she's now denying even exists? Because she told us last year during the Republican National Convention.

I grew up in a small town where we were the only Indian family, and I was bullied because they didn't know if I was Black or if I was white. All I knew was I was Indian. I was brown. I was bullied because I wouldn't take a side. ... So I told my parents and my parents talked to the teachers, and we ended up educating the class.

In service of white fragility, a woman of color who overcame discrimination, including being called a "raghead" when she ran for governor, memory-holed her own painful experiences. I don't blame Haley for deciding not to use the full name her parents gave her at birth—Nimrata Nikki Randhawa Haley—or checking the "white" box on her 2001 voter registration card. I'm a Black man. I get the external pressures on Black and brown people to "assimilate," which often just means be more like white people.

I've felt it, too. I've given in from time to time, thinking it the only way to succeed while maintaining my sanity. It's the insidious power of white supremacy, which will choose any host that will help it survive and spread, even if the host is a Black or brown body. Neither Haley nor I should be ashamed of finding ways to successfully navigate a country in which white supremacy was embedded during its founding.

But I fault Haley for continuing to perpetuate myths about this country and lying about the intent of those with whom she disagrees. It harkens back to the days she was essentially waving away the presence of the Confederate flag on State House grounds in our home state, as though it was no big deal. Is there a greater example of white fragility than the need to fly the flag of traitors and call it "heritage" and "honor" and having the first person of color to be governor assuaging the fears of white South Carolinians concerned the traitor's flag might be removed from public property?

Maybe the ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency on the strength of white Evangelical Christian support and voters more likely than others to be motivated by racial animus is a more salient example. Because the browning of America was discomforting them, they turned to an open bigot to turn back the clock. Haley initially refused to follow but has become a sycophant, reckoning that her future depends on how effective she is at creating a safe space for scared white people.

It took the blood of nine Black people massacred by Dylann Roof in a Black church in Charleston to convince Haley it was time for the Confederate flag to go. I don't know what it will take for her to speak truthfully about America's problem with racism.

What Maxine Waters understands about America

United States Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, urged protesters to be more active and confrontational1 if former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin wasn't convicted. She should not have said that, at least not when she said that, shortly before the jury went into deliberations. She could have waited a couple of days or not weighed in at all. At the time, though, the judge in the Chauvin trial was right when he scolded her and other elected officials. And a political slap on the wrist by the United States House of Representatives, which almost happened, wouldn't have bothered me. Public officials have to be mindful of what they say.

That doesn't mean, though, what she said was wrong or anything like what former President Donald Trump did leading up to and on January 6, Insurrection Day, a phony comparison too many conservatives have been making. Waters spoke for millions frustrated by a criminal "justice" system that has too infrequently delivered justice in cases like Chauvin's despite overwhelming evidence of guilt beyond doubt.

I was pleasantly surprised when the guilty verdicts were read. I did not expect them. I have such little faith in our system I never expected a police officer to be held to account. That's why I know what Waters said resonated with millions. It resonated with me. She did not tell a lie, did not spend weeks spreading falsehoods about what happened to George Floyd the way Trump spent his time after losing in November stoking outrage among his base over a repeatedly debunked conspiracy theory that he had somehow won. (Instead, he lost by more than 7 million votes to President Joe Biden.) She verbalized a well-documented truth about injustice in this country.

Waters' assessment was correct, that the only right verdict in the Chauvin case was guilty. That's not because of a blinkered bias. That's not because of a fringe leftist view, nor because of a misinterpretation of the facts. From the moment the videos were released to the public, it was absolutely clear that Chauvin had nonchalantly murdered a man on the side of the road in broad daylight in the presence of a crowd angry and unnerved because they knew they were witnessing a murder and that Chauvin's fellow officers were more concerned with his well being than Floyd's.

Had our justice system not been able to convict a cop under such circumstances, it could have destroyed us. And I don't mean any resulting unrest or rioting. I mean there would have been no hope for the system. None. It would have left us in a perilous place. What good would telling the aggrieved, the put-upon, the oppressed to rely upon supposed constitutional protections and principles such as "due process" if a cop could get away with that kind of murder? Such words would have rung hollow in their ears, hollower than they long have. An acquittal would have been devastating.

Street violence, which my family and I know all too well, unfortunately,2 can be debilitating. It can convince you to support policies, including aggressive policing, you otherwise never would. You do it out of desperation because the system is the only place you can turn, even if you know the system is broken and isn't set up to snuff out injustice often enough. But violence from an armed-agent of the state is existential.

You have no other options other than taking justice into your own hands, yet you know that will only lead to cycles of violence. Police officers getting away with wrongdoing, especially when they cause great bodily harm or even murder someone, are a threat like no other threat. That's why police violence is often the spark of civil unrest and riots. No matter what Waters said, had the jury said not guilty, that anger would have likely spilled into the streets. Saying so was not an attempt to intimidate the jury, no matter how many times Fox News hosts and personalities keep insisting otherwise.

From a strictly political standpoint, Waters should have held her water. Biden also unwisely weighed in before the verdicts were read, even if he, like Waters, was right on the facts and what this country faces. Asking public officials to stay out of high-profile cases while they're ongoing is a principle we all should uphold. But the effects of police violence shouldn't be seen solely through a political lens. The anger and frustration and pain Waters tapped into was real. If the goal is to get us to a better place, rather than simply trying to assess how the words of a politician in a heated moment might affect the next election, we must never ignore that either.

A GOP senator's dumb, reckless, and immoral words reflect a disturbing fact about the American mind

Kim Potter, a 26-year police veteran who killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop that began with an air freshener and overdue plates, resigned from the Brooklyn Center police department, and has been charged for that killing.

I don't know how to feel about that. Not that I'm upset to see her go or arrested. I'm not. It's just that even though it is heartening to know she won't be patrolling the streets any longer, I don't know if this gets us closer to justice or further away. It's hard to know what justice looks like these days. Or even what the word justice means.

Had we an actual criminal justice system, and if Potter's former boss was correct that she "accidentally" shot Wright, her "mistake" would be a powerful point of mitigation for how the public should view her. An accidental shooting doesn't make a killing any less tragic, but accidents—even horrific ones—do happen, particularly in stressful situations on stressful jobs. It's why we don't court martial every soldier who kills an innocent person during an exchange of gunfire in a war zone (though we should care more than we often do about those on the other end of American bullets and bombs).

It's why on some level I began making a distinction between Potter's actions and the actions of Derek Chauvin, the man currently on trial for the killing of George Floyd. If Potter's act was a mistake, Chauvin's was premeditated murder by a man who seem quite comfortable perched atop Floyd's neck as life escaped Floyd's body. Besides, before the killing of Wright, the Brooklyn Center police department was considered a model of reform. One mistake, no matter how tragic, shouldn't upend years of work.

But every time I try to get to maintain that level of nuance, I come across men like John Kennedy, a Republican US senator from Louisiana. During the Chauvin trial, and in the aftermath of the Wright killing and an egregious abuse of power by police during a traffic stop in Virginia, Kennedy decided to take his talents to Fox News to dispense this gem: "If you hate cops just because they're cops, and you don't know anything about them, then next time you get in trouble, just call a crackhead."

He said that as a chyron saying "Dems use strategy to push radical agenda" shared the TV screen with Kennedy's face. What he said was so dumb, so reckless, so amoral, it's hard to find just the right words to describe it. And yet, that man is a lawmaker who has been charged with helping lead the country through times such as these.

He isn't alone. I've encountered people online and in person who openly argue that Floyd was the cause of his own death; that the Black US soldier who was pepper-sprayed by a cop for no good reason was at fault for not more perfectly complying—even though he literally held his hands high and through the driver's side window to illustrate his compliance—that the criminal behavior of Black people is the cause of all this mess, not the police. Kennedy dipped his toe in that as well, telling Fox News that minority communities have higher crime rates. He tried to soften his words with a quick "because of poverty," but the message he was sending was clear.

Lawmakers are supposed to be knowledgeable about complex subjects, or at least know how to pretend to be. Kennedy can't be bothered to be either. Black people are targeted more by police even when you account for crime and poverty rates. Police shootings do not correlate well with the amount of crime in a given area. That's why Kennedy's message was as clear as that of Tucker Carlson, host of cable news's top-rated political show, who has been putting a bow tie on the white supremacist conspiracy "replacement theory" while claiming it has nothing to do with race.

And that's what's underlying just about all of this, how we view anti-Black racism and white supremacy or deny their existence. It's why many white people will continue defending the likes of Carlson, because he doesn't say explicitly that he doesn't hate Black people and is supposedly in favor of Dr. King's dream. It's why true policing reform is so hard to come by, because the subtext is that Black people deserve what we've been getting and that cops are good people. It's why it is hard to even contemplate what a just justice system should do with officers like Potter who make "mistakes" that cut lives short and send fear and anguish throughout an entire area.

As long as we don't grapple with the underlying racism that still connects dark skin and crime in too many American minds, there's little chance we'll be able to move forward together. But, frankly, I'm not sure I want to move forward together with people who refuse to acknowledge even that.

Insanity, cruelty, and perversity: The twisted world that came to Derek Chauvin's defense

The image of Derek Chauvin, a cop, a supposedly good citizen with a badge and uniform supposedly charged with doing good things, kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, won't ever leave me. But it's what went on around them for nine minutes and 29 seconds, and how that scene is being used in his defense, that disturb me more. The anger expressed by those watching Chauvin atop Floyd as life slowly left Floyd's body must be considered a mitigating factor in the killing, Chauvin's defense has argued.

It felt like a large crowd of people standing around yelling at Chauvin, they argued. It was scary and dangerous, seemingly ready to get out of hand any second. That likely distracted Chauvin. That's likely why he was perched atop Floyd for so long and why he likely did not notice that Floyd was dying. Because the crowd was too big. Because the crowd was too boisterous. Because a man was yelling at Chauvin, calling him ugly names. Never mind that Chauvin's actions animated the crowd. Never mind that even his fellow officers, including Chauvin's own boss and trainers in the use of force, say he did not follow protocol, went beyond what officers should do in such situations.

Still, many in the crowd felt guilty. Not because they caused a scene. But because they believed they either helped cause a murder or didn't do enough to prevent one. The young cashier at the store where Floyd showed up with an alleged fake $20 bill expressed regret, wished he had just accepted the bill and had it taken out of his own pay later instead of feeling compelled to get the police involved because of store policy.

Just ponder that for a minute longer. A low-income worker in a working-class neighborhood feels more guilt about what Chauvin did to Floyd than Chauvin seems to feel about what he did to Floyd. Others who yelled at Chauvin and his fellow officers, some of whom provided crucial video that is being used in the trial, regret not being able to save a life they knew was being snuffed out in front of their eyes.

But it's worse than that. Trying to intervene more forcefully would have turned them into criminals based on our criminal "justice" system. Had they tried to physically remove Chauvin's knee from Floyd's neck, they would have been arrested. They would have been handcuffed and locked away behind cold-hard steel. They would have been considered the true threat to law and order, and to the way things are supposed to be, the way things must be. And make no mistake, many would have taken the side of the police officers who would have detained them even though their acts would have been about saving a life. It's the perversity of our system. We are led to believe it's built upon due process. Floyd was provided with none, and those who saw that clearly that day, in that moment, did not have the option of acting upon that conviction.

Chauvin's fellow officers were more concerned about providing Chauvin the unencumbered space and time to slowly knee the life out of Floyd's body than the sanctity of Floyd's life. Their instincts, maybe their training as well, convinced them that Chauvin was the potential victim who needed to be protected from a potentially hostile crowd. It did not occur to them—or did not matter to them—that Chauvin was the offender, that Chauvin was killing a man in broad daylight on the side of the road like a stray-rabid dog. We pay police officers and equip them and give them the power to take away the freedom of fellow citizens, or even their lives when warranted, to protect us from boogeymen. But when the boogeyman is a police officer and other officers standing around and protecting him, it's the worst of all worlds. It's why images of an armed-agent of the state murdering a man while other armed-agents of the state allow him to have been blasted around the world, undermining the belief in a United States of America in which such things are simply not supposed to occur.

In some quarters, we are told to ignore those facts or downplay them or forget them. We are told to focus on Floyd's drug addiction and his past problems.1 It was just a coincidence that Floyd died while under Chauvin's knee for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Had Chauvin never done that, Floyd would have died at that precise moment and time anyway, many in the right-wing media want us to believe. As reported by the Post's Margaret Sullivan, even the media analyst for Fox News, Howard Kurtz, has bought into that rationale. "He was a drug addict, who initially resisted arrest," Kurtz said. "Yet I'm not seeing too many commentators saying Derek Chauvin is getting a raw deal in being charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter."

Why, yes. Sure.

More of us should be arguing that Derek Chauvin is getting a raw deal, because he's facing serious charges for killing a man. His fellow officers protected Chauvin on the street that day. Conservative commentators have taken up that mantle since. The rest of us shouldn't let any of them get away with that level of insanity and cruelty.

My senator uses his image as a Black conservative to cover up the GOP's worst behavior

I would tell you a story about the idiocy of one of my senators, Lindsey Graham, but you probably know it. It's about his rank hypocrisy and lying about what he'd do with a US Supreme Court opening during an election year with a Republican in the White House. Under Democratic President Barack Obama, Graham and other GOP senators held the seat vacant for more than eight months. Graham quickly switched course under President Donald Trump after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, abandoning his previous "use my words against me" pledge, which paved the way for a 6-3 conservative court. Just recently he talked about the need to be heavily armed in case of a natural disaster and those he represents in the US Senate come to rob and murder him. Or something. I can't express how disgusted many of the moderate voters of South Carolina are, who used to believe he was a statesman. It's grating to even hear his voice or see his face on Fox News. His spiral into indecency has been stunning.

As hideous as Graham has become, we should save a bit for Tim Scott, who became the first Black man to win a Senate seat for a Deep South state since Reconstruction when he beat Democratic challenger Joyce Dickerson in 2014. Scott believes himself to be a kind of conscience of the Republican Party, a man led by his deep-abiding Christian faith who is well aware of his place in history. From time to time, he has acted on that impulse, including when he took to the Senate floor to talk about his experience with racial profiling and stopped a racist Trump nominee from receiving a lifetime appointment to a federal bench. Even in the wake of the George Floyd killing and the protests sparked by it, he led his party in an attempt to secure policing reform. His proposal seemed sincere even though it was far from sufficient the moment he declared qualified immunity for police officers, an egregious abuse of the legal system that likely fuels police misbehavior, off limits. He loves talking about Opportunity Zones (though they aren't as effective as he claims). He helped usher through a criminal justice reform bill begun in Obama's era and signed into law in Trump's.

It's Republicans like Scott who make everything tougher on a national level, because we put next to no pressure on them to do the right thing, no matter the issue. He's under no pressure to break ranks in favor of immigration reform or comprehensive background checks. He did not cross the line to vote for nearly $2 trillion in covid relief and poverty-fighting funding that will make life better for the poorest, most vulnerable residents of his state. And he has not had to answer for the odious voting rights law recently implemented by our neighbors in Georgia and being pushed by his party in nearly every state. He hasn't been pressed hard on whether Graham was wrong to have called election officials in Georgia after the 2020 election cycle. Because he's done a few reasonable things, it's given him cover while he quietly supports various kinds of injustices that are more likely to be attached to Graham and Republicans such as Tom Cotton, Ron Johnson and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Maybe that's why national political reporters seem to not even bother to hold him to account.

We know Graham has no principles. We know he's sold his political soul, even though we don't why or to whom. Maybe he's still in a state of shock because his mentor, the late American statesman John McCain, is gone. We know Graham will say whatever he can to justify whatever action he wants to take, no matter how nakedly political, full of lies or harmful to his own constituents. There's no doubt about Graham any more. He's firmly put party power over country, and he won't be changing any time soon. The next headline he generates by saying something else that's awful won't be the last.

That's why it's that much more important to stop allowing politicians like Scott to continue getting away with being just like Graham, only quieter, more stoic. Scott was just as big of a Trump sycophant as Graham was. It's just that Scott's image as a conscience-filled Black Republican has made it easier for white Republicans. The white evangelical Christians who put Trump in office, and tried to give him a second term, could rest easier at night knowing they were on Scott's side. Now he's providing cover for the GOP's anti-democratic behavior targeting Black voters, a kind of 21st-century attempt to resurrect Jim Crow, which will have an effect far beyond South Carolina.

Scott should be ashamed of that. But he doesn't seem to be.

That doesn't mean we should keep letting him get off so easily. Scott imagines himself to be better than this. We need to remind him that his actions suggest otherwise.

Here's the gift GOP Sen. John Cornyn inadvertently gave to Biden on immigration

United States Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, presented President Joe Biden with a gift in the form of one of the most revealing tweets in recent memory. It serves as a reminder of how horrific Donald Trump was for America's image abroad, because of the way the former president talked about and treated the most vulnerable: people seeking refuge from violence, disaster and starvation in their home countries. The US has long been imperfect on human rights, but Trump robbed us of even the pretense of being an example other countries should emulate. Biden can change that.

Cornyn evoked the Clinton era to pan the president's handling of what opportunistic Republicans and a handful of high-profile journalists have deemed a "political crisis." "Bill Clinton ran for re-election on a platform that said, 'We cannot tolerate illegal immigration and we must stop it,'" Cornyn said. He followed up with a sentiment he'll never live down. It says so much about him and his party: "President Biden has instead emphasized the humane treatment of immigrants, regardless of their legal status."

Biden should lay that legislation out in detail, explain to the American people why immigration reform is a net plus for all despite the lies being told by the opponents of such a policy and what they are being fed by Fox News during primetime.

The last thing the White House and Democrats should be doing on immigration is remain in a defensive crouch, allowing Republicans to distort and lie and twist every fact. Biden should use the gift Cornyn gave him. Biden should make clear he is proud that his administration is more humane than the one recently kicked out of office.

Biden should say proudly he ended the Trump policy that essentially made kidnapping brown kids an official tool of US deterrence. He should remind the American public that it was Republicans like Cornyn, who apparently are OK with the suffering of others if it will help them score a few cheap political points, who made Trump's reign of terror that much deadlier because they provided undying support for his ugliness.

Biden is the president to send such a message effectively. His approval is hovering at nearly 60 percent, higher than when he took office. The boogeymen Republicans conjured up to pillory former President Barack Obama are not as effective against Biden. Though Obama was able to sign into law a massive rescue plan just weeks after he took office in 2009, the GOP put a dent in his popularity by scaring Americans about guns and religion and the deficit and "death panels" and jobs supposedly being stolen by Black and brown people here and elsewhere. It worked because of the undercurrent in their messaging—that that Black dude in the White House had something up his sleeve, that there were sinister motives behind every decision.

That didn't work on Biden in the general election, and it hasn't worked since he's taken office. But if the president isn't careful, it could eventually work if his administration doesn't go on offense on issues like immigration. A recent Morning Consult poll shows erosion in public support for a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, for instance. Biden can reverse that slide by taking this head on.



The public would listen if he talks to them straight, tells them that the answer to the seasonal rise in migrants at the border is simpler than it seems. Comprehensive immigration reform would solve that and benefit us all. It would help bring the undocumented already in this country out of the shadows, which would put upward pressure on low-wage jobs and help working-class Americans. (A higher minimum wage isn't the only way to tackle poverty.) The policy would help restore America's standing on the world stage, showing once again that we know how to solve huge-complex problems in humane ways. It would provide more resources for our border and an orderly transition to some kind of legal status for millions of people—which is precisely what economists and demographers have long told us that we need. Immigration will ensure that the US economy remains the largest, most influential in the world despite the slowing birth-rate among native-born Americans—if we let it.

We have a blueprint for such a plan in the form of the 2013 immigration bill that passed the Senate with 67 votes, including by some Republicans still in the Senate. Biden should lay that legislation out in detail, explain to the American people why comprehensive immigration reform is a net plus for all Americans despite the lies being told by the opponents of such a policy and what they are being fed by Fox News during primetime. And he should make clear that there's only one reason any of this hasn't happened already—because of Republicans like Cornyn who believe being humane is weak rather than being the most important American principle of all.

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Democrats are tempted by a cynical strategy to win elections — but it would be a grave mistake

We are told that Democrats unwisely allowed themselves to be tied to the liberal activist push for marriage equality in 2004, which made it easier for President George W. Bush to win a second term despite the disaster that was the occupation of Iraq.

We are told that Democrats should have told the liberal activists pushing that extreme proposal to "stand back and stand by." We are told that they should have Sister Souljah-ed the people who refused to accept anything less than marriage equality.

Didn't Democrats know that Republicans, such as Karl Rove, would paint the entire party as wanting to undermine traditional marriage during a period in which polls clearly showed most Americans favored a union of one man and one woman?

That's hogwash, of course, all of it.

But since the 2020 election, Democrats have been told essentially that that's the way to treat activists. If Democrats had taken that advice, marriage equality would have been delayed longer, if not denied. And Democrats would have been the primary cause.

It did not matter how many top Democratic candidates tried to divorce themselves from the issue. Rove ensured it would be front and center by getting it on ballots in nearly a dozen strategically-important swing states. He knew it would gin up the Republican vote and make independents and moderates think twice about supporting a Democratic Party that had taken things "too far" in the culture wars.

Rove knew that the polling was on his side then just as David Shor and Harry Enten are sure polling against "woke" issues, such as "defund the police," "Black Lives Matter," Dr. Seuss and "cancel culture" favor Republicans now. Ken Mehlman, Bush's reelection campaign manager, later told The Atlantic that he knew what Rove was doing in 2004 and 2006, including distributing literature in West Virginia linking homosexuality and atheism. He was a closeted gay man while working in the Bush administration, but has since said that he wished he had spoken up sooner.

This is how the Times reported those anti-gay, anti-same-sex marriage efforts:

Proposed state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage increased the turnout of socially conservative voters in many of the 11 states where the measures appeared on the ballot on Tuesday, political analysts say, providing crucial assistance to Republican candidates including President Bush in Ohio and Senator Jim Bunning in Kentucky.
The amendments, which define marriage as between only a man and a woman, passed overwhelmingly in all 11 states, clearly receiving support from Democrats and independents as well as Republicans. Only in Oregon and Michigan did the amendment receive less than 60 percent of the vote.
But the ballot measures also appear to have acted like magnets for thousands of socially conservative voters in rural and suburban communities who might not otherwise have voted, even in this heated campaign, political analysts said. And in tight races, those voters—who historically have leaned heavily Republican—may have tipped the balance.
In Ohio, for instance, political analysts credit the ballot measure with increasing turnout in Republican bastions in the south and west, while also pushing swing voters in the Appalachian region of the southeast toward Mr. Bush. The president's extra-strong showing in those areas compensated for an extraordinarily large Democratic turnout in Cleveland and in Columbus, propelling him to a 136,000-vote victory.

Sound familiar? It should. It's the same narrative you would find in political news stories since November recounting the ways things like "defund the police" supposedly turned off Latino voters, for instance. They focus on short-term political outcomes to the near-exclusion of what's right or wrong, moral or immoral.

The next time you come across a centrist pundit or Democratic strategist blaming a 2020 election cycle that, for whatever reason, didn't meet their expectations—even though Democrats held the House and took back the Senate and White House—on leftists refusing to relent on their push for true equality, ask them if Democrats should regret being tied to marriage equality in 2004 when it wasn't as popular as it is now.

Should Democrats be ashamed that early in the Obama era they refused to listen to Rahm Emanuel and abandon the pursuit of a health care reform that had eluded the party for a century? Should they lament that they got "shellacked" in the 2010 congressional elections partly because Republicans relentlessly demonized the Affordable Care Act? Or should they be proud that they spent their political capital on a law that has helped—and continues helping—tens of millions of Americans?

The goal shouldn't be to win every election. That's not even realistic. Political winds ebb and flow for reasons even the best strategists don't fully understand. The goal should be to improve the country for the most vulnerable when you have the power to.

I have no idea how the 2022 midterms will turn out, whether Republicans will benefit from off-year elections like the party out of power nearly always does, or if Democrats will be able to stem the tide enough to retain one or both chambers of Congress. But I know they have the opportunity to do good right now, and that it would be a tragedy if they decided not to because they feared a future none of us can predict.

Today, marriage equality seems like such a no-brainer. It is kind of astonishing how long it took for most Americans to realize it. Issues that are unpopular today are likely to follow the same trajectory. Do the right thing and let the chips fall.

If Democrats take that stance, they will increase their bargaining power over time while helping millions of vulnerable Americans. How can that ever be wrong?

Here's the most revealing decision in the fight over Biden's relief bill

The most revealing decision in the Senate during the vote on the $1.9 trillion covid relief/economic stimulus package came not from West Virginia's Joe Manchin but from Utah's Mitt Romney, who voted against the bill like every Republican did.

That should end any illusion that Romney or supposedly serious-centrist Republicans will make helping vulnerable Americans a priority above returning the GOP to power in Washington, DC, and should serve as a reminder that Manchin is a real ally, even if he will continue giving those on the left heart burn for the next couple of years. It would be foolish for progressives to not understand or acknowledge that reality.

It's just the latest example of what has become a clear pattern.

During times of national crisis, the Democratic Party, for all its many faults, will expend political capital to push ideas, policy and legislation that assist the downtrodden more than the rich. That they haven't always done so outside of emergency situations or too frequently have succumbed to the power of money in politics nearly as much as their Republican counterparts have doesn't change that fact.

Every Republican in the Congress represents people in great need during a once-in-a-century pandemic, a period in which true unemployment is probably double figures and we remain nearly 10 million jobs below our peak. Yet they fail to act.

Neither does their inability to make good on their pledge to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in the American Rescue Act (still pending). Democrats must not be allowed to forget the need to implement a more sustainable way to help the poor, to shore up voting rights, which are under constant attack by the GOP, or to bring the undocumented out of the shadows, which would help low-income Americans by putting upward pressure on wages. They must be pressured to demand that President Joe Biden drop fewer bombs in the Middle East and build more bridges here.

But in this case, what Democrats did should be celebrated.

  • The poorest Americans will get a 20 percent boost in income.
  • The covid relief package isn't reparations but will benefit black farmers like no legislation since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Black farmers have for decades been mistreated by the federal government and banks and other businesses.
  • Embedded in the the bill are tax breaks that primarily go to the poor and middle class—the opposite of what happened with the Trump tax cuts. That needs to be underscored: When the GOP ran Congress, they passed a $2 trillion law that disproportionately benefited the wealthy. Democrats just took over DC and are focusing their nearly $2 trillion plan on those who need the assistance most.
  • Their plan helps the long-term unemployed and small businesses. And it might reduce overall poverty by a third and cut child poverty nearly in half.
  • Democrats did this without a single Republican—even though 59 percent of Republican voters (75 percent of Americans overall) support the plan. Democrats did it despite all the usual players in media and politics urging them to prioritize a bipartisanship that is impossible as long as elected Republicans believe it's in their interest to deny Biden a "win" at the expense of their neediest constituents.

It's a repeat of what the Republican Party did early in the Obama era. The United States was facing what was then the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. No matter. Republicans bragged about providing almost no support for what was then the largest economic stimulus plan in our nation's history. Then they bragged about providing zero votes for the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, a law that has since saved countless lives and improved millions of others.

I had been told that men like Romney are serious, true statesmen, that they would always put country above party. And yet, Romney did what every other Republican did on this bill. It wasn't because they took a principled stand against supposedly excessive spending or out of concern for the record-level deficit. This isn't like when Democrats voted en masse against Trump tax cuts heavily weighted toward the wealthy during a growing economy. Every Republican in the Congress represents people in great need during a once-in-a-century pandemic, a period in which true unemployment is probably double figures and we remain nearly 10 million jobs below our peak.

They cared about none of that. All they cared about was positioning themselves to retake the Congress in two years and maybe the White House in four.

Guess who cared? Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and every other moderate Democrat in the Senate whom the progressives love to hate. They can—and should—be pushed to do more. But what they have already done should not be ignored.

The truth about the downfall of a star reporter at the New York Times

It wasn't the utterance of the n-word that ended Donald McNeil's career with The New York Times. It was his incuriosity about maybe the most important story of our time, his comfort wrapped in a kind of blinkered ignorance, that likely did him in.

I'm not talking about the pandemic, for which McNeil's reporting has been rightly praised and may net him a Pulitzer. I'm talking about rapidly shifting racial demographics in the United States and what that means for our democracy, cultural understanding and a host of related issues that include science and public health.

That's the way he comes across in his own four-part series of columns explaining his exit from the Times. It doesn't much matter that he also sounds ornery and a bit entitled to say whatever he wants because he's been allowed to for such a long time. He even admits a time in which he said something so nasty about his boss, and shared it with colleagues, he expected to be fired. Gruffness is not a disqualifier inside newsrooms. It is a hallmark of many (though not all) accomplished journalists.

This episode is bigger than McNeil. The response speaks volumes about how far we are from having the serious, nuanced discussion needed to get us to a better place.

I've worked with such men and women. They're often great allies once you understand them. I don't doubt McNeil is in that number. But their demeanor can make you angry. They sometimes cross the line into disrespect, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. Their presence, though, often forces those around them to remain on alert and have to refine their thinking in ways that often improves their work. It's why it would be unwise to usher them out the door before fully considering what effect losing their voice, no matter how gruff, would have on our ability to fully understand the complex, gut-wrenching issues we'll be facing for the foreseeable future.

This is about the point where I must state a few things for readers afflicted by white fragility, which makes it difficult for many to earnestly grapple with points-of-view about race that make them uncomfortable: I'm not calling McNeil a racist.

I have no reason to believe he is. I would have had no problem if he were still a reporter with the Times. (He was forced or encouraged to resign though had the opportunity to take on a different role, which he reportedly declined.) Journalists who have the kinds of biases and blind spots illustrated by McNeil's own words should not be ushered out of newsrooms to make room for the so-called "woke." I just wish men like McNeil were more willing to examine themselves than presenting their long resumes as a kind of inoculation against even sincere, and much-needed, criticism.

Not only that, but management at the Times did not handle this well. That, however, is frankly typical of large media outlets that seem to not understand the need for radical clarity and transparency not only from those they report on but from themselves. It made little sense to tell McNeil he "lost the newsroom." It's the job of the managers and supervisors to set expectations and ensure everyone in the newsroom can be at their best no matter whom they are paired for a particular assignment, not McNeil's.

Also, notice how I've barely mentioned the n-word incident. After reading McNeil's explanation, speaking to others inside that newsroom and reading the independent reporting, I'm more convinced than ever that was not the reason he is no longer with the Times, except maybe in a straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back kind of way. Besides that, McNeil's decision to list in his letter the times the n-word was spelled out in the pages of the Times to contrast with his actions, and assert he was a victim of racial discrimination, underscores a glaring need for him to commit to soul-searching.

His Black colleagues would not have been upset had McNeil and his editor decided to spell the word out in an article if they had deemed it necessary. No serious person argues that such situations are off limits to anyone, Black, Latino, Asian American, Native American or white. But that's not what McNeil did on that now-infamous trip to Peru during which he was representing the Times as an expert. He was neither reading from Huck Finn while talking to those teenagers nor quoting NWA.

His use of the n-word was ill-advised, no matter his intent. That's what started this, not "woke" colleagues, not ill-defined "cancel culture." We are here because of his actions—not those students'. That's why his incuriosity is most damning.

In the context he decided to utter the n-word in all its glory, he had no good reason to. None. It was unnecessary. Every white journalist—every white person—knows if he chooses to do such a thing, it will raise questions about his judgment and what else he has been doing and saying, no matter how many times his supporters quote Ta-Nehisi Coates or Barack Obama, point to the conclusion of Randall Kennedy's Nigger: The Troublesome Career of a Strange Word or dig up Chris Rock's Bring the Pain. Hell, I'm Black but still pause before uttering the word in any context. I understand its power.

McNeil's use of the n-word was ill-advised, no matter his intent. That's what started this, not his "woke" colleagues, not his bosses, not ill-defined "cancel culture." We are here because of McNeil's actions—not those students'. That's why his incuriosity is most damning. The irony is that though he was determined to teach those white kids a thing or two about race, had McNeil listened more intently and considered more seriously what they were saying, he would have been better off, more informed.

In Peru, he got facts wrong about controversial events, such as the Minstrel Carnival in South Africa that was once named the "Coon Carnival," even as he was lecturing teenagers to think beyond what they already believed. He argued that "the United States was never an imperial colonialist power in the way that Britain and France and Portugal were." He argued that colonialism is over. He joked about racial disparities in standardized testing. He claimed to understand systemic racism is real—before essentially explaining why it isn't. He chided a student for feeling "obligated to speak up for brown and Black people who can't speak for themselves," even knowing there was a lack of Black and brown students to speak up for themselves on that trip. He spouted straw-man arguments on subjects that require nuance and expertise.

McNeil wrote about one of his exchanges with a student this way: "I got exasperated and said something like: "Look, I don't accept the far-leftie notion that there's this Manichean split: all the evil in the world is done by white men, Americans, the US government, the CIA, colonialism or whatever, and all the rest of the world—brown and Black people, women, Latin America, Africa, etc.—are their victims. That was the line I heard at Berkeley 40 years ago when everyone read Max Weber and socialist countries actually existed and everyone was trying to prove they were more radical, more Communist, more Trotskyist, more Spartacist than each other."

McNeil waxed poetic about how some Black people are in prison "because they actually committed violent crimes. You can't blame it all on institutional racism." Some Black people are in prison because they actually committed crimes and not solely because of the racist foundation of the prison system? Who knew?!

Representing the Times, McNeil said this to a group of mostly-white-well-off students on a trip: "And, I added, in my opinion, Black teenagers don't do themselves any favors by adopting the gangsta ethic—dressing like thugs, glorifying violence, beating up women. Nobody will hire you if you look like a thug—even Obama said 'pull your pants up—there are grandmothers here.' It practically taunts the cops to target you. And once you've got a prison record, it's really, really hard to get a decent job."

Someone who understood systemic racism would have probably pointed out how absurd it is to blame young Black dudes for their mistreatment by the criminal system because of the way they dress. But that someone isn't McNeil—or at least it wasn't him in his own explanation. His own descriptions of his heated exchanges with students came across as a smugness bathed in racial stereotypes that have gotten Black boys like Trayvon Martin killed. Let's be honest. His words would have found a welcome home on "The O'Reilly Factor" in 2012 and "The Tucker Carlson Show" tonight.

It's more than that, though. I don't feel an urge to sift through McNeil's 40 years of work. Besides, if I took such a route, his defenders would accuse me of being unfair. But Jonathan Myerson Katz has never forgotten a piece McNeil wrote during the Obama era under the headline "Cholera's Second Fever: An Urge to Blame." Katz had discovered that a United Nations mission caused a cholera outbreak in Haiti, leading to the deaths of 8,500 people. McNeil soon thereafter focused on the importance of remembering that "the blame game for pandemics eventually involves everyone."

It included this: "And the 'fault'—if that's the word—often lies just as much with the victims as with the vectors, since, as in syphilis's case, they are careless about whom they cavort with, and with cholera, they must lack good sanitation for it to spread."

A journalist who fully understood systemic racism would have asked: Why do they lack good sanitation? What role, if any, does racism play in that reality? What's the best way to counteract it even while juggling other concerns? It was not apparent in that piece that McNeil had considered such things. That he didn't should give pause to everyone who wants to write this off as just another overwrought "cancellation."

We are amid a once-in-a-century crisis that has disproportionately sickened and killed Black and brown people while Black and brown people have been disproportionately left behind by early vaccination efforts. Any journalist—every journalist—who touches this story must be fully aware of the roots and reaches of systemic problems and biases that are among the primary reasons we find ourselves in such a precarious situation. For all the well-earned praise McNeil has received, his blind spots on race—revealed by his own words—should also be scrutinized. The story is too important to look the other way, to allow this to be the latest front in the overwrought cancel culture wars.

It's bigger than McNeil, though.

The response to this episode speaks volumes about how far we are from having the kind of serious, nuanced discussion we need to get us to a better place.

For radical clarity one last time: I didn't want to see McNeil fired. I don't believe he is racist. Viewpoint diversity remains crucial and always will be. But that means Black colleagues who raise questions about the racial views of a white colleague, particularly a celebrated one, should not be demeaned as "too woke" or "too sensitive" or told to just swallow what they believe is offensive and unhelpful behavior. That's what they've been forced to do at places like the Times for far too long. That has to end. And now.

What should white people learn from this episode? That just because you aren't racist doesn't mean you are immune to ways of thinking that can be harmful and affect your work in ways you don't realize. That a Black colleague's decision to raise those issues aren't always an attempt to make you feel guilty or silence you, but rather to improve your work and their own. That that's true even when management gets it wrong.

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