Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Oh no, he's at it again!

     A circle is the collection of all points on a 2-dimensional plane that are  equidistant from a center point. We are all familiar with circles: an LP record is a circle. A hula hoop is a circle. A wedding ring is a circle.
    Many organizations use a circle as their logo. Target, for one, or Pepsi. Imperial Japan used to symbolize itself with a red circle.   
     The circle is one of many shapes. Other shapes include squares, hexagons and crosses. 
     Like circles, crosses are also popular symbols—Christian denominations use crosses to represent their faith. 
     But not all symbolic crosses represent religious groups. Railroad warning signs use a St. Andrew's cross. The American Red Cross uses a Swiss cross. Imperial Germany used a Maltese cross and, when the Nazis assumed power, they seized a Hindu symbol,  the swastika, which is a St. Andrew's cross with each arm turned at a right angle.  
      Oh wait.... I'm in trouble again, aren't I? No, not because I compared LP records to a hula hoops.  But I just ... oh gosh ... compared the Christian cross to the Nazi swastika. I said ... in essence ... that all Christians are Nazis.
     If you're a nitwit, that is.
     Happily, I don't write for nitwits, despite the obvious profit in it. I couldn't do it with a straight face;  my sincerity would trip me up. 
     But I also don't control who reads this. Thus, for days now, in the weird Punch & Judy Show that passes for political discourse in the United States, a paragraph very much like what I wrote above, from this column that ran in the Sun-Times April 18, has been bouncing around the lower rings of the Tea Party media hell, as they try to get traction out of something that was inoffensive to regular folk.
    I was writing about a lady named Hermene Hartman, the publisher of a weekly black newspaper, an obscure throw-away, who nevertheless was given $51,000 by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner to host a few parties. Then she sang his praises in print, never mentioning the cash she pocketed. My colleague Mike Sneed wrote a column deliciously revealing this stunning ethical lapse. The subject was irresistible, unfortunately.
     I didn't want to merely pile on, so I tried to give a little context. Hartman certainly didn't invent the practice. The powerful have always been buying support in the black community. Rauner isn't the first. I talked about black aldermen who spoke out against Martin Luther King. 
     At this point, for the column not to explode in my face like a loaded cigar, it was crucial to show that I wasn't just picking on black people, wasn't singling them out unfairly for special criticism. So I wrote this: 
Let me be clear: As a general rule, individuals will sell out the interests of their groups in return for personal benefit. It isn’t just a black thing. Jews collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, helping them to round up their own people in the hopes they’d be the last to go. The Republican Party will deny global warming until the ocean laps at Pittsburgh simply because doing something about it crosses the immediate profit of the coal burners and oil companies and carbon spouters who write the checks. No tobacco company has any trouble finding people who, at a hefty salary, stare into the camera and say no, all that lung cancer stuff is just fiction.
     I included Jews intentionally, to show that I wasn't saying anything about African-Americans that I wouldn't say about my own team. There are bad apples in every basket. That isn't something that can be argued, in my view. It's just true.  
     But sometimes, trying to dodge the bicycle messenger, you step in front of a truck.
     To me, the most significant thing was not what it said about Hartman, who hardly matters, but what it said about Rauner, tossing fistfuls of money at a nonentity. If he wastes his own money like that, I wondered at the end of the column, what's he going to do when he gets his hands on yours?
      Reaction was muted, at first. Hartman of course called me to complain that I am a racist. (If I'm a racist, then why tell me? What do you expect me, the big bad racist, to do? Agree with you?) A few Jewish readers took exception to my mentioning the fact of Jewish collaboration. Typical was this, from "L Weber":
Isn't there enough antisemitism in the news already do you have to add more?...
I'm glad I was brought up open minded and not a sheep
Maybe you enjoy stirring the pot of hate that already exists, I don't
      The old, "Let's try to look good for people who are going to hate us anyway," argument. I couldn't resist writing L Weber back: 
Do you really think anti-Semites are weighing the facts before them, and then coming to their conclusions? That if we put a pretty Jewish face forward, that somehow we will win them over? That is just so sad. 
     That was Monday of last week. By Tuesday it was past. A pleasant phone call from Rev. James Meeks, who I also mentioned in the column. He didn't talk about the sympathizer analogy, but rather wanted to be clear that he bought his own plane ticket when he visited Rauner at his Montana ranch. We talked for quite a while and said goodbye on friendly terms.
      What I didn't realize is that the Quinn campaign had tweeted my Rauner story. That is really what touched this off, not anything I wrote, but the Quinn team injecting it into the political distortion machine (thanks guys) and then, realizing it had promoted something with a bit of bite, trying to pull it back.  (Ham-handed. Don't try to claw back tweets. Drives folk crazy). The right wing media—Fox News, WLS, etc.—which already IS crazy, picked up, not on the fact that Bruce Rauner paid $51,000 for the friendship of a laughable nobody whose primary skill is a bottomless ability to be insignificant. No, what upset them was, well, let a Fox Nation writer describe it: 
Chicago Sun-Times readers were stunned last week to find that writer Neil Steinberg has penned a column comparing black supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis against their brethren.
      Fabrication. No Sun-Times readers beyond Hartman were actually stunned, and she was pretty dazed to begin with.  When people are reaching to be outraged, they tend to blur—in this case, blacks who take cash to support Rauner morphed into "black Republicans." Readers of this sort of thing made their own, further abbreviations, until I was being accused of calling blacks people Nazis.      
     I heard from mouth-breathing morons from Florida and Texas, none of whom had read the original column, but who were spouting outrage on cue—it's what they do, apparently— and wanted me to know just what they thought of somebody capable of, well, offending them in some manner.
      The paper, I was pleased to see, stood behind me, re-tweeting the original column while it racked up clicks like a geiger counter at Chernobyl.  Meanwhile, I controlled my breaths and practiced calm. I have been working at nurturing a true indifference to the public howl, and this incident felt like a satisfying step in the right direction. Almost a breakthrough. 
     I even took a little pleasure in watching the carnival of buncombe, to borrow H.L. Mencken's delicious phrase. My favorite example was an opinion piece on an Illinois Republican web site by a trustee in Will County's Wheatland Township and—miribile dictu—an actual black Illinois Republican, who started off decrying the "insult" of my column, admitted that it was an improvement over the standard description of black Republicans as "Uncle Toms" and then, toward the end, served up this:
     The Democrats owe their cronies and the unions their campaign promises first; the Black folks can get what’s left over –a few more weeks of unemployment, food stamps, and no jobs.
    The Jews in Nazi-controlled Germany had to wait in line to get their scraps, too.
    Someone comparing black Republicans to Jews in Nazi-controlled Germany! I considered demanding that she apologize, but decided the irony would be lost.
    Are you bored yet? I sure am. I don't know how people spend their lives puffing up false outrage. I guess it's the political version of slasher films—create a bad guy and then enjoy visiting on him the cruelty that supposedly so offended you, because he "deserves" it. I actually heard from a self-described member of the John Birch Society—on Twitter, I sometimes check, to see what kind of person is writing this poison—who called me a racist, among other things. You have to marvel at that. It almost made the whole experience worthwhile. 
     Of course Rauner tried to make hay with the non-issue. He has no background in politics, and doesn't know what he's doing, or what's important and what isn't. If he runs the state half as incompetently as he's running his campaign, we might all be in for trouble. I am, for the record, sorry I wrote it, though not because it offended the complainers, who live in a state of permanent offense anyway, lurching from one supposed provocation to another. Frankly, I wouldn't be sorry if what I wrote consigned them to the fiery pit for an eternity. But rather, I'm sorry because who wouldn't be sorry for accidentally setting off these assholes and then having to spend time gazing in horror through latticed fingers at their cramped little world? 
    Anyway, to sum up, a list of examples is not a "comparison." If I say that many things come in groups of a dozen—eggs, months, Angry Men—I am not drawing a moral equivalence between 12 eggs and 12 Angry Men. Nor between pizza and hula hoops, beyond their roundness. Nor between Christians and Nazis—so go find something else to get worked up about. Enough. I don't like writing about trivial subjects, and this is a truly trivial subject. But it's a Tuesday, and it was either this or the cool knit pink and blue cozy that I noticed somebody put on a garbage receptacle handle on Madison Street. We'll save that for later in the week. 
     In the meantime, Bruce, now I've grouped together, not only blacks who get paid to support you and Jewish collaborators with the Nazis, but record albums and Target logos, and the Christian cross with the swastika. That ought to keep your campaign busy until the summer.




  1. Last four graphs of this post: comedy gold.

  2. What a great day-starter. Glad I read this first today.
    Doug D.

  3. An obscure throw away paper called the Chicago Sun Times has backed and endorsed every criminal member of the Chicago Democratic Machine (AKA Chicago Democratic Crime Family), including Pat Quinn. How hypocritical. Pot calling kettle black while throwing bricks in a glass house.

  4. Like a Geiger counter at Chernobyl - priceless. I laughed out loud - literally. That's why I didn't write LOL.

  5. For the record, I wasn't stunned. I am, however, as a backslid Presbyterian, outraged that you should use an image of my religious denomination to head a piece on a carnival of buncombe. Adherants of the "Auld Kirk" have not been controversial since burning witches, coming out against tobacco and raging against the monstrous regiment of women in the 16th Century.

    A good read though.

    1. Except when a large group of them, who happened to be extremely ant-Semitic tried to change the policies of the church several years ago. They are the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) movement, which blames Israel as the sole reason for problems in the Middle East.
      Apparently, Arabs that fire rockets indiscriminately into Israel are humanitarians to this group of long time bigots.
      It's just a cover for their extreme anti-Semitism.

    2. Oh dear. I grew up amid Presbyterians and if there were rabid anti-Semites among us they managed to keep it under wraps. Outright anti-Semitism would have been thought bad form, although there was a more nuanced form of prejudice that took a regional form. Our local Jews were fine -- in my sweet mother's words, "lovely people" -- but you had to look out for those New Yorkers, who tended to be predatory capitalists or communists...or both, logical consistency not being a feature of such attitudes.

      Concerning church policy, I'm not up on such matters and so asked Mr. Google. In 2004 the Church governing body voted a "phased disinvestment" of pension funds in firms doing business in Israel. Concerning motive, there was no mention of a belief in the wickedness of the Israelis but a, perhaps simplistic, belief that such action could further the peace process. They took a lot of heat, including accusations of anti-Semitism, and changed the policy two years later.

    3. Just because the official church records don't show anti-Semitism, that was the real reason for the BDS resolution.
      After it happened, the blowback on the church was enormous & some churches disassociated themselves from the policies of the national body.
      That disassociation was the cause of its abandonment.

  6. Me too, except it was this classic slam that tickled me. "...a laughable nobody whose primary skill is a bottomless ability to be insignificant."

  7. The nerve! How dare you disparage the beautiful, tasty, bakery hot-cross buns I enjoy every Good Friday!!

  8. Strictly speaking, you were comparing that non-entity to Jews who betrayed others to the Nazis. However, few of those outraged by your comments noted that you were not saying that was true of ALL black supporters of Rauner. That's the difference and it's an important one. It's a shame how your words were taken out of context by other media outlets many of which have a financial incentive to keep their listeners in a constant state of outrage similar to the "yellow journalism" of the past.


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