Nail to hammer

More

Matt on the weak-sauce that is "It's only symbolic" argument:

People who are upset about a politician doing something they don't like that's essentially symbolic in nature -- like the selection of Rick Warren -- often have difficulty articulating to skeptics exactly what the nature of the problem is. Simply digging up more and more quotes of the offending person's offending activities doesn't answer the reply "so what? it's just symbolism..."

A brief point to make is that it's very easy for a person who isn't part of the minority group that's being symbolically dissed to dismiss someone else's concerns as merely symbolic and not that big a deal. But it's worth considering how much public policy acts consistently to reaffirm the symbolic commitments of majority groups. If Barack Obama were proposing to eliminate Christmas as a national holiday and end the White House Easter Egg Hunt, nobody would be surprised to see people get very upset even though the concrete stakes would be low.

Heh, when its not your neck getting stepped on, it's "symbolic." Here's Ezra advancing the ball:

Warren is not a symbolic figure. He's a religious leader who mobilizes his flock and leverages his public influence in order to affect electoral outcomes. The most prominent example was the Proposition 8 ballot initiative -- as opposed to, say, the Proposition 8 symbolic logo design contest -- in California. Warren used his power and prestige instrumentally, not symbolically. And Obama is giving him more power, and more prestige, which he will, quite assuredly, deploy in an instrumental fashion.

Meanwhile, I'd also note that the people deriding concerns about Warren as "symbolic" are the same people who were dancing in the streets when Obama won the election. When the symbolism mattered to them, they weren't spending a lot of time noting that Obama's basket of policies was really pretty standard for a Democratic candidate and so people shouldn't get exercised over the symbolism embedded in his victory.


Jump to comments
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In