Ta-Nehisi Coates

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.

  • We Don't Believe You. You Need More People.

    Michael Steele's statement on Arlen Specter deserves a hard look:

    Some in the Republican Party are happy about this. I am not. Let's be honest-Senator Specter didn't leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record. Republicans look forward to beating Sen. Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats don't do it first.

    This is an amazing statement when you think about it. Steele is basically arguing that the left-wing stretches from from Dennis Kucinich to Arlen Specter. That's quite the big tent--and it's being pitched by the head of the Republican party. It's based on the notion that you can just say "liberal," "socialist," "lefty" 100 times and then say "Vote for me!" I know a lot of us think people are that stupid, but they aren't. And they especially aren't in these times.

    The purpose of name-calling is to draw contrast, to draw dividing lines, with the understanding that if do the math right more people will end up on your side. But the GOP of late have excelled at drawing lines that leave them with less voters on their side. The implicit message in Steele's statement is that if you think like Arlen Specter, if you voted for the Iraq War, if you oppose card check, if you think government should have some role in health care, you're "left-wing." So much for a center-right nation.

  • A Black Man On White People's Money

    Nate Dimeo makes the case for Frederick Douglass replacing Ulyssess Grant on the $50 dollar bill. I'm reading about Reconstruction these days--you know what I think of this idea. The obvious choice for a black man is King. But I'd go with Douglass. I see him, in many ways, as a founding father. He really helped finish the work the Jefferson, Washington, Madison etc. started.


  • Heritage Not Hate

    One defense of the Confederate flag, made below, is that people who fly the flag and wear it on their tee-shirts aren't necessarily, themselves, racist. This is a rather low hurdle to clear. The harder test doesn't question your where your heart, but your sword.

    From this perspective, the question isn't "Do you hate black people?" It isn't "Would you invite a black person to your barbecue?"  It's "Are you more offended by black people who recoil in horror at the Confederate flag, than you are by the flag's history?"

    It may well be true that Alabama's desire to fly the Confederate flag at the state capitol, or the desire of many Alabamans to use it themselves as they see fit, has nothing to do with the fact that the state was the last to drop its (unenforceable) prohibition against interracial marriage (in 2000!). It may be a mere coincidence that the only people to oppose the Alabama repeal were leaders of the states' "Confederate heritage group."  But if the flag's defenders aren't racist (which I can accept) the necessary conclusion, while banal and common, isn't anymore comforting--a shocking ignorance of one's own history.

    Well here's the thing: Historically racist often don't declare themselves. And when they do, they often claim to be acting in the interest of blacks and whites.  Indeed the "not a racist" argument has been upheld, in varying forms, since the end of Reconstruction.

    In terms of the confederate flag, the people claiming "not a racist" are the same people who name their parks, roads, and squares after generals who served in an army of white supremacy. Or they are  the same people who remain willfully ignorant that this is being done in their name. One enduring fact of black life is that the willfully ignorant are as dangerous, or more, than the knowledged racist. Lynch mobs were led by the latter, but comprised of the former.

    Perhaps this generation is different. Perhaps they are owed the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, perhaps this has always been so--maybe Fort Pillow really wasn't a massacre. But, were I them, I would not ask for that benefit, nor would I be shocked and appalled were I to see it withheld.

  • The Meaning Of Specter's Defection

    Some pretty tight analysis from Steve Benen:

    ...talk of a "filibuster-proof" Democratic majority is a stretch. For one thing, Norm Coleman just received a powerful reminder incentive to keep his legal fight going for as long as humanly possible. For another, the Democratic caucus, even at 60, still has Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh to consider.

    But if reaching the 60-vote threshold doesn't make Arlen Specter's big switch "huge," what makes today's news a seismic political shift? It's further evidence of a Republican Party in steep decline, driven by a misguided ideological rigidity. Indeed, Specter suggested as much in his statement: "Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right."

    Basically. It's much more significant for the GOP than the Dems. I think getting 60 will still be a challenge. But Republicans face a more existential problem--not becoming the party of "We wuz robbed."

  • Echoes Of The Crack Age

    Of course I'm untouchable...

    <a href="http://www.joost.com/135c2wu/t/Above-The-Law-Untouchable">Above The Law - Untouchable</a>
  • The Essential Americaness Of African-Americans

    The CBS News polling data has some interesting results on race. Matt was surprised that a significant number (44 percent) of African-Americans believe that blacks and whites have the same shot at success in this country:

    I'm surprised that as many as forty-four percent of blacks say that both races have equal opportunity. I think the evidence is unambiguously clear that they do not. African-American children have parents with lower levels of income and education. Their families, even when they have above-average incomes, tend to have less wealth than white families. And even controlling for parental income and educational attainment, black kids do worse in schools than white kids. Then beyond all that, there's clear evidence of discrimination against job applicants with "black" names that tends to suggest a broader pattern of employment discrimination. There are inequities in the criminal justice system both in terms of more punishment being meted out to black offenders, and the police and the courts doing less to protect black victims.

    I'm not surprised that most white people prefer to ignore this sort of evidence and believe in the existence of equal opportunities, but it's surprising to me how many African-Americans have adopted an unrealistically optimistic view.

    I obviously agree with Matt's assessment of the socioeconomic plight of black folks. But I don't share his surprise. First there is this--If you're black, a quick way to go insane is to think about how much racism has altered your life. But beyond that, I spent a lot of time in my youth as a left-black nationalist arguing with friends and family about race. One thing that became clear is that while a large number of black people recognize the ugly history of racism in this country, many have a hard time seeing themselves as victims of that racism.

    This makes sense if you think about it from a human perspective.  Black people have to compete, and their kids have to compete. In order to wake up every morning, work your ass off, and pay taxes, then tell your to do the same, it helps to  buy in to the idea that "you can win."  Perhaps more important than that, African-Americans are Americans, and "you can win" is a part of our ethos. I suspect that overestimating the extent to which "individual effort" matters is an American trait. Maybe even a human one, I'm not sure.

    This is why I always thought Shelby Steele's "Divided Man" theory of Obama was mostly fodder for people who think that saying fathers should be responsible for their kids, will cause you to lose black votes. If you walked 125th a year ago and asked black people what they wanted from Obama, you would have heard more about the war and the economy, then about racial justice. My point being that Obama's attitude on race is a pretty common one around black people

    Personally, I've never seen myself--as an individual--as having less of a shot because I'm black. With a kid, bills, and my own personal problems, I can't really afford to think like that. I suspect this is even more true of a lot of black women. Even the Detroit Lions think they win the Super Bowl. Why else would they step on the field if they didn't?

  • Specter Leaves The GOP

    Just saw this over at Matt's:

    It's all over cable.
    Questions: Will he have seniority in the Democratic caucus? Will he vote like a northeastern Democrat, or will he vote like Ben Nelson?

    I don't have a TV. Please fill in what you know. I'll update as news comes in. This "no TV" thing has been great. I don't know how long I can maintain it, with this job though.

    UPDATE: It's official. Here's part of Specter's statement. The full one is at the link:

    ....It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable. On this state of the record, I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.

    I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary.

    I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.

    I deeply regret that I will be disappointing many friends and supporters. I can understand their disappointment. I am also disappointed that so many in the Party I have worked for for more than four decades do not want me to be their candidate. It is very painful on both sides. I thank specially Senators McConnell and Cornyn for their forbearance...
    Amazing. Can the Palin\Limbaugh wing continuing to dominate like this?
  • Ill Visions

    Last night I read this rather chilling quote from Adelbert Ames, the Reconstruction-era governor of Mississippi. Ames, himself, is rather amazing and worth reading about. (He is, amongst other things, George Plimpton's great-grandfather) Here he is writing to Mississippi senator Blanche Bruce on the plight of blacks in the state, just as Reconstruction is ending:

    Election day may find our voters fleeing before rebel bullets rather than balloting for their rights. They are to be returned to a condition of serfdom--an era of second slavery. It is their fault (not mine, personally) that this fate is before them. They refused to prepare for war when in times of peace, when they could have done so. Now it is too late. The nation should have acted but it was "tired of the annual autumnal outbreaks in the South"...The political death of the negro will forever release the nation from the weariness from such "political outbreaks" You may think I exaggerate. Time will show you how accurate my statements are.

    The "autumnal outbreaks" Ames is referring to reference Grant's Attorney General, Edwards Pierrepoint, who refused to send troops to Mississippi, telling Ames that the nation was "tired of the annual autumnal outbreaks in the South," and that the state would have to fend for itself. Shortly thereafter Mississippi's white supremacists effectively staged an armed coup. You know the rest of the story.

  • The Radical Critique Of Obama

    From Andrew Bacevich:

    ...however much Obama may differ from Bush on particulars, he appears intent on sustaining the essentials on which the Bush policies were grounded. Put simply, Obama's pragmatism poses no threat to the reigning national security consensus. Consistent with the tradition of American liberalism, he appears intent on salvaging that consensus.

    For decades now, that consensus has centered on what we might call the Sacred Trinity of global power projection, global military presence, and global activism - the concrete expression of what politicians commonly refer to as "American global leadership." The United States configures its armed forces not for defense but for overseas "contingencies." To facilitate the deployment of these forces it maintains a vast network of foreign bases, complemented by various access and overflight agreements. Capabilities and bases mesh with and foster a penchant for meddling in the affairs of others, sometimes revealed to the public, but often concealed.

    Bush did not invent the Sacred Trinity. He merely inherited it and then abused it, thereby reviving the conviction entertained by critics of American globalism, progressives and conservatives alike, that the principles underlying this trinity are pernicious and should be scrapped. Most of these progressives and at least some conservatives voted for Obama with expectations that, if elected, he would do just that. Based on what he has said and done over the past three months, however, the president appears intent instead on shielding the Sacred Trinity from serious scrutiny.

    I wish I was more prepared to tackle this critique. One problem with blogging is you end up talking about everything you're reading. But interest isn't the same as deep knowledge, and when it comes out to national security, I admit to my status as a tadpole.

    Nevertheless, indulge me a moment, as I doggie-paddle with the sharks.

    Andrew (Sullivan, not Bacevich) posed an interesting question to me yesterday. He asked me if there was anything about Obama that scared me. I answered that the thing that scared me most, was the possibility that Paul Krugman was right.

    I mean that in the specific sense (about the economy) and in the broader philosophical sense. I think it's fair to say that Obama is, temperamentally, conservative. I mean conservative in opposition to "radical," not progressive or liberal. I think that approach undergirds everything from his stance on the economic crisis to his unwillingness to push too hard on torture. George Packer summed it all up pretty well:

    What underlies so many of Obama's decisions is an attachment to the institutions that hold up American society, a desire to make them function better rather than remake them altogether.

    I differ with Andrew (Bacevich, this time) in that I'm not really surprised by any of this. I didn't think Obama's campaign was especially radical, and I thought his anti-war bonafides were more born of caution and skepticism than out of a deep critique of American military power. That is, in large measure, why I voted for Obama. After eight years of dealing, not simply with an impulsive, anti-intellectual, hot-headed, president, but a rigidly ideological president, I thought the answer was someone who was more pragmatic--even when their politics (as on torture) didn't match up with my own.

    But what if pragmatism isn't enough? The danger of a conservative approach, of too much respect for institutions, is that it's liable to deeply underestimate that rot eating away at the girders.  It tends to downplay the evil at home, preferring to believe that was is old is, essentially, always good. I think the challenge Bacevich (on foreign policy) and Krugman (on the economy)  are posing is this: Pragmatism isn't going to cut it. Only a deep and fundamental overhaul will do.

    Is the radical critique, in these two specific cases, of Obama correct? I wish I had the knowledge to answer that. But one reason why this particular point keeps nagging at me is intuitive--it scares me in the credible way that conspiracy theories don't.

    Another reason is my own personal history as an African-American, and thus, a member of a group that's historically paid the price for the desire to preserve American institutions.  It's fascinating to be reading about Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction America, just as all of this is happening. What's clear is how much the broader country, arguably willfully, underestimated the rot of white supremacy.

    The underestimation was founded on the interest of preserving the ultimate institution in American life--the country itself. In 1876, Mississippi essentially staged an armed coup, damning the state to a century of racial hell, and we did nothing. Some of our best minds were taken by lynch mobs, and we looked the other way. A large part of it was racism, but another part was the threat of another Civil War.

    It is arguably unfair to isolate race in this matter. The country came of age just as long-held ideas about the nature of humanity were crumbling. There were gender struggles, class struggles, ethnic struggles, all happening at the same time. Still, it took children dying in churches to get us to perk up and take note. One could argue that, even then, we did not take the radical action needed to heal the ancient wound.

    What are we underestimating this time? What are we missing by not pushing ourselves toward a fundamental critique of the country? In one respect, it's unfair to put this on Obama. I think the polling shows that he is what America want him to be. In another respect, it's totally fair. Leaders have to risk something. They can't just reflect the electorate. They have to push the electorate.

    More »

  • That's Not How You Get Invited To Rush's Xmas Party

    Ross, silky-smooth as ever, wonders if conservatism would have been better if Dick Cheney were the Republican nominee:

    "Real conservatism," in this narrative, means a particular strain of right-wingery: a conservatism of supply-side economics and stress positions, uninterested in social policy and dismissive of libertarian qualms about the national-security state. And Dick Cheney happens to be its diamond-hard distillation. The former vice-president kept his distance from the Bush administration's attempts at domestic reform, and he had little time for the idealistic, religiously infused side of his boss's policy agenda. He was for tax cuts at home and pre-emptive warfare overseas; anything else he seemed to disdain as sentimentalism.

    This is precisely the sort of conservatism that's ascendant in today's much-reduced Republican Party, from the talk radio dials to the party's grassroots. And a Cheney-for-President campaign would have been an instructive test of its political viability.

    As a candidate, Cheney would have doubtless been as disciplined and ideologically consistent as McCain was feckless. In debates with Barack Obama, he would have been as cuttingly effective as he was in his encounters with Joe Lieberman and John Edwards in 2000 and 2004 respectively. And when he went down to a landslide loss, the conservative movement might - might! - have been jolted into the kind of rethinking that's necessary if it hopes to regain power.

    It's worth noting that "real conservatism" means being pro-life and anti-gay marriage also. But that aside, I'm mostly interested in this column for the writing. Which is pretty damn good. I don't know how he'll hold up after a few years of this. But he isn't Bill Kristol.

  • Newt Trapped On Torture

    I think Newt knows the right answer on waterboarding. But I think the laws of politics dictate that he can't call waterboarding torture, because he won't be able to score points. And that's all that really matters.

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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.

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What Makes a Story Great?

What makes a story great? The storytellers behind House of CardsThis American LifeThe Moth, and more reflect on the creative process.

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Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

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

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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.

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Is Wine Healthy?

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

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The World's Largest Balloon Festival

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

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