Niall Ferguson Doesn't Know When To Quit

by Conor Clarke

I'm sure Niall Ferguson is a fine historian. But his real talent, it seems, is for digging ditches. Paul Krugman and Jim Fallows have written good posts on this already, but it strikes me as worthy of further attention that Ferguson is now doubling down and defending his original argument that what "pretty much sums up" the 44th president of the United States is that, like Felix the Cat, he is "not only black" but "very, very lucky."

Basically, Ferguson's response to the original criticism was to write a snippy blog post, and then email Henry Louis Gates to confirm that Felix the Cat was not African American, and, thus, that Ferguson is not a racist. Swell. Emailing Gates for help is really a whisker's length away from an explicit "but I have black friends!" argument, but let's put that aside for a moment. Ferguson's response has also done an impressive job of missing the point.

The problem with Ferguson's original analogy was not that it's "racist." And, certainly, the "race" of Felix the Cat (if we want to meditate over the profoundly dumb question of whether cats have a "race" to begin with) was never really of great interest. If we cut the cat out of the equation, Ferguson is saying: "What pretty much sums up the president of the United States is that he is black and lucky." This is not so much racist as stupid.

Black and lucky: Does that strike you as a fair and informative characterization of the president? Do you think the defining characteristic of the Obama presidency has, so far, been a combination of luck and blackness? My vague feeling is that some other stuff might have happened in the past six months, too. But Niall Ferguson, a professor at Harvard and a columnist for the Financial Times, continues to believe that it's "pretty much" all about being black and lucky.