The Conversation


Some readers found the September cover, and the related images within James Fallows’s story previewing the presidential debates (“Slugfest”), to be distasteful.
What happened to The Atlantic, an American voice of reason? In a very insightful analysis by James Fallows of past debates of Mitt Romney and President Obama, the pages were polluted by moronic simulated images of the presidential candidates physically beating each other. This presentation not only accepts the Tea Party’s approach of “no compromise” and “fight to the death”; it adds nothing to the political debate, and wastes paper and ink.
Deane Rykerson
Kittery Point, Maine
The photographs accompanying James Fallows’s article are demeaning to the office of president of the United States. They are demeaning to the two men who are running for that office. They insult the intelligence of voters who dare to hope that The Atlantic can rise above the inane and sophomoric. And they are an irritating distraction to those who seek to read the article.

John M. Hyson
Stockbridge, Mass.

Fear of a Black President

Several readers said they were moved to tears by Ta-Nehisi Coates’s September article, which The Huffington Post described as “a powerful exploration of the racial fault lines that President Barack Obama must perpetually negotiate, limiting his potency on a range of crucial issues.” Other readers insisted that Obama is hampered not by his racial identity but by his inability to lead.

“Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.” From there, Ta-Nehisi Coates describes in detail his broad skepticism of the motives and voting patterns of a race different from his own. Indeed, his article could just as easily have been titled “Fear of the White Voter.” When whites oppose nationalized health care, they do so out of racism. When they protest budget deficits, they do so out of racism. When Republicans threaten a filibuster, they do so out of racism. When they accuse the president of racism, they do so … well, I’m sure you’ve guessed it.
Recent NBC/Wall Street Journal polling data show that 0 percent of black voters support Mitt Romney, while 40 percent of whites support the president. Coates bemoans the fact that he has a black president whom whites allow to act only “half as black,” but it is in this open chauvinism that Coates’s sentiments most closely resemble the racism he supposes he sees in others.
Quentin B. Fairchild
Fort Myers, Fla.
“In 2008, as Obama’s election became imaginable, it seemed possible that our country had indeed, at long last, come to love us.” This sentence sums up the tendency to view oneself not as a unique individual operating within a broad, diverse society, but as a member of one tribe within a society of tribes. Any time I hear something like this, I think of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream: that his children would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
By saying that Obama’s election was an indication that “our country had … come to love us,” Mr. Coates is actually asking to be judged, at least in part, by the color of his skin. The truth is, America has a long list of favorite black sons and daughters—people who are widely admired by Americans of all races. But these people are not admired because they’re black—or in spite of their race. They’re admired because they’re highly accomplished people.
If we had feared a black president that much, the 2008 election would have had a different outcome. The primary reason President Obama is running into headwinds now is not because we fear a black president, but because we’re usually reluctant to reelect a bad president.
sumlikeit comment
Mr. Coates writes that a black president has to be “twice as good” and “half as black,” and do his best to resemble the Huxtables. Further, the subject of race must be avoided in the national conversation. Unsaid by Mr. Coates, but implicit, is the thought that these standards are imposed not by all whites but by a large and influential segment: conservatives. Yet I believe that segment would embrace a candidate like Allen West or Tim Scott in a heartbeat, and listen to whatever he wanted to say about race.
Liberals like Mr. Coates confuse conservative political views with racism. This may not be calculated. They may believe that conservatism is racist. That makes a conversation about race difficult.
Roger T. Baker
New Orleans, La.
Using racism as a scapegoat for failed leadership is the epitome of stupidity. America is by far the most multicultural country in the world. While people in other countries are still hacking people to death because of their tribal affiliation, America has affirmative action and hate-crime laws.
Sam King
Coquille, Ore.
As the Henry Louis Gates and Trayvon Martin cases show, Obama simply has no choice but to stay away from racial issues, in any shape or form, if he wants to have a chance of being a success.
The one quibble I have is with the characterization of the article as angry, and the author’s acceptance of that description (as seen in the accompanying video interview online). Methinks such a characterization falls within the same area of concern that the article seeks to highlight—a black man cannot even write a heartfelt piece such as this without it being seen as an angry response of some kind.
znanab comment
My piece … ends with an interview with Shirley Sherrod. One thing that bugged me about the bipartisan praise heaped on Andrew Breitbart when he died was how little it reckoned with what exactly Breitbart had done …
Breitbart claimed … : “Accusing a person of racism is the worst thing that you can do in this country” …
Breitbart claimed accusing someone of racism to be moral sin, committed that sin, and then acted like nothing happened. No one knows whether he doctored the footage or not. No one wants to know.
There was some commentary over whether my piece was “angry.” It is angry. And I am angry. And you should be too.
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Excerpt from the author’s blog at

The Hookup Culture

Readers had plenty to say about Hanna Rosin’s “Boys on the Side” (September). Some pointed out the health risks inherent in the hookup culture; others focused on less obvious detrimental effects.

Hanna Rosin is now the perfect wingman: “If you hook up with this guy, it will be great for your business career!”
What an empty-headed premise from a normally sage thinker. Isn’t it offensive to suggest that women’s careers are largely determined by whether they are in a relationship? Rosin tries to portray women as being in either the “I’m easy! Sleep with me!” camp or the chastity-belt camp. In the real world, there is a comfortable space in the middle for women to enjoy casual relationships or to maintain a steady relationship, and still have the freedom to go on to any career they want based on their skills and determination.
Further, can you imagine the uproar if a man wrote an article essentially saying that a woman needs an active sex life, without consequences, to stand a better chance of advancing her career?
Everett J. Burns
Cranberry Township, Pa.
Rosin’s argument is necessary because it’s still so easy for even the most empowered, confident women to feel guilty about their sexual decisions thanks to the pervasive theory that “hookup culture” will get us in the end. As if one day all of us who’ve slept around will wake up, barren and alone, and think to ourselves, “I never should’ve had a one-night stand with that bartender! That’s where everything went wrong!”
That’s why my favorite takeaway from Rosin’s piece is her point about how admitting that emotions do matter, for both men and women, doesn’t mean that hookup culture is a bust; it’s all about figuring out what you want and what you need. “Hookup culture” gives us the means to do exactly that.
Katie J. M. Baker
Excerpt from a Jezebel blog post
So women, now that we are something resembling liberated, are free to use people sexually for cold imitations of intimacy, just as men have used us for centuries, without being inhibited by social prohibitions? I am a feminist, and I believe that whatever the boys get to do, the girls should get to do. But we have deplored men’s use of women as sex objects for centuries, because using people for one’s personal pleasure and then tossing them aside is wrong. It hasn’t become right just because women are now doing it. That women get to have an equal share of this rather pathetic privilege suggests that the world is more fair than it used to be, but also that people are more sad and alienated.
I’m glad that women who disagree with me have options—but I wish men had improved their behavior, instead of women’s sinking to their level.
Liz Byrd Brignac comment
Hanna Rosin replies:
I think we are confusing the hookup culture with one-night stands or the rampant proliferation of “boy toys.” I think what women are after is almost exactly what Everett Burns describes as the “comfortable space in the middle.” They are not ping-ponging between hookups and a settled existence, but rather creating a whole new way of being together.
Here is how one woman I interviewed explained what both men and women want:
“We want a relationship of freedom—the freedom to be there for each other and available sexually when it suits the both of us, and also emotionally when it suits the both of us. We want it to be fun and maybe involve some dates and long talks over coffee. But we certainly don’t want these ‘relationships’ to be entered into with an expectation of long-term, or to get in the way of the other important things in our lives. Compatibility isn’t even all that important. Amusement, affection, affirming attention, sexual fulfillment, the ever-elusive ‘fun’: that’s what we’re after. We are putting ourselves first. Some might call that selfish; we call it smart and independent and secure.”
Seems pretty respectable to me. Even fun.
It's the Economy, Stupid
In September, Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann questioned why Millennials aren’t buying cars and houses at the same rate previous generations did (“The Cheapest Generation”). They wrote: “A perfect storm of economic and demographic factors” may have “fundamentally changed the game.” Young readers responded, in effect: “No kidding.”
“The Cheapest Generation” asks interesting questions about how changes in American culture affect car sales. But I suspect the answer may be more pedestrian. My generation buys fewer cars because our parents’ generation charged us a fortune to go to school. We can’t afford a Ford, because we’ve already paid for a Porsche. It might really be that simple.
Sam Kennerly
Philadelphia, Pa.
John McFarland, GM’s manager of global strategic marketing, says of the Millennials, “We just think nobody truly understands them yet.” Subaru’s publicist Doug O’Reilly says, “We’re trying to get the emotional connection correct.” Both of these comments are astonishing in their myopia and ignorance about why Millennials aren’t buying cars—as if the trick is just figuring out the right ad campaign. Figuring out the “emotional connection” isn’t going to fix a sick job market, bloated student debt, and a dwindling middle class.
Julie Hohn
Sacramento, Calif.
Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann reply:
These readers are right. High unemployment, high student-loan debt, and low-paying entry-level jobs are the most important contributors to slow house and car sales among young people today. But our piece asked the next question: Are there reasons to think home and car sales might be permanently subdued, even after the economy recovers? We think there are, and businesses that ignore the technological and urban shift away from big houses and cars do so at their own peril.