Niall Ferguson Responds to Backlash

A Harvard historian defends his comparison of Obama to Felix the Cat

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Niall Ferguson has been stung into a response over his Felix the Cat column in The Financial Times, the subject of an Atlantic Wire post on Tuesday. "So it's racist to compare President Obama with Felix the Cat?" he wrote on The Huffington Post. "Oh dear, the seemingly dead body of political correctness just twitched. Let's try logic, shall we?"

He presented a brief, four-point defense of the comparison, ending with a note on the deficit--the subject of the original piece: "that's the issue the Huffington Post should be focusing on, not politically correct claptrap."

So does this get him off the hook? The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coate's thinks not. "The problems with this post are rather incredible," he begins. "It's nice to know that Ferguson's comparison wasn't racist. Of course, if you click through the link you'll see that HuffPo accuses him of no such thing. But Ferguson is too good to let the facts stand in the way of flamboyant argument. Hence, the Racist Card."

If The Huffington Post didn't call Ferguson racist, what is this all about? Keith Olbermann's inclusion of Ferguson in his "Worst Person" segment certainly fanned the flames, but James Wolcott's Vanity Fair diatribe seemed a likelier suspect. In a characteristically fiery blog post, Wolcott called the professor an "egregious, ubiquitous hustler-historian and neo-imperialist who is incapable of barely suppressing a burp without it sounding as triumphalist as a double bill of Top Gun and Days of Thunder." He objected in particular, however, to this "borderline racist caricature":

Ferguson may comport himself as if he knows everything about everything--is capable of seeing simultaneously time-past, time-present, and time-future--but about Felix the Cat he knows fuck-all nothing.

Wolcott continued, calling the advice to Obama to "take note" of  Felix's demise "Ferguson's lame-o, piss-poor, look-at-darling-dimples finale." Not yet having exhausted his store of expletives and vitriol, he added, "don't go debasing Felix the Cat to make your crappy rhetorical points, Ferguson, and the Financial Times better fucking shape up, I don't care if it's August."

Wolcott wins points for style, but Coates may have offered the more useful insight: "I don't think it's too much to ask Niall Ferguson to, for God's sake, stop digging."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.