Why Hard Working Blacks Vote Democratic

Vote Baby Vote!Ed Kilgore wrote an article over at Talking Points Memo, Mississippi Is Just One Piece of the GOP’s African-American Problem. It’s remarkable for not being at the Washington Monthly, or as I like to think of it, “A megabyte of advertising for a kilobyte of content.” But given that I put up with the really miserable viewing experience at Washington Monthly to read Kilgore most days, I’m only to happy too read him at TPM.

In the article he goes over the history of the the African American community with the Republican Party. He notes, for example, that before the GOP decided they were going to be the conservative party, they got about 30% of the black vote. As I’ve noted before, Martin Luther King Sr was a Republican in those days. But in 1964, after Barry Goldwater voted against the Voting Rights Act, the African American community fled from the Republican Party. They only received 6% of the black vote that year, even though 32% had voted for Nixon in 1960.

This actually brings up something interesting that you hear from conservatives all the time. They say that blacks are just in the habit of voting for the Democrats and that the party doesn’t really do anything for them. The idea is that the Democrats promise them “goodies” but in the end, the inner cities just continue their destruction. But the truth is that black voters have been very responsive in their voting. When the Republican Party has become more reasonable, they’ve voted for it in higher percentages.

Of course, there is a contradiction in the way that Republicans look at the African American community anyway: they complain that blacks should just see that their best interests are with the Republican Party. As Kilgore concluded, “Perhaps it’s more accurate to say… that conservatives want African-Americans to change before they are worthy of outreach.” The problem is that politics doesn’t work that way. And Republicans know that. That’s why Romney and Ryan spent the whole 2012 election telling old people that Obama was taking away their Medicare.

Kilgore also quotes McDaniel’s campaign manager, Melanie Sojourner, “Where I’m from, in rural Mississippi, I grew up knowing lots of God-fearing, hard-working, independent conservative minded African-American families.”[1] This reminds me of a great quote from Ramesh Ponnuru. He was appealing to his fellow conservatives to stop saying, “Hispanics are natural conservatives because they’re hard working, family-oriented, and religious.” He noted that it was condescending to Hispanics and self-congratulatory to conservatives. He summed it up brilliantly, “I suspect most people throughout human history have been hard-working, family-oriented, and religious, without sharing conservative views about limited constitutional government.”

This perhaps more than anything gets to the heart of the Republican Party. The people who really matter—the Ramesh Ponnurus—know that the Republican Party is all about low taxes on the rich and no regulations on corporations. But Republicans themselves—even professional ones like Melanie Sojourner—think it is about cultural signifiers. These kind of people think that if you go to church, you should vote Republican; if you have a job, you should vote Republican; if you’re “independent,” you should vote Republican.

It shows what they think of Democrats: we all a bunch freeloading hedonist followers. But as I’ve noted before, the only real difference between conservative and liberal is how you think the resources of the world should be divided. I find it shocking that the conservative philosophy is that how ever the resources are divided up right now is the way they should be divided up. And ideologically, that’s incoherent because it changes from day to day. There is not acceptance that legal wealth today may be the result of theft and murder yesterday. All that is thrown aside. So it is little wonder that the poor vote Democratic and the rich vote Republican. Because ultimately, the people know which party is on which side. (Although sadly, the Republicans do a much better job for their side than the Democrats do theirs.)

[1] In the article, a couple of “[sic]” additions were added to the quote. My belief is that when it is clear what the writer means, it is better to just fix it. The addition of “[sic]” in this context just makes the person quoting seem small.

Inequality Has Been Rising Steadily for 50 Years

America: What Went WrongYesterday, I picked up a book, America: What Went Wrong by Donald Barlett and James Steele. The amazing thing about the book is that it was published in 1992 and yet it could have been written this year. And in fact, it is kind of like a user friendly version of Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Except that it deals with a lot of other cool stuff. For example, it shows how deregulating the airline industry caused there to be fewer companies and the cost of travel actually went up.

I haven’t read the whole book and I don’t intend this to be a review of any kind. It is just that the book is 22 years old and it starts with an info-graphic to demonstrate how bad things had gotten. In 1959, the top 4% of Americans made as much as the bottom 35% of Americans. Actually, that number alone strikes me as ridiculously unequal, but of course, those were the “good ol’ days”! Thirty years later, in 1989, the top 4% of Americans made as much as the bottom 51% of Americans. Note also: this is just wage income. By this definition, Mitt Romney, who makes roughly $20 million per year, probably wouldn’t even make it in the top 4%. So this way of looking at inequality really understates the problem.

Well, I couldn’t see that info-graphic without wondering how things had changed. In fact, the authors even say, “If the trend continues, sometime early in the next century the top 4 percent of individuals and families drawing paychecks will earn as much on the job as 60 percent of the rest of American workers.” I love this kind of stuff and I wondered if I could find the current data. As it is, everyone does things about the 1% and the 0.01%. Well, it turns out that the IRS has a treasure trove of data for geeks like me.

It’s not easy, of course. They provide big spreadsheets with numbers that are not at all what I was looking for. So I had to do a bunch of calculating. What’s more, I had to make a few assumptions. But this is important: all the assumptions I made cause the inequality to be understated, not overstated. So I worked out the numbers for 1993. This was kind of a test to make sure that I was doing it correctly, since I already had the 1989 number: 51%. And indeed, my 1993 number looks about right: 53.0%. So I feel pretty confident in this.

The most recent data available from the IRS are back from 2011, and although I’m sure things are worse now, it gives us a good idea of where we’re at. My 2011 number was: 58.7%. Before the crash, it was 56.8%. I think what we are seeing here is the standard narrative. During the Clinton years, inequality kind of flatlined and then during the great leadership and tax cuts of the Bush the Younger administration, it started to increase again. And then, we got the housing bubble bursting and the financial crisis. The government, of course, took care of the financial crisis (the rich), but didn’t do much of anything about the housing bubble (homeowners and construction workers and pretty much everyone). So inequality again shot up.

It’s very interesting I think. Barlett and Steele were right on with their 60% number 22 years ago. It makes me think about the old joke, “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything!” It’s almost exactly the same thing here. In the case of the weather we just can’t do anything about it; that’s the joke. Well, given that we pretty much live in an oligarchy, there is really nothing we can do about inequality. The top 4% of the country are the only ones who our leaders listen to. Half the country has managed to be so focused on fake scandals and a few thousand desperate children fleeing their countries, that they don’t notice that their birthrights have been stolen. And the other half of the nation is too busy just trying to survive to vote most of the time.

You have to ask yourself, “How bad can it get before the people really do rise up?” Well, the rich are figuring that as long as there aren’t bread lines, they are safe. And I think they are right. Still, if I were them, I’d invest in a little insurance by way of reducing inequality. But I’m a careful man. And the rich aren’t careful. The conservatives aren’t careful. So I don’t see change coming. If I live another 50 years, I certainly don’t see that number going below 58.7%. I think the American people will be willing to accept a number well into the 70s. And by then, it may be to late. Maybe it already is.

Don’t Look Back and Sneer

Schlitz Beer Ad 1950sLast year, I wrote a rather angry article, Michelle Obama and Downton Abbey. It is well known that the First Lady is fond of the show, as I have been. But it allows people to look back at that time and say, “Oh, we are so superior!” You see, we don’t treat gays and former prostitutes quite as badly as we used to. Ain’t we great?! Meanwhile, we allow our own injustices to continue on. And I’m not talking about ones that are so ahead of our time that we don’t even know about them. I’m talking about things like the selective enforcement of cannabis laws that manages to label huge numbers of young black men as felons for the rest of their lives.

So it’s always dangerous to feel too smug about how enlightened you are. I totally agree that it is best that we no longer hang witches in this country. (But don’t consider it enlightened that we didn’t burn them; the Catholic Church made that illegal in 785.) So I was excited to see that Business Insider had published an article, 26 Shockingly Offensive Vintage Ads. Some of them aren’t actually so bad — more simply reflecting the times. There is, for example, a 1940 Plymouth ad that shows a white couple, and attending to them is a uniformed black man carrying suitcases — and very happy in his job! The ad is conflating owning a Plymouth with being rich (that is, having a uniformed black servant). Charles Howard is shown in the movie Seabiscuit as having a black servant, and I don’t recall anyone complaining that it was racist.

But most of the ads are horrible. There is a 1950s Schlitz beer ad (see above) that shows a kitchen. A woman is holding a skillet that has smoke floating out of it; with her other hand, she has a handkerchief up to her eyes. Here husband has his arm around her, smiling and pointing to two bottles of Schlitz on the table. He says, “Anyway, you didn’t burn the Schlitz!”

Van Heusen AdThe best example is a 1950s Van Heusen ad. Now in a certain way, this isn’t really racist. It is highly ethnocentric. And it implies that all Americans are white. And that America is 80% of the planet. But what the ad is saying is that unless you are a tribal chieftain in the jungles of Africa, you wear Van Heusen shirts.

Okay, I was overstating above. The ad is racist. But it isn’t anywhere near as racist as all the photoshopped images of Obama as witch doctor that were so popular among conservatives from pretty much the moment he took office. It is not making a cultural comparison as in the Van Heusen ad; it is saying that our president is a primitive from another continent (and even time).

What was most striking about the Business Insider article is that right after it was, The 20 Most Hilarious And Clever Print Ads Ever. Mostly, I didn’t find them that great. But the two page DHL ad is nothing short of brilliant. However, it is quickly followed by the Bijouteries Natan: The first remote control ad. You’ve got to see this one:

Bijouteries Natan: The first remote control

I suppose I have no reason to complain. I was promised “clever” ads; there was no promise that they wouldn’t be offensive. But here’s the thing: I’m sure that the type of person who reads Business Insider today is the kind of person who would have found the Van Heusen ad “hilarious and clever” in the 1950s. And there is the point for Alyson Shontell and Kim Bhasin and Patricia Laya (the writers of those articles) and Michelle Obama and you and, most of all, me. We haven’t landed anywhere. In 20 years, that Bijouteries Natan ad is going to look totally sexist — unless we decide that sexual relationships are simply going to be pay-to-play. We must look to the future. We have come a long way, but on an infinite trip, that doesn’t mean much. Looking back at how awful we used to be is just a way of ignorantly showing how awful we now are.


In 2008, the people of “liberal” California voted to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. That was just six years ago.

Modigliani, the Artists Not the Economist

Modigliani - Self PortraitTomorrow will be the economist Dean Baker’s 56th birthday. Last year I wrote about that. And I sent him an email telling him. I also noted that he should consider it a great honor because it had been Modigliani the day before. He wrote back and talked about how much he admired his work. It was clear he wasn’t talking about the painter and I thought he was putting me on. But sure enough, he thought I meant Franco Modigliani, the Nobel Prize winning economist. Talk to an economist and see what you get.

But this year, just like last year, I must tell you that on this day in 1884, the great artist Amedeo Modigliani was born. He is one of the artists that I would classify as not terribly creative. That is to say that his style was remarkably consistent. But I might have said the same thing of Picasso had he only lived to be 35. At the same time, I love his work—far more than anything Picasso did.

The story of Modigliani is the stuff of romance. It’s absolutely awful but it is the kind of thing that even I find beautiful in its way. He mostly bartered with his paintings. He lived and died in poverty. He only had a single solo art show, that was shut down by the police within hours because of his “scandalous” nudes. Three years before his death, he met Jeanne Hebuterne, who became his constant companion. Here is one of his many paintings of her:

Jeanne Hebuterne - Modigliani

They had a daughter the following year. But Modigliani was suffering from tubercular meningitis. In January of 1920, after his downstairs neighbors had not heard from him for days, they entered the flat and found him in bed, almost dead holding onto Hebuterne, who was nine months pregnant with their second child. Modigliani was taken to the hospital but there was nothing that could be done. He died on 24 January 1920. Hebuterne was so distraught that she killed herself and her unborn baby the following day.

Modigliani - Elmyr de HoryMany years later, Elmyr de Hory made something of a living forging Modigliani. He did a lot of other people’s work too, but I think his Modiglianis are his best. He was very good. Here’s the only one I could easily find, but you can well see how de Hory fooled so many people for so long—he was good.

With my recent experience at the Antiques Roadhow, it makes me all the more angry. I don’t know exactly what I think of Elmyr de Hory. He was an incredibly talented guy and also a charlatan. But that’s not it. The problem is the whole business of art that is just shameful. This painting would sell for tens of millions of dollars if everyone believed that Modigliani had painted it. But instead, it isn’t. It’s still doubtless worth a lot of money because now Elmyr de Hory is famous. But the professional art world is a pox on society.

Happy birthday Amedeo Modigliani!