The color of politics

Monday, September 14, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:16 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 14, 2009

I had just finished reading the news and was staring down a bottle of bourbon, deciding whether to pour a drink or douse myself and light a match, when I got an e-mail from a friend:

“In my opinion, there's nothing . . . that could begin to account for the wild-eyed, fanatical, irrational, foaming-at-the-mouth, knee-jerk opposition to each and every single thing Obama says and does other than racism.”

My friend, who is white, is a political liberal, which is not to be confused with a Nazi or a Socialist or a Communist, although a belief in liberalism is often an invitation to be equated with one or all of the above. He also knows, as do I, it’s still not possible to peer into the hearts and minds of others.

And politics is, of course, an adversarial business — a perpetual conflict over, as the political scientist Theodore Lowi once put it, “who gets what of what there is to get.” Truth is the first casualty of war, but civility ends up in the pine box right next to it.

If you write with the hope that your words will be published in a middle-of-the-road publication like the daily newspaper, you hesitate before making what might be read as a connection between rhetorical excess and raw bigotry. Having spent a good part of my career in journalism straddling that (ahem) white line, I know better than to conflate principled opposition to Obama with Jim Crow-style racism.

Yet I have to agree that what we’re seeing and hearing from folks who consider themselves “real” Americans reflects something more insidious than simply a battle over the spoils.

Can an honest disagreement over the virtues of one political philosophy versus another explain the “birthers,” whose claim that Obama was born in Kenya and therefore not eligible to be president has been thoroughly debunked?

Can the question of whether politicians ought to steer clear of the classroom explain the hysterical reaction to a benign presidential message to school children?

Can protesters who plead “Take Back Our Country!” really believe that America is in deep peril of a socialist takeover?

Or is it because a black man with an exotic name and an unusual background is now at the switch?

After all, we’re talking about a president who has disappointed some of his most passionate supporters by failing to exploit an electoral mandate and his party’s control of Congress to reform the country’s health care system.

He’s also declined to reverse such Bush-era national security initiatives as domestic surveillance and the prison at Guantanamo, both of which even some conservatives have criticized.

Meanwhile, the president has shown an admirable, if misguided, patience with congressional Republicans, who have made clear they have no purpose in mind other than to defeat his every initiative, the good of the country be damned.

I’ll admit it was all a bit confusing until a recent drizzly Saturday afternoon when I read a small book called “Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama,” by the antiracism educator Tim Wise. In two extended essays, Wise explores what Obama’s election means and, “more importantly what it doesn’t mean,” about the state of race relations in America.

What Obama’s election means is that Americans have the collective will, exercised through the time-honored tradition of voting their individual self-interest, to overcome “old-fashioned Racism 1.0.” What it doesn’t mean is that America is necessarily ready for a black president.

That might seem, at first blush, incongruent. It isn’t.

Consider, for example, how many people have most recently justified their contempt for Obama by pointing to his association with another black man: Van Jones.

Wise’s book was published early this year, well before most people had ever heard of Jones. Yet his predicament is a perfect illustration of what Wise describes as “white folks inability to conceive of our nation in any but the most patriotic and un-self-critical terms.”

Obama had appointed Jones to advise the administration on “green energy” initiatives. But, some years ago, he signed a petition calling for an investigation into government culpability in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Jones denounced the conspiracy theory and, in fact, he and other signatories say they were mislead by the petition’s authors.

But Obama critics were outraged that a member of the administration might be a so-called “truther.” Led by Fox News host Glenn Beck, who returned to the topic night after night, they succeeded in forcing Jones to resign.

You might wonder what this story has to do with race. Well, while Jones was being hounded into unemployment for a years-old act of questionable judgment, Beck’s audience has grown since the morning he announced that Obama harbors “a deep-seated hatred for white people ....”

One year ago, to suggest that skin color might keep an eminently qualified man out of the White House was to reveal what liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich called a “prevailing anti-white bias.” Indeed, opinion makers of every stripe had declared that Obama’s political ascent proved that “we have overcome.”

Given the continuous litany of petty complaints, ridiculous accusations and outright lies that accompany almost everything Obama tries to do, I’m not sure I’m quite ready to drink to that.

Brian Wallstin  is a Columbia resident and a former city editor for the Missourian. E-mail him at

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Charles Dudley Jr September 14, 2009 | 1:29 a.m.

>>> Meanwhile, the president has shown an admirable, if misguided, patience with [congressional Republicans, who have made clear they have no purpose in mind other than to defeat his every initiative, the good of the country be damned]. <<<

[And due to this Republican reaction to any and all issues presented by Obama and the Dems is why this country cannot move forward] yet the koolaid drinking citizens of this country are to blinded by fame and fortune to know the difference.

Just who are the "Real Americans" is the real question?

Those willing to work together to move forward as we as a nation need to or those opposed to anything but their own agenda,to in time fill their own pockets with the tax payer's money through the continual "Fleecing Of America" as we saw over the last 8 years through a war we did not need nor want and only benefited those supplying the war machine at tax payer expense and now one that we find very hard to be able to with draw from with any kind of dignity left in check.

Great Column!

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 14, 2009 | 3:02 a.m.

The following made me a convert...
("5. Despite their secularism, Jews may be the most religious ethnic group in the world. The problem is that their religion is rarely Judaism; rather it is every "ism" of the Left. These include liberalism, socialism, feminism, Marxism and environmentalism. Jews involved in these movements believe in them with the same ideological fervor and same suspension of critical reason with which many religious people believe in their religion. It is therefore usually as hard to shake a liberal Jew's belief in the Left and in the Democratic Party as it is to shake an evangelical Christian's belief in Christianity. The big difference, however, is that the Christian believer acknowledges his Christianity is a belief, whereas the believer in liberalism views his belief as entirely the product of rational inquiry.
The Jews' religious fervor emanates from the origins of the Jewish people as a religious people elected by God to help guide humanity to a better future. Of course, the original intent was to bring humanity to ethical monotheism, God-based universal moral standards, not to secular liberalism or to feminism or to socialism. Leftist Jews have simply secularized their religious calling.")
source and more:
("Why do American Jews continue to identify with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party? In fact, why did American Jews overwhelmingly vote for Barak Obama, after it was George W. Bush who stood firmly behind Israel while it was under continuous assault by suicide bombers, European public opinion and the Arab world? In her now classic If I am not for Myself, Ruth Wisse argues that Jewish identification with liberalism no longer makes historical sense and today it is liberalism which presides over the destruction of Israel and the Jews. American Jewish support of Obama is not a sign of their identification with "progressive” politics. It is a symptom of fear, the fear of rising anti-Semitism which is now sanctioned by the very liberalism which Jews once imagined would save them from it.")
And of course, here's some schmaltz:

Ray Shapiro

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 14, 2009 | 7:36 a.m.

At least it's a slight improvement from teabaggers in his inaugural letter, I think. Of course, Mr. Wallstin doesn't say just how many of President Obama's opponents are out and out racists and how many would be opposed to his policies if he was a white man.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 14, 2009 | 7:42 a.m.

The answer to the first question should be obvious (that is, the question asked while staring at the bottle). Seriously, though, the talents of this author would be better invested in other subjects.

Also, if the Missouri School of Journalism has any connection to this publication, they should be ashamed of this piece for its obvious slant and inaccurate characterization of Middle America.

It's clear the author has no idea how Middle America thinks. It's apparent his intent is to denigrate and discount the root causes of their current activism. I won't speculate on the author's motives, as they must be radically different than mine, as I AM ONE OF THOSE Middle Americans.

Clinton's first presidential campaign came up with a one-liner that stuck: "It's the economy, stupid". Today, it could be, "It's the wealth, stupid." I'll say here this is not a statement to be misconstrued as racist, although I'm sure some would like to do exactly that. I would examine their motives, not mine.

Let me explain. Today's middle America realizes their country's wealth is quickly evaporating. It's being exploited by this liberal Congress, who the last time I checked, is mostly white and not black. This spending though, is enthusiastically endorsed by this President. Middle Americans realize government control of sectors of the economy contributed greatly to the recent melt-down, and that expanded government will only make things worse.

A lot can be accomplished with social programs. But social programs require wealth to fund them. This government is destroying wealth rather than promoting or preserving it. When no wealth is left, how do you pay for anything? Also, when there's no wealth, who other than the government has power? Liberals out of government don't get it, but Middle Americans intuitively understand.

So, it's not racism, Sir, it's common sense. Get it? Not likely.

Please note also that I am continuing to write under a pseudonym, as I fear for the security of my loved ones if I reveal my identity. Also, it appears posts here have been post-edited without record, and I won't risk that.

I have been intimidated and harassed on this site as I waited and received an apology from the editor; who edited another piece by this author AFTER it was published, without recording that he changed it. I note that I'm still waiting for the editor to direct me to his appended correction of that piece.

Mister Shapiro, your post is very interesting. I certainly don't disagree with it, and won't comment on it otherwise on fear of being labeled a racist. But I'm sorry I don't understand its connection to this piece.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin September 14, 2009 | 8:02 a.m.

"If you write -- for free -- with the hope that your words will be published -- without pay -- in a middle-of-the-road publication like a daily newspaper that claims it can't afford you, you hesitate before making what might be read as a connection between rhetorical excess and raw bigotry."

But think how much less you'd hesitate if you got a paycheck!

More to the point, this column clocked in at 913 words; Brian's last column at 856 words. At the going rate of $1.00/word for a professional journalist of his stature -- former city editor for the Missourian -- that comes to $1,769.00 Brian just donated to the Missourian (and Barack Obama by proxy).

I don't know how many months of health care premiums $1,769.00 would pay for -- if it were major medical, probably a whole year's worth. I'd be happy if the Missourian would pay for Brian's health insurance.

Whaddya say, Tom? Dan? Step up? For a bro?

(Report Comment)
Jake Sherlock September 14, 2009 | 8:26 a.m.

@Brian Nitsllaw

The previous piece has been corrected and can be found here:

A couple of other things I'd like to address about your posts:

-- I've read the threads you've been active on, and I really don't see where anyone has harassed you. I've seen a few people criticize you for not using your real name, but I'd hardly call it harassment. I think you're starting to give some of the other commenters, including those who do use their real name, an unfair reputation.

-- Regarding this allegation: "Also, it appears posts here have been post-edited without record, and I won't risk that." This is completely off-base and untrue. No reader posts are ever edited on this sight -- if a post violates our comment policy, it is removed. If a reader asks for his or her own post to be edited, we remove the comment and ask them to post again. Mr. Wallstin's previous column was edited to take out a derogatory term that slipped through the editing process, and that was noted in a comment and now with a correction.

-- I appreciate the fact that, politically, you and Mr. Wallstin don't see eye to eye. However, this is an opinion column, it resides in the opinion section, and as such the writer is allowed to express his opinion. Conversely, we also like to feature the opinions of writers from conservative and libertarian backgrounds. If you're interested in penning a guest commentary, you're welcome to do so under your real name. You may contact me at for further information on that if you're interested. If you prefer to keep your anonymity, that's your decision.

I respectfully ask that in the course of discussing Mr. Wallstin's views, we keep the conversation on topic and not on same bogus attempt to discredit the other commenters, Mr. Wallstin or the Missourian.

Jake Sherlock
Opinion editor

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 14, 2009 | 9:00 a.m.

Thank you very much for the response. I very much appreciate the offer to submit a guest commentary, and may take you up on it. I don't know if I'm ready to attach my name to anything, just yet, as I am incapable of assessing the risks of doing so. I also don't consider myself expert enough to be considered worthy of publication.

One commenter criticized me falsely, and would not retract the criticism. He then insulted me. I'll agree that might not be harrassment, but it's certainly not civil. I'll not comment any further.

I apologize if what I've said amounted to an attempt to discredit anyone. And I take this apology seriously.

Stating that you thought you changed a term, and stating that you actually changed it, I believe are two separate things.

I regret I didn't make the distinction between a post-edit of a writer and that of a commenter. At the time, I wasn't sure there was a distinction, but I appreciate that you've now clarified that.

I will remind you I've still not received a response to my request as to what Brian's intent was in the use of the term. Nor have I received a response from you as to why why you think the term is divisive.

I expect that won't happen, however I thank you for taking the time to respond otherwise, and the opportunity the Missourian provides for comment on its output.

Good Day.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 14, 2009 | 9:54 a.m.

What I find interesting is that nowhere in this piece is there any mention of what I believe how most Middle Americans perceive Barack Obama, as a person whose mother is white, and whose father is black. That and simply that.

I believe we've gotten beyond the petty opinions that if you are born half black, that you are black, and that if you are born white, you are not white.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 14, 2009 | 10:04 a.m.

I was unfortunately typing quickly and missed a single word that changes my intent immensely. I will CAPITALIZE the added word. Sorry for being sloppy.

What I find interesting is that nowhere in this piece is there any mention of what I believe how most Middle Americans perceive Barack Obama, as a person whose mother is white, and whose father is black. That and simply that.

I believe we've gotten beyond the petty opinions that if you are born half black, that you are black, and that if you are born HALF white, you are not white.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 14, 2009 | 10:26 a.m.

SHOULDN'T THIS HEADER BE CHANGED? "presidential school children"?

Featured Story
The color of politics
By Brian Wallstin ¦
Columbia resident Brian Wallstin writes that the opposition of President Barack Obama is often based on race rather then strictly politics. He cites attempts to show that Obama was born in Kenya and the reaction to his presidential school children as examples.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 14, 2009 | 10:35 a.m.

Roy, Wow. Your links are very informative.

Roy, If I knew you personally, I could have the opportunity of referring to you as a Mensch!

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 14, 2009 | 11:23 a.m.

One could argue that those elected government officials who have permitted unions to do what they've done to urban primary and secondary schools are as much or more racist than what Brian is trying to conjure up here. Could it be their goal is to promote the growth of an ignorant electorate?

And isn't that a shame, that unskilled labor jobs keep evaporating along with this country's wealth? I'll bet the ratio between the population of unskilled laborers and unskilled job positions is increasing positively.

Those elected goverment officials who are hell bent on destroying American wealth are more likely greater to blame for the numbers of unemployed minorities than are racist bosses looking to hire.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 14, 2009 | 12:00 p.m.

In case I'd be interested in submitting a piece for publication, what journalistic parameters and constraints do you prepare potential writers with?

Also, what target ratio for liberal to conservative posts if any do you have for publishing opinion pieces, and how do you believe that ratio compares with your reading audience?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 15, 2009 | 2:10 a.m.

Jesse Jackson on Congressman Joe Wilson:
("JACKSON: Well, it’s globally embarrassing. The whole world watched that display by the congressman from South Carolina. But it’s not just that. It’s the – we see patterns in the subprime lending scheme, predators targeting, steering, clustering blacks and browns by race. A man who won that suit here in Chicago, another suit in Baltimore, another one in Cleveland. The pervasiveness of this issue of race disparity is all too real for us to kind of try to put it under the rug any longer.

HALL: But does it hit extra – I mean, because people believe certainly that, obviously, these things happen and when you’re poor you feel like you’re helpless. But this is the President of the United States. Someone of power and prestige and the leader of our country. Black or white or whatever. But let me ask you, that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to move this forward. There are many who are calling to censure Wilson. Is that what’s necessary to perhaps send a message that will trickle from the President on down?

JACKSON: Well, censure may be a thing to do, but my concern is that there are those who think it was his being discourteous, not the content. Never mind his having said that in the cloak room. I mean in that same room they argued slavery was – was ordained by God. In that same room they argued segregation was ordained by God. So he said something that was embarrassing, but there have been other things said on that floor for a long time. I think we’re over it, we’re getting better. And I think when it raises up its ugly head, we should address it in a meaningful way. [inaudible] the venom of racism remains in America today.")
source and more:

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 15, 2009 | 9:29 p.m.

I'm contemplating the possibility that there exists across this country some number of media outlets who publish unpaid journalists whose main output is highly liberal propaganda. That they're unpaid minimizes their connection to the publisher and thus any responsibility by, or liability to, said publisher. Any publisher who's financially struggling (and which aren't) has an incentive to publish unpaid journalists (as claimed in another piece on this site).
That the President claimed that he would be asking "community organizations" to help shape change, and that there exists Stimulus Bill money available to pay for such, how many unpaid journalists would gravitate to some Stimulus Bill funded, "community organization" paid-for position (AKA no show job - refer to the Sopranos if you need to).
Filed under possibly unrelated facts: 2 Vermont senators, of 7 Senators just voted to continue to fund Acorn, while 87 Senators voted to discontinue funding.
Also an unrelated fact?: Brian Wallstin on Stimulus Money to create jobs in Vermont.

Question: Is Brian Wallstin involved in a Stimulus Bill funded scheme to Mal-inform Americans?

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 15, 2009 | 9:42 p.m.

Please note: Given the current scandals at Acorn, and in light of the other scandals that are emerging, I've taken the time to locate all my information offsite. I suggest to others that they be similarly cautious. In an attempt to further protect myself, if anyone would like to share the pertinent files and reports I've compiled, please give me some indication.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 15, 2009 | 10:13 p.m.

Also please note, regarding my previous post on BW and his possible involvement in a Stimulus Bill Sponsored Propaganda Mill, I, in jest, meant to header that post with the following:
I regret and apologize that when my original post disappeared as I was editing it, I thus forgot to add the desired header.
I am not stating either way that what I offered for the audience's consideration, was fact or fiction, because I really don't know whether it may be fake, or not. It sounds like something out of ART BELL, but Scott Levinson and his ILK scare the "gibbles and bits" out of me.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 15, 2009 | 10:23 p.m.

I want to say, I deeply regret that the Senator of my Home State of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, was among the 7 Senators who voted to continue funding Acorn. This disgusts me, and he will hear the same from me by letter or e-mail.

I'm sure I'll hear NOTHING from BW, JS, or anyone involved at the Missourian as to whether they now support Acorn.

BW, who has journalistic ties to Vermont, is invited to comment as to whether he supports the 2 Vermont Senators who voted to maintain funding for Acorn. Note: the vote was 87 to 7 against funding Acorn.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 15, 2009 | 11:11 p.m.

Why should anyone at the Missourian answer your demands about ACORN? Maybe you should traipse down there and ask them in person if the question is that important to you.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 16, 2009 | 4:24 a.m.

Oh gawd the drama of the local intenetz. ^_^

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 16, 2009 | 4:59 a.m.

I like the way that word sounds.
I wander what it means.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 17, 2009 | 7:22 p.m.

Got pudding?

("It's a shame that Cosby, normally a proponent of personal responsibility, has chosen to play the race card.

It's a shame that Cosby is selling the very misleading Dem party line that Republicans aren't interested in passing health care reform.

Why did the country rise up against HillaryCare?

Americans didn't want government-run health care then and we don't want it now. I don't believe sexism played a role then and I don't believe racism plays a role now.

Good grief.

Why didn't Hillary get the nomination for president? Was it because she's a woman?

I guess Cosby must think so.

I have no doubt that some people in this country are opposed to Obama because he's black; but that minute number doesn't begin to account for the majority of Americans now opposing Obama's health care plan.

Why slam those of us in genuine opposition to ObamaCare as racists?

Cosby disappoints me.

Oh, well. Maybe some JELL-O pudding will pick up my spirits.")
source and more:

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 18, 2009 | 6:22 a.m.

@ Ray Shapiro.
You've nailed it again sir. Cosby is to be commended for his open support of personal responsibility. This appears to be an about face by him away from common sense. We live in strange times. It seems like all decency is being traded for uncivil or wrongheaded outbursts and soundbytes from Hollywood, tennis players, rappers, congressmen, and anyone else with a megapphone.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 18, 2009 | 9:03 a.m.

>>> for uncivil or wrongheaded outbursts and soundbytes from Hollywood, tennis players, rappers, congressmen, and anyone else with a megapphone. <<<

Haven't the Republican Lobbyist's been doing that for years on the Congressional Floor?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 18, 2009 | 10:18 a.m.

And what about those Democrats who booed Bush in 2005, Chuck? Don't blame some for bad behavior and let those you agree with slide without a rebuke.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 18, 2009 | 10:36 a.m.

John Schultz ya and we should not let the Libertarians off the hook either for wanting smaller government but offering no real back up plan once the free market of private industry fails.

/non snark

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 18, 2009 | 12:02 p.m.

You forgot the big part of that picture Chuck, the free will of private charity. How's that CARE@Paquin fund raising going that I understand some envelope-stuffing was done for a night or two back?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 18, 2009 | 3:57 p.m.

John Schultz not sure and why don't you go ask Sean about that instead of me as that is his baby not mine.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 18, 2009 | 5:28 p.m.

Hey, no skin off my nose if you don't care about the private individuals raising money to help out your program.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 18, 2009 | 7:47 p.m.

I have just not kept track because was assured by those in charge that all is going quite well.

What makes it sad is that private partys had to pick it up after government was going to drop the ball after 35 years of continual dedication. That is the sadness in that issue.

Yet and all the while government is and was wasting money on pet and private projects that only benefited their contractor buddies at tax payer expense.

It goes on all over this nation not just here in tiny Columbia.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 18, 2009 | 9:49 p.m.

Brian Wallstin, in response to your piece, how do you stare down a bottle of bourbon? Is that like when the Russians were sending missiles to Cuba?


Sorry, from what I've read, Brian Wallstin and a bottle of bourbon seem the odd couple to me!

Oh, Sorry, It's a literary device.

Brian, do you need a light?

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw September 18, 2009 | 10:03 p.m.

As follows, need anyone say anything more about an opinion article in the Missourian, a Columbia, Missouri publication connected to the University of Missouri School of Journalism? In Brian Wallstin's own words, when quoted: A friend of Brian Wallstin is on record saying: “In my opinion, there's nothing . . . that could begin to account for the wild-eyed, fanatical, irrational, foaming-at-the-mouth, knee-jerk opposition to each and every single thing Obama says and does other than racism.”

(Report Comment)

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