OpinionJournal – Best of the Web Today – October 22, 2007

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Best of the Web Today – October 22, 2007

    By JAMES TARANTO

    Louisiana Elects 60th Caucasian Governor
    As expected, Rep. Bobby Jindal has been elected governor of Louisiana. He captured 54% of the vote on Saturday, a 37-point advantage over his nearest opponent. Twelve candidates appeared on the ballot in Louisiana’s open primary; had no one received a majority, the top two finishers would have faced a run-off next month. Jindal, 36, will supplant Missouri’s Matt Blunt as the nation’s youngest governor. In a state famous for flamboyant and corrupt politicians, Jindal is, as we noted in our Weekend Interview last month, “an affable policy wonk with a quick mind and a fascination with the details of governance.”

    His victory is also an ethnic first, and one that runs counter to the New York Times’s stereotype of the South:

    [Jindal] is a highly unusual politician, having become the nation’s first Indian-American governor in a Southern state where race is inseparable from politics.

    It’s not exactly clear what the Times means when it characterizes Louisiana as a “state where race is inseparable from politics.” Louisiana’s most memorable connection between race and politics was the 1991 run-off election for governor, which pitted corrupt former governor Edwin Edwards against white supremacist David Duke. But Duke lost in a landslide and, despite warnings that his 39% showing was an ill portent, he faded into obscurity.

    It’s true that blacks and whites in Louisiana have disparate voting patterns, with blacks voting much more heavily Democratic than whites do. But this is the case everywhere in the country; and it is probably less true in Louisiana than in most other Southern states. Bayou State whites are more inclined to vote Democratic than those elsewhere in the region: Louisiana was the only Southern state other than Arkansas and Tennessee that the Clinton-Gore ticket carried twice; it elected its first Republican U.S. senator just three years ago; and it is likely to retain Democratic state legislative majorities after next month’s run-offs.

    There’s something odd, too, about casting the election of an Indian-American in “racial” terms. It’s reminiscent of U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “a high-caste Hindu, of full Indian blood, born at Amritsar, Punjab, India,” was not “a white person” for the purposes of immigration law–even though ethnologists consider Indians to be part of the Caucasian race. Justice George Sutherland wrote for a unanimous court:

    It may be true that the blond Scandinavian and the brown Hindu have a common ancestor in the dim reaches of antiquity, but the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences between them to-day; and it is not impossible, if that common ancestor could be materialized in the flesh, we should discover that he was himself sufficiently differentiated from both of his descendants to preclude his racial classification with either. . . .

    [The word Caucasian] is at best a conventional term, with an altogether fortuitous origin, which under scientific manipulation, has come to include far more than the unscientific mind suspects. According to Keane, for example (The World’s Peoples, 24, 28, 307, et seq.), it includes not only the Hindu, but some of the Polynesians (that is, the Maori, Tahitians, Samoans, Hawaiians, and others), the Hamites of Africa, upon the ground of the Caucasic cast of their features, though in color they range from brown to black. We venture to think that the average well-informed white American would learn with some degree of astonishment that the race to which he belongs is made up of such heterogeneous elements.

    The Times, in ascribing “racial” significance to the election of an Indian-American, seems to see the world through a lens similar to that of “the average well-informed white American” of 1923. And when the paper searches for a link, beyond simple ethnic pride, between Jindal’s background and his politics, it comes up empty:

    His ascent has delighted many Indian-Americans, who have never seen one of their own elected to such a high political position. Sanjay Puri, chairman of the U.S.-India Political Action Committee, predicted that Mr. Jindal would surprise doubters with the depth of his understanding on policy issues. Others, however, are cautious, saying that Mr. Jindal is out of the mainstream on issues that matter to Indian-Americans.

    “The fact that he’s of Indian ancestry is a subject of jubilation,” said Vijay Prashad, professor of South Asian history at Trinity College in Hartford, speaking of the way Mr. Jindal has been portrayed in the Indian-American press. “But there’s a very shallow appreciation of who he really is. Once you scratch the surface, it’s really unpleasant.”

    The Times doesn’t give Prashad an opportunity to enumerate the “issues that matter to Indian-Americans” on which Jindal is “out of the mainstream.” But we found a 2003 article in Little India in which Prashad explained why, although “I like Bobby Jindal, . . . I don’t support him for governor.”

    Prashad disagrees with Jindal on abortion, stem-cell research, church-state separation and guns. In other words, Prashad takes liberal positions on “social issues” and opposes Jindal because his positions are conservative. That’s fine, but these are not issues that “matter to Indian-Americans” qua Indian-Americans.

    A Times editorial on a separate subject today opens with as concise a statement as we’ve seen of the liberal worldview on race and other group identities:

    Think of America’s greatest historical shames. Most have involved the singling out of groups of people for abuse. Name a distinguishing feature–skin color, religion, nationality, language–and it’s likely that people here have suffered unjustly for it, either through the freelance hatred of citizens or as a matter of official government policy.

    This is not exactly false, but it is misleading in a fundamental way. Has there ever been a society that did not practice “the singling out of groups of people for abuse”? And has there ever been a society that put more effort into overcoming this tendency than America?

    The Times treats America as if it were uniquely susceptible to the ordinary human failing of prejudice, when in fact it is uniquely committed to rising above prejudice and affirming the ideal of equality. If Bobby Jindal can win a Louisiana landslide, it may be that voters there are more progressive-minded than writers and editors at the New York Times.

    Shut Up, He Explained
    “Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama said Friday the head of the Justice Department’s voting rights division should be fired for saying voter ID laws hurt the elderly but aren’t a problem for minorities because they often die before old age,” the Associated Press reports from Washington:

    John Tanner’s remarks came during an Oct. 5 panel discussion on minority voters before the National Latino Congreso in Los Angeles. Tanner addressed state laws that require photo identification for voting, saying that elderly voters disproportionately don’t have the proper IDs.

    “That’s a shame, you know, creating problems for elderly persons just is not good under any circumstance,” Tanner said, according to video posted on YouTube. “Of course, that also ties into the racial aspect because our society is such that minorities don’t become elderly the way white people do. They die first.

    “There are inequities in health care. There are a variety of inequities in this country, and so anything that disproportionately impacts the elderly has the opposite impact on minorities. Just the math is such as that,” Tanner said.

    It is useful to know that Obama has a tendency to wish to punish people for expressing ideas with which he disagrees–an authoritarian impulse sadly common on the left. But what exactly did Tanner say that Obama finds so invidious? Surely not that “there are inequities in health care” or that minorities tend to have shorter lifespans. Such observations are common in liberal grievance politics.

    Liberals are fond of “disparate impact” arguments, which take the form of implying that institutions are racist because they engage in practices that are disadvantageous to minorities vis-à-vis whites. Disparate impact has become the legal standard in employment law, and activists have sought to apply it to criminal law too, arguing that if blacks are incarcerated in disproportionate numbers, it must be because the system is biased.

    Tanner is applying similar logic to voter ID laws. Others have made an analogous argument with respect to Social Security, likewise drawing liberal fury. We have here, not surprisingly, a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose double standard: When disparate-impact logic is employed in the service of a liberal policy–even in ways that perpetuate ugly stereotypes–it amounts to a stand against racism. When it is employed to criticize a liberal policy, disparate-impact logic is itself racist.

    Kettle, Meet Pot
    “The [Drudge Report] site is a potent combination of real scoops, gossip and innuendo aimed at Mr. Drudge’s targets of choice–some of it delivered with no apparent effort to determine its truth, as politicians of all stripes have discovered at times. . . . What sets Drudge apart as much as anything is its ability to attract well-placed leaks and traffic in the freshest and rawest material–though sometimes including what some have considered smears.”–New York Times, Oct. 22

    Man vs. Machine?
    On Friday we noted Rep. Fortney Hillman Stark Jr.’s foul comment on the House floor that “kids” are being sent to Iraq “to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.” We suggested it would be smart for Democrats “to renounce extremists in their own midst, thereby reassuring Americans that the Democratic Party does not stand for the views of Fortney Hillman Stark Jr.”

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi has done that–sort of. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

    “While members of Congress are passionate about their views, what Congressman Stark said during the debate was inappropriate and distracted from the seriousness of the subject at hand–providing health care for America’s children,” Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said.

    Pelosi criticizes Stark’s remarks as ill-mannered and tactically unwise, which they certainly were, but it would be better if she went a step further and said they were wrong. The Chronicle emphasizes the tactical aspect of it, thereby betraying its own political bias:

    What Pelosi also meant: Stark had handed Republicans an easy way to distract the public from what Democrats view as a winning stance on the popular children’s health bill. . . .

    The GOP spin machine went into hyperdrive. House Republican Leader John Boehner’s press aides alerted reporters to Stark’s comments. The National Republican Campaign Committee issued a press release, titled: “Democrat Disgrace: Pete Stark Drags SCHIP Political Circus to All-Time Low.”

    This is a common occurrence in partisan politics: Someone on one side says something obnoxious, and the other side opportunistically seizes on it. It happened when Trent Lott opened his mouth at Strom Thurmond’s birthday party, and when George Allen called an opposition operative “macaca.”

    In those cases, though, the press’s emphasis was on the underlying remarks, not on the Democrats’ exploitation of them. It was natural for Democrats to try to make hay of Republican misstatements, and that did not mitigate the obnoxiousness of the original remarks. The same is true of Stark’s comment and the Republican reaction to it–but the emphasis given by supposedly nonpartisan reporters is quite different.

    ‘Take Off Your Sandals’
    “Pelosi Rebukes Stark For Inflammatory Bush Comments”–headline, KNTV Web site (San Jose, Calif.), Oct. 19

    World Ends, Leaves Hardest Hit
    The Associated Press reports from East Montpelier, Vt., on the latest global-warmist complaint:

    Hillsides usually riotous with reds, oranges and yellows have shown their colors only grudgingly in recent years, with many trees going straight from the dull green of late summer to the rust-brown of late fall with barely a stop at a brighter hue.

    Some folks believe climate change could be why.

    “It’s nothing like it used to be,” said University of Vermont plant biologist Tom Vogelmann, a Vermont native who’s among those who believes warming weather may be to blame for lackluster foliage.

    He says autumn has become too warm to elicit New England’s richest colors.

    According to the National Weather Service, temperatures in Burlington have run above the 30-year average in every September and October for the past four years, save for October 2004, when they were 0.2 degrees below average.

    That last statistic is less than overwhelmingly persuasive. Assuming a normal distribution of year-to-year temperatures, in any given four-year period there is a 31.25% chance that at least three years will see higher-than-average temperatures. Even if the past few years’ temperatures do reflect a longer-term warming trend, that does not necessarily mean the trend will continue, or that it is anthropogenic.

    Out of curiosity, we did a Factiva search, and found plenty of articles from the 1980s about fall colors deviating from the norm by arriving early or late. It is the nature of weather to vary from year to year. It seems to be the nature of early-21st-century journalism to try to fit all variations in weather into the “global warming” narrative. Those who claimed Katrina and the other big hurricanes in 2005 were harbingers of climate change do not seem to have concluded that the calm hurricane seasons of 2006 and 2007 mean the sky isn’t falling.

    If next fall is cool and the foliage is brilliant, will news reports cast doubt on global warming? Don’t hold your breath.

    Franken, Stein’s Monster
    “Ben Stein Backs Al Franken for Minnesota Senate Bid”–headline, FoxNews.com, Oct. 18

    Mars Ain’t the Kind of Place to Raise Your Kids
    “Start of Day Delayed for Kindergartners in Mars”–headline, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 21

    Sounds ‘Scary’
    ” ‘Explosives’ Caused Manila Blast”–headline, BBC Web site, Oct. 20

    Is Battery Park Next?
    “Archery Park in Wisconsin Bans Archery After Wayward Arrows Bring Complaints”–headline, Associated Press, Oct. 20

    Breaking News From 1506
    “Columbus Closes Hatch for Last Time”–headline, Science Daily, Oct. 22

    Breaking News From 1804
    “Hamilton May Be Penalized”–headline, New York Post, Oct. 20

    News You Can Use

  • “Lenses May Help Nearsighted Kids”–headline, Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 21
  • “Kids, Cars Can Help Ensure School Bus Safety”–headline, Green Bay (Wis.) Press-Gazette, Oct. 22
  • “Mental Disorders Are Disorders of the Brain”–headline, Science Daily, Oct. 16
  • “Don’t Go Near the Baobab at Nigerian Heritage Site”–headline, Reuters, Oct. 22

Bottom Stories of the Day

  • “Man Flees Home With Towels and Underwear”–headline, Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.), Oct. 20
  • “Olmert Sees No Big Breakthrough at Mideast Conference”–headline, Reuters, Oct. 21
  • “Attack on President Bush Continues Past SCHIP Veto Override Vote”–headline, FoxNews.com, Oct. 19
  • “Sharpton Exploits ‘Jena 6’ “–headline, WorldNetDaily.com, Oct. 22

Stereotype Gymnastics
This correction appeared in yesterday’s New York Times:

An article last Sunday about the fashion industry’s reticence to use black models referred incorrectly to a black woman in a maid’s outfit pictured in the September issue of Italian Vogue. She was, in fact, a maid at the hotel where the pictures were taken, and was included, the Vogue photographer said, because of her attractiveness and her ability to underscore the pictures’ theme of a stereotypical rich white woman who hires ethnic servants; the black woman was not a model dressed as a maid.

So the Times assumed that the photographer was using a black model to stereotype blacks as maids when in fact he was using a black maid to stereotype whites as the employers of black maids.

How insensitive!

(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Mark Nicholas, Dan O’Shea, Sean Donaher, Charles Gramaglia, Conrad Kraus, David Gerstman, Ed Lasky, David Shapero, Ethel Fenig, Scott Wright, Mark Schulze, Michael Segal, Alex Selim, Joe Perez, Richard Haisley, Bruce Goldman, Bryan Fischer, Philip Pennington, Veronica Larkins, Gary Cruse, Ray Hendel, Thomas Sattler, Arlene Ross, Roger Denk, Robert Gessner, Evan Slatis and Ravy Baskaran. If you have a tip, write us at opinionjournal@wsj.com, and please include the URL.)

URL for this article: http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110010767

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