Required Reading

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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47 Responses

  1. Hear, hear.  A flawless piece.Report

  2. Ethan Gach says:

    Thanks for the heads up Tod.  These lines stuck with me:

    “Let us stipulate that all politicians compromise. But the mayhem and death which attended the talents of Thomas Watson and George Wallace, renders their design into a school of sorcery all its own. In that light, it is fair to ask that if Ron Paul was willing to sacrifice black people to garner the support of the bigoted mob, who, and what, else might he sacrifice?”


    Indeed, a question that should be asked of all politicians, especially anyone seeking the highest office.  Whoever wins Iowa I would like to seem them meet the challenge head on.  And the media will surely put it to Ron Paul if he does.  But will Republicans ask it of a Romney?  Or the Democrats of Obama? 

    Here’s hoping.Report

  3. rjp says:

    Farrakhan promised improvement through self-reliance–an old tradition stretching back to our very dawn. To our minds, the political leaders of black America had fled the field.

    I read this and I think of Simpsons episode where Homer gets the thought cloud over his head as he ponders something in no way related to the word that triggered the thought.

    Now what I would like to see is this thought cloud over black America, that fled the field and is pondering improvement through self-reliance, and see the images of fleeing the field and of the perceived self-reliance that are actually being generated.Report

  4. BradP says:

    Now we are comparing Ron Paul to Louis Farrakhan?

    Note the people who support Paul despite his baggage largely because they don’t think the baggage reflects how Paul really feels.  How many people are actually out there saying, “sure Paul is a racist shitbag of a human being, but he’s against the war”?Report

    • greginak in reply to BradP says:

      Actually no. TNC is comparing the motives and feelings of people who were looking  for a hero to lead them and how they dealt with their hero being seriously flawed.Report

      • BradP in reply to greginak says:

        You do realize that to do the very thing you just said, Coates would necessarily draw some equivalence between the heroes, right?


        • Pierre Corneille in reply to BradP says:

          I suppose, but one has to start somewhere.

          It also seems to me that Coates is, if anything, comparing himself and likeminded fellows to Paul’s followers.  I actually see his essay as an act of charitable understanding:  he’s trying to empathize with Paul supporters by relating his own, earlier support, albeit equivocal support, of Farakhan.Report

    • RTod in reply to BradP says:

      Ah. We did that thing where we looked at the pictures but didn’t bother to read the actual post, didn’t we?Report

  5. Katherine says:

    Ta-Nehisi’s post was a spectacular one, and probably the best thing I’ve read on the subject yet.Report

  6. North says:

    TNC sure can turn a phrase from time to time.Report

  7. Loviatar says:

    But every man is a prophet, until he faces a Congress.


    So far my quote of the year.Report

    • Scott Fields in reply to Loviatar says:

      Challenged closely by this I’d say…

      It is regrettable to find ourselves in this untenable space, where all
      our politicians cower and we are  bereft of suitable standard-bearers.


    • sonmi451 in reply to Loviatar says:

      It’s a beautiful quote, but not applicable to Paul’s left wing supporters. To those people, the reason they feel they can support Paul is they trust that Congress will prevent Paul from enacting his crazy-ass domestic agenda, and they will only get all the foreign policy stuff that they love so much from Paul. That’s a dangerously naive belief, to put your trust on Congress to protect you from anything.Report

  8. BSK says:

    TNC never ceases to amaze.Report

  9. James Hanley says:

    TNC has become one of America’s best political commentators.  He’s what George Will likes to think he is.  He’s more thoughtful, and so more persuasive, than Glenn Greenwald (even though Greenwald is so nearly always right).  I could go on naming names that fall short of TNC, but it’s a long list that quickly becomes much too obvious.Report

  10. Jason Kuznicki says:

    That’s a great post, but it still doesn’t explain why it’s this particular messenger and not some other — for either Farrakhan or Paul.  I don’t think in either case that the message was so specific that no other messenger could have been found.

    Consider that if Ron Paul hadn’t run, Gary Johnson could have been touted as “the next Ron Paul,” and he wouldn’t have been crazy.  Well, not any more crazy than you’d have to be to climb Everest.  But no conspiracy theories or racist baggage that I’m aware of.

    Still, as long as Ron Paul’s running, there can’t be a “next Ron Paul.”  And the longer Ron Paul keeps at it, the more that everyone even remotely in his corner also has to live in his shadow.Report

    • I think there is more too it than just that. (Although I find no fault in what you say.)

      The thing that both Paul and Farrakhan have that Johnson does not (or at least does not to the same degree) is charisma.  Paul & Farrakhan aren’t too people that are saying some good things and therefore people like them; they are two very, very likable people – likable to the degree that people don’t focus as much on the bats**t crazy part.  (I still think Paul is both eminently unqualified for the post of POTUS and was easily the most likable person on those debate stages I saw this Fall.)Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        The thing that Paul has is charisma?Report

          • Kolohe in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            If one were to have the sort of amensia that’s now been in a few romatic comedies, and were to watch the debates without any knowledge of the persons on the stage, one would find Cain and then Gingrich to be the most likeable, while Paul was at best, an somewhat incoherent rambler when he wasn’t hesitant and halting.  (that is, when he was allowed to speak, which was, when normalized for his level of support, significantly less than the other candidates).

            Mr. Kuznicki exactly right – people don’t like Paul based on how he says thing, they like him for what he says – which is different than just about anybody else on the right side of political spectrum running for office says.  However, the mass created by his history and established fundraising organization has created a pull that has precluded any other similar center of gravity from forming.  While some early last year welcomed having both Johnson and Paul in the race, thinking two voices would create a resonance and enlarge this political school of thought within the Repbublican Party, that assessment turned out to be wrong (for now)Report

            • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Kolohe says:

              I think the ‘charisma’ people talk about with Paul isn’t the normal ‘politician’ charisma that someone like Obama or Reagan had. It’s a, and I am not comparing Ron Paul fans to cultists, but to a cult leader. You hear or listen to cult leaders on interviews and they’re not terribly impressive on the normal scale. But there is something there.Report

    • I don’t think in either case that the message was so specific that no other messenger could have been found.

      I very much want to agree with this sentiment.  I think it misses an important dynamic, though, which is that both Farrakhan and Paul were able to become messengers only after carefully developing a deeply devoted, if relatively small, national base from the extremist fringes of society.  That base provided a built-in national network of volunteers and fundraising that didn’t rely on lots of favorable and/or neutral coverage in the national press.  Eventually the strength of the resulting organizations forced press coverage, enabling them to become spokespeople.

      In other words, it seems a lot easier to become a messenger who gives voice to the many who object to the official consensus by first becoming a cult figure for the few on the furthest fringes of society.  To the extent that the core infrastructure of the resulting movement is also drawn from these fringe cults of personality, the movement’s success becomes difficult to transfer to others.Report

  11. Tom Van Dyke says:

    THC’s essay on the Million Man March would have been more coherent without the tenuous connection to Ron Paul.

    I do agree it’s difficult to imagine many people who could have led the MMM besides Farrakhan.  Bill Cosby or one of the usual scolds?  Can’t see it.

    And I don’t even know what Ron Paul is except a magnet at the spot where the circle comes around and far right and far left meet. [Sort of—it takes a willful blindness to the other half of his positions outside the overlap.]Report

    • Loviatar in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      Wow, your ideological blindness and stupidity makes me wonder if you only make left turns when driving. If so, no wonder you seem a little slow as it will it always seems to take you 3 right turns to get where you’re going.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Loviatar says:

        Wait…  what?  Where the hell did you get that from that comment?Report

        • Loviatar in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          THC’s essay on the Million Man March would have been more coherent without the tenuous connection to Ron Paul.

          TNC’s post was on two messengers who while their messages may have had resonance they themselves were flawed and not the best persons to convey that message. TNC used his personal experience with Farrakhan and the MM march to set context aand background and to explain why he emphazided and understood the RP followers.

          While most everyone else commenting here understood that, TVD as is his want immediately attempted to make TNCs post about the MM march while dismissing its point and its importance as a RP defining post with a sneering comment about a “tenuous connection to Ron Paul”.

          TVD is just another – maybe more polite – version of the rightwing that will obfuscate and attack any message or messenger who contradict their view of the world. TVD in this case is trying to reduce TNCs post to being all about the MM march, which is still a controversial subject for many people. I don’t think this is an honest reading or interpretation of the post. I believe his ideological blinders led him to that conclusion and I feel comfortable with my portrayal of him as being ideologically closed minded.Report

          • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Loviatar says:

            I was a big thumbs up on the Million Man march.

             seeing black women, of all ages, come out on the street and cheer.

            But what they pundits never got was that Farrakhan promised something more–improvement, minus the need to beg from white people.
            Farrakhan promised improvement through self-reliance–an old tradition stretching back to our very dawn. 
            Back to Booker T. Washington, anyway.  But giving him props here would ruin the message.  Farrakhan has more cred than Booker T., which is sort of my point, and what’s the pity.  But the messenger isn’t the message, and the MMM was an inspiring idea even if led by Farrakhan.
            But the relation to Ron Paul in all this is tenuous.  I see where TNC was going with it, but the connection doesn’t ring.  Ron Paul does not have America’s women out in the streets cheering his parade.


            • The article isn’t really about Paul or Farrakhan, but about their followers.  It’s about people who have such a need for a prophet, leader, what have you, that they blind themselves to the person’s foibles.*  If you persist in seeing the article as actually about Paul and Farrakhan, then, yeah, it doesn’t make much sense; but then since that’s not the point that critique doesn’t really matter.

              * I have much the opposite problem.  I’m so anti-leader that I often blind myself to a leader’s good side.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to James Hanley says:

                The folks who followed Farrakhan in the MMM were sane.  The Ron Paul thing, not so much.  ;-PReport

              • Heh. That definitely got a chuckle.

                But each had two sets of followers–the true believers and the ones following for a specific event.  I’m not willing to stipulate that Farrakhan’s true believers were any more sane than Paul’s true believers.  But I think those aren’t the folks TNC is talking about; rather, those who follow for a specific event, knowing something about the guy and hoping he’ll be some kind of savior, and then struggling to deal with the really disturbing imperfections of the man.  The article is about the psyche of those folks, and of course TNC isn’t saying they’re identical, just that his own experience seems to him to help him understand those particular followers of Paul.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to James Hanley says:

                OK, I’ll buy that, James—from TNC’s POV.  But the MMM attracted the whole community, whereas [although it comes as news to those in the left-and/or-libertarian bubble, perhaps incl TNC himself]  Ron Paul has still only rallied the fringes of the American political spectrum.Report

              • But the MMM attracted the whole community, whereas [although it comes as news to those in the left-and/or-libertarian bubble, perhaps incl TNC himself]  Ron Paul has still only rallied the fringes of the American political spectrum.

                I think Paul is reaching beyond just the fringes, but not by much.  So, yeah, good point.Report

              • BradP in reply to James Hanley says:


                Were Ron Paul to come out on the debate stage and said, “We shouldn’t be spending all this money on the drug war cause all these black criminals just outrun the police anyways”, do you think his supporters would have trouble dealing with his flaws?

                Were Ron Paul to be approached with a question from a woman at a townhall meeting and said “This is for the men, honey”, do you think his supporters would have trouble dealing with his flaws?

                Ron Paul’s supporters aren’t exactly convinced the racism in those newsletters reflect the real Ron Paul.  Call it denial, I suppose, but to a large degree “the in spite of his flaws” doesn’t really describe Paul’s relationship to his supporters.Report

              • BradP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Except most Paul supporters don’t believe that the nasty stuff that has been put out in Paul’s name really represents what Paul believes and anyone can see that Paul’s rhetoric in this campaign is light years away from those newsletters.

                Farrakhan was openly bigoted, misogynistic, and militant all the way through the 90s, and as Tom points out, even managed to work his misogyny into his protests.

                It is also somewhat important to consider that Paul is campaigning for the POTUS, and policy preference and effects might have something to do with Paul’s appeal among his supporters.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to BradP says:

                BradP, I believe the Million Man March was about black men standing up, realizing their innate potential for self-sufficiency, and fulfilling their ethical responsibilities.  Which is why the women were cheering.Report

              • Chris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Tom is right, I think. In fact, this is why he still receives support, despite being obviously crazy. I remember a conversation I had with a friend once, a few years ago, in which I said that I was confused by support for Farrakhan. She basically told me that she was aware of his anti-semitism and some of his loonier views, but she admired him for what he had done for the NOI in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and for his work in empowering black men. I don’t, however, think she’d vote for him for president.

                To be honest, I get that more than I get support for some do-nothing representative for Texas who clearly talks the way he does because it keeps him in power. And people are voting for that dude for president.Report

              • Taylor in reply to BradP says:

                And if you talked to someone who supported Farrakhan in the 90s they would argue that he was not bigoted, that he did not hate jewish people–he was standing up for this community–and that people who described him as bigoted were scared of his message, scared of the strength of his support, and scared of the change he would bring to the status quo.

                Perhaps there were people who said, “Yes, he is a big old bigot but I like him anyway,” but they were few– if at all.  One of TNC’s points is that people disregard or downplay flaws when they believe they have found their savior.

                So someone who is  a Ron Paul fan might say that “anyone can see that his rhetoric is light years away from those newsletters.” as if his lack of bigotry was self evident.   But, there in TNC’s piece is a recent quote from Ron Paul about the TSA that is not self evidently free from bigotry.Report

  12. BSK says:

    THIS IS AWESOME!  Hopefully it can get bumped somewhere more prominent…