"You don't get control of the White House and two governors and the Justice Department, and then start arguing with people carrying signs." - Al Sharpton
Years ago a friend of mine in the media told me a story about an experience he had covering the execution of John Wayne Gacy in Joliet, Illinois. You won't find anyone in the world who'd have been sad to see serial child murderer in a clown suit like Gacy die, but this reporter friend of mine said the crowd outside the prison on execution night freaked him out almost as much as Gacy had. There were something like 400 people outside the gates at Joliet and there were people selling commemorative t-shirts and pounding beers and chanting ("Kill the Clown!" was a popular one) all night.
At the moment of truth the crowd cheered and my friend turned to interview a scraggly-looking twenty-something with thinning long hair whom he described as looking like a too-old version of the Todd Ianuzzi mean-teenager character in Beavis and Butthead. The guy was into his second six-pack and smiling goofily like he'd just gotten a half-price rub-n-tug from a Thai massage parlor. He says to my friend: "You're not against capital punishment, are you?"
"I'm not against capital punishment," my friend says. "I'm against enjoying capital punishment."
I'm with my friend on this one. As far as I see it, there are three positions on capital punishment. There's being against it. There's being for it. Then there's putting six-packs of beer in a cooler and driving to a hideous prison complex in the middle of the night with four hundred strangers to cheer like fans at a baseball game for the execution of some fat old child killer. Dude, if that's what you call recreation, you're either dangerously bored or seriously fucked up.
Which brings me to the Shirley Sherrod business. Following this surreal episode involving a heretofore obscure black female USDA official – an episode in which almost everyone involved acted like a complete and utter buffoon, from Tom Vilsack to Ben Jealous to Bill O'Reilly – there's really only one thing we can say with absolute certainty. And that's this: there are a hell of a lot of people in this country who enjoy talking about racism way, way too much.
This applies to people on both sides of our burgeoning race war, an increasingly unavoidable drag of a phenomenon that is looking now like a very good bet to drench the next 5-10 years of domestic political discourse in cacophonous suckhood. On the Tea Party side, I've decided it isn't even necessary to have the debate over whether or not the Tea Partiers are racists. It's enough to point out that the Tea Party and its sympathizers contain too many people like Andrew Breitbart (the idiot blogger from the Big Government website who originally posted the Sherrod video), Bill O'Reilly, and Glenn Beck, all of whom popped huge public woodies the moment the Sherrod video surfaced.
It's just not necessary to say whether or not these people are racists. All that needs to be pointed out is that when they get a chance to gape at a video purporting to show a black Obama official confessing to having mistreated a white farmer (it turned out to be the opposite of that, of course), or a tape of Black Panther King Shamir talking about "killing cracker babies," the word that best describes the emotions they display at these times is glee.
They enjoy these morbid stories about offenses to white dignity way too much. I caught Glenn Beck talking about some case involving a Black Panther who was intimidating people at a voting booth back in 2008 – the guy had this pervy smile on his face that made him look exactly like one of those creepy dudes sitting hunched over at the edge of the bed playing the cuckold in cheating-wife porn videos. Over the Black Panthers! Who the hell has even seen a Black Panther since the seventies? The whole thing reminds me of that Chris Rock routine about Native Americans – "When was the last time you saw two Indians?"
At every Tea Party event I've gone to, the scene always devolves in one of two directions: either everybody trades stories about the corruption of Charlie Rangel or ACORN or Jeremiah Wright or some other notable nonwhite villain, or else a group therapy session breaks out in which everybody shares their harrowing experiences of being unjustly accused of racism. Once they reach one of those two destinations, they camp out there, conversationally, not just for minutes but hours.
I remember being in Nevada with one group of Tea Party folks: I had one guy in my ear for a full half an hour about how "the mainstream media" had reported that a white man with a gun attended an Obama speech, and how in the end it wasn't a white guy at all but a black guy… or something along those lines. The guy was staring at me like he had just told me the greatest and most interesting story since the Gospel and expected that when he was done, I would get the whole world on the phone so that it could apologize to him personally for how that initial misreport had made him feel.
Your average person doesn't spend hours a day pondering his racial victimhood like this – not unless he enjoys it, and if he enjoys it, he's an asshole! (Especially if he's white. If he's white, the scale of his assholedom is almost incalculable). The Tea Partiers and the Glenn Becks of the world are bad in this respect, but they obviously have some dance partners on the other side now. There's the NAACP passing a resolution like the Tea Party's white-whining epidemic is a national emergency, and now there is all this criticism of Obama for being silent on race, as if spending one's time dealing with the Gulf disaster, two wars, and a financial collapse instead of validating some Fox-generated suburban angst is somehow political malpractice.
Maybe I'm wrong and we do need a national "dialogue on race," but my guess is that if Barack Obama figures out a way to turn the economy around and create some real paying jobs, a lot of this racial angst will disappear pretty quick. If you tune out the hottest parts of the Tea Party rhetoric and just focus on who these people are, what you'll basically see are a bunch of middle-aged white people who spent their teens listening to Eddie Murphy albums and deep down are a lot more worried about their credit card debt than they are about ACORN taking over the government. Add a little more disposable income to that crowd and this whole debate will recede to tolerable levels. Or maybe not -- but we can all hope, I guess. Is anyone else dreading 2012?