TNR Gives Scott Walker the Maureen Dowd Treatment

Maureen Dowd made a big splash back in 2009 by claiming she could discern unspoken words implying a racist motivation. This weekend the New Republic took a stab at doing the same for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

TNR published a big feature by Alec MacGillis yesterday which spends 7,000 words trying to find a way to insinuate Gov. Scott Walker is racist and not really succeeding except in the sense that throwing out a vague accusation is all the proof most Democrats need these days.

The title of the piece is “The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker.” That’s ostensibly a neutral headline but the URl suggests it once had another one, “Scott Walker’s Toxic Racial Politics.” Maybe the headline was changed when MacGillis or one of his editors realized the story didn’t come close to backing it up.

Instead what we get is a lot of long-winded insinuation and a curious history about the polarization of Wisconsin. I call it curious because if progressives played any role in that polarization you won’t read about it at TNR. Here’s how MacGillis reduces three weeks of loud, sometimes angry protests to half of one sentence in his piece:

Barely more than a month after taking office, Walker introduced
legislation to eradicate collective bargaining for all public employees
except police and firefighters. Fourteen Democratic state senators fled
the state to prevent Walker from assembling the quorum necessary for a
vote, and tens of thousands of protesters descended on the state capitol
for an occupation that lasted three weeks
. Nationally, the tumult was
described as a kind of alien visitation on Wisconsin’s paradise of Upper
Midwestern civility. In fact, the episode had simply brought the
polarization between the WOW counties and liberal Milwaukee and Madison
out into the open for the first time.

This would obviously be an absurd way to handle the subject of polarization. Fortunately, polarization isn’t really what interests TNR. The real focus of the piece is supposed to be Walker’s “toxic racial politics.” Establishing that comes down to two things. First, Walker’s connection to a couple of talk radio hosts, one of whom mocked Congresswoman Gwen Moore for being fat. MacGillis opens the piece by quoting this monologue:

“She’s been in the Congress now for about ten years. During that time, she … has managed to be known for absolutely nothing,” Belling said. “Gwen Moore simply occupies a seat. A very large seat. … The woman is so fat and out of shape, she literally can’t get to the floor to vote anymore. … It’s time to vote and here’s Gwen: ‘I’m out of breath! Blew-ee, blew-ee!’ ” (Here Belling affected the exertions of an overweight black woman.)

Note that last part is not in quotes. MacGillis writes, “the riff did not keep the state’s governor, Scott Walker, from appearing on the show a few days later.” Yes, and I’m sure the dozens of fat jokes David Letterman has made about Chris Christie make President Obama ashamed to have appeared on the show 7 times. Or maybe not.

In fact, MacGillis himself seems to have a very flexible sense of what is offensive when it comes to mocking a politician’s weight. He wrote a piece bashing Christie which framed the issue differently:

Even his weight, so often the subject of disparaging speculation among national reporters, has worked to his advantage in these settings. Christie utterly dominates a room–planted center stage, an immovable force.

So the fact that Christie is the subject of “disparaging speculation among national reporters” is just another plus for the big man. But when it comes to mocking Gwen Moore it’s some kind of dog whistle about the fact that she’s black…or something.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Rep. Moore is no shrinking violet. Here she is back in June 2012 campaigning for Walker’s recall by reciting a poem she wrote in his honor. One stanza goes like this:

Great Scott, Scott Walker! You gotta go baby cause we don’t want you no more!
Your rigid requirements for photo identification,
Is a sleazy attempt at voter nullification,
Your tactics have been met with disdain,
And almost a million signatures to end your tyrannical reign.

If a conservative radio host had referred to Obama’s “tyrannical reign” Alec MacGillis would likely offer that up as a sign of his extremism, but poor Gwen Moore is supposed to be the victim here so never mind all that.

MacGillis eventually gets around to one paragraph summarizing some offensive emails passed around by Walker’s Chief of Staff and also some offensive personal tweets by a woman who did fundraising for Walker. The Governor fired both of them immediately but MacGillis implies that there is some sort of nexus of racism going in at the Walker campaign.

But that’s really it. MacGillis has taken one graph worth of bad behavior by a handful of people who worked for Walker and spun it into 7,000 words suggesting, but never saying, that Walker himself is racially toxic. By the end of the piece, MacGillis is so sure of himself he closes with another talk radio monologue, this one also not mentioning race, as proof.

One of Sykes’s panelists raised the issue of “an incident in the fifteenth aldermanic district where supporters of a liberal candidate bought meals for voters.” The fifteenth district is mostly black, the candidate is black, and the former acting mayor who provided the lunches to voters is black. But the panelist didn’t mention any of that…he didn’t need to.

You see how that works? If you can’t damn Republicans for saying something ugly, damn them for knowing people who don’t say anything ugly and imply that they meant to. Needless to say, this is not a standard progressives accept when talking about President Obama’s connections to former domestic terrorists or extremist preachers.

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