David Broder, Rodney King, And “We Whites”.
By A.W. Morgan
When Washington Post columnist David Broder died on Ash Wednesday at the age of 81, the flood of accolades was predictable. Still, it is an accomplishment to elicit a warm statement from the president of the United States when you die.
The New York Times obituary was typical:
“Mr. Broder, whose last column was published on Feb. 6, was often called the dean of the Washington press corps and just as often described as a reporter’s reporter, a shoe-leather guy who always got on one more airplane, knocked on one more door, made one more phone call. He would travel more than 100,000 miles a year to write more than a quarter-million words. In short, he composed first drafts of history for an awful lot of history.
“Mr. Broder’s profile was national: his column was syndicated, and he made more guest appearances on ‘Meet the Press’ than any other journalist. His writing life spanned 11 White House administrations, beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term, and his career as an observer of Congress was longer than Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s tenure as a member of it. Indeed, he covered Mr. Kennedy from before his first election in 1962 through his struggle with cancer and death.”
[David Broder, Political Journalist and Pundit, Dies at 81, By Bruce Weber, March 9, 2011. VDARE.com note: Links are added to all quotes.]
Broder didn’t win that Pulitzer because he was a great stylist. Slogging through his column was akin to choking down a bowl of lukewarm oatmeal—healthy, yes; tasty no. And he was a boringly conventional liberal, if a fair and kind one, as Tom Bethell wrote in his short remembrance at The American Spectator.
Nowhere was Broder’s conventional liberalism more apparent than in the memorial column, Now the ‘character question’ has been written in fire, which the Washington Post Writers Group syndicate (contact them) sent out after his death with the following note:
“EDITORS—Of the many hundreds of David Broder’s columns that we could cite in tribute, this one from May 1992 stands out because it shows his fundamental honesty as he confronts his own—and the country’s—failings when its comes to healing the scars of slavery and racism. “
So, of the bazillion or so words that Broder wrote in a half-century of political pontificating, the chosen column, originally published on May 5, 1992 in the wake of the Rodney King riots, was the one in which he supposedly admits his own racism. The modern liberal is thus defined.
Funny thing is, in the column Broder doesn’t seem to “confront” his failings—but instead subtly congratulates himself for overcoming them and then finds them in others, namely everyone else.
That defines modern liberalism too.
Let‘s unpack a few of the highlights. Broder wrote:
“When I watched, as you did, the sickening pictures of the beating of Rodney King and the burning of Los Angeles, my mind went back to the seemingly different world of Marburg 2—the corridor at Johns Hopkins Hospital where I spent some time last month.
“My first roommate—the day and night after surgery—was a young black man, angry, hostile, cursing the nurses who remonstrated with him about his noisy outbursts. I know nothing of his background—he was on Marburg 2 for only one night because of a shortage of beds. But he seemed the epitome of the young men who have grown up in fatherless homes, devoid of hope, totally centered on themselves and the moment, heedless of the consequences of the drugs they use and sell, the guns they are quick to fire—terrorizing their neighbors as they act out the frustrations of their unchanneled, undisciplined lives.
“When I saw the looting and burning in Los Angeles, I saw his face.”
But Broder didn’t wear out any shoe leather to determine that the tapes of the King beating had been edited. Nor, apparently, did he run down King’s rap sheet, which was as long as a half dozen of Broder’s columns.
Yet the riots did, after all, cause $1 billion in damage and 53 people died. And you might remember Reginald Denny, the white man pulled from his truck by black rioters and beaten to a pulp.
Broder claimed that his hospital unit was a microcosm of the experience he had in Army basic training some 40 years earlier. No black or white, no recognition of racial differences. Everyone was equal:
“It was an artificially created society of some two dozen men, black and white, almost all of whom had been thrown together by the common experience of prostate surgery. It was a perfect democracy of equals, all striving for the single goal of recovery. Our role and status outside the hospital were irrelevant; and so, amazingly, was our race. Seniority prevailed. “
Thus did Broder “confront his failing”:
“At no time between Fort Jackson and Marburg 2, I realized, could I recall a situation where I was not acutely conscious of the race of the person I was dealing with, whether it was George Wallace or Harold Washington. One evening in the hospital, I told a new patient, facing surgery in the morning, ‘You must be an actor, a preacher or a teacher; you have one of the most beautiful faces I have ever seen.’ As it turned out, he was a retired school administrator from Westchester County, N.Y., and over the next week, we became friends.
“But I realized with astonishment that it had been 40 years since I had expressed a feeling so spontaneously to a black person—so pervasive and encompassing and overwhelming is the race-consciousness our society. Los Angeles and Simi Valley demonstrated how adept we have become, we whites, in shutting out our recognition of the essential humanity of all peoples, in consigning those of other races to their own worlds and living within our own.”
One wonders what Broder expected of “we whites.” Should we all move to Anacostia, the worst neighborhood in Washington, D.C.? Did Broder?
And how, precisely, is holding down a job, paying taxes, abiding by the law and living peacefully among one’s own kind amount to “shutting out” anyone or denying their “essential humanity”?
No normal human being thinks along these lines. But liberals are anything but normal. They are the real “race-conscious” people. And that is because, as Walker Percy noted in his novel The Thanatos Syndrome, they deny what is obvious—that whites and blacks are different:
“One of life’s little mysteries: an old-style Southern white and an old-style Southern black are more at ease talking to each other, even though one may be unjust to the other, than Ted Kennedy talking to Jesse Jackson—who are overly cordial, nervous as cats in their cordiality, and glad to be rid of each other.
“In the first case—the old-style white and the old-style black—each knows exactly where he stands with the other. Each can handle the other, the first because he is in control, the second because he uses his wits. They both know this and can even enjoy each other.
“In the second case—Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson—each is walking on eggshells. What to say next in this rarified atmosphere of perfect liberal agreement? What if one should violate the fragile liberal canon, let drop a racist remark, an anti-Irish Catholic slur? What if Jesse Jackson should mention Hymie? The world might end. They are glad to get it over with. What a relief! Whew!“
This precisely describes Broder and his ilk. One can imagine how nervous Broder was trying to write the first lines of his column and not come off sounding like, well, George Wallace—or at least the old George Wallace.
Broder wrote of his view from the hospital window at 6 a.m. He saw black people going to work. This, he concluded, after quoting Jesse Jackson, showed that blacks have character even if they are poor.
“These people I’ve been watching from my window prove their character every day, just by getting out of bed and driving through the dark to do the jobs for which this society offers damn little in return. Their character is evident in their daily labors.
“You’ll hear no prattle from them about maintaining ‘a zone of privacy’ for themselves, as you heard from Bill Clinton, and still less will you find them ducking the jobs that need to be done, as George Bush [i.e. George I, then still president] tends to do.
“What has Bush done in this nation in three years as president that shows character? Sign on to a modest deficit-reduction deal and then denounce it? Ease regulations on business? Stigmatize and fight a modest civil rights bill before signing it?”
At least, from Broder’s perspective, Bush did the right thing in prosecuting the Los Angeles cops who clobbered King for “violating his civil rights”—double jeopardy that wasn’t double jeopardy only because of a technicality. They were convicted—unlike all but one of Denny’s assailants, released because of a hung jury. Presumably, Broder approved.
The last paragraph of Broder’s column showed that, whatever his virtues, he was obsessed with atoning for America’s “original sin”:
“There is no more important test of character for an American president than what he does to heal the scars that slavery and racism have left on this society. That is the curse that is killing us, and everything else is secondary. The last president who acted on that conviction was Lyndon Johnson, who left office almost a quarter-century ago, when Los Angeles was last in flames. We cannot wait another 25 years for such a president. We just can’t.”
Almost 20 years has elapsed since Broder penned this nonsense. We now have Obama in the White House. And, far from healing this country’s racial problems, he is exacerbating them.
He says white people are “bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
He says the white cop who arrested Henry Louis Gates “acted stupidly.”
His Justice Department dropped the case against the New Black Panther thugs who perpetrated what a civil rights lawyer called the worst case of voter intimidation he had ever witnessed. He apparently agrees with Attorney General Eric Holder, who said calling what happened in Philadelphia voter intimidation “demeans my people.”
But whose people would that be? And what happened to Obama’s post-racial vision?
Did Broder ask himself these questions—or any others about the feral black criminals killing whites with impunity, given his expressed concern about “shutting out our recognition of the essential humanity of all peoples, in consigning those of other races to their own worlds and living within our own”?
We can’t know. But we can surmise one thing. In “confronting” his “failings” in 1992, Broder’s guilt arose not from being white, or his own failure to help “heal the scars that slavery and racism have left on this society” etc. etc. Rather, he felt guilt about recognizing the truth he laid out in the first paragraph of his column: many young black men are dangerous and violent.
He had to conjure something to explain away what his eyes told him.
So he did. The problem in Los Angeles and other cities isn’t black criminals. It’s “we whites.”
A.W. Morgan [Email him] is fully recovered from prolonged contact with the Beltway Right. HHe now lives in America.