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February 02, 2012

For swimming, losses can’t dim the joy of Senior Day

in Season/Sports/Winter by
The Garnet women came close to a victory over undefeated Gettysburg, but lost in the final relay.
(Justin Toran-Burrell/The Phoenix)
The Garnet women came close to a victory over undefeated Gettysburg, but lost in the final relay.
(Justin Toran-Burrell/The Phoenix)

Pitted against the defending conference champions on Senior Day, the Swarthmore men’s and women’s swim teams both fell to the visiting Gettysburg Bullets on Saturday at the Ware Pool.

The women’s team played Gettysburg competitively all the way through, but ultimately fell in the final relay to lose the meet with a score of 110-95. On the men’s side, Gettysburg thoroughly dominated the Garnet, with the score ending at 110-55.

“It would have been great to send our seniors out with a bang, but Gettysburg has a really strong squad,” Daniel Duncan ’13 said.

“Still, both our men’s and women’s teams had some really great swims and it’s good to see everyone swimming so well so close to conferences.”

Though losing 110-95, the Garnet women put up a strong fight. (Justin Toran-Burrell/The Phoenix)

In the first event of the day, the relay team of Becky Teng ’14, Kate Wiseman ’15, Maggie Regan ’14 and Supriya Davis ’15 finished first in the 400-yard medley, easily outpacing Gettysburg with a time of 4:06.32. Davis, who has had one of the most impressive first-year seasons in the program’s history, added two more individual wins in the 200-yard butterfly (2:07.54) and the 200-yard IM (2:12.03).

However, Davis was not the only Garnet first-year with an exceptional performance on Saturday. Wiseman added two individual victories of her own in the 50-yard freestyle (25.17) as well as the 100-yard freestyle (54.44).

Other notable performances include Erin Lowe’s ’14 first-place finish in the 500-yard freestyle (5:23.54), and Regan’s win in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:30.82), a victory that kept the Swarthmore women in contention to win the meet.

“I was actually really nervous before the race, because the coach told me that I had to win, if we had any chance of winning the meet,” Regan said.

“I think it helped that the girl swimming next to me had beaten me in [Conference] Championships last year, and so I told myself, ‘I’m not going to lose to her again, I’m going to win,’ and I did.”

The Garnet and the Bullets traded victories all the way until the final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay, which would determine the winner. Unfortunately for Swarthmore, Gettysburg’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams took the top two spots in the relay, ultimately deciding the meet in their team’s favor.

In the men’s meet, Gettysburg placed first in every event except for the 1000-yard freestyle, which was won by Swarthmore’s Josh Satre ’13 (10:22.79).

On the afternoon, Satre also placed fourth in the 500-yard freestyle (5:05.56), two places behind teammate Dan Duncan ’13 (5:00.02).

Although the Garnet men did not win another event, they barely missed out on several more victories. John Flaherty ’14 took second in the 200-yard butterfly (2:04.74), finishing less than a second behind Samuel Griffiths of the Bullets.

Tim Brevart ’12 was the runner-up in the 50-yard freestyle (22.01), losing to Gettysburg’s Mike Harmon (21.94) by just seven-hundredths of a second.

Senior Day honorees from the men’s team included Brevart, Sam Bullard-Sisken ’12, Dante Fuoco ’12, Lance Liu ’12, Neil Palmer ’12 and Travis Pollen ’12.

Pollen and Bullard-Sisken, who both graduated in December, made their return to Swarthmore for the festivities.

Naomi Glassman ’12, Rosalie Lawrence ’12, Jacqueline Scala ’12, Carmen Perez-Leahy ’12 and Amelia Possanza ’12 were the Garnet women honored.

“Walking toward the coaches to get my hugs and yellow rose was surreal,” Pollen said in an email.

“I’d seen plenty of seniors do it before me in previous years, but I never thought about what it would be like to be one of them.

“Four years on the team seem like they have gone both slowly and quickly. The hours spent practicing in Ware Pool felt interminable, yet the time I shared with my fellow seniors in the water and out has raced past me,” Pollen said.

While Pollen appreciated the honor at Saturday’s meet, she says the “true honor is having been able to swim alongside the fine senior ladies and gentlemen who stood beside me during Saturday’s ceremony.

“I’m so proud of all of us for sticking it out all four years, despite tough athletic and academic times.”

Reflecting on the day’s proceedings, Coach Sue Davis found the perfect story to convey the enthusiasm of this departing group of seniors.

“Last year, I surprised the seniors by saying, ‘Why don’t you sing the ‘Star-Spangled Banner?’” Davis recalled.

Lawrence suggested this year that the seniors sing the national anthem. “All of the seniors sang it, and sang it very well,” Davis said.

The Garnet now finds itself near the end of the 2011-12 season. This coming Saturday, the team travels to Dickinson for its final dual meet of the year (start time scheduled for 2:00 p.m.).

Swarthmore then suspends competition for two weeks before traveling to Gettysburg for the Centennial Conference Championships, held Feb. 17-19.

“We’ll go one meet at a time,” Coach Davis said. “I just pray everybody stays healthy.”

How responsible are managers for their players?

in Columns/Out of Left Field/Sports by
swatphoenix-95_600

Early last season, Fulham captain Danny Murphy became engaged in a war of words with the Wolverhampton Wanderers manager over the role of the manager in getting players overly excited during games. Murphy’s comments were in response to the challenge by Wolves midfielder Karl Henry that left Fulham striker Bobby Zamora with a broken leg. Henry was later punished after another dangerous tackle on Wigan’s Jordi Gomez.

While Murphy raised the issue that some managers are known for a more physical type of soccer, it has not been addressed. Last season had some particularly bad tackles: Zamora’s broken leg, Nigel De Jong’s season ending challenge on Hatem Ben Arfa, Paul Robinson’s tackle on Abou Diaby. This season has seen a few bad challenges already. But what is more interesting is whether the managers should be considered responsible for how their players act on the pitch.

A great example of how a manager can often put players in unnecessary stress about a game is José Mourinho’s handling of the recent batch of Classicos. The now infamous incident of the hand stamping by Pepe and the late dismissal of Sergio Ramos in the second leg point to the problem that Real Madrid became much too worked up against Barcelona. Real Madrid received 11 yellow cards and one red across two games while Barcelona received only four yellows in the same period. The difference is huge and one major reason for it is in the way that Mourinho and Josep Guardiola prepare their players for the matches.

While Guardiola is a calming presence that prepares all his players psychologically for the task ahead, Mourinho is almost a polar opposite. The recent criticisms leveled at the Madrid manager have caused him to become quite rattled over the last week. First he was booed during Madrid’s 4-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao at the Bernabéu, followed by the supposed bust-up within the dressing room and on the training field between him and Real Madrid talismans Ramos and Iker Casillas. This leads me back to my main point: should Mourinho be held partially responsible for unrest from within the club spilling out onto the field? In the case of Pepe, this has all happened before. Pepe was given a 10 match ban in 2009 for twice kicking Getafe’s Javier Casquero, followed by a stamp to the body, whom he had just brought down in the area.

Ramos is no saint either, having been sent off in a 2010 Classico for bringing down Lionel Messi from behind and then getting into a brawl with Carles Puyol. Both of these players have a history of making bad decisions in high-pressure matches against Barcelona and the pressure put on the coach beforehand would only have made their situation more desperate as they would no longer have the typical calm of Mourinho to look to.

You can’t completely blame Mourinho for his team’s lack of discipline but he does not help them with his antics, both on and off the field. He cannot help but get into a media war with Barcelona and the press before every match, most recently staying silent during a press conference, leading to members of the local press storming out.

In the Spanish Super Cup at the beginning of the season, he tried to stick his finger into Barcelona assistant manager Tito Vilanova’s eye during a brawl on the sideline. Mourinho has never been a perfect example for his players and can create more problems than he solves. Mourinho, the “Special One,” is anything but a regular manager, though. And so maybe these antics can be attributed as a cause for the discipline problems that beset Real Madrid during high pressure matches such as the Classico. But Mourinho cannot be held fully responsible for his players being sent off because a manager never wants to play a game with only 10 men on the field. Real Madrid’s best defensive players have to look in the mirror and see that despite all the hype of the Classico, it is up to them to not get carried away if they want to win. The last time Real Madrid beat Barcelona (2011 Copa Del Rey) they lasted until the 120th minute before losing Angél di María.

The English equivalent to the Classico, the North West Derby, was, in contrast, a well-mannered affair for the first time in years. The previous match between Manchester United and Liverpool had been overshadowed by the racism scandal between Luis Suárez and Patrice Evra but this match was played with minimal fuss and resulted in only one card for a professional, but not malicious, foul by United’s right back Rafael on Stuart Downing. Because the tackles and fan hooliganism typically overshadow this game, it was refreshing to see the game finish with no controversy.

The biggest reasons for this well-ehaved display, in my opinion, were the continued attempts by both managers to get their teams to play respectfully. For the two weeks leading up to the game both Kenny Dalglish and Sir Alex Ferguson gave interviews where they stressed the importance of playing within the rules and of the players and fans behaving themselves. The managers helped to make the game cordial and clean unlike the Classico.

Both of these games are the top derbies in their respective countries, but the approaches were completely different. I don’t think this is down to the football culture, since the British fans are typically the worst in terms of behavior (Glasgow derby) and exerting their will upon the clubs’ policy (Blackburn). This was down to the way that the managers prepared their teams for the game and they presented the game as an athletic contest, and not a chance for revenge or humiliation.

Mourinho seemed to have lost some control of his team and the team consequently acted with ill discipline. Ferguson and Dalglish made sure they had control of their dressing rooms and produced a fine display of football that contained only one bad tackle throughout.

The first example I used in this column was of Danny Murphy accusing Karl Henry over his horror challenges and Wolves manager Mick McCarthy of exciting his players too much. These were problems in mid-table premier league matches between two teams that had little history of playing each other. Henry is a perfect example of a player that needs a manager that can calm him down as his dismissal for kicking Mark Albrighton two weeks ago showed. Some players — like Karl Henry, Sergio Ramos, and Pepe, for example — need a manager not to psych them up for the game but to calm them down.

While a manager obviously wants his team to play the best that it can against the opposition, he has a responsibility to his players, the opposition, and the game to prevent players he knows to be rash from making such bad tackles and possibly ending someone’s career. This isn’t always possible, but the game should never be raised to the intensity that a person may have a career ending injury.

Supriya Davis

in Athlete of the Week/Sports by
Cristina Matamoros/The Phoenix
Cristina Matamoros/The Phoenix

WHAT SHE’S DONE:
In addition to being part of the relay team that finished first in the 400 medley, Davis also won back-to-back individual events in the 200 IM and 200 butterfly.

FAVORITE CAREER MOMENT:
“My favorite career moment was probably the cheer the women’s team did in the middle of the Gettysburg meet because everyone had so much energy.”

WHAT SHE WANTS TO DO:
“Our goal is to swim our hearts out at conferences.”

BEST CLASS SHE’S TAKEN AT SWARTHMORE (SO FAR):
“‘Chem 10H Seminar.”

Super Bowl Predictions

in Sports by
Courtesy of phandroid.com.
Courtesy of phandroid.com.

We e-mailed a bunch of your professors and coaches, asking them to predict the Super Bowl. Here are their guesses:

Michael Brown, Physics
PATRIOTS 24, Giants 21

Vera Brusentsev, Economics
PATRIOTS 28, Giants 7

President Rebecca Chopp
GIANTS 24, Patriots 20

Bruce Dorsey, History Chair
PATRIOTS 24, Giants 20

Carr Everbach, Engineering
PATRIOTS 27, Giants 21

Phil Everson, Statistics
“PATRIOTS 31, Giants 24. You reminded me I did want to compile the data to add to my big NFL database. I ran some basic regressions to get a prediction for NE vs. NYG on a neutral field. The best fit for NE’s score was between 29 and 33, and for NYG it was between 23 and 27 (of course, the prediction intervals are enormous!). Then I looked at the frequencies of individual point totals in NFL games and picked 31-24 as a likely score. We’ll see what actually happens.”

Stan Exeter, Baseball Head Coach
“GIANTS 34, Other Team 27. Go Big Blue.”

Ted Fernald, Lingiustics
PATRIOTS 34, Giants 31

Scott Gilbert, Biology
“I’m still recovering from the dreadful performance of the Packers, but I’ll go with the GIANTS: 24, Patriots 21.”

Steven Hopkins, Religion
“This is difficult, but the gut says, without thinking too much—does the gut ever think?—GIANTS, crazy squeaker, 26-24. Trails of star dust coming out from the untucked shirt of Eli Manning? But anything can happen.”

Brian Johnson, Russian
“Patriots by 6.”

Ellen Magenheim, Economics Chair
GIANTS 24, Patriots 21

Michael Marissen, Music Chair
GIANTS 28, Patriots 21

Matt Murphy, Political Science
“GIANTS 28, Patriots 23. Because let’s face it, some real giants could beat real patriots.”

Donna Jo Napoli, Linguistics Chair
“What’s the Super Bowl? Who’s playing? I say the one with the shorter name will win. I say the score will be 49 (since 7 × 7 is such a lucky number) to 42 (since close games are more fun). But I hope it’s a tie, because I love ties.”

Tia Newhall, Computer Science
“I could only give you a random guess…Packers by 10 points?”

Eric Song, English
“GIANTS win 24-21!”

Richard Valelly, Political Science
“PATRIOTS will win, but not by much”

Elizabeth Vallen, Biology
“2 concussions to 1 concussion. Not sure about the winner.”

Andrew Ward, Chair of Psychology
“Given that I grew up not all that far from Foxboro, MA and I have a nephew who has worked for the organization and their former coach once lived on the next street, I think I have go with the New England Patriots. I’ll say PATRIOTS 24, Giants 17.”

The need to find greatness somewhere, somehow

in Balls to the Wall/Columns/Sports by
swatphoenix-95_600

It took less time than normal for this year’s Super Bowl coverage to make me feel like heatstroke was imminent. Looking back, it might have been the article with the headline “Ahmad Bradshaw’s heart inspires New York Giants” that finally did it. Maybe it was the story about how the Patriots had divine intervention on their side against Baltimore because a receiver dropped a touchdown and the kicker missed a field goal in the same game. Could it have been the debate on “ESPN First Take,” still TV’s best case for deafness, on whether or not Eli Manning has a “psychological edge” over Tom Brady? Lest any Giants fan lose sleep, Stephen A. Smith thinks he does.

All the same, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for everyone tasked with providing two weeks of hype for these teams. If this year’s coverage seems a little more awful than usual, as if every writer is going with his sixth-best idea for a story, the urge to retch is understandable. Divine intervention and Ahmad Bradshaw’s heart aside, neither the Giants nor the Patriots are anyone’s idea of a “great” team, and while it’s anybody’s guess of what “great” truly is, it’s a little easier to see what it isn’t. New England had not defeated a team with a winning record this year before they beat the Ravens to go to the Super Bowl, and apparently it took “an angel on their side” to do even that.

The Giants, for their part, would be the first Super Bowl-winning team in NFL history to have been outscored on the season. The ’07 Patriots and ’86 Giants these teams are not, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Somebody has to win every year, and as far as the 2011 contenders were concerned, things could have been a lot worse. T.J. Yates? Green Bay and the worst defense in history? (whisper) Tim Tebow? Maybe things worked out for the best, and not just because the Giants and Patriots played a reasonably entertaining Super Bowl only four years ago.

To hear the voices in the media, however, you would think that a Giants-Patriots Super Bowl has been decreed from on high, preordained by the same football gods who once let Trent Dilfer win a championship. It’s a fascinating opportunity to see how the media either can’t or won’t deal with a situation where two obviously flawed teams are the last ones standing. The hole in the football narrative caused by the absence of any real greatness gets patched up with stories of destiny and intangibles (Eli’s “psychological edge”), as greatness in disguise. As a result, these become the two ends of the spectrum in the media’s story — greatness or destiny, with nothing in between.

Of course, there’s a chance none of this really matters, since as long as everyone is willing to go along with those two choices, then the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any sort of middle ground won’t mean a thing. But I hope that it does matter. I want to believe that we are getting smarter in the way we watch sports today, and that the notion of fans being intimidated by the gray area is ridiculous, and insulting. I’d like to think we could deal with it if the weekly columnists and talking heads calmed down and acknowledged that the Giants were a decent team with a very good quarterback whose defensive line got healthy at the right time and avoided the one playoff match-up that really scared them (having to play the Saints in New Orleans). This seems immensely preferable to being force-fed the idea that the Giants’ clutch, gritty intangibles are flat-out better than any other team’s. The last time I checked, their roster isn’t made up of fifty-three Derek Jeters, and they aren’t scoring points off of Ahmad Bradshaw’s heart.

It’s hard to deny the appeal that comes with watching a truly great team, and so those involved can be forgiven for doing their best to convince us that we are watching exactly that. Yet, some sports better than others have been able to embrace the constant disconnect between the best teams and the championship teams; in baseball, a wild-card team that won 90 games could only win the World Series so many times before the experts threw up their hands and the “Moneyball”-inspired concept of playoff randomness started to gain real traction.

On the flip side, it’s in the NFL universe, more than anywhere else, where this notion that only the best will make it to the finish line stubbornly persists. Whoever wins on Sunday will automatically become the brightest star in the constellation, no matter what.

There are probably a dozen other columns to be written about why exactly this is, all pivoting on one glib axiom or another about football as a symbol of … whatever. Life’s constant struggle to gain even a little ground? Sure. The meritocracy that doesn’t exist in the real world? Fine. A strategic military campaign? George Carlin already did that one.

Instead, I’ll go with the simplest answer I can think of: Football is the people’s game, and in the media’s eyes, the people demand greatness above all else. Well, either greatness or destiny. But nothing in between.

Timothy is a junior. You can reach him at tbernst1@swarthmore.edu.

Think Climate: a campus dialogue on global warming

in Op-Eds/Opinions by
swatphoenix-95_600

Op-Ed by Alex Ahn and Hayden Dahmm

In 1824, a lengthy article titled “General remarks on the temperature of the Earth and Planetary Spaces” appeared, buried deep in the back pages of the French scientific journal Annales de Chimie et de Physique. Its author, Joseph Fourier, was a mathematician and physicist who was investigating possible sources of the additional heat that appeared to keep the Earth significantly warmer than it should be, given its incredible distance from the sun. One of the ideas he postulated in the publication — that the atmosphere might function as an insulator for the planet — grew in the next two centuries into what is perhaps the most complex and controversial subject of scientific and public discourse: global warming. But why should it be so controversial?

If there ever was one, global warming is the greatest threat to civilization in the foreseeable future. Rising temperatures and consequential climatic shifts threaten to throw the Earth’s energy balance into irretrievable positive feedback loops, increase the likelihood of extreme weather disasters that previously were extremely rare, damage countless ecosystems and impair crop yields in critical production regions around the world.

So who’s talking about it? Not many. There is a dearth of its coverage in the mainstream media, and even when it is covered, standard practices of journalism demand that skeptics of questionable credentials and ulterior motives be placed on equal footing with climate scientists who conduct scholarly research. However, because legitimate climatologists who disagree with the scientific consensus are so rare, reporters are forced to cite a small number of skeptics who are typically unqualified.

Myron Ebell, Director of Energy and Global Warming and International Environmental Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), is one such example. Despite his impressive title, he has no academic background in climatology or any natural sciences. That has not stopped him, however, from writing numerous op-ed articles on the exaggeration of the dangers of global warming or convincing the Bush administration not to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. Christopher Horner, another high-ranking expert at CEI, has written three books on global warming but has never in any way been involved with climate research. He has a law degree, but no scientific qualifications.

Coupled with a sophisticated campaign financed by the fossil fuel industry to malign scientists and to spread disinformation about global warming, the failure of mainstream media and environmental messaging has resulted in the solidification of a large sub-population of this country who are tragically misled on the status quo of climate science. According to a Yale study conducted last year, 40 percent of Americans believe that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists as to whether global warming is happening, which is utterly false. It is important to note that before a campaign was mounted by the coal and oil lobby to manipulate public opinion, the scientific consensus was known about by average Americans. Case in point: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), now often denounced on Fox News as a political scheme to push left-wing agendas, had the full support of then-presidential candidate George H.W. Bush in 1988 when it was formed to advise policymakers on the world’s climate. In fact, he was even quoted thus on the campaign trail: “those who think we are powerless to do anything about the ‘greenhouse effect’ forget about the ‘White House effect’; as president, I intend to do something about it.” Bush promised, that as president, he would take dramatic measures to curb the rate at which we were changing the global environment: “we will talk about global warming and we will act.”

The IPCC published its First Assessment Report in 1990, revealing the imperative for countries around the world to tackle global warming (i.e. reduce carbon dioxide emissions). Immediately, the fossil fuel lobby — to be more specific, the Edison Electric Institute, Western Fuels Association, and the National Coal Association — launched a coordinated attack against the public understanding of science, according to a leaked memo published in The New York Times, to “reposition global warming as theory, not fact.” It was called the Information Council on the Environment, and counted numerous discredited experts on their scientific advisory panel. Unfortunately, the ICE has been followed by numerous other projects from the fossil fuel lobby that have been much more successful.

The history of this disinformation campaign is surprisingly well documented, though little noticed. The impact it has had on the public sphere, however, cannot go unnoticed. A Gallup poll in 2011 revealed that 43% of Americans believe that global warming is caused by natural changes in the environment, and that the same percentage believe it is generally exaggerated in the news.

Although this is a status quo no other developed nation suffers, America’s position as a global superpower has allowed such domestic propaganda to set the agenda for the entire world. As the Earth’s atmosphere continues to warm dangerously and creep ever near the tipping point of runaway positive feedback loops, we find ourselves in critical need of clear messaging on the climate front unadulterated by the political or financial interests of those who are responsible for this environmental and human crisis.

This dire necessity is precipitated in the formation of “Think Climate” — a new student organization on the Swarthmore campus poised to join the struggle for clear, honest reporting on climate and renewable energy, as well as critiquing the mainstream media on their climate coverage. This initiative has manifested itself as a weekly radio program on WSRN 91.5 FM, also under the name “Think Climate.” We hope to branch out into the community and to spark a lively discussion on campus centered around climate change, emphasizing the necessity of immediate action. Through this op-ed column, we hope to lay the seeds of this important discourse. Please write to us if you have any questions about global warming.

The first official meeting of Think Climate will be held on Friday, Februrary 10, in Kohlberg 114, beginning at 4:30 p.m. All students, including skeptics, are welcome to attend.

Race & the GOP: Tyler Becker

in Columns/Opinions/The Swarthmore Conservative by
swatphoenix-95_600

The 2008 general election campaign brought America its first African-American president. Barack Obama’s election will forever stand in the hearts and minds of Americans as a moment of progress. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech less than fifty years ago, to put the achievement in perspective.

Despite President Obama’s election, race continues to cement itself as a political issue. Obama has made some slip-ups of his own, including getting involved in the Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates’s arrest and the administration’s quick dismissal of Shirley Sherrod for an out-of-context sound bite.

Obama talked about a “post-racial” America when he was campaigning for president. This is the kind of America I want. A color-blind society where we neither define each other as members of a particular race not forget the heritage shared by members of a race or ethnicity may be an idealistic goal, but is an attainable one. The issue in our society today is an intense focus on race that makes race an issue in the wrong situations.

Accusations of racism have been lobbed at GOP presidential candidates throughout this primary season. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) charged Obama with being a “food stamp president,” and his remark was reported by Democrats as racist despite the number of people on food stamps rising as part of the stimulus package, and more whites than blacks being on food stamps. Food stamps are not a “black” program. The program is meant for the poor of all races, and it is wrong to equate a small government argument with being racist.

Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) endured a great deal of scrutiny leading up to the Iowa Caucus about newsletters printed under his name that harbored racist sentiments. It turns out the most damaging racial statements were likely put into the newsletters without Paul’s knowledge, and his not deleting the statements was a serious oversight error. All this occurred despite Paul’s candidacy attracting diverse crowds and his commitment to equality as a libertarian-leaning Republican.

Former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) has been called racist towards Hispanics due to his opposition to illegal immigration, despite the law supporting his position. Campaigning in Florida, Romney said illegal aliens would not be rounded up and deported, but programs such as e-Verify, which check the immigration status of potential workers should be put in place. He used the term “self-deportation” to describe his policy position. Romney is not a racist; he just has a position harbored by 60-plus percent of Americans who oppose illegal immigrants gaining legal status. Former Speaker Gingrich went too far with his radio ad calling Romney “anti-immigrant,” just another example of how race is misused by politicians.

This focus on race is unnecessary in our political system and poisonous to our politics. Republicans and the Tea Party are not trying to create policies that harm minorities. That is a ridiculous claim, and one made to defend the big government mentality of the Democratic Party.

We need to move past these endless debates on race, and focus on more clearly defined issues. If a Republican or conservative says anything racially-insensitive, I will be the first to denounce that individual. Taking statements out of context or obscuring what the speaker meant is not acceptable. We cannot just assume that someone is a racist because of their particular political ideology.

While I do not think it is possible to completely ignore race in the political context (nor should we), we need to change the way race is discussed in the public sphere.

Race and ethnicity are quintessential aspects of the Swarthmore experience. We are exposed to people from a variety of different backgrounds, all here for the same reason: to engage in the intellectual pursuits that define who we are as people. With our campus divided about fifty-fifty between whites and minorities, each person brings his or her own racial and cultural experience to the table.

There are ethnic and cultural groups on campus, but friend groups are very diverse and nobody gets as caught up in the racial stereotyping spewed by the media. I often hear jokes on campus about race, as Swatties are so comfortable with each other on the topic. The rest of society is not as mature as the majority of Swarthmore with regard to race because we are all exposed to different cultures here. Accusations of racism are thrown around all the time, often for the minutest words or statements taken completely out of context.

I want the rest of society to be like Swarthmore when it comes to discussions about race. I want people to be able to celebrate their background, but, in the public sphere, see human beings not just as members of a particular racial group. This starts with us ignoring the charges of racism that occur all the time in the media and in politics, and focusing on how we want to talk about race. It’s time to start that dialogue.

Tyler is a sophomore. You can reach him at tbecker1@swarthmore.edu.

Race & the GOP: Sam Sussman

in Columns/Opinions/Sussing Out the Substance by
swatphoenix-95_600

Sam Sussman maintains that the racialization of politics is a GOP strategy

Last week, the Republican Presidential Primary reached a new low — who would have thunk it? — even before Newt Gingrich promised a 51st state on the moon (this, sadly, is not a joke. Google it). In the days before the South Carolina primary, Rick Santorum sloshed into the muddy backwaters of racial politics with this caring commentary: “I don’t want to make black peoples’ lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and their families.” If dear Rick was trying to outdo leading Mitt-alternative Newt Gingrich, it was a dreadfully weak effort. Newt set a high standard earlier this month when he expanded on his frequently deployed description of Barack Obama as “the food stamp President” with this unsolicited advice: “If the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” So far, no invitation yet.

These are not merely “gotcha” moments. Rather, the use of racially charged language is a forty-five year Republican project that runs from Richard Nixon’s promise of “law and order” to Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” to Bush Senior’s shameful (yet successful) attempt to define Michael Dukakis by convicted black murderer Willie Horton’s mug shot. Racially charged language, the ultimate purpose of which is to associate government with excessively generous assistance to poor blacks, has been the prime mechanism by which the GOP has built its case for “small government.”

The GOP first pioneered the “Southern strategy” of injecting racial resentment into economic debates in 1968, after years of failing to win economic arguments against liberal Democrats. Over the previous three decades, Democrats had built a middle class society on the pillars of public education, strong support for organized labor and Social Security. FDR’s party was thanked at the polls, winning seven of the nine Presidential elections between 1932 and 1964. Yet by 1968, domestic political news had been dominated for three years by race riots in black urban centers and Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. The Republican strategy was simple: redefine the Democratic Party as an advocate of the urban poor, while branding itself defender of middle class Americans who needed protection from a “big government” intent on redistributing their wealth to the black underclass. Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips termed this strategy “Democratic-Negro mutual identification.” Clever.

Because overtly racist language was no longer in vogue after the civil rights movement, Nixon’s task was to speak to white racial resentment without sounding explicitly racist. Republican strategist Lee Atwater explains: “You start in 1954 saying ‘nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say nigger anymore — that backfires. So you say stuff like ‘forced busing,’ ‘states’ rights.’”

Nixon, too, was less than coy about his double-speak. After filming a commercial that combined his soothing promise of “law and order” with footage of rioting African-Americans, Nixon announced to his staff: “This hits it right on the nose … it’s all about law and order and the damn Negro-Puerto Rican groups out there.” Nixon also used the language of “cities” and “the poor” to associate government spending with African-Americans: “We have been deluged by government programs for the unemployed, the cities, the poor … it is time to quit pouring billions of dollars into programs that have failed.” Never mind that the “War on Poverty” slashed the number of Americans living in poverty by 35%.

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Ronald Reagan built on this vocabulary as he cobbled together a sustainable conservative coalition. Most infamous is his beloved anecdote of the “welfare queen.” She was “a woman in Chicago,” who abused welfare and food stamps to the tune of $150,000 per year. Lazy, irresponsible and overly sexual, the welfare queen’s exploitation of “hard working, decent tax-paying Americans” (read: white people) epitomized everything wrong with “big government.” There is reasonable evidence that Reagan himself was no overt bigot, yet this language was invaluable to him and his Big Business allies who were intent on tarnishing liberal government programs at all costs.

Neither Richard Nixon nor Ronald Reagan has been a force in American politics for nearly a quarter-century, but the language of racial resentment with which they argued against liberal governance is still with us. When Republicans speak of “big government,” “the entitlement society,” being “tough on crime” and representing “hard working, decent, tax-paying Americans,” it is essential to understand that this vocabulary developed to manipulate racial resentment into blanket condemnations of government itself. It is this language with which Republicans have diverted Americans’ attention from the vital role of public health, education, employment and regulation; this language with which Republicans have justified gargantuan tax cuts to the rich while eroding public services to the middle class and poor; this language with which Republicans have repeatedly succeeded in securing the support of working class white voters whose economic interests are best served by liberal governance.

In classic tragic form, it has been these voters who have been most hurt by the hollowing out of manufacturing, erosion of public services and gross inequality wrought by the death of the liberal consensus. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party has failed to redirect the anger of a shrinking middle class toward those who have truly “lived off government” — the financial sector, Big Oil, military contractors and the pharmaceutical industry, who have for decades been the recipients of yearly government subsidies, no-bid contracts and ad-hoc bailouts. As the 2012 Presidential election nears, the winning strategy for Democrats is to combat the inevitable racialization of activist government with a redirection of public outrage toward these true “welfare queens.”

Sam is a junior. He can be reached at ssussma1@swarthmore.edu.

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