Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ben Stein Summons the Ghosts of the Southern Strategy

Fox News business analyst / actor and commercial pitchman Ben Stein made headlines earlier this week when he uncorked some rather bizarre views on the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

During an interview  with Newsmax's Steve Malzberg on Tuesday, Stein made the absurd suggestion that Brown's shooting was justified because (...drum roll please...) Brown was "armed with his incredibly strong scary self".

Aside from the wacky assertion that Brown's body was in itself, a deadly weapon, Stein further embarrassed himself by suggesting that Brown, a teenager with no record who was preparing to start college, could be considered armed because of (in Stein's view) his resemblance to former heavyweight boxers "Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay." Really.

Aside from the fact that Liston  had a lengthy criminal rap sheet and also worked as a part-time mafia enforcer and strike breaker during his boxing career and Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammed Ali 39 years ago back in 1975 when he converted to Islam - Stein's attempt to compare a teenager of Brown's stature and age to two different grown men who were world-class heavyweight boxers says more about Stein than it does Michael Brown.

Now I take particular offense at the monumental stupidity of his words because I myself am a large black guy. I'm 6'7", go to the gym regularly and probably tip the scales at 260 or 265.

Say I'm walking down the street on the way to the store minding my own business, by Stein's bizarre quasi-racist logic, a trigger-happy police officer would be totally justified in shooting me and killing me simply because from his perspective, I look big and "scary."

Bear in mind I'm a college-educated, tax-paying, law-abiding American; I own a cat, like to write, watch Netflix and drive a Honda. To Stein, and others of his Fox News-ish mind-set; having darker skin and being tall makes me "scary." How sad. How utterly trite.

Obviously deep-thinking, simple analysis and open-mindedness are NOT traits commonly found amongst the perpetually-terrified Fox News audience Stein has sunk to pandering to in order to earn a paycheck.

The thing is, Stein isn't stupid or senile. He graduated from Columbia and Yale Law School. His recent dimwitted comments simply tap into the undercurrent of bigotry that runs deep in the veins of this relatively young country of ours; and obviously within the recesses of his own mind as well.

To try and make some sense of Stein's senseless comments, it might help to remember that he was a lawyer and speech writer for Richard Nixon; he's also a Nixon apologist who believes Nixon got a raw deal. The collective brain trust that got that man elected to the White House eagerly embraced and employed the notorious "Southern Strategy".

The basis of the Southern Strategy was simple - tap into the deep-seated bigotry and internalized prejudices of white voters in order to use fear and ignorance to manipulate them into voting for Republican candidates.

So from that perspective, Steins statements do make sense. He dredged up racist bullshit to frighten people for a living for one of the most corrupt politicians of the 20th century; why not use it now to try and smear the character of a dead teenager who can't defend himself? 

So is it really all that surprising that he went on television to suggest that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson was justified in shooting an unarmed teenager with no criminal record because his skin was dark and he was physically bigger than average? No, not really.

Stein may be a lawyer and an economist, but his signature low-key droll delivery and bemused demeanor belies a man haunted by internalized fears.

Ben Stein dwells in a house where the ghosts of the Southern Strategy still reside.

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