Michael Tomasky, from June to December

Michael Tomasky today, seven days after the attack in Orlando:

I want to advance a theory: Americans in 2016 may have a less reactive response to terrorism than they had 15 years ago….We may also have figured out, or most of us may have, that the bluster and gasconade of the fear-mongers hasn’t really done us much good.

Michael Tomasky in December, four days after the attack in San Bernadino:

…the rights you [Muslims] have as Americans have to be earned, fought for….If anything Obama should have been more emphatic about this. He should now go around to Muslim communities in Detroit and Chicago and the Bay Area and upstate New York and give a speech that tells them: If you want to be treated with less suspicion, then you have to make that happen.





  1. supervalentthought June 19, 2016 at 8:34 am | #

    But what’s your point (asked curiously, out of respect: not bitchily)? That Tomasky always generalizes his own sensorium or/and that he cares less about dead queers of color than about children or/and that he’s being genuinely self-critical (?) or/and that commentary culture is the unconscious on parade, or?

    • Corey Robin June 19, 2016 at 8:41 am | #

      Definitely not that he’s being self-critical. If you read the Times piece, it’s clear that this is not a “I’ve now had some time to rethink my positions.” It’s all about how conservatives and right-wingers are the ones who are susceptible to fear-mongering (because of the amygdala). He never once acknowledges that liberals, as recently as December, partake in this sort of thing. No, what’s changed since December is not Michael Tomasky, but the partisan valence and opportunity he sees in the attacks.

      • Downpuppy (@Downpuppy) June 19, 2016 at 8:49 am | #

        Ah. I thought your point was that Tomasky is a doodyhead.

      • mark June 19, 2016 at 11:44 am | #

        “As he went on to admit, ‘as in religion, so in politics, few even of those who are enlightened enough to comprehend the meaning latent under the emblems of their faith can resist the contagion of the popular superstition. Often, when they flatter themselves that they are merely feigning a compliance with the prejudices of the vulgar, they are themselves under the influence of those very prejudices.’ Here, indeed, Macaulay for once seems more sophisticated than Bagehot, who, in The English Constitution, tends to make the distinction between the enlightened and the vulgar an absolute one” (J W Burrow, ‘A Liberal Descent’, 1981).

  2. Mark Erickson June 19, 2016 at 9:37 am | #

    He’s a hack for sure, but I didn’t read the December bit as fear mongering. He’s not saying the next attack is coming, but asking for Muslims do better PR. Stupid, but that’s his thing.

    He says: “because any two fanatical nuts can go out and buy semi-automatic weapons and shoot up a room full of people, and that’s just how it is in America, and I consider any minute of my life spent worrying about that an utterly wasted minute.”

    • adam3smith June 19, 2016 at 5:41 pm | #

      Agree — the whole “Muslims have to earn their rights” stuff from the December piece is awful (worse than awful, really), but Tomasky is actually quite consistent with the “terrorism doesn’t frighten us anymore” line between December and now. Another quote from the December piece: “This weekend, millions and millions of people went to malls, went to big-box stores, went to cineplexes, went to restaurants, went to bars. How much time did most of these people spend “on edge,” worrying that they were going to be shot to pieces by a terrorist? Possibly a little more than the previous weekend, but still probably not much.”

      I admit that I don’t get how he gets from their to the whole “Obama must scold the muslims” theme, though.

    • Will G-R June 20, 2016 at 11:19 am | #

      @ Mark Erickson: “He’s not saying the next attack is coming, but asking for Muslims do better PR.”

      C.f. “He’s not saying the next rape is coming, but asking for women to dress less provocatively and drink less and be less promiscuous”, or “He’s not saying the next police shooting is coming, but asking for blacks to stop blasting gangsta rap and pull up their pants”. The place for pragmatic advice to individual potential victims on how to deter their victimizers is not not not a public lecture from the commanding heights of the elite political/media establishment, be it Tomasky or President Obama. Even if we’re being generous and assuming it’s not victim-blaming already, the potential for it to embolden victim-blaming is simply too great.

  3. Dallas Galvin June 19, 2016 at 9:56 am | #

    Possible other interpretation: Tomasky is “softening” the media groundwork for Hillary. Trump’s got this one for the raw Republican base and Hill’s near identical we-must- “surge”-domestic-spying meme is merely a more sophisticated vocabulary, not materially distinct from Trump’s war cries. In order to shift: gain what she can of the Bernie vote and garner what she really wants, classic Republicans, it must look as though deep thought accompanies reaction, don’t you think? Tomasky’s been a Clinton waterboy since his days at the Village Voice, I believe.

  4. Granny Grammar June 19, 2016 at 10:12 am | #

    I have no idea who the man is, but I would have thought that both or either of the Tomasky quotes would have disqualified him from being considered a liberal.

    Clearly Corey Robin, whoever *he* is, is straining at gnats.


  5. graccibros June 19, 2016 at 10:31 am | #

    A few thoughts, from someone who followed Tomasky’s political commentary, quite centrist & Neoliberal, over the past two years, especially about the Dem. Primary.

    I’ve also started reading Andrew Bacevich’s new book, “America’s War for the Greater Middle East.”

    It’s a military history, but because that aspect has gone so wrong, or more precisely, has so little to show for it, it suggests why that is so: we have vastly underestimated the importance of cultural and religious factors, tensions between factions not under our control, in determining events, no matter how much military muscle is applied.

    Let me offer some of my own conclusions. I think the secular left has a hard time understanding these religious and cultural dynamics for a region that is very far from secular modernity. I’m thinking of the unfolding complexities with “the state of mind” of the shooter in Orlando, but it could apply as well to trying to read the future intentions of barely assimilated Muslims in Western Europe, France being the best example. It’s an impossible task, and a sure road to total surveillance because you’ll never have enough context “to make the call” as to when someone tips over to a violent course of action.

    Perhaps the best analogy for us would be to remember our own history – yes, yes, I know: that’s a huge problem in itself, especially for the most “patriotic” of our citizens. No one seems to remember the late 19th early 20th century when the wave of migration from Eastern and Southern Europe raised the specter of very alien – for American society – ideas about labor, government and religious traditions, Catholic and orthodox Jewish. Assimilation was no easy thing, and the power of the old traditions caused a lot of pain and turmoil. “The Best Men” atop our Victorian power structure were horrified at the thought of socialism and anarchism being introduced to our already violent labor history. Wilson and TR may have wanted to get a better deal for labor, but they drew the line at dealing with most of the labor leaders themselves, they were beyond the pale.

    Jewish immigrant literature is full of the agony, the pain of parting with the old customs, and faith, the price of assimilation to the new culture. If we want to read this as the force “modernity” exerts upon all older traditions, that’s a good place to start, and the more we plead incomprehension of the difficulties some Muslims have, we, I think, have to push out of our minds – as secular liberals and socialists are more than happy to do – the huge gap between us on the left and the Christian evangelical movements, and fundamentalists which have arisen since the 1970’s (there are profound differences between them) on so many matters… but the secular left and religious right can be thought of as staring at each other across this great canyon which modernity, now post-modernity excavates: the huge concessions its demands from those who try to retain the older religious traditions. After all, how different is the list of “indictments” that the Muslim fundamentalists draw up against the decadent West from that of our “own” fundamentalists about “Liberal America?”

    For point of reference, I might recommend the late Joe Bageant’s “Deer Hunting with Jesus” to highlight our very own gulfs; it was aimed at the gap between secular liberals and the white working class, rooted in life in West Virginia and rural Va. Put newly arrived Muslims into his context and the dilemmas and gulfs become even worse. For some, to be sure, not all. But very difficult to read as to predicting individual future actions from day-to-day activity. And a huge caution against a future plunge into the Middle East, a region we simply do not comprehend, even at the most sophisticated levels of our “governors.”

    I should leave the role of Hillary Clinton and feminism crusading for women’s rights into the traditional Muslim societies for another time, right? That’s a huge topic, not just a subtopic, of what I broached above and I have no simplistic answers other than to note that no one can predict the direction this vector will have upon the societies it is meant to “reform” and modernize, whether or not it might have exactly the opposite effects…But that’s possible. I’d better stop here and plan my escape route…

    • Duncan June 19, 2016 at 11:14 am | #

      “I think the secular left has a hard time understanding these religious and cultural dynamics for a region that is very far from secular modernity.” I’m very distrustful about statements like this, which are more common that you seem to think. I believe that Michael Tomasky would at times agree with it, mainly when he’s defending American working-class racism, sexism, and homophobia against secular leftists and our multicultural identity politics. Ordinary Americans just don’t get secular modernity, y’know? Seriously, the US is one of the most religion-crazed countries in the world. Singling out the Middle East in this regard is not just racist, it’s out of touch with reality.

      I don’t pretend to understand the religious and cultural dynamics of regions like the Middle East or the United States, that are very far from secular modernity. But I don’t think it’s all that important. Invading and occupying a country will piss off its inhabitants. Bombing its cities and villages, shredding wedding parties, immolating children with predator drones while they’re out collecting firewood, etc., etc., — all the blessings of secular modernity — will create enemies. Sometimes they will frame their enmity in religion, because religion is precisely for investing your desires and customs with the authority of the Universe; but not always. In much of eastern Asia, Marxism was the framework. It doesn’t hurt that both religion and Marxism have traditions supporting the poor against the depredations of the wealthy and powerful.

      It is so remarkably patronizing (which is why Barack Obama also uses this trope) to blame anti-US sentiment in the Middle East on a supposed distance from secular modernity. It’s the flip side of imperialism and colonialism generally: we must protect and guide these simple brown people, they don’t understand democracy and must be led by the hand into the modern world by our benign guardianship. If they refuse, we’ll just kill them. Remember too: Omar Mateen was born in the US. He grew up with secular modernity, and basically liked it. If you’re suggesting that he had some atavistic Afghan genes that made him a homophobic closet case, that’s a pretty clear case of racist ideology. More likely he ultimately fastened onto Islamism as a rationalization for his discomfort with his homosexuality, just as many Christians and Jews do with their cults. (Like the Israeli who attacked a Pride March there a year or so ago.) Why is it so difficult to grasp that US/European violence in the Middle East and elsewhere has consequences? Blaming the blowback on some mysterious Oriental rejection of secular modernity is just a slighlty more sophisticated version of Bush’s “Why do they hate our freedoms?” — and a reminder that Bush was in the mainstream of US foreign policy.

      Your remark about Hillary Clinton’s (! what about Laura Bush?) “feminism” is cut from the same cloth. Feminism already exists in Middle Eastern societies. It may not look just like American or European feminisms, but it is there. You’re also ignoring the entrenched resistance to feminism among mostly male secular modernists.

      • aab June 20, 2016 at 1:51 am | #

        (For clarity, the following is intended to build on Duncan’s post and vehemently disagree with graccibros.) Thank you. Moreover, Hillary Clinton is NOT a feminist, in any way, shape or form. She colludes with the profoundly misogynist House of Saud, bombs and breaks countries for fun and profit which always hurts women the most, does not support women in any material way at home — not even elite women, whom she never does anything for, while expecting them to serve her. She’s not truly pro-choice (she has expressed DURING THIS CAMPAIGN a willingness to support a constitutional amendment restricting abortion); she doesn’t even pay her own female executives the same as her male ones, paying women a lower percentage than the national average.

        This cultural discussion is mostly a neoliberal distraction. Notice how rural working class whites all over the country have been voting for Jewish Socialist Bernie Sanders. People in the middle east object to the USA conspiring with dictators and breaking their countries to extract their resources and commandeer the profits. People object to being exploited and plundered.

        The United States shouldn’t be involved militarily in the Middle East. Period. Our stated goals are lies, our real goals are immoral, and we fail at both, consistently.

  6. graccibros June 19, 2016 at 11:08 am | #

    I should add, for additional commentary, that the direction of the debate after the Orlando shooting is for a left-right confrontation over gun laws, one that is underlain by this irony: that the greatest defenders of almost unrestricted access to guns, aside from the industry-NRA nexus, are the rank and file of the religious right…that is, if I read the overlap between them and the current interpretation of the Second Amendment correctly…of course we don’t hear it presented that way, but that would be my call…that one could say that American Fundamentalists are insisting on the right of Islamic fundamentalists to arm themselves to the teeth as they “assimilate.” The dilemma solved by deporting them all, I guess…the Trump response…the less draconian version being more extensive “thought monitoring” …the left can ask how that worked out under W. Wilson and Truman…

  7. stephenkmacksd June 19, 2016 at 11:23 am | #

    I haven’t read Tomasky in some time. But what struck me was how similar he is to David Brooks. Relying on snippets of brain science and sociology to frame his arguments while maintaining his self-ascribed status as pundit. What is unsurprising is his continuing support for Hillary as the ‘natural choice’, the only choice for president, as she understands to ‘role’ she is playing and will play as leader. Reminds me of Lou Cannon’s biography of Reagan subtitle ‘The Role of a Lifetime’

    ‘It’s also the case that Hillary Clinton, by contrast, looked and sounded like a president ought to. The reputation for hawkishness that she spent her Senate years cultivating didn’t hurt, as backdrop. And while she may not have said anything terribly memorable, in a week such as the one past, maybe that’s the point: Just say the obvious and comforting things a president is supposed to say. Observing her comportment last week, one could easily picture her representing the nation at grave moments. The same could hardly be said of Mr. Trump.’

    What has been a puzzlement is why Tomasky has remained at The Daily Beast after Michael Weiss took control. I’m suffering sometimes from a bad case of Tina Brown nostalgia. At the least Ms. Brown fancied herself a cosmopolitan, while maintaining the kowtowing position towards the rich, famous and the royal. But Les Gelb was for a very long time a regular contributor, a former Clinton appointee, yet he offered something like insightful political commentary. The Daily Beast now offers articles by Mr. Weiss’ former colleagues at The Interpreter.

  8. Roqeuntin June 19, 2016 at 12:27 pm | #

    The representations of neuroscience in the popular press are getting so bad it’s almost descended to the level of phrenology. Want to simply and easily explain away the views that contradict with yours? Just start talking genetics or brain chemistry. It works better if you have no scientific or medical background. Trust me. On a side note, I listen to a podcast called “Psychology In Seattle” regularly, and they did an entire episode on how evolutionary psychology was all too often political philosophy masquerading as science.

    Trump’s primary usefulness is for these center-right neoliberal democrats. He’s become a scapegoat for everything they don’t want to address in their own house. They need Trump’s candidacy even more than he does. Anything to maintain the fiction that there are sincere ideological differences within the political establishment.

    • Will G-R June 20, 2016 at 11:33 am | #

      Richard Lewontin is and always has been the proper corrective to this Panglossian style of pop evopsych ideological BS. Of course he’s an unapologetic Marxist and even cowrote a book called “The Dialectical Biologist”, which makes him a nice juicy target for Redbaiting-inclined evopsych ideologues like Steven Pinker. (I hesitate to call Pinker an “evolutionary psychologist” because his peer-reviewed scholarly background outside of semi-obsolete paradigms in classical cognitive science is surprisingly thin; he’s been running on the fumes of his popsci NYT-bestseller status for decades now.)

  9. Heliopause June 19, 2016 at 12:58 pm | #

    “…the rights you [Muslims] have as Americans have to be earned”

    IIRC some people pointed this out at the time; this statement is absurd.

  10. John Maher June 20, 2016 at 1:15 am | #

    Do you mean that Americans are in on the joke that terrorism is necessary for the government to justify its power grab? Tomaksy’s contradiction is obvious and uninteresting as per the typical exceptionalist. He needs to embrace a shift in the monopoly on violence to share the power to make killable with those non persons outside the polity to go full Burke here.

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