Arnold Kling  

What I Really Said at Heritage

Causes of the Financial Crisis... What is Bryan's Analysis?...

Andrew Sullivan passes along an accusation from somebody named James Wolcott that I made a racist reference to President Obama at an event co-sponsored by the Heritage foundation.

The event was taped, and I hope that Heritage will post the video. Here is what I remember saying:

I complained about Henry Paulson's $700 billion bailout, and I said that I felt as a taxpayer as if my house had been ransacked by a gang of thugs. I then said that we have a new gang of thugs, and there I was referring to the Obama Administration, although I did not cite the President by name.

Neither Wolcott nor Sullivan has a place on their blog to post comments, so I could not respond to their accusations. However, I hereby ask them to issue a correction.

On the other hand, if Henry Paulson is black, then I apologize for my clueless insensitivity.

Please keep comments civil.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (100 to date)

James Wolcott is [comment deleted for insulting remarks--I meant it about being civil--ed]

brannigan writes:

lol, thats what you get for insulting Him.

Jasper writes:

Well shucks, Arnie, you always seemed a decent feller to me.

scott clark writes:

I actually think this goes to David Henderson's point that maybe we are getting to them. Your (AK's) voice since the very begining of the financial correction has been one of clarity, sanity, and unimpeachable logic. It seems that your opponents tried to ignore you, as they had no other response, but as soon as they saw an opening to disparage and trash you, they took it. Even if they had to expose their own politically correct and racial oversensitivities to do it.

Hal Espen writes:

Mr. Kling,

For starters it seems to me that your actual dispute is not with Andrew Sullivan or "someone named James Wolcott" (do you REALLY not know who this Vanity Fair writer is?) but someone named Conn Carroll, who quoted you in this post at the Heritage Foundation's Foundry blog:

You are implying that Carroll misquoted you badly; perhaps he did (in which case Carroll has been grossly irresponsible as a reporter and owes you a prominent apology), but if he didn't misquote you, then the strange and uncivil connotation of your remarks deserves the censure it has received.

megapolisomancy writes:

Get used to it. It has become virtually impossible to present a coherent critique of liberalism and its public policies without someone calling you racist. That only indicates how empty (and dangerous) modern liberalism has become.

Keep the good stuff coming!

Matt writes:

So you're racist against whites and blacks. Meh, I've know worse people.

Devil's Advocate writes:

To me, "thug" means a hooligan or some kind of a brutish criminal. If someone hears "thug" and immediately assumes that the speaker means a hooligan or a brutish criminal of a particular race, doesn't that speak more to the bias of the listener?

Then again, maybe they really meant that referring to Paulson and his cronies as thugs besmirches the good name of the robbers and murderers of the Thuggee Cult in India. . .

RobertB writes:

Ludicrous. Wolcott's detection of racial overtones in your use of the neutral (and from context, it's inarguable that it was neutral) term reparations is utterly characteristic though. I'm sorry to see these kinds of attacks on you. Keep up the good work.

CT Voter writes:

So you didn't say that your daughter's heritage was being stolen by Obama?

Hal Espen writes:

A note to the comments editor: I submitted an impeccably civil but critical comment a while ago, which has not yet appeared here. Meanwhile, I've seen a series of monotonously non-critical comments defending Mr. Kling being posted here.

I apologize for my impatience if it's simply taking a while to screen the comments; but if my comment is not being posted because no critical or skeptical remarks are welcome, please do your readers the favor of indicating that's your policy.

Devin writes:

It's pretty obvious who makes race the issue here.

Anyone reading your posts (and presumably listening to your talk) fully would know that you referenced World War I when it came to reparations - possibly because you had been reading about the subject recently?

When any uber-thesaurus-clinging blogger from a distant website, and even further ideology, takes potentially incindiary words completely out of context to confirm their own warped biases - You know you have arrived Mr. Kling!

Hal Espen writes:

Oddly, my follow-up note appeared instantly but the orignal has apparently disappeared!

What I submitted earlier was this:

It seems to me that Mr. Kling's actual dispute is not with Andrew Sullivan or James Wolcott but with Conn Carroll, who posted an account of Mr. Kling's remarks at the Heritage Foundation's Foundry blog, here:

If, as Mr. Kling implies, Carroll badly misquoted him, then it's Carroll who owes everyone an apology. If Carroll's version of the remarks is correct, then I believe the censure that Sullivan and Wolcott have rendered is just and deserved.

[Sorry, Hal. This comment got held up by the spam filter by accident and I only discovered it this morning. The url appears to be on some public list of spammers. However untrue that may be, we're a little stuck with it for the moment.--Econlib Ed.]

Arnold Kling writes:

I am not seeing your comment in the list. I did not delete it, but it does not seem to be there. Would you mind re-submitting it?


Mark writes:

I think the reparations issue raised by Wolcott is incorrect, I will grant you that.

What I fund stupid is your statement, "People who pay income taxes tend to vote Republican. People who live off taxes tend to vote Democratic." I pay taxes and have my whole life. I vote democratic. Did Joe the Plumber somehow post for you, using such silly arguments?

Dan R writes:

I'm sorry this writer is sullying this debate by pointless racial diversion. I have been reading your contributions (and listening, for example on Econtalk) and it does not even seem within your character or philosophy to level the coy criticism for which you are accused.

It isn't fair. You won't get an apology.

These are ugly political times and I admire your courage in being an active spokesperson in the midst of them. Let me add my voice to the side that sees your behavior as vindicated throughout this kerfuffle.

John V writes:

I didn't know "thug" was a racist word. For that matter, I didn't know "thug" had to refer exclusively to BLACK destructive pillaging hoodlums.

Thanks for clearing that up, Mr. Wolcott! (snark)

How ironic. It's quite obvious what race Mr. Wolcott exclusively thinks of when hears the word "thug".

Matthew David Barton writes:

Here's the quote from Heritage...

Kling begins somberly: “I think about the stimulus as an economist but I feel it as a father. … [The Obama Administration] is destroying my daughters’ future. It is like sitting there watching my house ransacked by a gang of thugs. That’s how I feel, now back to how I think.”

Seems to me you're a decent guy with an unfortunate quote now being pimped by NRO - so t'would seem the ball's in your court to correct the record and clarify your position vis-a-vis Bush/Obama, both stimuli packages and the relevancy of your feelings.

Dan W writes:


Not to be harsh, but you may want to look up the word 'tend' in a dictionary. You may also want to review the reams of evidence that suggest AK is entirely correct.

dearieme writes:

I blame the Esquimeaux.

Conn Carroll writes:

I'd like to apologize for giving the likes of Wolcott and Sullivan any ammunition to dirty your name. I am the one who live-blogged your initial comments from yesterday's conference:

I have since an added an update which makes it clear that your explanation above is entirely accurate.

The Wolcott's and Sullivan's of the world are constantly looking for every opportunity to tar any Obama Administraion policy critic as a racist and I am sorry I helped give them an opening.

Guy writes:

Thank you for addressing one of two points that Wolcott made. The other, more damning, accusation referred to your describing the stimulus plan as "reparations in disguise."

Care to clarify?

Dr. T writes:

Being criticized by the formerly sane Andrew Sullivan is almost an honor.

Hal Espen writes:

Perhaps my earlier comment is somehow disappearing because I've been including a link to the URL for Conn Carroll's Foundry blog post over at the Heritage Foundation site, which was the source for Sullivan's and Wolcott's remarks. I'll omit it here.

I simply wanted to argue that your problem seems to be with Conn Carroll, not Andrew Sullivan or James Wolcott. If Carroll misquoted you as badly as you're implying, he owes everyone a prominent apology. If he quoted you accurately, then I believe that the censure you've received for those ill-chosen and strangely subjective words was justifiable and deserved.

MANUELG writes:

Joseph Fried: Democrats and Republicans - Rhetoric and Reality, p. 154 (via Google Book Search),M1

"Does the government collect more from people in the blue states than from people in the red states? The answer is "yes," and the reason is obvious: People in blue states tend to earn more than people in red states. However, this does not mean that Democrats pay more taxes than Republicans...

... on average, Republican men paid about 70 percent ($2,900) more in federal income tax than did Democratic men, Republican women paid about 53 percent ($1,700) more than Democratic woman, and, on a gender-neutral basis, Republicans paid about 62 percent ($2,300) more."

The Snob writes:

Just when I thought I might try reading Andrew Sullivan again...

jfxgillis writes:


Well, you would be utterly exonerated if you had described Paulson, et al. as a bunch of home-invading thugs at the time last October.

Did you?

Dan W writes:

The blog at Heritage quotes Kling as saying:

"I think about the stimulus as an economist but I feel it as a father. … [The Obama Administration] is destroying my daughters’ future. It is like sitting there watching my house ransacked by a gang of thugs. That’s how I feel, now back to how I think."

While Wolcott quotes:

"Barack Obama is destroying my daughter's future. It is like sitting there watching my house ransacked by a gang of thugs."

Intuitively to me there is a big difference between calling Obama out by name as a thug and merely referring to the Obama Administration, and from the sounds of it, it is Wolcott who is out of order here.

MANUELG writes:

Conn Carroll published an update:

I guess Conn Carroll was the genesis of the juxtaposition of the "ill-chosen and strangely subjective words" and the President's name.

I support Kling take on the "stimulus" and the leverage failures. I am less enthusiastic about Kling implying that because of my tax bracket I will tend to vote Republican. No amount of revenue taken out of my income would make me think McCain/Palin as an improvement over Bush/Cheney. (There is a certain amount of revenue, threatened to be removed from my person, that would convince me to live in a mountain cabin with supplies, guns, and diesel fuel...)

Methinks writes:

I'm sorry, you can't call a politician a thug because he's black?

Watch me.

And mind you, if you criticize me for criticizing the Obamessiah, I will call you sexist.

Arnold Kling writes:

Responses to a few questions:

1. I really, really want the video of the panel to come out. The Heritage blog is a misquote, and subsequent misquotes are even worse. The truth would really be clarifying.

2. For what I was saying last October, try Googling "Paulson Mussolini"

3. Google "Kling stimulus reparations" to find my original post on that topic. Judge for yourself.

The Sheep Nazi writes:

Touchy lot, ain't they. I guess if I were demanding a brazillion* dollars worth of taxpayer money before the Earth explodes into a hundred thousand pieces! I'd be a little on edge too.

*From an old joke about George W Bush, in which he is informed that two Brazilian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, and bursts into tears, and then at some length inquires of the messenger: and how many in a brazillion, exactly?

Methinks writes:

My husband is an African immigrant about the same hue as Obama. Is it okay if he calls him a thug?

This may explain why liberals squirm in stunned silence when my husband airs his views on Obama. Everyone (including us) occasionally called the shrub "chimp", but that was totally cool and not racist, right? I'm sure every leftist in the world will queue up to tell me that it's not racist to call a white man a chimp because everybody knows that only black people look like monkeys - to liberals.

I know that Arnold did not intend this to be a funny post, but I find it hilarious because it shows how deeply racist all these egalitarian leftists really are.

Brandon writes:

Mussolini was black.

Karthic writes:

It is a pity it has come to this. It seems that accusations of racism, like politics, has become a last resort.

misread writes:

you guys seem to be going over the top defending any racist charges thrown at AK.
The main point of the articles that I read were talking about AK's hypocrisy on the merits of Keynesian stimulus of today compared to AK circa 2000.

the mis-quoting was unfortunate (and it sounded bad because of the insinuation that bad things were happening to his daughter caused by Obama, not the specific thug comment) but not the meat of the argument.

I would be interested in knowing why AK thinks that stimulus was ok in 2000 but is suddenly stealing from future generations in 2009 and a horrible idea?

daniel rotter writes:

"Please keep comments civil."

Yeah, like referring to Paulson and the Obama administration as "a gang of thugs" is real "civil." I guess civility is for everyone else but you, Mr. Kling.

Also, a person can both pay and "live off" taxes, those two things aren't automatically mutually exlusive.

Bob Murphy writes:


Just don't say the Republican stimulus package is niggardly.

Sean writes:

"Also, a person can both pay and "live off" taxes, those two things aren't automatically mutually exlusive."

Actually, Mr. Rotter, they are mutually exclusive. Taxing those who live off taxes is a nice, though completely inefficient, way of making them feel as if they are a part of productive society. They are not. They are civil servants. I'm quite sure that the majority of them are nice, honest people but taxpayers they are not.

Dan writes:

@daniel rotter

Referring to forceful government takings (i.e. a huge arbitrary bill that puts future generations into greater debt) as "thuggish" is very common amongst libertarian circles.

You are correct that someone can pay taxes while also living off them. However, Arnold was talking about a general trend/correlation--not a logically exclusive condition, as you errantly suggest.


There is nothing in Sullivan's nor Wolcott's post about the year 2000. You must be reading completely different articles.


There's probably a strong confirmation bias going on with your words. People will read into them whatever they want. Personally, I wouldn't take seriously a man who accuses you of "[i]diotically hyperbolic and baseless" caricatures in the same post in which he writes this passage: "No wonder so many would-be Wolverines in the right blogs are talking about stocking up on assault rifles and ammo--they've got ransackers running wild in their imaginations too. I urge these people to confront their racial fears, think of Scarlet Johansson and strawberry snowflakes and the musical numbers in Rent"

As for Sullivan...well, he's been a great blogger for a very long time and probably will continue to be one. Since "discovering" Obama, however, he loves the man like his own child and will defend him from almost any criticism. I'm just surprised he didn't nominate you for a Malkin Award.

Mencius writes:

Well, well, well. But if you're going to be hanged for a mosquito, why not be hanged for an ox?

Perhaps Mr. Wolcott needs to recalibrate his racist detector, which seems a little oversensitive. Dear Mr. Wolcott, if you're reading this: I can help. While not a racist myself, of course, I am a connoisseur of the form and have made a special study of the 21st-century racist blogosphere.

As evidence of my critical acumen and immense scholarly reach, allow me to recommend the following racist bloggers: the Uhuru Guru, Ms. Latte, Guy White, and the Real Realist.

I don't mean to suggest that these racists are of any merit, of course, just that they represent the gold standard of racism. They are to racism as Chateau Lynch-Bages is to claret. Arnold Kling is to racism as white zinfandel is to claret.

And this is only a sample. Mr. Wolcott, throw some of that Conde Nast cash at me (don't be niggardly!), and sign up for some one-on-one tutoring. Before you know it, you'll be the Robert Parker of racism. You'll certainly never mistake a bell pepper for a habanero again.

Brad Hutchings writes:

When I read Arnold's original "reparations" comment, I figured it would make someone cringe. But you'd really have to be lunatic fringe to be that someone, thinking that the only historical meaning of the word was "40 acres and a mule".

I think what Arnold is getting at with the thug comment is the old football maxim, "when you get to the end zone, act like you've been there before". Obama isn't acting like he's been there.

jrcjr writes:

Sort of hard to blame them, in a week where we have a gop congressman, from Missouri no less, refer on the House floor to the "war of northern aggression." (demonstrating he's either a racist or clueless. seems he's taking the clueless defense.)

As an Alabaman who can spot a good racist dog-whistle, I knew stevenson overplayed that one. Your quotes, whether out of context or not, unfortunately better fit the pattern: use the right code words, but maintain plausible deniability. (And reparations is one of the biggest dog-whistle code words of them all.)

In the view of most folks on the left (and increasingly in the middle), the right abandoned conservative economics for conservative culture somewhere about 8 years ago. unfortunately, this will cloud all economic discussions, unless people keep pushing for a real economic debate without constantly dipping it back into the culture war.

you've made your defense; stop digging.

Gary Rogers writes:

I still think Henry Paulson should have his name attached to the "Paulson Panic" in all of the history books. What he did was absolutely inexcusable.

Barack Obama is following through with more completely stupid ideas. I think that "group of thugs" pretty well covers what they are doing. Like Arnold, I feel violated because they are stealing my money and I can do nothing about it. Actually they are taking the money from my grandkids and that makes me even more angry.

Mike Maness writes:

AK may have stumbled into this one inadvertently. But it has become clear to me from much forum-lurking over the last couple of years that "thug" has become a common descriptive term aimed at male black criminals or accusees by presumably white posters, while it is seldom used when describing white males in the same position. This is most likely an implicit backlash against the use of the word by many rappers as a favorable descriptor.

Steve Sailer writes:

To be safe, never criticize President Obama.

Greg Ransom writes:

The remarks about your daughters hits home for me.

I've got three kids. The numbers we're looking at are truly frightening, and the level of taxation we will soon see staggers the mind.

I don't even want to think about the possibility of rampant inflation or an international flight from Treasuries or the dollar ..

This corrupt financial bubble and bust economy put prostitutes on my little cul de sac, knocked friends out of their homes, cost friends their jobs, and generally grabbed and shook everyone in my little suburban community -- and the fallout hasn't ended.

And I saw what was going to happen before it happened -- like a car crash unfolding in slow motion before your eyes.

And if current trends continue, the worst is yet ahead, with retiring baby boomers, unfunded entitlements, and growing debts as far as the eye can see.

The fiscal crackup many of us saw coming is now upon us in California. The nation itself is next.

Marcus writes:

I just read the Wolcott piece. Wow. Unbelievable. He claims to be an editor and he doesn't know what the word reparation means?

As someone previously wrote, Wolcott is the one who is bringing race into it.

AdamK writes:

I believe there has been a generational shift in the connotation of the word "thug." Older people, like myself, perhaps, picture a white, maybe ethnic, criminal. Younger people associate "thug" with its use in hip-hop.

Similarly, the former "gangster," now incarnated as "gangsta." I picture James Cagney. Kids imagine rappers.

Nav writes:

This post is called "What I really said at Heritage," but you don't include what you really said. I read your post before I read Walcott's and I didn't think it was fair to call what you said race-baiting.

And then I read Walcott's post. You said: "Barack Obama is destroying my daughter's future. It is like sitting there watching my house ransacked by a gang of thugs." That's National Review's account. So why not admit to what you actually said, if there was nothing wrong with it?

Nav writes:

I just read your comment saying it was a misquote. Everyone should definitely withhold judgment until they've seen video if video is available. Do you agree, though, with those who say that the quotes attributed to you are inappropriate? Or do you think they're perfectly fine, but just want to make it clear you didn't say them?

Babinich writes:

Steve Sailer on 02-12-09 @ 1:19 AM

"To be safe, never criticize President Obama."

I am surprised this edict has not been signed into law. :')


Your reputation precedes you. I know these allegations are false. I stand behind you (for what that is worth).

Hi, folks.

Sorry about all the comments that were submitted yesterday evening and that didn't see daylight till this morning. They were all trapped by our spam filter for using the url, which is apparently listed as spam with of the spam lookup services we use. Worse, I was out for the evening (at a fascinating ethics lecture on the foundations of inheritance law in U.S. vs. religious legal theory), so I didn't even notice till this morning.

An occasional comment that is accidentally held up as spam is of course an annoyance for the commenter and may cause a frustrating slowdown in the engaged debate between individuals; but this was a most unfortunate incident of a url that was absolutely critical to the entire thread. Please accept our apologies for the delay and frustrations you all experienced.

Far be it from me to suggest how to get around our own spam filter, but for the purposes of this thread, try something like "At the heritage blog url, see /2009/02/10/why-the-stimulus-wont-work-thugs-ransanking-my-house/" or some such thing if an additional post there is to be referenced.

Bill Woolsey writes:

On Cato unbound, there is a discussion of the virtues of partisanship. Right...

It is always shocking to me to discover how many people are so team oriented that they project their attitudes to their "opponents." They apear to believe that everyone who criticizes the Obama administration must be willng to defend the Bush administration.

Even more troubling, many people are simply unaware of the real disgust that many fiscal conservatives, and especially free market economists, felt regarding out of control Republican spending over the last eight years, and especially about the Bush/Paulson response to fiscal crises during the Fall.

Suddenly, we see posts claiming that Cheney is Kling's hero. Or asking where was Kling regarding the Paulson bailout or even the Iraq war.

Of course, Kling was here. But somehow, his criticism of the Bush administration were off the radar screen of these critics.

In this situation, we appear to see that a Republican partisan quoted Kling selectively--leaving off Kling's criticisms of Paulson--and only leaving in criticism of the Obama administration.

Anyway, for any pro-Obama partisans who bother to read these comments-- I supported some of the Bush tax cuts in 2001, but opposed his spending plans. I favored cutting spending to balance the budget. I opposed going to war in Irag, and, I confess, soon came to hate Cheney, especially, and later Bush, because of this matter. As spending raced out of control year after year, my disgust with Republicans in Congress, and with the administration grew. Cheney and Bush's theory of unlimited executive authority were horrible. I opposed the Paulson bailout and considered Bush and Paulson's behavior last fall to be abysmal.

I was willing to give Obama a chance. I don't favor fiscal stimulus and believe that monetary policy can still maintain aggregate spending. Still, I had hoped that the administration would generate a fiscal stimulous program like that suggested by Alice Rivlin. But, that didn't happened. We got the plan from Pelosi. And after Obama gave his crisis mongering speech. (Don't think, we need to pass every Democrat initiative from the last decade now or we wil have a great Depression,) Obama sank in my estimation to something like Bush and Cheney's level.

There are plenty of free market economists who look at things more or less as I do. Not all of us put on blinders, pick one of the two teams, and then root or boo.

Adolf bin Streisand writes:

Here's why I don't believe you:

You try and use the amateurish "someone named" put-down on someone whom you and the majority of readers clearly know. This is the first trick learned by how freshman journalism majors trying to act like critics.

Mr Kling, I would have assumed that every blogger spends time prepping for their 15 minutes of fame. Perhaps you should start now.

I actually agree with the basis of your argument. But when others express faux outrage for possibly insensitive remarks.

The Snob writes:

@Mike: "But it has become clear to me from much forum-lurking over the last couple of years that "thug" has become a common descriptive term aimed at male black criminals or accusees by presumably white posters, while it is seldom used when describing white males in the same position."

Clearly you've never been anywhere near Charlestown, Somerville, Dorchester, or the set of any other Mark Wahlberg movie.

wallyz writes:

Gang of thugs, demanding reparations, ransack a white conservatives house and threaten his daughter.

There is no way that could possibly be misconstrued.

TallDave writes:

Arnold, I think it is safe to safe to say, while remaining civil, that such accusations are silly and that even responding to such criticisms is beneath you.

No serious person could possibly think your remarks had anything to do with Obama's race, and anyone making such a claim forfeits their right to be taken seriously.

joseph writes:

Wolcott's strongest point is that this "thug" imagery was never employed when Republicans were raiding the treasury, horribly mismanaging our finances, and flushing US taxpayer money down the toilet in Iraq.

That's the point.

Obama comes in and tries to clean up the mess he's inhereted, by following a strategy that is conventional wisdom held by economists from across the political spectrum, and suddenly he's leading a gang of thugs raiding people's houses and ruining the futures of young girls.

If you can't see the disturbing, unconscious messaging in that, then welcome to your first lesson in unconscious racism.

Bobar writes:

"Wolcott's strongest point is that this "thug" imagery was never employed when Republicans were raiding the treasury, horribly mismanaging our finances, and flushing US taxpayer money down the toilet in Iraq."

I believe that Arnold has previously compared Hank Paulson to Mussolini, so this complaint appears to be off target. Additionally, I believe Arnold has said that he isn't intellectually opposed to a stimulus package, but he doesn't believe this bill is a stimulus package. It's a payoff to a bunch of interest groups. It's not a very complicated point.

Karen writes:

A few years ago, when The New York Times published a letter from me lamenting the doomed future of Social Security, I received some very strong [if off-base] critical emails. (People guessed my address from my name and college affiliation).

My mother gave me some advice I will always remember:
"Only people who feel their views have been really threatened will react like that. So it's a sign that you did something right, that you said something too well or too true for them."

And when you can't even criticize the arguments, as Wolcott couldn't, then you dig for anything else you can use...

Tim Osburn writes:

Reading the comments is always interesting. I think the problem here is the Republican "southern strategy", pioneered in Nixon's days. Now the south is reasonably solid for the GOP. Yet white people in the south voted for Obama at a significantly lesser rate than white people in the north and west. Could you characterize this as being related to his race? I'm sorry to say that I certainly think so. I've been to Mississippi quite a bit these last few years of my life, and the racism there is far more obvious than it is here in Illinois (though there is plenty of racism white v. black and vice versa here too). I am afraid it is the republican party's history of deliberately appealing to whites over blacks in the south that is creating this uber sensitivity. It seems to me an easy enough thing to deal with in your posts. Simply define your terms better. Say what you think a thug is and then characterize those you see as thugs. I often think of that word when reading the NRO's Corner site. They seem quite "brutish" to me. Brutish in the sense that they deliberately overstate for emotional reasons the way a "brute" throws his weight behind his anger. Was that so tough?

And seriously, all these tiny arguments over how people write their arguments without actuallydealing with the argument is making me bummed out. Quibbling and using the little stuff to denigrate things you don't agree with. Reminds me of the sds'ers I knew in the sixties. Yech.

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

1. Apparently, like Rush, you are going to need an "Official Obama Criticizer", a person black enough to be able to criticize the President.

2. When a person reads the word "thug", and word-associates that with a black man, surely they are the bigot, not you.

Arnold, as a black person and a conservative, I don't think either post is racist. However, the average person, at first blush, is more likely to associate the word "reparations" in its modern public policy context -- regardless of the race of the current president. I know a little bit about history, and the World War II connection wouldn't have immediately came to mind.

At the same time, your main point is true: the stimulus package is being used to satisfy many outstanding items on the Democrats policy shelf -- partly overturning welfare reform, initiating health care overhaul. One would think that these big-ticket issues would have been better targets for the GOP minority rather than the various "pork" items that they focused on.

In my comment above, I obviously meant "the World War I connection." Sorry about that.

Methinks writes:

Yet white people in the south voted for Obama at a significantly lesser rate than white people in the north and west. Could you characterize this as being related to his race?

Sure it can. Up here in the Northeast I know lots of people who were eager to vote for Obama because he's black and it would be a historic event that would regain America respect from European countries (who would never ever elect a minority to such a high office, of course). So, yeah, I think lots of people in the North and West voted for obama because of his race - which we are to accept as good. NOT voting for him because of his race is "bad". I think both are pathetic.

You imply that the only reason more people didn't vote for Obama in the South is because they're racist. Because, obviously, that's the only thing on anyone's mind during an election. The fact that the man is the most left-leaning candidate the Dems have produced in recent memory obviously had nothing to do with the decision to not vote for him? I lived in the South for many years before moving to the Northeast. In my experience, people are far more racist in the Northeast than in the South and in the most insidious way - rich whites treat black people and their "problems" as their pets. How imperious.

With all this outrage over anything that could possibly be perceived as racist toward blacks, why is there no similar outrage over the anti-semitism among blacks and comments like racist slurs like "cracker" and "honkey"? Are we upset about racism or are blacks the just a protected group like a species on the endangered list?

Dan Weber writes:

As others have said, "thug" has become part of the rap lexicon. If you google up "thug culture" you'll see some examples.

But, while I can understand how a minority takes a word used against it and seizes it as a method of empowerment, something in my bullshit detector goes off when a minority takes a word that was never used against them and now declares it is theirs and others cannot use it.

Plus the obvious ignorance about the origin of the word as referring to people of Indian ancestry. If it were to be offensive to anyone, that's whom.

Brendan Keefe writes:

I think Bob Murphy has said the smartest thing in this entire comment thread. As is so often the case, a little humor can carry a lot of truth.

Look, like it or not, people hear and read a lot of meaning into words. I almost never use niggardly because too many people misunderstand it. It's really not the end of the world for me, and it's not hurting my back to bend a little backwards to show some sensitivity, even if they're wrong and I'm right to use it as a synonym for cheap.

Similarly, it is disingenuous to pretend that no one should hear thug without some people hearing a racist codeword. The fact is, the word has been used for exactly that purpose for at least a couple of decades now. Not by everybody, not always, but not never, either.

I grant that there is some hysteria among Obama supporters, being rabbit-eared for racist speech. But there's an obvious reason why that is so, and why it's entirely understandable, even if it's not always correct.

It really isn't the end of the world to restrict oneself from using thug in connection with Obama. To show this extra bit of sensitivity and awareness does not at all mean that you're forbidden from criticizing him. Be your age, Steve Sailer and others.

I'll tell you one more thing for free: it has been my experience throughout my entire life that those who howl the loudest when being chastised for using a problematic word tend overwhelmingly to be the ones most likely to want to slip in some real racist sentiments with their words. If this does not describe you, then just calm yourself, realize that there are half a million words in the English language alone, and find some other ones to use to express your disagreements with our first black president.

mike writes:

I always enjoy when right-wingers will "pretend" that they do not know who "someone" is. In this case, Mr. Kling claims not to know who is James Wolcott. I find that hard to believe since Mr. Wolcott has been around for years and has a large body of writings to his name. I also enjoy when they affect mock outrage whenever they are called out on comments they make--the "who, mois?" defense. Calling the new President and his administration "thugs" before a group of like-minded people (The Heritage Foundation) who have been part-and-parcel of the Republican onslaught against racial and social justice in America for 30+ years is brazen hypocrisy. The REAL thugs just left town (Washington). They are called The Bush Administration. Mr. Kling was one Bush's greatest enablers and he is an intellectual fraud to boot.

Kit writes:

@Brendan Keefe

If "thug" is now not acceptable what is an acceptable replacement? Or is it the case of "Could the last politically correct word switch off the light".

Chris writes:

I believe you forgot "jack-booted." also, while it's welcome that a conservative dispels the limousine-liberal characture of O'Reillyland, in this context you might have just as well used "welfare queen" in place of "people who tend to live off of taxes tend to vote democratic."

Reparations+Obama+thugs+home invasion+theft+[white]daughter's future+welfare recepients

I wonder how many in the Heritage audience started looking for cabins in Idaho after that little bit of hyperbole.

No, no coded language there at all. Perfectly innocent. Why I even have a black friend...


I can assure you that most people probably don't know who this Wolcott fellow was. Before yesterday I'd never heard of him, and I read alot of blogs.

And do explain how Kling was a Bush enabler.

clay m writes:

Look, libertarians have been positively snotty regarding racism since forever. Libertarians have claimed the problems don't exist, ignored the problems, or blamed the state for it.

If you want people to stop assuming you're all a bunch of racists, maybe you should stop sniping at black Americans and start talking about making constructive steps.

Chris Mallory writes:

Mr.King I feel the same way. Who the hell are any of these politicians/thugs/thieves to sign my 3 year old daughter's name to an IOU for how ever much money. The same with the WW2 generation signing my name on to pay for their bloated pensions and pay for government employees and programs. But if I protest that I never signed a promissory not or voted for anyone who supported these programs, men with guns will come kill me and take all my belongings.

Christopher Witmer writes:

Brendan Keefe's call to voluntarily restrict the use of thug because it is a racist code word is as inane as Bob Murphy's quip regarding niggardly was funny.

Brendan, I had never equated black people with thugs until I read your post, but thanks for putting the idea into my latently racist head.

Perhaps Arnold should have written about a "gang of youths" instead? God save us from the Nazi youth running this country and from the fools who run around worrying about ageism while the society goes to fascist hell in a handbasket. Sheesh.

Devil's Advocate writes:

The funny thing is that Wolcott actually links to AK's "reparations" post in which AK references reparations in the context of WWI Germany. So now AK has to factor in other people's ignorance of history when writing a blog entry? Welcome to the lowest-common-denominator society, folks.

I suppose, clay m, that a libertarian would respond first that it is not the job of the government to dictate personal beliefs, and second that true equality will not be achieved by treating people differently based on their race. Indeed, failure to apply different standards to different people based on race, gender, etc. would seem to be the new racism.

Is there a list somewhere of words that we are permitted to use? Perhaps the new administration will help us regulate the content of our speech. That would surely be a doctrine of fairness. . .

Chris writes:

My reaction to that would be: who is the "racist" ...the person who wrote "thug" or the person who immediately assumed that a thug has to be a black person.

ABC writes:

"Look, libertarians have been positively snotty regarding racism since forever. Libertarians have claimed the problems don't exist, ignored the problems, or blamed the state for it.

If you want people to stop assuming you're all a bunch of racists, maybe you should stop sniping at black Americans and start talking about making constructive steps. "

There's a reason they were called Jim Crow Laws. They weren't Jim Crow suggestions. Libertarians don't argue that government caused racism (read Zinn for that argument) but that government facilitated it by violating property rights through discriminatory laws. And sorry; laws that say who one has to allow onto one's property is a violation of property rights as well.

Change is the responsibility of society, not of government.

Someone please explain to me why a group that has been so constantly screwed by the government doesn't have more libertarians.

clay m writes:

"laws that say who one has to allow onto one's property is a violation of property rights as well"

The libertarian defends the "whites only" sign.

"Change is the responsibility of society, not of government"

So what are libertarians going to do about racism in society? Saying "not government" isn't enough. How are you going to improve society then?

Methinks writes:

So what are libertarians going to do about racism in society? Saying "not government" isn't enough. How are you going to improve society then?

I moved here from the Soviet Union to get away from a government imposing its "society improvements" on me. You only have control over yourself. If you want to improve society so badly stop being a sanctimonious twit who wrongly believes that he is in possession of a monopoly on morality with the only copy of a key to the ideal society. That would be a great start.

Miriel writes:

I've never posted here before, but I suppose I should throw in my support. I see nothing wrong or racist with either of Arnold's quotations, and frankly, I'm disgusted by the way he is being attacked. "Thug" isn't even a word I'd seen used with racial connotations before; I've seen it thrown at white people far more than minorities. I'll grant that "reparations" does often have a racial slant to it, but so what? It's clear from AK's post that he wasn't talking about slavery reparations, and it's a fitting word for what he was talking about. To complain because of a reading that's obviously untrue strikes me as unfair and baseless, not to mention a waste of time for everyone involved.

And really, I doubt there was any way for him to phrase his "thug" comment that wouldn't have drawn the ire of the people complaining now. Any comparison of the Obama administration to criminals, no matter how delicately phrased, could -- and probably would -- have resulted in this.

I sincerely hope Arnold simply brushes off most of this criticism, though it is of course his choice. I suspect that when people change their behavior based on attacks like this, it only encourages more of them.

clay m writes:

No, I'm serious. Government = bad. I get it.

Now tell me how you're going to confront racism in society. I can tell you a hundred non-governmental ways. It's not hard. Just say it. Show you care about people more than you hate government. Make libertarianism about a living better world for everybody.

Hal Espen writes:

The ripples from this dispute continue: Paul Krugman has quoted your "thugs" remark in his column in tomorrow's New York Times as an example of "the ugliness of the poltical debate."

CNH writes:

Here is a link to the Denver Post article published last year which quotes a Bill Clinton associate as saying that Clinton thought Obama has the political instincts of a "Chicago thug".

I'm sure Clinton himself would never say anything like that when the microphone was hot, though...

LibertyVini writes:

OK clay m, let's start with a definition. Libertarianism is a philosophy that teaches that it is never justified to use force, or the threat of force against the innocent. Furthermore libertarians should probably believe in the non-aggression axiom against people or their justly-acquired property.

So to take your bait, no, just as a libertarian society would have no recourse against those who have racist thoughts. So what? Government can't control or eliminate racist thoughts either. Government CAN, and does enforce discriminatory laws. Government counts us not as God's children, but as tick-boxes on a sheet.

And libertarian society would have no government mechanism to forcibly remove a 'whites only' sign from private property, The fact that government feels compelled to do so says more about their disregard for property than the owner's disdain for blacks, hispanics, arabs, asians, native Americans, etc.

And, for the record, I have called the
Bush regime thugs, among others.

Let's see the tape before we judge.

Brendan Keefe writes:


If "thug" is now not acceptable what is an acceptable replacement?

In the context that AK used it, how about thieves, robbers, or crooks?

Or is it the case of "Could the last politically correct word switch off the light".

As I observed earlier, there are something like half a million words in the English language alone. Don't blame others for your own limited vocabulary, especially when thesauruses are available online for free.

@Christopher Witmer:

... I had never equated black people with thugs until I read your post ...

Sorry. I don't find an argument from incredulity very compelling. You might think about getting out more, or at least look to broaden your reading habits. This use has been a common codeword since at least the days when hip-hop was called rap and white people were starting to fret about the lyrics. In the meantime, I accept your implied thanks for increasing your awareness just a little bit.

To repeat what I said before, it's not a question of whether "thug is a racist codeword" is an objectively true statement or not. What matters is that a non-trivial fraction of the population hears thug that way, so it should not be a surprise when use of that word produces blowback, particularly as AK did, in conjunction with his (white) daughter and the image of home invasion. It's up to you whether you think being sensitive to others is worth anything or not, but to my mind, insisting on one's "right" to say thug is no different from insisting that one means nothing untoward by using lynch, colored, or uppity.

Bob S. writes:

It's a sad comment that it really doesn't make a whole lot of difference that Mugabe won the election, instead of McMussolini. Except the abortion monger may play the race card and the warmonger may not.
Well, so what? Homes sat in the black version of KKK church for 20 years run by an adulterous pastor and didn't know anything about it (although the latter's anti imperialism might be appreciated). Is he really that dumb or am I just that stupid? IOW a racist(anti semite,sexist,homphobe) is anybody winning an argument with a (guilty white) liberal.

All we have really done is trade one band of thugs for another and the new bunch aren't happy with the name. Socialism is still socialism though, regardless if we are talking about fascism (O'Cain) or marxism (McBama). All the new Dem is going to do is double down on the old Repub's policy and the serfs are required to shut up and like it, if they aren't going to cheer about it.

It ain't got nothin to do with race, man. It's called a ripoff and somebody's still drinking the kool aid, if they can't tell the difference.

Brendan Keefe writes:

@Christopher Witmer and @kit:

Just to let you know, I responded at some length to both of your comments a few hours ago, but it appears that (1) the spam filter didn't like what I had to say and (2) nobody's looking in the spam folder for false alarms.

This comment is also intended to see whether the spam filter is being triggered by my name, or whether it was just the content (links, maybe?) of my previous comment.

[Hi, Brendan. The comments are posted now--6 a.m. The problem was one of the links--in this case, The settings on the spam filter have to be strong enough to keep out the worst of the spam when I'm not available. Even I have to step away from the computer now and then! I'm experimenting with some solutions, and I hope you'll see an improvement soon. As for filtering on names--we email people to discuss matters before banning them, so you'd have known if it was that.--Econlib Ed.]

Brendan Keefe writes:

Looks like it was the content of the earlier reply.

If anyone is burning with desire to see what I said, I've cross-posted it on my own blog.

Brendan Keefe writes:

Thanks for digging my earlier comment out of the spam folder, AK.

George writes:

Arnold's actual words (from http://www.myh* , second video):

Thank you. I'd like to thank the sponsors of this conference for inviting me to speak.

I think about what's going on, what's happening today, as an economist, but I feel it as a father. My wife and I have three daughters, aged between 19 and 25, and when I see what's being done to their future, I am really angry.

Back in September, when they were talking about taking $700 billion to "unclog the financial system," I wanted to take Henry Paulson and *yank* him out of the TV screen and say, "You keep your hands off my daughters' future!"

But he got away with it. And I had to -- for me it was like sitting there watching my house being ransacked by a gang of thugs. And now we've got a new gang of thugs, and they're going to do the same thing.

So, anyway, that's how I feel, we'll go back to how I think.

Methinks writes:

This use has been a common codeword since at least the days when hip-hop was called rap and white people were starting to fret about the lyrics. In the meantime, I accept your implied thanks for increasing your awareness just a little bit.

Wow. What an ego. Has it ever occurred to you that some of us weren't as into gangster rap as you were back in the day and that we won't allow language to be kidnapped by one subculture?

If all negative words are somehow related to black people for you, you really shouldn't foist that on the rest of the population. When I think of a thug, I think of government and the mafia. That's the problem with the thought police, different words have different meanings to different people.

If we can't criticize the Obama administration using the English language because he is black, then that's a pretty sound argument against electing black people. If you treat Obama differently from any other president because he's black, then you're racist. It probably never occurred to Arnold - as it wouldn't occur to me - to filter his thoughts through your racist filter because Obama's skin colour is the last thing on his mind.

George writes:

(In the above post, I replaced the "e" in the URL with an asterisk "*", to get around the hyperactive spam filter. Cut it, paste it in your browser's location bar, and replace the "*" with an "e" to see the page with the videos. Here it is again:


Arnold starts 40 minutes into the second video. You need to wait a long time for it to buffer up to that point (WTF is wrong with QuickTime or MPEG? Stupid Flash players).)

Dan Weber writes:

but to my mind, insisting on one's "right" to say thug is no different from insisting that one means nothing untoward by using lynch, colored, or uppity.

There is a significant difference, as the latter words have a history of being used against that subculture, while the first word was voluntarily adopted by the subculture for its own uses.

If Jews decide start calling each other "boomers" does that mean that Gentiles cannot use that word any more, because it's become some kind of anti-Semitic codeword?

Brendan Keefe writes:

Hey, Dan Weber and Methinks, use whatever words you want. Just bear in mind what I said in the beginning about people who insist too strenuously on their "right" to use a given word while ignoring how some people might hear it: all you're doing is reinforcing the impression others will have of you.

And get off your fainting couches. Pointing out that a given word may be a poor choice has nothing to do with demanding that all criticism cease. I swear, the eagerness and hysteria with which the right pulls on its victim cloak never ceases to amaze me.

Bob S writes:

Yo, Brendan, ain't nobody on the fainting couch but you. George posted the actual comments and 'eagerness and hysteria' only describes those on a pc racist witchhunt to find what is clearly not there. Of course, you and yours are on the high horse and in the saddle now cloaked with the righteous mantle of 'racial justice', but things will change.

In the meantime, the majority of Americans had to put up with Lowery's racist comments at the inaugural. Regardless, what I really want to know is why all the guilty white liberals voted for the suave, bland and debonair American mulatto copy of the real thing. After all, Robt. Mugabe is 100% black, 100% African, 100% socialist, 100% marxist, 100% racist and 100% experienced at ruining an economy. And as soon as the IMF/WF/UN pointy heads and blue helmets get it together, Roberto will be available and we can get rid of that token white boy Geithner at Treasury.

Of course, maybe the GWL's haven't figured it out yet. The dollar is green. That's the real color issue. The only way the govt. gets any money, is by taxing, borrowing or printing it out of thin air. IOW the govt. doesn't have any money of its own. Anybody who thinks that they can get more money from the govt.- "stimulus" or otherwise - than they pay in taxes, still believes in the tooth fairy. (Translation: it's ok to steal from other taxpayers as long as the govt. does it for you.)

The only real economic stimulus, besides what the market would have taken care of itself - and we have not had a genuine free market economy since the fascist controls and regulations of the New Deal in the 1930's - is bolstering the production of wheelbarrows and toilet paper. The first to carry all the inflated currency and the second for the Fed. Reserve to print all the money on.

IOW the stimulus (ripoff) pkg. is, in W. William's phrase, 'just more boo bait for the bubbas'.
Yeah, I know. Walter Williams is a racist. And like what else is new?

steve burton writes:

A careful look at NCVS data will reveal that any given white/black encounter in the U.S. is about ten times more likely to result in an anti-white hate crime than in an anti-black one.

(To say nothing of ordinary, everyday, non-hate-motivated crime!)

So it gets harder and harder for lefties to maintain the illusion that white racism remains some sort of gigantic menace calling for perpetual vigilance.

Hence nightmarish travesties of justice like the great Duke non-rape case. And hence transparent hoaxes like the white-washing of the Jena Six thugs. And hence, at the relatively trivial end of the scale, ludicrous outbursts of racial McCarthyism like the present baseless assault on Arnold Kling.

Écrasez l'Infâme!

Dan Weber writes:

You achieve inner peace when you realize that you cannot control other people.

Unfortunately others spend much of their time trying to control you.

P.M.Lawrence writes:

Brendan Keefe wrote "I almost never use niggardly.. even if... I'm right to use it as a synonym for cheap".

Niggardly is not a synonym for cheap. When someone is a niggard, he is over-sparing with his resources. When something is cheap, it doesn't cost much but you can't call that thing niggardly, you nignog (that just means "silly fellow", by the way).

Brendan Keefe writes:


Thanks for nig-nog. Never heard that one before. 'Course, I'm not sure everyone agrees with you that it only means what you say it means (NB: four links).

I don't accept your narrow definition of cheap. Perhaps where you come from it's not used this way, but in every part of the US I've lived in, it has always been commonly used as synonymous with niggardly. Maybe thinking of the term cheapskate will help?

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