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By now you’ve probably seen the report that a new poll out of Ohio found that 15% of very conservative voters said Mitt Romney was more responsible for Osama Bin Laden’s death than President Obama, with another 6% of moderate conservatives agreeing. (More than half of each group said they weren’t sure who should get more credit.)

Cue wringing of hands and mocking of conservatives. But I love their answer, and here’s why.

When Osama Bin Laden was killed, Barack Obama was the commander in chief of the military that killed him. Mitt Romney was adjusting to his new campaign wardrobe of open-collar shirts. And of course it’s not as if he did any of the prep work for the mission in his previous roles as Winter Olympics CEO, Massachusetts governor, or failed Senate candidate.

But here’s the thing. The folks who gave him credit for killing Bin Laden know all this stuff, or at least most of them do. They didn’t give the answer they did because they thought Romney was a member of Seal Team Six.

They gave that answer because it’s an idiotic question.

Romney had nothing to do with the Bin Laden mission. Nobody, even in the fever swamps of conspiracism, has ever claimed otherwise. The only reason to ask the question as framed is to poke at Romney supporters in the hope that they’ll either say something nice about the president or look dumb by refusing to.

Consider this: The folks at PPP could have asked whether Obama or Bush had more to do with the killing of Bin Laden. Or they could have offered “neither” as an answer, to represent folks who believe that the military would have done its thing whoever occupied the Oval Office. They didn’t. Instead they offered “not sure,” a nonsensical option that 31% of the Ohio electorate chose.

That’s right. Faced with a question that’s the political equivalent of “is the sky blue?” nearly a third of Ohioans, and more than ten percent of liberals, said they didn’t know. That’s not ignorance, it’s pollster nullification.

Four percent of non-conservatives polled gave Romney credit for the Bin Laden kill, by the way. I like to think that I’d have been among them.

I’ll try to make this quick…

Matt Yglesias writes of last week’s Breaking Bad ep that he’s on Walt’s “side” in the Whites’ mushrooming marital conflict:

If Skyler felt that Walt’s post-Fring attitude didn’t adequately consider the risks to their children, she should have just said so plainly. Instead she visited Ted in the hospital, then fell into a dayslong depression during which she was totally noncommunicative with her husband. Then she drops an atom bomb into the family dynamic with a cry-for-help suicide attempt. It’s just not a great way to raise marital issues.

This is one of those “Are we watching the same show?” moments for me. What had Skyler rattled wasn’t that Walt wasn’t “adequately considering risks,” it was her dawning realization that the man she loved, the man she had two kids with, is a monster. That he kills people and likes it. That he’s become so obsessed with the deadly game he’s playing that nothing else matters to him. Not his marriage, not his friends, not his children. (And of course we know that Skyler doesn’t know the worst of it.)

Yglesias’s clipped summary of the next scene between the two of them — “when Walt confronted her directly, suddenly the nonresponsiveness was gone” — is even weirder. Because there are no gray areas in what follows:

Skyler believes that Walt is putting her children in danger. She appeals to him to let her get them out of harm’s way, and he refuses to entertain the idea. Every case she makes, he dismisses. He’s not interested in having a discussion, only in winning the argument. And when she realizes this, and indicates she’s willing to act without his approval, he attacks, viciously. He threatens her — with the police, with institutionalization, with the loss of her children. And he wins.

Skyler wants out. She desperately wants out.

And he won’t let her go.

There’s no “Walter’s side” to this one. There’s no case to be made on his behalf. He’s an abusive husband, clinging to the shell of a marriage through threats and intimidation, and Skyler is rightly scared to death of him. There’s nothing left to like about Walter White, and this episode makes it clearer than ever that the creators of the show want you to know that.

A big point of contention in the argument over Daniel Tosh’s rape jokes has been how to take his suggestion that it’d be funny if a group of guys in his audience raped the woman who’d just called him out for making rape jokes during his set. A lot of folks, myself included, said that statement opened up the woman to harassment and possible assault, while Tosh’s defenders mostly denied that made any sense. Comedy is comedy, they said, and bad acts are bad acts, and you can’t mix up the two.

But now there’s this.

As my friend Kevin pointed out this morning, Tosh did a bit on his Comedy Central show just three months ago in which he encouraged his male viewers to videotape themselves “sneaking up behind women” and “lightly touching” their belly fat. And a bunch of them did, sending the clips into him and posting them on YouTube.

Now, the whole point of this is that it’s non-consensual, invasive, and public. And though some of the women in the clips appear to be in on the gag, others are clearly pissed off. In several cases the women seem to be strangers to the guys doing the touching, and in one — hosted on the Comedy Central website, complete with a revenue-generating ad — a high school student is shown touching his teacher. (That clip, like many others, cuts out before we’re able to see the victim’s reaction.)

What this confirms is that the whole Tosh thing isn’t about jokes. Tosh isn’t just a guy who tells stories on stage. He’s a guy whose comedy includes actually physically assaulting women, and directing his fans to do the same. And this is the guy who, after a woman challenged his rape jokes, mused aloud about how funny it would be if she “got raped by like, five” of those same fans, right then and there.

“Right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her?”

Damn.

Last Sunday on The Newsroom Aaron Sorkin’s anchor-hero Will McAvoy offered up a whirlwind tour of the history of Students for Democratic Society, the Yippies, and the Vietnam antiwar movement that managed to get pretty much everything completely wrong in the service of an analogy that made no sense. Here’s my take, because when else am I going to get a chance like this?

•          •          •

“Back in 1968 when Rennie Davis and Hayden and their guys organized the SDS,

SDS was put together in 1960, not 1968. Its organizational roots stretch back as far as 1905. And although Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden would both become important figures in the group in the early sixties and after, neither participated in its founding meetings.

 it was specifically to end the Vietnam war

Nope. SDS was a broad-based, multi-issue organization from the beginning. It addressed itself to concerns ranging from nuclear testing to civil rights to campus parietal rules. The 1962 Port Huron Statement, SDS’s immensely influential (and just plain immense) manifesto, mentions Vietnam just once, in the context of a discussion of the membership policies of the United Nations.

but that movement got eaten by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and the Yippies.

Again, no. The collapse of SDS had almost nothing to do with the rise of the Yippies, and everything to do with government repression, sectarian infighting, and revolutionary overreach. And though SDS died with the sixties, the American seventies would see the ascendancy of other transformative social movements around issues like feminism, gay rights, environmentalism, Native American rights, and so on. Many of those movements had direct links to the New Left.

It’s also worth noting that Tom Hayden and the Yippies were allies for a big chunk of the period under discussion, as demonstrated by this film footage of Hayden speaking alongside Hoffman at a Yippie press conference.

It was impossible to define what the Yippies were protesting.

Ridiculous. The Yippies staged plenty of specific, targeted actions, and participated in plenty more, as we’ll see in a moment. Yes, they were a sprawling, inchoate group. Yes, they offered a vague, unformed vision of the revolution they were trying to achieve. But they also organized focused campaigns.

They were about giving the finger to anyone over thirty,

Abbie Hoffman was well past thirty by 1968. And when Jerry Rubin turned thirty that summer, he wrote that he “was reborn in Berkeley in 1964 in the Free Speech movement. When we say ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30,’ we’re talking about the second birth. … When people 40 years old come up to me and say, ‘Well, I guess I can’t be part of your movement,’ I say, ‘What do you mean? You could have been born yesterday. Age exists in your head.’ Bertrand Russell is our leader. He’s 90 years old.”

generically hating the American establishment,

Sure, the Yippies hated the American establishment. You know why? For starters, the American establishment was trying to put them (and Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis) in prison.

dropping out, getting high.

There was a lot of that going around in those days, or so I’ve heard. Still is, in some circles.

That’s how the progressive movement would be painted for the next forty years.

Attacks on left activists as dirty hippies didn’t begin with Abbie Hoffman. In 1966 Ronald Reagan used hippie-bashing to win the governorship of California, and he wasn’t remotely the only politician beating that gong. The 1960s saw a huge generational cultural upheaval that was inextricably bound up with a youth activist movement in the public mind — neither the Yippies nor anyone else had the power to change that, even if they’d wanted to.

People passing out daisies to soldiers and trying to levitate the Pentagon.

Funny you should mention that. Because the attempt to levitate the Pentagon occurred at a 1967 demonstration against the war, an action that Tom Hayden has described as one of the most potent of the Vietnam War era. Yes, Jerry Rubin was the point person on that demo, but he was recruited for the position by David Dellinger, who was hardly a Yippie. (And if you think this photo actually harmed the antiwar movement, well God, Jed, I don’t even want to know you.)

The Pentagon’s a really big building. You can’t levitate it.

This part is true.

The sixties radicals and the Tea Party are roughly the same, with one big exception. Even at the height of 1968 the Democrats wouldn’t have nominated Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin for any office, and no candidate would have sought their endorsement. 

Okay, a few things. First, 1968 wasn’t “the height” of anything in terms of Democratic Party radicalism. That year the Dems nominated their sitting vice president at a convention that saw epidemic police violence against protesters, violence that was essentially ignored by the conventioneers. The party’s presidential nominee, Hubert Humphrey, never came out against the war in Vietnam, and only called for a ceasefire weeks before the general election.

So no, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin weren’t getting any love from the Democratic Party that year. But neither were Hayden and Davis, or any other figures in the New Left. (By the eighties, however, both Hoffman and Hayden were involved in mainstream left-liberal political activity.)

Can you imagine Humphrey or Kennedy standing for a photo op with Bernardine Dohrn or Allen Ginsberg?”

No, but I can’t quite figure out why we’re talking about them, either.

Bernardine Dohrn wasn’t a Yippie, she was an SDSer. Specifically, she was a member of the Weatherman faction, an advocate of violent revolution in the United States. She wasn’t about “giving the finger to anyone over thirty, generically hating the American establishment, dropping out, getting high,” she was about blowing things up and killing people. Ginsberg I can kind of understand the mention of, since he at least participated in the 1967 Pentagon action, but he did so as a middle-aged gay poet, not a young activist.

Lumping in Ginsberg with Hoffman and Rubin makes a kind of weird sense. But lumping those three gleeful pranksters in with Dohrn is just absurd.

And all this quibbling over details may be beside the point anyway, since Sorkin’s underlying argument is so wrong-headed. His claim is that the New Left and the Tea Party both began as reasonable interventions into party politics, that both were hijacked by bizarre radicals, and differ only in that one was absorbed into the GOP while the other was properly shunned by the Democrats.

And that’s about the least useful analysis of either movement that I’ve ever heard.

July 16 Update | Jesse Walker of Reason has put up a fascinating, illuminating post on the Yippies and the 1972 Democratic National Convention which carries the debunk one step further.

Update | CK says he was unaware of the Tosh incident when he tweeted, a claim I find implausible. But he also says that the whole thing made him more aware of women’s experience of rape than he had been.

Louis CK is about a year older than me. He, like me, is a divorced joint-custody father of two. His daughters are each about a year older than mine, and like mine they go to pretty good New York City public schools. Like me he’s a bearded pasty Manhattanite who could stand to lose a few pounds. Like me he’s trying to be an anti-racist, anti-sexist, decent human being in the face of a hell of a lot of training to the contrary.

And he’s brilliant, so when he talks about his life and his worldview, he frequently says stuff I wish I’d said, or figured out before. Louis CK has stood on my television and told me true things about how I feel about being a parent that I didn’t know until he said them. He’s said serious things about serious things that I’ve repeated over and over.

And so I’m sad tonight, and pissed off.

If you don’t know the background, here it is:

Not long ago, on Tumblr, someone posted a note from a friend about how she’d inadvertently wandered into a Daniel Tosh standup show and how things got really creepy:

So Tosh then starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find them funny and never have. So I didnt appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”

I did it because, even though being “disruptive” is against my nature, I felt that sitting there and saying nothing, or leaving quietly, would have been against my values as a person and as a woman. I don’t sit there while someone tells me how I should feel about something as profound and damaging as rape.

After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”

Yeah. So she left, obviously, and asked for a refund which she didn’t get, and then told the story to the friend who posted it. And then folks found out about it and reblogged it (or whatever the hell they do on Tumblr, I don’t know), and it got traction and eventually Tosh himself responded on Twitter:

“all the out of context misquotes aside, i’d like to sincerely apologize http://j.mp/PJ8bNs

That’s a non-apology, of course, since it doesn’t include any specific acknowledgment of wrongdoing. And it’s a particularly churlish non-apology since it accuses his accuser of unspecified sins. It’s bullshit, in short. But whatever, it’s Daniel Tosh, who was always an asshole. Why should today be any different?

And then Louis CK stepped in. Damn it.

Now, I should say that as righteous as CK has often been, he’s stumbled sometimes, as do we all. He’s made some moves I wouldn’t have made, said some things I wish he hadn’t. And he’s also said some things that I wasn’t sure how to take.

Specifically, he’s told some rape jokes. In each case, if I squinted, I could read them as rape culture jokes, jokes about how screwed up our society is when it comes to rape, jokes about how screwed up men are when it comes to sex and power and control. As a white guy, I don’t want to say white guys can’t make weird uncomfortable jokes about race and gender. Sometimes, in some contexts, we can and do. Sometimes in doing so we speak to important truths.

I’m not going to defend any specific joke tonight, and I’m not going to defend the general principle either. Maybe I’ve been wrong when I’ve done it in the past. I don’t know. What I do know is that I gave Louis CK too much credit for navigating those questions thoughtfully and consciously, because what Louis tweeted after Tosh tweeted his non-apology is this:

@danieltosh your show makes me laugh every time I watch it. And you have pretty eyes.

Dude. Come on.

Come on.

What we know about that night is that a woman says Daniel Tosh joked, after she called him on making rape jokes, that it’d be funny if a bunch in the guys in the audience raped her. How on earth is that funny? How on earth is that not fucked up?

I’m not going to say that Tosh was giving the guys in the audience a green light to rape that woman. But you can’t not say he was giving them the green light to screw with her. You can’t say he wasn’t sending them the message he thought it’d be funny if they made a bunch of jokes to her face, in a dark parking lot, about how they ought to rape her right there. You can’t say that if they did that, they’d have any reason to believe he’d think it wasn’t cool.

You know about jokes. You know far more than me about jokes. And that joke just isn’t okay.

About This Blog

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StudentActivism.net is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

To contact Angus, click here. For more about him, check out AngusJohnston.com.
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