Ramsey, a blogger for the Arkansas Times, faces a problem. What he’d like to do is criticize Republicans for the wicked things they say. However, there’s a difficulty: Republicans are as careful about what they say as anyone else, so it’s often difficult for Ramsey to find things to write about. Ramsey, however, has come up with a creative solution to this problem: namely, he makes things up. This solves a small problem for Ramsey – the social critic who pretends that his own fantasies are real will never be at a loss for material – but it creates a larger one. Namely: if what you’re writing about has little or no relation to reality, at a certain point you have to stop thinking of yourself as a journalist.
His latest article – an 865-word cry from the heart apparently triggered by one of Rep. David Meeks’s 13-word tweets – is a case in point. In that article, he explains that Meeks’s tweet was “saying, essentially, get over it.” Meeks, of course, wasn’t saying anything like this (ah, what a world of work the word “essentially” does!). What Meeks said was “More inappropriate remarks by Rep. John Walker from the well. This is 2013.”
Regrettably, Ramsey is too enmeshed in semiotics to think about what Meeks actually says; instead, he attributes an insulting and imaginary phrase to Meeks and then spends several hundred words explaining how very much the phrase that Ramsey conjured upexplains about Meeks’s mindset.
Now, someone who wanted to figure out what Meeks was essentially saying (ahem) might start by examining the words he used. I’d start with the first one: “More.” I’m hardly a skilled professional journalist like David Ramsey, but one thing that might occur to me, if I were actually trying to figure out what Meeks was talking about, would be to ask: what other remarks has John Walker made on the House floor recently?
One possibility is that Meeks was referencing Walker’s admonition earlier this month to his colleagues that many of them would consider any black teenager with an Afro “a threat.” Meeks may have viewed Walker’s accusation of racism as an insult to his colleagues and a breach of decorum; if so, he sure wasn’t the only one.
And what was it that Walker said about voter ID that might have been inappropriate? Again, Ramsey is too busy practicing telepathy to explore the question of what Walker actually said (you may notice a pattern here), but I’m willing to take a crack at it: maybe Meeks didn’t appreciate it when Walker accused other legislators of “having the direct overt intent to repress voter presentation and representation, and it is very clear that that’s what this bill is all about.” Walker explained on the House floor that his colleagues were acting like someone who “takes a metal instrument and wields it in such a way to take away a fundamental right.” It’s not clear to me just what Walker meant, but presumably it wasn’t complimentary.
Walker’s accusations are beneath the notice of David Ramsey. Instead, Ramsey is too busy conjuring up an imaginary vision of what others “essentially say” to notice what was actually said. Remarkably, after the Arkansas Times relayed Walker’s dismissal of the good faith of his legislative colleagues, Ramsey’s response was to discuss at some length the “unearned and self-satisfied confidence, the easy disrespect” the “spite and resentment,” and the “petty offense-taking and contempt” of David Meeks. What is really needed, Ramsey informs us, is for the advocates of voter ID to show “respect and consideration” and “basic decency.” Ah.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that David Ramsey’s recommendations provide a kind of model of the debate he’d like to see from the two parties. Democrats are supposed to accuse Republicans of being agents of racism and repression who intend to destroy democracy, and Republicans are supposed to concede that Democrats have a point. I have a different view, which is that basic norms of civility are required from all parties, not just the ones we disagree with.
Perhaps I haven’t made my view clear. It is this: in light of the long history of vote fraud in Arkansas and in America, it is startling that David Ramsey cannot or will not see that the majority of American citizens view requiring voter ID as a reasonable and common-sense measure to protect the integrity of the ballot. It is startling that David Ramsey cannot or will not see what many people view as extraordinary progress in race relations in the United States in the last half-century, progress which is largely unparalleled in world history. (To put it more concisely: it’s 2013.)
When Rep. Ann Clemmer took the floor to explain that, when she argued for a pro-life bill, she “did not accuse anyone in this body of wanting to kill babies,” this message was apparently too subtle for David Ramsey. Let me explain: calling others baby-killers is extremely rude, in part because it suggests a refusal to acknowledge that reasonable people might legitimately disagree with one’s views. Just the same rudeness radiates from shotgun accusations of intentional voter suppression, but since (unlike Rep. Clemmer) the Arkansas Times staff regularly traffics in such insults and expletives, it is hard to take the demands issuing from that corner for one-sided empathy and civility seriously. That is why David Ramsey’s paean to the “difficult work of understanding, of walking a mile in another’s shoes,” invites the inference that, for Ramsey, these are just buzzwords that should be launched at others, but are not to be seriously considered by him. If this collection of phrases had more value to Ramsey than the merely tactical, perhaps he might conclude that even the perspectives of those who disagree with him deserve empathy and consideration as well. To explain, as Ramsey does, that it “bothers Meeks” whenever Walker merely “brings up race” is a deeply defective description of what happened on the House floor last week. Ramsey could, with equal precision, describe a bank robbery as a financial transaction, or a rape as an exciting first date.
Hilariously, the final criticism that Ramsey makes of Meeks is this: “I am not accusing Meeks of prejudice. I am accusing him of a devastating failure of imagination.” This is in the context of an opinion piece that, at great length, criticizes Meeks for sentiments that Meeks never expressed while using euphemisms to describe legislative conduct which obscure more than they explain. I am quite sure that the accusation of a “devastating failure of imagination” will never be made of Ramsey. Indeed, Ramsey’s imagination seems so devastatingly successful as to be (one might say) essentially untethered to reality.