I spent most of the weekend driving around Virginia attending to various chores, and didn’t see or hear any news, so it wasn’t until today, when I was driving my kid, Jack, back to school in Richmond, that I learned that Richard Pryor had died. Jack broke the news to me in a quiet way, knowing how much I adored this man. In fact, Jack bought me a Pryor box set for Christmas last year, after discovering for himself that this icon of the 70s and 80s was a lot funnier than the people that come and go on Comedy Central these days.That was appropriate, since I bought my own father a couple of early Pryor albums–yes, the ones with the n-word in the title, which provided some additional comedy as I struggled to find a way to ask for them from an African-American store clerk–back in the mid-1970s.You want to know how powerfully funny Richard Pryor was? After memorizing these albums, my father, a middle-aged southern white man from a very conservative background, became Richard Pryor for about a year. Everytime I’d see him, we’d go through a complex call-and-response greeting based on some Pryor routine. (And Pryor also supplied the right thing to say for virtually every occasion; if I’d screwed up in some way, my father was likely to lightly rebuke me with the words of Pryor’s wino accosting a Martian: You done landed on Mr. Gilmore’s property!)And to this day, nearly thirty years later, we both know the whole oeuvre by heart. And so does Jack.A lot’s been said, and is being said today, about how Pryor stretched the boundaries of taste in comedy, and in particular, how he confronted the realities and absurdities of race, and that’s very true. Indeed, his routine on the experience of being a black man pulled over by a white traffic cop (Get out of the car; raise yo’ hands, drop yo’ pants, spread yo’ cheeks. A gas station’s been robbed, and you look just like the n—- who done it!) probably provided a lot of white people with their first understanding of racial profiling, and what it’s like to be a permanent suspect in your own country.But Pryor was ultimately not just a “great black comic;” he was simply the funniest man alive, by a large margin. If, like me, you agree with the late Hunter Thompson that “a sense of humor is the only prima facie evidence of sanity,” then Richard Pryor was, for all the foibles in his personal life, one of the sanest men alive, and one who helped keep the rest of us sane as well.May God give him rest, and return to him the joy he gave so many others.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
After a week of efforts to equate the controversial remarks of two particular members of Congress, I pushed back a bit at New York:
It looks like House Republicans are going to deal with outrage over their perennial problem child Marjorie Taylor Greene by finding a Democrat to punish. That would be Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, according to Politico’s Huddle:
“’I think that Ilan should receive the same type of punishment as Marjorie because if it’s good for one, it is good for another,’ Rep. Maria Salazar (R-Fla.), who voted to remove Greene from her committees, told me. ‘Anti-semitism is the same thing as anti-semitism. It’s just that Nancy is afraid …'”
There are others who want to push for Omar’s removal as well as those looking to censure her over her war crimes remarks — and a few Dems may join them.
The idea of equating Omar’s complaints about unequal treatment of countries in investigating military misconduct with Greene’s comparisons of mask and vaccine requirements to the Holocaust is deeply satisfying to a lot of people. Republicans can continue their now-ancient habit of waving away extremism in their ranks by claiming it’s more prevalent on the other side of the aisle. Nervous centrist Democrats can document their nervous centrism by firing thunderbolts left and right. And most of all, accusing both parties of harboring those prone to “false equivalence” appeals to the false equivalence many Beltway media folks want to draw between Democrats and Republicans, who are engaged in the mutually assured destruction of partisan polarization.
There’s only one problem: Treating what MTG and Omar have said as equal expressions of false equivalence actually is false, as any honest evaluation of their words quickly shows. Greene bluntly compared COVID-19 precautions to the Holocaust, analogized vaccine documentation mandates to the Nazi practice of making Jews wear yellow stars, and, for good measure, said Democrats are like Nazis because they are “socialists.” Omar said this in the midst of a virtual exchange with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken over investigations of the brief but intense war between Israel and Hamas:
“’We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,’ she wrote. “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.’”
Her point wasn’t to say the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban were equally culpable in their commission of atrocities, but that all should be equally subject to international investigation. I suppose there are superpatriots who would dispute the idea that America has ever committed “unthinkable atrocities,” though the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks, and of countless genocidal assaults on Native Americans, among many examples, suggest otherwise. But in any event, when challenged by Republicans and Democrats alike to make it clear she was not imputing equivalent culpability to these various nations and coalitions of fighters, Omar complied instantly:
“U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar said Thursday that she was ‘in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems … ‘
“’To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding [International Criminal Court] cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel.’”
MTG, meanwhile, kept doubling down on her comparisons of public-health measures with the slaughter of many millions by Nazi Germany, and finally, after more than three weeks and a tour of the Holocaust Museum, she issued an apology that betrayed little understanding of the full scope of the Holocaust, and then refused to apologize for the Democrat-Nazi analogy.
Looking more broadly at the two women and their records of controversial utterances, Ilhan made an unfortunate and erroneous reference to “the Benjamins,” in a gratuitous comment about support for Israel in the United States, for which she “unequivocally” apologized:
“Anti-semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be able to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
Greene lost her committee assignments earlier this year after media focus on an almost incredible blizzard of incendiary statements she made on social media before coming to Congress (barely anyone even noticed her practice of brandishing an AR-15 when discussing her enemies in campaign ads). In February, she apologized for claiming that school shootings were fake and for promoting QAnon conspiracy theories. She never apologized for happily contemplating violence against congressional Democrats (including, very specifically, Ilhan Omar) and the Speaker of the House, or for her unusually aggressive support of Trump’s electoral big lie and the effort in January to overturn the presidential election results, or for her own subscription to very weird anti-Semitic claims.
If you cannot discern a qualitative difference between Omar’s “outrages” and Greene’s, and between the speed and coherence of their clarifications and apologies, it may be time for some remedial work in logic and rhetoric. These two members of Congress aren’t alike at all, and as much as I sometimes disagree with Ilhan Omar, treating her as a left-wing MTG is lazy and just plain wrong.