How much longer must we shoulder the White Man’s Burden?

Being under the weather yesterday (NOT the flu, and I’m on an antibiotic, so should be myself again soon), I finally got around to watching a couple of DVDs from Netflix that had been collecting dust in front of the tube for months now.

The first was “12 Years a Slave,” which told us of a fortunately long-ago time when we white men — or at least our great-great granddaddies — ran everything. (The other was “Dom Hemingway,” but I have no editorial point to make about that.)

Based on what I saw, it’s a really good thing those days are way, way behind us, gone with the wind, etc. Right? Right?

So today, I read this on The Fix:

The new Congress is 80 percent white, 80 percent male and 92 percent Christian

The 114th Congress, which gets to “work” on Tuesday, is one of the most diverse in American history, comprised of nearly 20 percent women and just over 17 percent of which is non-white. Which means, of course, that four out of five members of Congress are white and four out of five are men. Ergo, given the name of a member of Congress (at random: Oregon GOP Rep. Greg Walden), you can probably guess his or her gender and race. (In case you want to see if you were right about Walden: here.)…

The trend is slow, but it’s clear: Congress is getting a bit less white and a bit less male….

Yeah, uh-huh. Given that this is where things stand a couple of centuries after the time depicted in “12 Years a Slave,” check back with us in another 175 years or so hence and… well, actually, at this rate we white guys are still gonna be running things. Or rather, our great-great grandsons will.

Come on, people! Step it up! How much longer must we bear this, the White Man’s Burden (domestic version)? Help us out!

It’s not like the job is hard. To serve in Congress, all you have to do is pick up on the talking points of the day each morning, recite them loudly, demonizing the other side (which is also made up mostly of white guys), and raising money. (OK, admittedly it’s historically been easier for white guys to raise money, although you couldn’t tell by me.)

Or, you could do it differently if you like. You could actually study issues and think about them, if you want to be such a radical.

But come on, my multicultural friends. Somebody different — and I mean, really different — needs to step in and take over. Soon…

The only really decent white man in the movie was Brad Pitt, which stands to reason, because everyone knows that all really decent white men are named "Brad."

The only really decent white man in the movie was Brad Pitt, which stands to reason, because everyone knows that all really decent white men are named “Brad.”

33 thoughts on “How much longer must we shoulder the White Man’s Burden?

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    Well, running for office, and getting elected, requires a huge amount of financial, political and social capital. It is pretty high on the hierarchy of needs. Folks need a secure life, first. Look at Columbia Rotary–those people are the likeliest pool of candidates, and even with a lot of effort, how many are not white?
    A lot of people of color who could run and win, perhaps don’t because they have better things to do.

    1. Barry

      better things to do like being involved in the lives of their children, or their church, or taking care of a parent, grandparent, or child that needs their help on a daily basis.

      You can’t be involved in the lives of your children on a deep level and be in Congress. It just can’t happen. Doesn’t mean you aren’t a decent parent. But I take my kids to school every day. I eat lunch at school with at least one of them every week or two. I go on field trips with them. I volunteer at their schools from time to time. I am involved in my church on a weekly basis. I take turns with my wife taking my kids to checkups, and picking them up from music lessons. If you run for Congress and win- you can’t do any of that stuff – unless you move your family from their home to Washington DC.

      and you said it – most of the Congress is made up of rich people- regardless of the color, religion, or gender. Many of them have other people taking care of their kids.

      The next time you think a Congress person can relate to you because they sound good on tv – just remember- they aren’t living the life that you and me or living.

      and of course some people that probably could win – aren’t interested. They had rather fish, or garden, or just work their jobs and take care of their families.

  2. Bryan Caskey

    Pretty silly piece for the reasons you already stated, but I’ll see that silliness and raise you a few, to “knuckle-head” level. Here’s a piece arguing that since the GOP Senators didn’t get as many total votes (all aggregated together) as did the Democratic Senators, the US Senate is “profoundly anti-democratic” and “should be abolished”.

    Here’s my favorite line from the piece: “The problem is that the deck is stacked in favor of small states, which receive equal representation in the Senate despite dramatic variance in population.”

    Darn those smaller populated states! It’s almost like the Senate was set up to give smaller populated states equal representation to larger states! Almost.

    This very serious guy, is serious, you guys. (I think)

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, he’s serious, I’m sure. Even at this late date in human history, a lot of people still think direct democracy is a great idea.

      I remain a small-r republican, and applaud the way the Framers deliberately created very differently structured constituencies for the very different parts of government. And I marvel that some want the Senate to be like the House….

      1. Bryan Caskey

        Well, people can agitate for it all they want, but the Connecticut Compromise isn’t going away. You can’t even get rid of it by amending the Constitution. (Go read the last sentence of Article V.)

        Unless a state consents, it cannot be deprived of its equal representation in the Senate. I think it’s the only completely non-modifiable provision in the entire Constitution.

        So that’s that.

      2. M.Prince

        Just a point of definition:
        A Senate elected by population would be no more an exercise of direct democracy than the current arrangement is. Both are representative in nature.

        Also, please let’s put away the notion that everything that is was a product of deliberate actions by the Framers, as if they spoke with one voice. The Constitution is a product of necessity arising from a compromise between competing interests. No less a Framer than Alexander Hamilton, for instance, would strongly contest your assertion that republican government requires the “differently structured constituencies” you describe. Writing in Federalist No. 22, he says, “Every idea of proportion and every rule of fair representation conspire to condemn a principle, which gives to Rhode Island an equal weight in the scale of power with Massachusetts, or Connecticut, or New York; and to Delaware an equal voice in the national deliberations with Pennsylvania, or Virginia, or North Carolina. Its operation contradicts the fundamental maxim of republican government, which requires that the sense of the majority should prevail. Sophistry may reply, that sovereigns are equal, and that a majority of the votes of the States will be a majority of confederated America. But this kind of logical legerdemain will never counteract the plain suggestions of justice and common-sense.”

        1. Doug Ross

          Agreed… and we also must consider that the Founding Fathers may have been, horror of horrors, wrong. Are we really supposed to buy into the myth that these guys were a collection of super-geniuses with omniscient powers that could forecast 200+ years into the future?

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yes, Doug, we are.

          And M., I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. I didn’t mean this was the same as direct democracy; I was suggesting that in a world in which people also think direct democracy is a pretty neat idea, we should not be surprised that some would want senators to represent populations rather than states.

          I could have said it much better.

          Good Hamilton quote. Of course, he was speaking not only as a Framer, but as someone from a populous state. Taking off on your point about the Constitutions being “a product of necessity arising from a compromise between competing interests,” and going back to Doug’s point…

          The Framers were not acting in some academic vacuum, drafting a theoretically perfect government as an intellectual exercise. Nor were they attempting to imagine the world in 2015. If they had been able to see the world today, they likely would have recoiled in horror (I’m thinking one hour of viewing reality TV might have been enough to make them abandon the whole enterprise).

          The Constitution was a reaction to real-world conditions. It was an attempt — a wildly successful one — to rescue the United States from being a failed state. It was also — and I make this point for Doug’s benefit — an agreement among STATES to surrender a certain amount of sovereignty in exchange for a functional system.

          There was legitimate interest among delegates to apply the principles Hamilton alludes to. But there was also the fact that we needed buy-in from the states that would be swamped in a pure representation-by-population scheme.

          So we got what we got. And I think what we got was wonderful.

          And I still think we really muddied things up when we went to direct election of senators. Were legislators still choosing them, people would better understand the principle that senators represent STATES.

          1. Doug Ross

            “And I think what we got was wonderful.”

            For some white guys. Others, not so so much. They only missed by 150 years on letting women participate in the government they created. Ah, to go back to the good old days.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              No, for everyone.

              What the Framers created was a system that allowed for the changes that ultimately brought folks who weren’t propertied white males to the table.

              Sure, we had to have the nation’s bloodiest war to effect the greatest change. But that’s not the fault of the Constitution. The problem existed, and the Framers had to contend with it, long before the War itself.

              Thanks to the Union’s success in arms, and Lincoln’s masterful political leadership, the nation survived the crisis, and the Constitution became the mechanism for bringing about the changes you allude to.

              You make it sound as though we had this awful, oppressive Constitution, and had to overthrow it to have justice for women and nonwhites. Hardly. The constitutional system is what led to enfranchisement of those groups.

        3. Brad Warthen Post author

          Allow me to add that there is a very strong 2015 rationale for having this system — it gives conservative folks in flyover country reason to keep buying into the American experiment.

          Were everything determined by population, we could easily get into a situation in which liberal elites in the Northeast and Left Coast called all the shots, and to hell with what anyone else thought. One reason for a lot of the alienation toward federal government on the right is that they sense this has already happened to a great extent.

          The dynamics that enable a smaller number of people in a larger number of states to elect a conservative Senate counterbalances that phenomenon, and gives conservatives a reason to stay in the game…

          1. Lynn Teague

            It isn’t “liberal elites” that control the government. It is more like “narrowly self-interested people” on both the right and left wings that are making the decisions. Very often they are making the same decisions, regardless of party – weakening campaign finance regulation and the regulation of financial institutions, for example. The people in Congress who allowed these provisions into the Cromnibus funding bill have more in common with one another, regardless of party, than either side has with their constituents.

          2. M.Prince

            “The dynamics that enable a smaller number of people in a larger number of states to elect a conservative Senate counterbalances that phenomenon, and gives conservatives a reason to stay in the game…”

            This might also be seen as evidence of the “tyranny of the minority” that some of the Framers, including Hamilton, objected to — especially as less populated states gain increasing clout relative to the rest in the Senate, which some political scientists say, according to one report, constitutes “a striking exception to the democratic principle of ‘one person, one vote.’ Indeed, they say, the Senate may be the least democratic legislative chamber in any developed nation.” Which of course contributes in its own way to the antagonisms you describe – though the other way round. Plus, the current majority in the House belies your concern that the “conservative heartland” may otherwise feel marginalized.

        4. Bryan Caskey

          In #22, he was criticizing the power of individual states under the Articles of Confederation, not the proposed bicameral legislature of the House and Senate in the yet to be ratified Constitution.

          The Federalist Papers were written to argue for the ratification of the Constitution.

          1. M.Prince

            True, the Federalist Papers were, in part, aimed at providing arguments in favor of approval of the Constitution. But that does not mean that Hamilton did not disagree with some of the provisions contained in the Constitution, one of which was the principle of two senators per state. Since he (and Madison) objected to the principle as it operated under the Articles of Confederation, there is no reason to conclude he was ok with it under the Constitution. He stated his objection not only in Federalist No. 22 but during deliberations at the Constitutional Convention, such as when he said, “as States are a collection of individual men, which ought we to respect most, the rights of the people composing them, or of the artificial beings resulting from the composition? Nothing could be more preposterous or absurd than to sacrifice the former to the latter.” He acquiesced to the two senators per state solution in order to save the Constitution, but that does not mean he was converted to it.

            Mind you, I’m not advocating that the principle should necessarily be overturned. I am undecided on that point. But the fact that some of the Framers took a different view on the matter means that we today need not adhere strictly to the view that the the Constitution is holy writ and wholly unsurpassable. To do so would violate the very spirit of pragmatism that characterized the Framers themselves.

            1. Bryan Caskey

              I can agree with most of what you just said. If nothing else, it’s clear that the the framers were much better at reaching compromise and reconciling different points of view than our elected officials are today.

            2. M.Prince

              As a final note on the matter of the Senate:

              ““With its longer terms and fewer members, the Senate can, in theory, be more collegial, take the long view and be insulated from passing passions.

              But those qualities do not depend on unequal representation among people who live in different states. The current allocation of power in the Senate, many legal scholars and political scientists say, does not protect minorities with distinctive characteristics, much less disadvantaged ones.

              To the contrary, the disproportionate voting power of small states is a sort of happenstance that has on occasion left a stain on the nation’s history.

              Robert A. Dahl, the Yale political scientist, who is 97 and has been studying American government for more than 70 years, has argued that slavery survived thanks to the disproportionate influence of small-population Southern states. The House passed eight antislavery measures between 1800 and 1860; all died in the Senate. The civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, he added, was slowed by senators representing small-population states.

              As the population of the United States has grown a hundredfold since the founding, to more than 310 million, the Supreme Court has swept away most instances of unequal representation beyond the Senate. In a series of seminal cases in the 1960s, the court forbade states to give small-population counties or districts a larger voice than ones with more people, in both state legislatures and the House.

              “The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing — one person, one vote,” Justice William O. Douglas wrote for the court in 1963, referring to the amendments that extended the franchise to blacks and women and required the popular election of the Senate.

              The rulings revolutionized American politics — everywhere but in the Senate, which the Constitution protected from change and where the disparities in voting power have instead become more extreme.


              The United States Senate is hardly the only legislature that does not stick strictly to the principle of equal representation. Political scientists use the term “malapportioned” to describe the phenomenon, and it is common around the world.

              But the Senate is in contention for the least democratic legislative chamber. In some other countries with federal systems, in which states or provinces have independent political power, a malapportioned upper house may have only a weak or advisory role. In the United States, the Senate is at least equal in power to the House, and it possesses some distinctive responsibilities, like treaty ratification and the approval of presidential appointments. A recent appeals court decision severely limiting the president’s power to make recess appointments, if it stands, will further increase the Senate’s power.

              Professor Dahl has calculated the difference between the local government unit with the most voting power and that with the least. The smallest ratio, 1.5, was in Austria, while in Belgium, Spain, India, Germany, Australia and Canada the ratio was never higher than 21 to 1.

              In this country, the ratio between Wyoming’s representation and California’s is 66 to 1. By that measure, Professor Dahl found, only Brazil, Argentina and Russia had less democratic chambers. A separate analysis, by David Samuels and Richard Snyder, similarly found that geographically large countries with federal systems tend to overrepresent sparsely populated areas.”


            3. Juan Caruso

              Prince, you and B.C. both fail to mention, by even a single iota, the fundamental. basic premnise, agreed by the majority of “Framers” of what is termed “state sovereignty”. Why mot? (Please do not be “argumentative” if you ever care to reply.

            4. M.Prince

              Mr. Caruso, your disagreement here isn’t with me but with Hamilton and others who felt as he did. In any case, a state’s sovereignty would not be diminished simply by electing its senators according to population. That state would still be represented in Congress and would still control its own internal functions, including the elemental functions that cut closest to every resident’s life, such as declaring who is and who isn’t (birth and death certificates), who is married and who isn’t (marriage licenses and divorce decrees), which businesses can operate (incorporation and licensing), who can exercise certain trades and professions (licensing), who gets to vote (registration) and who gets put away (unless a federal crime is involved), among numerous other things.

    2. Barry

      The good thing is – that guy is on twitter- and quite few people picked him apart on that one.

      He’s not the brightest bulb out there.

  3. Doug Ross

    “Or, you could do it differently if you like. You could actually study issues and think about them, if you want to be such a radical.”

    You’re talking about Rand Paul and his father, right?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      You’re right. The radicals.

      But merely being idiosyncratic doesn’t make one right. It means you MAY be right, but I would submit that the Pauls are a strong argument for consensus opinion…

      1. Doug Ross

        So, it’s not just studying and thinking about issues, it’s agreeing with you that is the key component? All that studying of economics, The Constitution, medicine, etc. don’t really matter unless they come to a conclusion that fits into the current system which is running so smoothly.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        I’m not sure what you mean. If you’re asking whether I agree with people I agree with, and disagree with people I disagree with, then you’re right.

        If I think someone who thinks independently is completely WRONG in his conclusions, do you really expect me to applaud him just because he arrived at his erroneous conclusions on his own?

        Because they ARE idiosyncratic, there are times when I like the Pauls a little more than the ideological purists of the right and left, just as a change of pace. But their being a breath of fresh air doesn’t blind me to their being more wrong on a lot of issues than either the left or the right.

        1. Doug Ross

          ” erroneous conclusions ”

          Erroneous or opposite from yours? There’s a big difference.

          Saying the sky is yellow is erroneous. Saying we should have a less aggressive foreign policy is not.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Again, I’m not following you. Of course, from my perspective, conclusions with which I disagree ARE erroneous. How could it be otherwise? If I believed they were NOT erroneous, I would agree with them.

            Sort of by definition.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              To further address your point: “Saying the sky is yellow is erroneous. Saying we should have a less aggressive foreign policy is not.”

              You’re absolutely right. Saying we COULD have a less aggressive foreign policy is not erroneous. It’s merely a statement of fact (to the extent that we HAVE an “aggressive foreign policy,” and I’m willing to grant for the sake of this discussion that it’s technically possible to have an approach that’s even less aggressive than we have) .

              But that’s not the issue, is it? The issue is whether we SHOULD have a “less aggressive foreign policy.” That’s an entirely different thing…

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              Riffing further on your point…

              You’d probably be amazed at how hard it can be to tell the difference between an opinion and a statement of fact. Having spent three decades first as an editor of news and then of opinion, and having been very good at both jobs, you’d think I’d be able to draw a clear line.

              Yet I used to have many arguments with my also-skilled colleagues over whether an assertion in a letter or an op-ed piece was an opinion or an assertion of fact.

              Opinions were sacrosanct, especially ones that differed from our own. Or mission was to provide a broad array of views, giving particular prominence to those that sought to rebut what we said.

              But we did not allow guest writers to misrepresent facts. (We especially did not allow people to misrepresent what we had said so as to make other readers think we’d said something other than what we’d said.) Disputes would arise when I or a colleague would say “we can’t let him say this; it’s objectively false.” But another of us would say, “no, that’s opinion.” The general policy at that point was that the tie went to the runner and we allowed the assertion.

              This led in turn to our being criticized by OTHER readers who protested allowing the guest writer to say things that weren’t true. And sometimes, they had a good point. But we preferred to err on the side of allowing free expression.

              I wish I had saved some specific examples of this to show you. But it was such a pervasive part of everyday worklife that it didn’t occur to me to do so.

              There’s a particular sort of case in which we were most likely to allow assertions of nonfact, and it seemed impossible to do otherwise. That’s in the case of allowing a widely-held opinion that was based on something that was demonstrably untrue. If we didn’t allow it, then such widely-held views would be absent from our pages, and the conversation would be incomplete.

              Just as an example of what I’m talking about, and perhaps not the best one, but it comes to mind… A lot of the anti-public education views that were actually driving policy in our state were based in the firm belief that we had “the worst schools in the nation.” Which was objectively not true. Oh, you could present numbers that seemed to back it up. There were two such numbers: SAT scores and graduation rates. If you considered those in isolation, and didn’t look at any of the other standardized test results or other evidence out there, it certainly looked like you could back up the assertion. But that was not a full representation of the facts….


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