Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sifting Through Race- Jimmy Carter On Racism (Or Not), Part 3

At first read, it's somewhat of a case of dueling columns. Pulitzer Prize-winning Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post in "The Favor Jimmy Carter Did Us All" on September 18 writes

....there's a particularly nasty edge to the most vitriolic attacks -- a rejection not of Obama's programs but of his legitimacy as president. This denial of legitimacy is more pernicious than the abuse heaped upon George W. Bush by his critics (including me), and I can't find any explanation for it other than race.

I'm not talking about the majority of the citizens who went to town hall meetings to criticize Obama's plans for health-care reform or the majority of the "tea bag" demonstrators who complain that Obama is ushering in an era of big government. Those are, of course, legitimate points of view. Protest is part of our system. It's as American as apple pie.

I'm talking about the crazy "birthers." I'm talking about the nitwits who arrive at protest rallies bearing racially offensive caricatures -- Obama as a witch doctor, for example. I'm talking about the idiots who toss around words like "socialism" to make Obama seem alien and even dangerous -- who deny the fact that he, too, is as American as apple pie.

This whole discussion was kicked off by Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" outburst during Obama's address to a joint session of Congress. As the House members who voted to rebuke Wilson -- including seven fellow Republicans -- understand, calling the head of state a liar in such an official setting is way out of bounds. Grumbling and even booing come with the territory, but a flat accusation of mendacity is an impermissible sign of disrespect. Nobody ever called Bush a liar when he was speaking in the House chamber.

Why would Wilson think he was entitled to insult the president this way? Why would he refuse to offer a formal apology on the House floor, which would have ended the matter? I have no idea. Friends and colleagues say he is no racist, and they know the man a lot better than I do. But he does have a history.


Though not denying the role of race, in salon.com on September 17 Gene Lyons emphasizes economic insecurity and historic animus toward national Democrats. In "Obama gets the Clinton treatment," he deemphasizes the impact of race, explaining

From a political standpoint, the worst thing about blaming President Obama's perceived difficulties on racism is that there's not a damn thing anybody can do about it. Determined bigots can't be shamed, while many see invoking race as more an excuse than an explanation.
Democrats who cry racism risk looking like whiners fearful they're losing the argument....

Criticizing Colbert I. King of The Washington Post and referring to the proprietor of dailyhowler.com, Lyons notes

So where was King when Bill and Hillary Clinton were accused of murder by Rush Limbaugh and in videotapes peddled by the Rev. Jerry Falwell? The latter's sanctimonious mug nevertheless continued to appear constantly on network TV talk shows as an honored representative of America's devout Christians....

How about when Democratic nominee Al Gore was depicted as a fraud and serial liar through the use of phony allegations ("invented the Internet") and manufactured quotes on the front page of, yes, the Washington Post? Where was King then? Studiously polishing his fingernails, evidently.

The same is true of establishment pundits such as the New York Times' Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich, who participated gleefully in sliming the previous several Democratic candidates. (Dowd and Rich invented the myth that Gore falsely claimed to be the inspiration for the novel and movie "Love Story.") So now they don the shining armor of multiculti(sic) liberalism? Please.

"King and the rest of his cohorts drank the Kool-Aid during (the 90s)," writes Somerby. "Now, they pretend that the era never occurred -- and they express their vast surprise when the same lunacy is aimed at Obama. They are amazed to see what's being said about this new Democratic president. And they diddle their cowardly brains: It must be his race, they proclaim."


But in a more fundamental sense, Robinson and Lyons both view things similarly, and accurately. While the former salutes the former president for raising the issue of race, the latter notes "Rep. Joe Wilson's, R-S.C., rude outburst during the president's speech to Congress.... along with his longtime support for flying the Rebel flag over South Carolina's capitol," and the futility of Democratic presidential nominees in the old confederacy.

And how has the conservative community responded? Not whether whether prominent Repubs or conservatives agree with Carter that race is the biggest factor in the most extreme attacks upon Obama (they apparently don't)- Carter probably was wrong and, anyway, it's never wise political strategy to label your base as racists.

But another theme has been developing. A few conservatives, including the African-American Derrell Bradford, and the second-generation Jamaican-American Michelle Bernard, have been vigorously trying to rewrite history. They claim, as Bernard put it, "White people put Barack Obama into office."

Uh, no. According to exit polls, among non-Hispanic whites, John McCain garnered 55% of the vote last November, Barack Obama only 33%- a bulge of 12%. If only white votes were counted, John McCain would have shellacked Barack Obama, both in the popular vote and in the electoral vote. John McCain would have been President, and Sarah Palin, Vice-President. And this is what individuals in exit polls reported. Human nature (learned, in this case) not having been abolished, whites still like to say they voted for the black candidate, especially in an election termed "historic."

But there is method behind the madness- no, behind the dishonesty. They are saying (albeit fallaciously), if a majority of Caucasians voted for the black candidate, well, the election put race behind us. And if it, if we have transcended race, why are Jimmy Carter and all those mean liberals bringing it up? Surely, the critics of the Democratic Party are right!

But in the midst of a serious recession, a very unpopular war, and a nominee who couldn't get out of his own way, Barack Obama, the nominee of the nation's majority party, won 43% of the white vote. So the real question is not, or should not be, whether former President Carter or his GOP critics are right- the truth lies somewhere in between the two extreme positions. It is a matter of passing, of transient concern, and as Robinson and probably Lyons both understand, one that should be secondary to the largely unexamined impact of race in American politics.

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