Friday, July 01, 2011

They Would Never, Ever Think About Race

Addressing the debt wrangling at his recent news conference (transcript here), President Obama noted "over the last few weeks, the Vice President has been leading negotiations with Democrats and Republicans on this issue, and they've made some real progress in narrowing down the differences." That was after he remarked "there are also a number of steps that could be taking right now on items that historically have had bipartisan support" and "many of these ideas.... enjoy bipartisan support;" and before he urged everyone to "tackle" entitlements and "spending in the tax code," two aims virtually every Repub legislator agrees with.

But- o my goodness! Characteristically non-confrontational, Obama avoided adding "this is my demand" or even "any deal will include" and instead said, nay pleaded

I think it's only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up a tax break that no other business enjoys.

A popular proposal, requested diplomatically, even nicely, by the President. Still, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum criticized "from the man who would bring Washington together," "the most ugly, divisive press conference I've ever seen froma President," who "poured acrimony." Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS)- who knows better- offered "maybe if he would just take a Valium and calm down and come on down and talk to us it might be helpful."

Santorum increasingly appears, as he did to a lesser extent during his losing U.S. Senate race, frightfully frustrated that his ideas aren't getting through to anyone. The thrust of Santorum's remark, as Digby understands,

is the basis of GOP strength: Obama promises to bring the two sides together, they refuse to cooperate and then blame him for failing to fulfill his promise. Meanwhile the Village media tut-tuts themselves into a frenzy if he's the tiniest bit confrontational and the country blames him right along with the Republicans because they hate the fighting and believe Gloria Borger when she tells them both sides are acting like children.

Roberts' crack, less sincere and more focused than that of Santorum, prompted Taylor Marsh to quip

I'm not going to say Sen. Roberts is equating Pres. Obama with a hysterical woman in need of a tranquilizer, which is straight out of Roberts' generation, but his remark clearly insinuates that Barack Obama was out of control, in over his head and too immature to control himself without pharmaceuticals.

It's a cheap shot at the nearly-elderly generation , but let's not quibble. In suggesting an analogy to the "hysterical woman in need of a tranquiizer,: Marsh is (probably unintentionally) being polite. while Santorum is shocked! shocked! that Barack Obama has not been able to unite 300 million, mostly diverse, Americans, Roberts suggests a minor tranquilizer for President Obama. The tranquilizer for the woman, the tranquilizer for the man: the Angry Black Man. (Marco Rubio of Florida added "It was rhetoric, I thought, that was more appropriate for some left-wing strong man than for the president of the United States." "Left-wing strong man"- from abroad, get it?)

Not that Roberts, Santorum, or their political party is racist. Nevertheless, they have subtly raised the issue of race. These guys may march in lockstep to oppose President Obama but if media personalities are waiting for any of them to blurt out "I don't like Barack Obama because he's black," they're going to have a long wait. Widespread condemnation would follow.

Instead, Santorum and Roberts couched their criticism in ludicrous, but politically safe, phraseology. Less wisely, Mark Halperin, inaccurately assured by Joe Scarborough that his remark would be filtered, was suspended when he incautiously characterized the President. Greg Sargent was unfazed by Halperin's language, caring less about

use of the word "dick" than I do about the argument he and Joe Scarborough were making- that Obama somehow stepped over some kind of line in aggressively calling out the GOP for refusing to allow any revenues ina debt ceiling deal. This notion that Obama's tone was somehow over the top- when politics is supposed to be a rough clash of visions- is rooted in a deeply ingrained set of unwritten rules about what does and doesn't constitute acceptable political discourse that really deserve more scrutiny. This set of rules has it that it should be treated as a matter of polite,legitimate disagreement when Michele Bachmann says deeply insane things about us not needing to raise the debt limit, but it should be seen as an enormously newsworthy gaffe when she commits a relatively minor error about regional trivia. This set of rules has it that it should be treated as a matter of polite, legitimate disagreement when Republicans continually claim that Dems cut $500 billion in Medicare in a way that will directly impact seniors, even though fact checkers have pronounced it misleading, but it should be seen as "demagoguery" when Dems argue that the Paul Ryan plan would end Medicare as we know it.

Like crude and flip sexual innuendo, allusion to race should not be a firing offense. But however well hidden, race is a part of our political discussion, to be acknowledged, then considered in the context of what Sargent terms "a rough clash of visions" that characterizes American politics."


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