Commentary Magazine


Topic: racism

Democrats’ Pitiful Premature Sour Grapes

Faced with a likely defeat in tomorrow’s midterm elections, some Democrats are in denial and predict an unlikely victory. Others have already started to form the usual circular firing squads, pointing their fingers at either an unpopular President Obama or those politicians that tripped over themselves in embarrassing efforts to disassociate themselves from the administration. But perhaps most telling are those choosing to dismiss the significance of tomorrow’s results even before they happen. Trying to deny the inevitable or to shift blame for it when defeat happens isn’t productive but nevertheless must be termed normal political behavior. The greatest danger for Democrats in the days following their likely loss of the Senate, however, is to pretend that a midterm disaster brings with it no hard lessons for the defeated.

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Faced with a likely defeat in tomorrow’s midterm elections, some Democrats are in denial and predict an unlikely victory. Others have already started to form the usual circular firing squads, pointing their fingers at either an unpopular President Obama or those politicians that tripped over themselves in embarrassing efforts to disassociate themselves from the administration. But perhaps most telling are those choosing to dismiss the significance of tomorrow’s results even before they happen. Trying to deny the inevitable or to shift blame for it when defeat happens isn’t productive but nevertheless must be termed normal political behavior. The greatest danger for Democrats in the days following their likely loss of the Senate, however, is to pretend that a midterm disaster brings with it no hard lessons for the defeated.

In recent days, the New York Times provided its liberal readership with a trifecta of midterm denial. But though these attempts to salve Democratic wounds that had not yet started bleeding were exactly what the paper’s readers want, they are the worst kind of medicine for a political party.

The most absurd was an op-ed by a Duke University professor of public policy and one his students. In it David Schanzer and Jay Sullivan, a junior at the school, argue that it is time to abolish the midterms. According to them, the exercise of allowing the people to have their say about Congress every two years is a nuisance. They say it is a big waste of time that forces members to spend too much time raising money and fundraising. But the real reason they don’t like it is that lately Republicans have done better at them because congressional Democrats don’t motivate the same kind of turnout from those with a marginal interest in politics, as Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012. Schanzer and Sullivan don’t like the “whiter, older and more educated” midterm electorate so they think the best thing is to extend House terms to four years from two and change senators from having six years in office to either four or eight (!) before they have to face the voters.

Like all efforts to change the Constitution in order to manipulate the system to immediate partisan advantage, this scheme is a farce. The reason why the Founders wanted frequent elections for the House is that they rightly believed one house of Congress should be more reflective of the political passions of the moment while the other would be more reflective of long-term concerns. The pair from Duke wish to sacrifice this laudable aim because it doesn’t currently help the party they seem to favor without remembering that it could just as easily flip to help the Democrats as it has at times in the past. While I don’t think many serious people will pay much attention to this nonsense, it does illustrate the willingness of many on the left to do anything to somehow game the system in their favor.

While that piece was just plain foolish, more destructive was the explanation for the likely Democratic loss from Times columnist Charles Blow. The writer tends to view virtually every issue through a racial lens, so it is no surprise that this extreme liberal thinks the Democrats’ big problem remains racial animus toward President Obama. He agrees with Obama that the reason for criticism of his administration is that there are “some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black president.” Since black support for Obama has not wavered throughout his presidency, Blow naturally assumes that the dropoff elsewhere must be due to racism, something that is accentuated by the Democrats’ reliance on huge turnouts from African-American voters to remain competitive.

Racism still exists in America but this is, of course, the same president who won clear majorities in two presidential elections in which a lot more white people voted than blacks. But despite these historic victories, he prefers to blame his troubles on irrational hatred rather than face the facts that a lot of people have buyer’s remorse about reelecting him after a record of failure in the last two years. While Democrats have resorted to race-baiting this fall in what may prove to be a futile effort to increase black turnout, the party would be well advised to distance itself from the politics of racial grievance once the dust settles. Playing to your base is important, but, as Republicans have shown us, doing so exclusively is a formula for electoral disaster.

But perhaps Nate Cohn in the Times’s Upshot section illustrated the most dangerous variety of Democratic thinking in his piece. In it, he gives us the ultimate sour grapes interpretation by saying that even if the GOP wins in key battleground states outside of their southern comfort zone, it won’t be a big deal if it is a close margin. His point is that since Democratic turnout will inevitably be far greater in 2016, anything short of a GOP landslide means the next presidential election will repeat the pattern of 2010 and 2012 in which a Republican win was followed by an impressive Democratic victory.

While it is true that Democrats have in recent years tended to do better in presidential years, that is mostly the function of a singularly historic figure named Barack Obama. Though the party hopes Hillary Clinton will perform just as well as the putative first female president succeeding the first African-American, her poor political skills (illustrated again last week) make that a chancy proposition. The thing about politics is that it changes all the time. Any assumptions about the next election based on the last few is, in this case, another instance of wishful thinking on the part of the left, not a sober analysis.

What happened this year is that Republicans learned some of their lessons from the past few cycles, nominated good candidates, and stayed on message. Democrats thought they could survive the downturn in Obama’s popularity by playing the same tired themes about a war on women and racism but are finding that it didn’t work as well as the last time. If they lose this week, Cohn’s advice might lead them to think that they have no need to re-evaluate that mistake but should, instead, merely do more of the same in hope of a better audience in 2016.

Whatever happens tomorrow, what the loser must do is to take a hard look at their defeats, and draw the proper conclusions. If Democrats emerge on Wednesday putting it all down to racism or the accident of a midterm, they will be setting themselves up for a far worse surprise in 2016 when conditions and turnout factors may not be as favorable for them as they think.

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Race-Baiting and the Democrats’ Future

With the midterm campaign coming down to its last days, its been clear for weeks that the only way Democrats believe they can save some of their endangered red-state Senate incumbents is to play the race card. Both Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan have sought to identify Republicans with racism and even, in Hagan’s case, with the killing of Trayvon Martin or the Ferguson, Missouri shooting, in order to mobilize African-American voters. While these tactics are based on outrageous slanders, the decision to play the race card is logical if not scrupulous. The coalition that elected Barack Obama to the presidency twice relies on huge numbers of minorities as well as young people and unmarried women turning out to vote. The outcome on Tuesday will be largely dependent on whether that turnout resembles the ones of 2008 and 2012 or that of 2010 when Republicans won a midterm landslide. But whether or not the Democrats’ race-baiting tactics succeed, the real question facing the party is whether they are right to do so. And by that I don’t refer to whether the decision to sink this low is ethical but whether it is smart.

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With the midterm campaign coming down to its last days, its been clear for weeks that the only way Democrats believe they can save some of their endangered red-state Senate incumbents is to play the race card. Both Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan have sought to identify Republicans with racism and even, in Hagan’s case, with the killing of Trayvon Martin or the Ferguson, Missouri shooting, in order to mobilize African-American voters. While these tactics are based on outrageous slanders, the decision to play the race card is logical if not scrupulous. The coalition that elected Barack Obama to the presidency twice relies on huge numbers of minorities as well as young people and unmarried women turning out to vote. The outcome on Tuesday will be largely dependent on whether that turnout resembles the ones of 2008 and 2012 or that of 2010 when Republicans won a midterm landslide. But whether or not the Democrats’ race-baiting tactics succeed, the real question facing the party is whether they are right to do so. And by that I don’t refer to whether the decision to sink this low is ethical but whether it is smart.

The answer from Democratic operatives eager to preserve the party’s Senate majority as well as to lay the foundation for another smashing presidential win in 2016 would probably be something along the lines of declaring that all’s fair in love, war, and politics. If getting African-Americans to the polls requires cynically recycling racial incitement, then so be it. Moreover they see it as no more nor less ethical than Republican hacks employing concerns over issues like gay marriage or immigration in order to get their base to turn out.

But just as Republicans have learned the lesson in recent election cycles that excessive pandering to social conservatives has unforeseen consequences in the form of damaging blowback with moderates and independents, so, too, Democrats need to be wary of becoming the party of race incitement.

Waving the bloody shirt of Ferguson seems like a good idea to those who believe, not wrongly, that many African-Americans view such incidents as evidence of the enduring legacy of the nation’s history of racism. But the line between sending subtle hints about such issues and outright race baiting has clearly been crossed when, as Hagan did, Republicans are falsely accused of playing a role in killing young African-Americans. Nor did Landrieu do herself any favors by publicly complaining about the treatment of blacks and women in the contemporary south.

Both parties desperately need their bases to be enthusiastic about elections if they are to win. But both also need to remember that winning electoral majorities requires more than mobilization of true believers. Republicans have become obsessed with appeasing their core voters and paid for it at times by being slammed, often unfairly, as overly identified with extremists. But it seems never to occur to Democrats that over-the-top appeals to their base will exact a cost with the rest of the electorate.

In the past two years, we’ve heard a great deal of Democratic triumphalism about how changing demographics will ensure them an unshakable electoral majority for years, if not decades, to come. But as much as they certainly benefit heavily from the overwhelming margins they rack up among blacks and Hispanics, the notion that this alone will create a permanent Democratic hegemony in Washington is spurious. In the end, all parties must win over the vital center of the American public square. As Ronald Reagan proved, they need not sacrifice their ideology or their principles to do so. But when they go too far, they inevitably run aground.

That’s the real danger of a reliance on race baiting for the Democrats. It’s not just that African-Americans will grow tired of such obvious exploitation but that by linking themselves so firmly with such dubious tactics and extreme rhetoric, they drown out any reasoned arguments they might put forward for their party.

In 2008 and 2012, Democrats were able to rouse their base with positive messages of empowerment that revolved around the historic and deeply symbolic candidacies of Barack Obama while at the same time offering an effective if ultimately spurious promise of hope and change to the entire country. But in 2014, as Obama’s popularity has waned and then collapsed, they are forced to do verbal gymnastics as candidates seek to distance themselves from the president and his policies while simultaneously seeking to appeal to minorities that still revere him with negative race-based slurs about Republicans.

Thus, even if these tactics work to turn out blacks—and it is by no means clear that it will come anywhere close to the 2012 levels that Democrats desperately need—the party may be doing itself real damage with the public in ways that will harm their presidential candidate in 2016. As with other misleading memes they have beat to death, such as the spurious war on women that Republicans are supposed to be waging, Democrats are finding that they are fast exhausting the electorate’s patience and are running out of ideas. As much as playing the race card seems like a foolproof if unsavory tactic, it may not be as smart a move as they think it is.

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Using a Double Standard on Hate Crimes to Bash Israel

Hateful graffiti targeting a minority have repeatedly been scrawled on cars and buildings, including houses of worship, yet police frequently fail to arrest the culprits. Innocent people have been viciously attacked and occasionally even murdered just because they belong to this minority. Clearly, this is a country awash in racism and prejudice that it’s making no real effort to stem, so it deserves harsh condemnation from anyone who cares about such fundamental liberal values as tolerance and nonviolence, right?

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Hateful graffiti targeting a minority have repeatedly been scrawled on cars and buildings, including houses of worship, yet police frequently fail to arrest the culprits. Innocent people have been viciously attacked and occasionally even murdered just because they belong to this minority. Clearly, this is a country awash in racism and prejudice that it’s making no real effort to stem, so it deserves harsh condemnation from anyone who cares about such fundamental liberal values as tolerance and nonviolence, right?

That’s certainly the conclusion many liberals leaped to about a similar wave of anti-Arab attacks in Israel. But what I actually just described is the recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks in the United States, and there has–quite properly–been no similar rush to denounce America. Since the American government and people overwhelmingly condemn such attacks, and America remains one of the best places in the world to live openly as a Jew, liberals correctly treat such incidents as exceptions rather than proof that the U.S. is irredeemably anti-Semitic. But somehow, Israel never merits a similarly nuanced analysis.

Consider just a few of the attacks I referenced in the first paragraph: This past weekend–on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year–swastikas were spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity at Emory University in Atlanta, and also on a synagogue in Spokane, Washington, on the other side of the country. In August, a Jewish couple was attacked in New York by thugs who shouted anti-Semitic slogans, threw a water bottle at the woman, and punched her skullcap-wearing husband. In July, pro-Israel demonstrators were attacked by stick-wielding thugs in Los Angeles. On August 9, an Orthodox rabbi was murdered in Miami while walking to synagogue on the Sabbath; police insist this wasn’t a hate crime, though they haven’t yet arrested any suspects, but local Jews are unconvinced, as a synagogue and a Jewish-owned car on the same street were vandalized with anti-Semitic slogans just two weeks earlier. And in April, a white supremacist killed three people at two Jewish institutions near Kansas City, Kansas.

A Martian looking at this list, devoid of any context, might well conclude that America is a deeply anti-Semitic country. And of course, he’d be wrong. Context–the fact that these incidents are exceptions to the overwhelmingly positive picture of Jewish life in America–matters greatly.

Yet that’s no less true for anti-Arab attacks in Israel. As in America, both the government and the public have almost unanimously condemned such attacks. As in America, culprits have been swiftly arrested in some cases, like the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir in July; also as in America, the failure to make arrests in other cases stems not from tolerance for such crimes, but from the simple fact that some cases are harder to solve than others.

Finally, as in America, these incidents belie the fact that overall, Israeli Arabs are better integrated and have more rights not only than any of their counterparts in the Middle East, but also than some of their counterparts in Europe. Israel, for instance, has no laws against building minarets, like Switzerland does, or against civil servants wearing headscarves, as France does. Arabs serve in the Knesset, the Supreme Court, and sometimes the cabinet; they are doctors, university department heads, judges, and high-tech workers.

Clearly, anti-Arab prejudice exists in Israel, just as anti-Jewish prejudice exists in America. But a decade-old tracking project found that it has been declining rather than growing. And successive governments have been trying hard in recent years to narrow persistent Arab-Jewish gaps: For instance, an affirmative action campaign almost quadrupled the number of Arabs in the civil service from 2007 to 2011. Indeed, as Ron Gerlitz, co-executive director of Sikkuy – The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, argued in August, it’s precisely the Arab minority’s growing integration that has outraged the anti-Arab fringe and helped spark the recent rise in hate crimes.

So it’s past time for liberals to give Israel the same courtesy they extend America: Stop looking at hate crimes in a vacuum and start seeing them for what they are–isolated incidents that don’t and shouldn’t condemn an entire country as “racist.”

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Debating Islamism: How Far We’ve Come

In a viral video that just about everyone has seen by now, movie star Ben Affleck butted heads with Bill Maher about radical Islam on the latter’s HBO show. The subject was about those calling attention to the not inconsiderable support that radical Islamists like the terrorists of ISIS get from mainstream Muslims around the world. But what’s interesting about this controversy is not so much the specifics of the conversation but the way it resonated with the public. The uproar seems to show that more than 13 years after 9/11, Americans are now willing to start talking about what’s motivating terrorists.

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In a viral video that just about everyone has seen by now, movie star Ben Affleck butted heads with Bill Maher about radical Islam on the latter’s HBO show. The subject was about those calling attention to the not inconsiderable support that radical Islamists like the terrorists of ISIS get from mainstream Muslims around the world. But what’s interesting about this controversy is not so much the specifics of the conversation but the way it resonated with the public. The uproar seems to show that more than 13 years after 9/11, Americans are now willing to start talking about what’s motivating terrorists.

The crux of the argument was about whether, as Affleck passionately argued, it is racist to say that ISIS’s ideology is backed by a vast number of Muslims. The actor believes this is just prejudice. He believes that instead of calling out the Muslim world for the actions of the terrorists, we should be merely condemning the individuals involved. Like many others on the left who have promoted the myth that America responded to 9/11 with a backlash against Muslims, Affleck seems to imply that the bigger threat to the country comes from the demonization of the faith of 1.5 billion people.

In reply, Maher, ably assisted by author Sam Harris, pointed out that while there are many Muslims who oppose terrorism, the truth is that ISIS’s Islamist beliefs are shared by at least 20 percent of adherents of Islam around the world and many more than that share the same mindset even if they are not eager to don a suicide vest.

Who won? It was not so much that Maher, who is a bitter opponent of all religions, had the better argument as that Affleck had none at all. Used to operating in the liberal echo chamber of Hollywood—which shares many of Maher’s positions on most other issues—he was out of his league when forced to defend an indefensible position. His was an expression of an attitude in which facts that do not conform to leftist prejudices are ignored, not disputed. When confronted with a position that asserted the reality of contemporary Muslim political culture, he simply yelled racism, the ultimate argument decider on the left, and declared the facts unacceptable if not irrelevant.

Yet the point of interest here is not so much that Affleck, who was applauded by liberals for his stance, spoke nonsense or that Mahr had a rare moment of total clarity, but that this sort of discussion struck a nerve throughout the country.

In the aftermath of 9/11 Americans were told ad nauseam that Islam was a religion of peace, a line that has been said as much by Barack Obama as it has by George W. Bush. Indeed, Obama doubled down on this by repeatedly declaring that ISIS is not Islamic, an odd and rather debatable point of theology for an avowed Christian to make.

But in the wake of the latest ISIS murders and the years of atrocities by other Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Boko Haram that followed 9/11 many Americans have awakened to the fact that tracing the roots of terror requires us to confront the faith for which these killers fight. It is true that not all Muslims are terrorists and that all people should be judged for their actions not as a member of a group. But the willingness of vast numbers of Muslims to subscribe to a version of Islam that is rooted in hatred of the West, America, and Israel cannot be wished away or edited out of the movie as a politically incorrect fact. Vast numbers, especially in the Third World, not only subscribe to 9/11 truther myths but also support the terrorists’ war on the West. Others are leery about the war but share the religious beliefs that are its underpinning.

To confront these facts is not an act of prejudice or Islamophobia. Nor does it serve to foment hate. Rather, it is part of an effort to support and empower those Muslims who believe that the Islamist approach is abhorrent to them but who are often silenced or intimidated by radicals and their supposedly more moderate fellow travelers. A Muslim world in which radical beliefs are part of the mainstream needs to be reformed from within. This is necessary precisely because it is the not the desire of the West or of sane people anywhere to be at war with all Muslims.

While the shouting that is part of such cable scream fests does not make for an edifying spectacle, it says something about how far we’ve come in our thinking about this subject that a prominent liberal—even a professional provocateur like Maher—is willing to publicly enunciate obvious truths even if it means being called a racist by a popular actor. It can only be hoped that this can be the start of a more rational discussion of Islam and those who use it to justify terror. If not, we will remain locked in the same state of denial about the cause of the problem in which Obama, Affleck, and much of the nation remain trapped.

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Liberal Prejudices and the Secret Service Fiasco

When the director of the Secret Service was hauled before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Democrats and Republicans were united by a sense of outrage over the agency’s inability to protect the president and the lack of clear answers about why an intruder was allowed to enter the White House. That sense of joint purpose and patriotism is exactly what Americans who are critical of Congress—and especially the GOP-controlled House—have been demanding for years. But that wasn’t good enough for the New York Times. It published an article today that attempted to question the sincerity of Republicans on the issue but which actually told us a lot more about the mindset of liberals than it did about conservatives.

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When the director of the Secret Service was hauled before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Democrats and Republicans were united by a sense of outrage over the agency’s inability to protect the president and the lack of clear answers about why an intruder was allowed to enter the White House. That sense of joint purpose and patriotism is exactly what Americans who are critical of Congress—and especially the GOP-controlled House—have been demanding for years. But that wasn’t good enough for the New York Times. It published an article today that attempted to question the sincerity of Republicans on the issue but which actually told us a lot more about the mindset of liberals than it did about conservatives.

For Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker there’s something fishy about Republicans expressing concern about threats to the president’s safety. While liberals took umbrage at any attempt to question their patriotism during the years when George W. Bush—the object of their unbridled contempt and rage—was in the White House, Baker was reflecting the mindset of Democrats who think conservative criticism of the Secret Service is hypocritical. For the Times and Baker’s many sources on the left, there is something weird about the ability of Republicans to fiercely oppose President Obama’s policies while still being able to worry about possible threats to his life and that of his family.

According to some of the Democrats Baker quoted, the criticism being leveled at the Secret Service from Republicans is pure cynicism. They think any anger about the lapses in the president’s security—including an incident in Atlanta in which an armed man took pictures of the president in an elevator that was not known when Pierson testified yesterday—is merely an excuse to criticize the administration.

Baker did manage to find one Democrat to contradict his thesis. Paul Begala, a hyper-partisan political consultant who torches conservatives for a living on CNN rightly brushed back the Times’s thesis:

Paul Begala, no stranger to partisan warfare as a longtime adviser to Mr. Clinton, said Republican lawmakers were asking the right questions out of genuine concern. “This is totally on the level,” he said. “They’re acting like real human beings and patriotic Americans.”

But this was the exception in an article that didn’t bother to conceal the snark that dripped from every paragraph. Yet the overt partisanship that characterizes most pieces published in the Times, especially many of those that purport to be straight news, doesn’t entirely explain the decision to treat bipartisan anger about a government agency’s incompetence as an appropriate moment to question Republican sincerity about security at the presidential mansion.

Part of the problem stems from the White House itself. Rather than making clear that the president and his staff are as angry about this as everyone else, spokespeople for the administration were circling the wagons around Pierson until her resignation this afternoon. That was bizarre since as much as the GOP delights in pointing out Obama’s many failures, no reasonable person thinks there is a Republican or Democratic way of carrying out the Secret Service’s duties or believes the president wants the people protecting his family to fail.

Yet there is something more to this than the administration’s consistent tin ear about how to manage a scandal.

What Baker was tapping into with his article is the obvious yet unstated belief on the part of many of the left that Republicans are not just Americans who disagree with them and their leader about policy but are instead vicious racists who want Obama to die. There is no other way to explain not only Baker’s snark but also the refusal to understand that Republicans, like their Democratic colleagues, want government institutions and the commander in chief protected against attack.

Thus, rather than demonstrating the Republicans’ insincerity this reaction to the Secret Service fiasco tells us all we need to know about Washington gridlock. Rather than conservative extremism being the main factor behind the impasse in the capitol, it is actually the refusal of liberals to view Republicans through any prism but their own prejudices. There is plenty of bad will on both sides in our dysfunctional and deeply divided political system these days. But the reflexive refusal of liberals to believe that Republicans don’t actually want Obama to die at the hands of an assassin reveals just how deep the problem of hyper-partisanship is on the left.

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The Justice Department Voter ID Charade

Why is the Justice Department doing everything in its power to invalidate Voter ID laws? According to Attorney General Eric Holder, it’s simply a question of voting rights. But lawyers representing the state of Texas, whose voter ID law is being challenged in federal court this week by the federal government, have a different explanation. They say that while Holder claims Republicans have promulgated voter integrity laws to limit the number of blacks and Hispanics casting ballots and increase their chances of winning, that’s looking at the case through the wrong end of the telescope. Instead, it is, as voter ID defenders rightly assert, the result of a Democratic administration trying to alter the outcome of elections in southern, Republican-leaning states.

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Why is the Justice Department doing everything in its power to invalidate Voter ID laws? According to Attorney General Eric Holder, it’s simply a question of voting rights. But lawyers representing the state of Texas, whose voter ID law is being challenged in federal court this week by the federal government, have a different explanation. They say that while Holder claims Republicans have promulgated voter integrity laws to limit the number of blacks and Hispanics casting ballots and increase their chances of winning, that’s looking at the case through the wrong end of the telescope. Instead, it is, as voter ID defenders rightly assert, the result of a Democratic administration trying to alter the outcome of elections in southern, Republican-leaning states.

That charge has the Justice Department outraged as they think the claim of Texas’s attorneys that it is the feds who are practicing a form of discrimination is absurd. The government argues that laws requiring voters to identify themselves when voting are inherently discriminatory because the poor, the elderly, and blacks and Hispanics are less likely to have a photo ID. But the context here is not so much the presumption that these groups are either too stupid or without the will to procure a picture ID. It is the effort of the Justice Department to resurrect the “pre-clearance” provisions of the Voting Rights Act which used to require southern states to get federal permission before changing their voter procedures.

But, as the Supreme Court has ruled, singling out these states for that kind of treatment can no longer be justified by the awful practices that were prevalent more than a half-century ago. Though Holder and the groups who claim to represent the cause of civil rights are acting as if they are still fighting Jim Crow laws, their efforts aren’t so much about fighting discrimination as they are an attempt to convince the country that it is still 1964, not 2014.

The facts about voter ID laws are pretty simple. In an age when you can’t complete virtually any private or public transaction, fly, take a train, or get prescription drugs without a photo ID, the notion that people should be allowed to simply show up and cast a ballot without proving that you are a registered voter boggles the mind. The overwhelming majority of Americans have photo identification and states that require them for voting offer free state ID cards for those who don’t have drivers’ licenses or passports.

The government argues that this makes it impossible for some to vote because they have no ability to get identification. But the witnesses they are bringing forward to back up that assertion don’t seem terribly credible. In the New York Times feature on the issue, we are introduced to one such example, 22-year-old Imani Clark, who resides in rural Texas where there is no public transportation to get her to a state center to get an ID card. But it boggles the mind to think that what appears to be an able-bodied employed young African-American student such as Clark is really unable to come up with any proof of her identity. Indeed, to assume that African Americans or Hispanics are without the wit to do so is itself a discriminatory view that most blacks and Hispanics do not share.

As Texas’s lawyers have pointed out, a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general that said there was no evidence of a discriminatory intent behind voter ID laws but also noted that there was evidence of “deep ideological polarization” among government lawyers pursuing this case.

That report was spot on. The claim that voter fraud is unknown in the United States—thus obviating the need for voter integrity provisions—is a joke. To believe that we would have to forget everything we know about American political history as well as human nature.

But while asserting that voter fraud is unproven, Justice believes it can merely claim discrimination without being required to show either intent during its passage or bias in the law’s implementation. But to do so it they must act as if the Texas of today is no different from the Texas of the past. This is a false charge that one can only hope the courts will eventually reject.

The only thing motivating this case is partisan politics. But rather than it being a function of a prejudiced GOP seeking to hamstring Democrats, the truth is that it is really a matter of a Democratic administration trying to gin up anger among African Americans and Hispanics about a measure that is simply a matter of common sense. Democrats are trying to hype minority turnout not by protecting their rights but by falsely asserting prejudice. This is nothing but a partisan charade and a case that the courts should throw out.

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Can Holder and the Feds Fix Ferguson?

Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to arrive in Ferguson, Missouri today leading some to hope that his presence will somehow ease tensions as the ongoing conflict stemming from the police shooting of a young black man continues. But the expectation that having Holder parachute into this mess will somehow magically fix the problem or halt the civil unrest there is not merely unrealistic; it reflects a misunderstanding of both the judicial process and what the protestors want.

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Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to arrive in Ferguson, Missouri today leading some to hope that his presence will somehow ease tensions as the ongoing conflict stemming from the police shooting of a young black man continues. But the expectation that having Holder parachute into this mess will somehow magically fix the problem or halt the civil unrest there is not merely unrealistic; it reflects a misunderstanding of both the judicial process and what the protestors want.

As the New York Times reports today, there are some on the left that see Holder’s persistent race baiting from the bully pulpit of the Justice Department as a necessary counter-weight to President Obama’s amorphous calls for calm in crises such as the one unfolding in Ferguson. Holder, a man who called Americans a “nation of cowards” on race and who continues to speak as if the Jim Crow era were not a half century in the country’s rearview mirror, seems like just the sort of legal activist who could swoop in the maelstrom of Ferguson and somehow convince protesters to stand down while ensuring that justice is done.

Symbolism plays a not inconsiderable role in this dispute as a town with a population that is heavily African-American but few black police officers turned out to be a tinderbox waiting to burst into flame at the slightest provocation. But the willingness of the national media to frame this story as an example of how racism isn’t dead in America has transformed it from a troubling while complicated legal case in which the facts are a matter of dispute into merely the latest excuse for racial conflict. The demonizing of the police and their response to rioters there has created little room for the legal process to play out in a dispassionate and fair manner.

Despite the agitation from race hucksters like Al Sharpton and others who have also parachuted into the town, there is no evidence that either the country prosecutor or any other responsible legal authority is dragging their feet in the case or behaving improperly. Nor is there a reasonable case to be made that the state and local authorities should be shoved aside to make room for a federal prosecution led by Holder’s department.

The plain fact of the matter is that tensions have now been raised to the point where nothing short of the indictment of the police officer who shot Michael Brown will appease either the peaceful demonstrators in Ferguson or the thugs who have hijacked some of the protests with violence aimed at law enforcement authorities as well as the looting of local businesses.

Since the Grand Jury process is not immune to political pressures, they may well get their wish and, to be fair, it is entirely possible that such a result may be justified. But, as the Times noted in a separate story, the reality of the Brown shooting may not be as cut and dried as the “hands up, don’t shoot” chants of the protesters indicate. The very different accounts of the shooting of Brown by the officer seems to indicate a strong possibility that we may be heading to a replay of last year’s Trayvon Martin shooting trial in which the media’s insistence on imposing a narrative of racism run amok on the story didn’t necessarily reflect the facts of the case. If so, then Holder’s intervention may be deeply mistaken.

There are instances when federal intervention into murder cases is justified. If the justice system in Missouri were so riddled with institutionalized racism that it never prosecuted the killers of blacks, there would be a strong argument for the Justice Department to step in. In cases where prosecutions failed due to negligence or jury nullification of the law (such as often happened in Jim Crow states prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act or when a New York jury acquitted a black man in the murder of Hasidic Jew during the Crown Heights riot, even though he was literally caught red-handed after the murder), the attorney general ought to step in. But in the absence of those circumstances, or at least until the locals have proven to be unfair or incompetent, Holder’s presence in Ferguson must be seen as mere grandstanding and an attempt to complicate or delegitimize the local prosecution, not the cavalry coming to the rescue of the justice system.

Public officials who weigh in on complicated cases merely in order to placate a mob—such as Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s call for a “vigorous prosecution” of the case rather than a vigorous investigation—prior to the evidence being fully revealed do nothing to advance the cause of justice or racial healing.

Holder can’t fix Ferguson. That is not merely because his instincts are so skewed on race issues that he can’t be trusted to behave fairly. It is also because the only thing that will improve the situation is an effort to defend the integrity of the legal system on the part of local and national political leaders who seem to have a vested interest in stirring the racial pot rather than promoting healing and justice.

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Resisting the Ferguson Temptation

Some news stories are like Rorschach tests in that, irrespective of the facts of the cases, they inspire journalists, pundits, and politicians to ride all of their familiar hobbyhorses to death. That is the reality of the massive media coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a policeman, and the violent aftermath of that event is so obvious it barely needs to be pointed out. But as cable news stations embrace the story as another, perhaps juicier version of last year’s trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, it might be better if more public figures embrace the stance enunciated by Rep. Paul Ryan.

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Some news stories are like Rorschach tests in that, irrespective of the facts of the cases, they inspire journalists, pundits, and politicians to ride all of their familiar hobbyhorses to death. That is the reality of the massive media coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a policeman, and the violent aftermath of that event is so obvious it barely needs to be pointed out. But as cable news stations embrace the story as another, perhaps juicier version of last year’s trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, it might be better if more public figures embrace the stance enunciated by Rep. Paul Ryan.

Unlike virtually everyone else who has commented on the shooting and the subsequent rioting in Ferguson, Ryan simply asked that those who speak about these events refrain from attempts to exploit what has happened. Not succumbing to the temptation to use the social pathologies on display in Missouri as fodder to promote his new book, Ryan said the following:

“Don’t try to capitalize on this tragedy with your own policy initiatives, don’t try to link some prejudged conclusion on what’s happening on the ground right now,” the Wisconsin Republican said on “Fox and Friends.” “We should take a deep breath, let’s have some sympathy for the family and the community … and let’s let the investigation take its course and hope that justice is served appropriately.”

That’s good advice, and the media figures and so-called racial activists like Al Sharpton, who have descended upon Ferguson like a ravenous flock of vultures, would do well to heed it if they actually cared about the citizens of this troubled town or race relations across the country.

The Brown shooting, like the death of Martin, has become more of an opportunity to rehearse the usual litany of liberal ideological rants in which this heretofore-obscure town has become a symbol of racism. Rather than let the facts of the case—whatever they may be—be uncovered and then let the legal process play out, the impulse to prejudge the case has consistently prevailed. Whether that means an assumption that the police officer is guilty of murder or that the victim was somehow responsible for the incident, neither set of arguments has done much to advance the cause of justice of the peace of that community.

As Fred Siegel correctly noted in City Journal yesterday, most of those who have weighed in with commentary about Ferguson are stuck in the 1960s, a perspective from which all violence is viewed through the lens of the civil-rights movement. Those who play this game rarely stop to reflect that a half century later, an African-American president now governs the same country. Nor do they ponder the fact that solutions to the problems of such communities cannot be found in the playbook employed by those who protested against now vanished Jim Crow laws in an America that no longer exists. Sharpton and the pack of so-called civil-rights leaders who have parachuted into this mess have clearly done more harm than any possible good.

To acknowledge this reality does not oblige anyone to be indifferent to the anger of Ferguson residents about what they perceive as misconduct by the police or the ham-handed response to subsequent protests and riots by the authorities. But if we were to avoid merely repeating the same destructive narrative about racism that did so much damage in the Martin case, then it would behoove those commenting on the issue to refuse to rehearse, as Siegel says, “The grotesque pantomime of repression and redemption, riots and never-quite-achieved rewards, [that] plays out time and again.” As Siegel says, using Brown’s death to pivot into discussions about race, white flight, or urban/suburban jurisdiction disputes is a mistake.

Neither Sharpton nor anyone else talking on television really knows what happened when Brown died. Until we get a better handle on that question, they should stop fomenting the sort of anger that leads to riots and more violence as we have seen the last several nights in Ferguson. The cable news commentariat is as determined not to learn from their mistakes in this case, just as they were during Zimmerman’s trial. They will, instead, repeat the same cant about race and suggest more of the same failed policies that have helped perpetuate these problems rather than fix them. Until we learn to resist this temptation, as Siegel writes, that failure ensures “there will be more Fergusons.”

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WaPo’s Insanely Racist Attack on Tim Scott

If you’re an up-and-coming politician looking to raise your name recognition, a profile in a national newspaper like the Washington Post is a great way to do so. There are two primary categories of exceptions, however: if you are either a Republican candidate for president or present a threat to the left’s carefully constructed fictions about party identification and identity politics, your profile in the Post is likely to be an excessively dishonest hit job.

It is the latter category into which South Carolina Senator Tim Scott falls. Scott is one of only two black U.S. senators, and the only such Republican. (He was joined in the Senate by the Democrat Cory Booker last year.) As such, the left believes he must be destroyed, and the Post puts in quite an effort in the sadly predictable attempt by the left to delegitimize Scott as a black man. The piece begins cheerily enough, with Scott meeting constituents and doing charity work “undercover”–without telling people he’s their senator. In fact, for a while the article seems downright positive, except for this extraordinarily racist paragraph:

This year, he is poised to be the first black politician to win statewide election in South Carolina since Reconstruction. He’s young (for the Senate), affable and able to blend in where his colleagues would stand out — just try to imagine Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talking about understanding the misguided allure of drug dealing, or being asked whether he had been assigned mandatory community service.

Get it? Because he’s black, the Post believes he can be easily mistaken for a drug dealer or an ex-con. It’s a mystery as to how such a paragraph could possibly make it to the printer unless it reflected the noxious racial beliefs of every Post editor and proofreader along the way. Unfortunately, however, it’s a sign of things to come.

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If you’re an up-and-coming politician looking to raise your name recognition, a profile in a national newspaper like the Washington Post is a great way to do so. There are two primary categories of exceptions, however: if you are either a Republican candidate for president or present a threat to the left’s carefully constructed fictions about party identification and identity politics, your profile in the Post is likely to be an excessively dishonest hit job.

It is the latter category into which South Carolina Senator Tim Scott falls. Scott is one of only two black U.S. senators, and the only such Republican. (He was joined in the Senate by the Democrat Cory Booker last year.) As such, the left believes he must be destroyed, and the Post puts in quite an effort in the sadly predictable attempt by the left to delegitimize Scott as a black man. The piece begins cheerily enough, with Scott meeting constituents and doing charity work “undercover”–without telling people he’s their senator. In fact, for a while the article seems downright positive, except for this extraordinarily racist paragraph:

This year, he is poised to be the first black politician to win statewide election in South Carolina since Reconstruction. He’s young (for the Senate), affable and able to blend in where his colleagues would stand out — just try to imagine Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talking about understanding the misguided allure of drug dealing, or being asked whether he had been assigned mandatory community service.

Get it? Because he’s black, the Post believes he can be easily mistaken for a drug dealer or an ex-con. It’s a mystery as to how such a paragraph could possibly make it to the printer unless it reflected the noxious racial beliefs of every Post editor and proofreader along the way. Unfortunately, however, it’s a sign of things to come.

The story begins to really go off the rails when Scott tries to explain why he’s taking this approach to meeting constituents: “This is about becoming credible.” The Post calls this an “odd assertion,” and seeks to make sense of it:

Scott is a steadfast conservative, not looking to alter his opinions so much as convince others that his party has something to offer. While a cynic might call this the move of a con artist, Scott prefers the term “salesman.”

It is at this point that the reader begins to wonder if the reporter responsible for this story and his editors have completely lost their minds. And then it all comes into focus. After goading Scott into criticizing his fellow black conservatives, the Post starts asking others what they think of Scott. Here’s the pro-Scott voice:

Just a few miles away from the Goodwill, there’s the Greenville Museum and Library of Confederate History, a place where the director, Mike Couch, will tell you that slavery was in fact not racist.

“It was a matter of economics, most likely,” Couch says. He walks over to a wall covered with pictures of black Confederate soldiers. “We judge people by character, not skin color.”

Couch, who is white, is a fan of Scott’s.

So speaking for Scott we have a neoconfederate white man who defends slavery. And who do we have on the other side criticizing Scott to, you know, provide balance? See if you can guess where this is going:

“If you call progress electing a person with the pigmentation that he has, who votes against the interest and aspirations of 95 percent of the black people in South Carolina, then I guess that’s progress,” says Rep. James E. Clyburn, a black congressman who serves in the state’s Democratic leadership.

Scott got an F on the NAACP annual scorecard. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he voted to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress, opposed the Congressional Black Caucus’s budget proposal and voted to delay funding a settlement between the United States and black farmers who alleged that the federal government refused them loans because of their race.

Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s Washington bureau director, says it’s great that Scott is reaching out to the community with messages of self-determination and religion, but that it’s not enough.

“He’s not running for preacher,” Shelton says. “We can tell when people are coming to sell snake oil.”

This isn’t to say that Scott can’t find common ground with the other side. He recently teamed up with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), the only other black U.S. senator, on a bill to help create thousands of paid apprenticeships.

“Would I vote for him in South Carolina? No,” Booker says. “But do I think he is sincere of heart on many issues? Absolutely.”

That’s the Post’s evenhanded approach: supporters of Scott are neoconfederates, and opponents are black politicians in both the House and Senate and black community leaders. Which side are you on?

The Post’s attack on Scott is really nothing new, though the overt prejudice of the piece is a bit brazen. It’s part of the left’s standard line that non-liberal black politicians are the wrong kind of African Americans, and their racial identity must then be denied or delegitimized while equating true racial identity with the political platform of the American Democratic Party, thus erasing black Americans’ history and experience because it is inconvenient to liberals’ quest for political power.

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Which Is More Dangerous: a Racist NBA Owner or a Bigoted Member of Congress?

As we noted earlier this week the controversy over the racist comments of Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling demonstrated conclusively just how much American culture had changed in the 50 years since the civil-rights movement put an end to Jim Crow laws. Expressing hostility to African-Americans in that manner was enough not only to cause Sterling to be banned from the National Basketball Association but to make him perhaps the most reviled person in the country. Though the unanimity with which every sector of the country denounced Sterling proved how marginal such prejudice had become, many on the left–and especially among those who seek to keep organizations dedicated to pretending that America is still a racist nation alive–preferred to see it as evidence of the endemic hate that still lingers in the hearts of Americans. But it turns out that the proof that they weren’t entirely wrong came from an unlikely source: a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi unwittingly provided evidence that race-based hate is alive and well when, in an interview with a Nation of Islam radio program, he not only claimed that all opposition to President Obama was rooted in racism and that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is an example of this but that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is “an Uncle Tom.” Thompson isn’t backing down and, in an interview with CNN, even suggested that he could say such things because he’s black. Given the lack of outrage about this, especially from liberals who take it as an article of faith that political incivility is strictly a conservative problem, he may be right. But the outburst in an interview with a program sponsored by a hate group does raise an interesting question: Which is more dangerous? A racist NBA owner or a bigoted member of Congress?

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As we noted earlier this week the controversy over the racist comments of Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling demonstrated conclusively just how much American culture had changed in the 50 years since the civil-rights movement put an end to Jim Crow laws. Expressing hostility to African-Americans in that manner was enough not only to cause Sterling to be banned from the National Basketball Association but to make him perhaps the most reviled person in the country. Though the unanimity with which every sector of the country denounced Sterling proved how marginal such prejudice had become, many on the left–and especially among those who seek to keep organizations dedicated to pretending that America is still a racist nation alive–preferred to see it as evidence of the endemic hate that still lingers in the hearts of Americans. But it turns out that the proof that they weren’t entirely wrong came from an unlikely source: a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi unwittingly provided evidence that race-based hate is alive and well when, in an interview with a Nation of Islam radio program, he not only claimed that all opposition to President Obama was rooted in racism and that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is an example of this but that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is “an Uncle Tom.” Thompson isn’t backing down and, in an interview with CNN, even suggested that he could say such things because he’s black. Given the lack of outrage about this, especially from liberals who take it as an article of faith that political incivility is strictly a conservative problem, he may be right. But the outburst in an interview with a program sponsored by a hate group does raise an interesting question: Which is more dangerous? A racist NBA owner or a bigoted member of Congress?

Thompson’s defenders, if there are any willing to publicly engage on this subject, will no doubt claim that his exemption from the racist charge is not only due to his being black but because what he was doing was complaining about racism. But this is an argument that doesn’t hold water.

There is nothing that is more pernicious to democracy than efforts that seek to divide the country on racial lines. That’s exactly what he was doing, not only by lending his presence to extremists like the Nation of Islam but by claiming that criticism of President Obama’s policies is inherently based in prejudice against his race. Seeking to smear all Republicans and Obama critics as racist is not only false but clearly an effort to set up a permanent political war between blacks and whites. Moreover, his attack on Thomas, which was based on the fact that the Supreme Court Justice is black and not just on the content of his decisions, is just as unreasonable. It goes beyond incivility and crosses into the realm of racial epithet. Thompson’s rant can’t be defended as the complaint of a racial minority when it is, for all intents and purposes, as a manifesto of intolerance, racial division, and hate.

The facts of political life are such that minorities can get away with making statements that would end the careers of whites. Given the inherent advantages that accrue to being part of the majority perhaps this is an understandable tradeoff. Yet it’s worth asking even as we all join in the national disgust-fest about Sterling whether it is far more dangerous for the country to have a person like Thompson spouting hate speech in Congress than for the owner of the Clippers to be a bigot. Sterling’s statements were outrageous and rightly earned him a permanent exile from his team and decent society. But so long as people like Thompson are crowding the public square, it appears the greater threat to both civility and the growing sense of racial harmony in American society are bigots like the Mississippi congressman.

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Sterling Blowback Proves Sotomayor Wrong

If there is a more unpopular man in America, or anywhere else, today than Donald Sterling, I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes. The opprobrium that has rained down on the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers in the wake of the publicizing of his racist rant has transcended the world of sports or even that of politics. In the space of a week Sterling has become a living, breathing symbol of hate. No one is lining up to rationalize, let alone defend, his disgusting comments about African-Americans. The universal disdain for Sterling is the reason why the National Basketball Association is not only punishing him with a fine and suspension but seeks to force him to give up a franchise that is estimated to be worth more than half a billion dollars.

And yet much of the commentary about Sterling as well as the less earthshaking dustup about the racial comments made by tax scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy last week is focused on trying to sell us on just how bad things are. Many liberal voices are being raised today amid the Sterling furor to claim that not only is Sterling-like racism endemic but that his hate was of a piece with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. Such sentiments were heard today not only in the leftist echo chamber that is MSNBC but in the New Yorker, where legal writer Jeffrey Toobin claimed that Sterling proved that Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action was correct. Sotomayor asserted that racism in the U.S. was real and pervasive and justified, seemingly indefinitely, a regime of racial preferences in school admissions. Such a response is not only transparently cynical in terms of its attempt to exploit a controversy to further the liberal political agenda; it misreads what this episode tells us about the United States in 2014.

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If there is a more unpopular man in America, or anywhere else, today than Donald Sterling, I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes. The opprobrium that has rained down on the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers in the wake of the publicizing of his racist rant has transcended the world of sports or even that of politics. In the space of a week Sterling has become a living, breathing symbol of hate. No one is lining up to rationalize, let alone defend, his disgusting comments about African-Americans. The universal disdain for Sterling is the reason why the National Basketball Association is not only punishing him with a fine and suspension but seeks to force him to give up a franchise that is estimated to be worth more than half a billion dollars.

And yet much of the commentary about Sterling as well as the less earthshaking dustup about the racial comments made by tax scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy last week is focused on trying to sell us on just how bad things are. Many liberal voices are being raised today amid the Sterling furor to claim that not only is Sterling-like racism endemic but that his hate was of a piece with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. Such sentiments were heard today not only in the leftist echo chamber that is MSNBC but in the New Yorker, where legal writer Jeffrey Toobin claimed that Sterling proved that Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action was correct. Sotomayor asserted that racism in the U.S. was real and pervasive and justified, seemingly indefinitely, a regime of racial preferences in school admissions. Such a response is not only transparently cynical in terms of its attempt to exploit a controversy to further the liberal political agenda; it misreads what this episode tells us about the United States in 2014.

Toobin takes Chief Justice John Roberts to task for a now oft-quoted statement in which he rightly asserted, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” In his view, more racial discrimination in the form of affirmative action quotas is necessary because people like Sterling and Bundy still exist. That two such figures would utter prejudicial statements is therefore enough to render Sotomayor’s vision of an America torn by racial strife and thus in need of permanent measures to correct the injustices of the Jim Crow era.

But surely even Toobin has noticed that far from being universally held or backed up by the institutions of society or government, recent events have proved just how right Roberts was. Sterling and Bundy have showed that anyone who dares to speak in this manner is not only scolded but also effectively shunned in a manner more reminiscent of closed religious societies dealing with public sinners than someone expressing an outlier view in a 24/7 news cycle.

While we can all join in the condemnation of Sterling, Americans ought to be celebrating the fact that the expression of open racism in this manner isn’t merely controversial but is enough to render a wealthy and powerful man beyond the pale of decent society. Far from a commentary about how far we have yet to go to achieve equality, the Sterling brouhaha demonstrates just the opposite. That America has become a place where it is not possible to disdain associating with the likes of Magic Johnson and keep your frontcourt seats at NBA games shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. After all, this is a country that elected and then reelected a black man to the White House. If there is anything to learn from this story it is that the America that tolerated institutionalized racism only a half-century ago has become an entirely different and much better country.

The real lesson here is that while Sterling and Bundy may have thought lots of people agreed with them, the reaction to their statements has illustrated just how isolated racists are on the American public square. Though the 50 years of progress since the death of Jim Crow and even the election of Barack Obama does not mean we are a perfect, color-blind society, it does demonstrate that ours is a country in which racism has become the worst possible offense to public sensibilities. The racial quotas Sotomayor and Toobin advocate are not only as unnecessary as they are counter-productive; they are also rooted in a clearly outdated evaluation of American society. A place where Donald Sterling is the most hated man is not compatible with Sotomayor’s vision of a land where racial discrimination is rampant. As much as we may lament Sterling and Bundy as vestiges of a bygone era of hate, we should be grateful that they are treated with such general disdain and draw the appropriate conclusions.

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Bundy’s Teachable Moment for the Right

You may have noticed that among the many and varied topics touched upon by COMMENTARY writers in recent weeks, none of us chose to weigh in on the Bundy Ranch controversy that attracted so much notice on cable news, talk radio, and the blogosphere. The reason was that none of us considered the standoff between a Nevada tax scofflaw and the federal government over grazing rights fees to rise to the level of an issue of national interest. The government may own too much land in the West and may have acted in a heavy-handed manner in this case but anyone with sense realized that stiffing the feds is likely to end badly for those who play that game, something that even a bomb-thrower like Glenn Beck appeared to be able to understand. Moreover, there was something slightly absurd about the same people who froth at the mouth when “amnesty” for illegal immigrants is mentioned demanding that Cliven Bundy be let off the hook for what he owed Uncle Sam.

Unfortunately some other conservatives liked the imagery of a rancher and his supporters opposing the arrogant power of the federal government and Bundy became, albeit briefly, the flavor of the month in some libertarian circles. So when he was caught uttering some utterly repulsive racist sentiments by the New York Times earlier this week some of the same pundits that had embraced him were sent running for cover. As they have fled, they have found themselves being pursued by jubilant liberals who have attempted to use Bundy’s lunatic rants to brand all of conservatives and Tea Partiers as racists. This was a popular theme today taken up by left-wingers at the New York Times, Salon, and New York magazine who all claimed that Bundy exposed the dark underside of libertarianism in general and conservative media in particular. While Jonathan Chait may consider to be an Onion-like coincidence that libertarian sympathizers are all crackpot racists, that is about as cogent an observation as an attempt to argue that most liberals are unwashed socialist/anti-Semitic lawbreakers just because many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters they embraced fell into those categories.

But there is another moral to this story that should give some on the right pause. In their enthusiasm to embrace anyone who sings from the same “agin the government” hymnal, some libertarians have proved themselves willing to lionize people that were liable to besmirch the causes they cherish. As our Pete Wehner pointed out recently, that some figures identified with conservatism have embraced sympathizers with the Confederacy as well as open racists and anti-Semites is a matter of record.

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You may have noticed that among the many and varied topics touched upon by COMMENTARY writers in recent weeks, none of us chose to weigh in on the Bundy Ranch controversy that attracted so much notice on cable news, talk radio, and the blogosphere. The reason was that none of us considered the standoff between a Nevada tax scofflaw and the federal government over grazing rights fees to rise to the level of an issue of national interest. The government may own too much land in the West and may have acted in a heavy-handed manner in this case but anyone with sense realized that stiffing the feds is likely to end badly for those who play that game, something that even a bomb-thrower like Glenn Beck appeared to be able to understand. Moreover, there was something slightly absurd about the same people who froth at the mouth when “amnesty” for illegal immigrants is mentioned demanding that Cliven Bundy be let off the hook for what he owed Uncle Sam.

Unfortunately some other conservatives liked the imagery of a rancher and his supporters opposing the arrogant power of the federal government and Bundy became, albeit briefly, the flavor of the month in some libertarian circles. So when he was caught uttering some utterly repulsive racist sentiments by the New York Times earlier this week some of the same pundits that had embraced him were sent running for cover. As they have fled, they have found themselves being pursued by jubilant liberals who have attempted to use Bundy’s lunatic rants to brand all of conservatives and Tea Partiers as racists. This was a popular theme today taken up by left-wingers at the New York Times, Salon, and New York magazine who all claimed that Bundy exposed the dark underside of libertarianism in general and conservative media in particular. While Jonathan Chait may consider to be an Onion-like coincidence that libertarian sympathizers are all crackpot racists, that is about as cogent an observation as an attempt to argue that most liberals are unwashed socialist/anti-Semitic lawbreakers just because many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters they embraced fell into those categories.

But there is another moral to this story that should give some on the right pause. In their enthusiasm to embrace anyone who sings from the same “agin the government” hymnal, some libertarians have proved themselves willing to lionize people that were liable to besmirch the causes they cherish. As our Pete Wehner pointed out recently, that some figures identified with conservatism have embraced sympathizers with the Confederacy as well as open racists and anti-Semites is a matter of record.

That the liberal attempt to tar all Tea Partiers as racists is unfair is beside the point. It is one thing to believe in small government, federalism, and to fear the willingness of liberals to undermine the rule of law. It is quite another to treat the government as not just a problem but as the enemy. The U.S. government is not the enemy. When run by responsible patriots it is, as it was designed to be, the best defense of our liberty, not its foe. As Charles Krauthammer ably stated on Fox News earlier this week:

First of all, it isn’t enough to say I don’t agree with what he [Bundy] said. This is a despicable statement. It’s not the statement, you have to disassociate yourself entirely from the man. It’s not like the words exist here and the man exists here. And why conservatives, some conservatives, end up in bed with people who, you know, — he makes an anti-government statement, he takes an anti-government stand, he wears a nice big hat and he rides a horse and all of the sudden he is a champion of democracy. This is a man who said that he doesn’t recognize the authority of the United States of America. That makes him a patriot?

I love this country and I love the constitution and it’s the constitution that established a government that all of us have to recognize. And for him to reject it was the beginning of all of this. And now what he said today is just the end of this. And I think it is truly appalling that as Chuck [Lane] says, there are times when somehow simply because somebody takes an opposition, he becomes a conservative hero. You’ve you got to wait, you’ve got to watch, you have got to think about. And look, do I have the right to go graze sheep in Central Park? I think not. You have to have some respect for the federal government, some respect for our system, and to say you don’t and you don’t recognize it and that makes you a conservative hero, to me, is completely contradictory and rather appalling. And he has now proved it.

The Bundy ranch standoff is a teachable moment for libertarians and conservatives. We don’t need to waste much time debunking the claim that a belief in limited government and calls for an end to the orgy of taxing and spending in Washington are racist. These are risible, lame arguments that fail on their own. But like liberals who need to draw a distinction between their positions and those of the anti-American, anti-capitalist far left, those on the right do need to draw equally bright lines between themselves and the likes of Cliven Bundy. If they don’t, spectacles such as the one we witnessed this week are inevitable. 

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Ryan and Liberal Welfare-State Amnesia

At first it seemed like just a minor kerfuffle, the sort of thing that happens to every politician and soon fades away. Paul Ryan says something on a talk show. Liberals howl. Conservatives defend. And a couple of days later nobody even remembers what it was about. But now I’m convinced it’s about something bigger than the normal inside-baseball political fights. What’s at stake is an attempt to reinstate the old shibboleths that were the foundation of the liberal welfare state that was buried when President Bill Clinton said the era of big government was over and then signed a historic welfare reform act into law.

I’m referring, of course, to the dustup that ensued after the chair of the House Budget Committee said the following on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

That provoked the left to blast him as a racist using “dog whistle” politics in which “inner cities” means black. But as I pointed out on Friday, the faux outrage being ginned up against Ryan flew in the face of just about everything we had learned about the role that family breakdowns and cultural problems have played in creating and perpetuating poverty. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a recognition that one of the unintended consequences of the creation of the welfare state was the way it had produced a near-permanent underclass in our cities that no amount of government largesse seemed capable of ameliorating. As I noted last week, the backlash against Ryan seemed rooted in forgetting everything Daniel Patrick Moynihan taught us about the subject.

But rather than tailing off after a day as I anticipated, the assault on Ryan seems to be growing. In the last three days, we’ve seen a new round of attacks from even more prominent sources such as this hit piece from Politico Magazine and a 700-word-long rant from (as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to call him) “former Enron advisor” Paul Krugman in the New York Times. Yet rather than this being a case of the left simply seeking to damage a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, what is going on is something much bigger. The discussion about “income inequality” was intended to change the subject from ObamaCare and to breathe some life into the lame-duck Obama presidency but it is now morphing into something far more ambitious: erasing the last half-century of debate about the problems of the welfare state.

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At first it seemed like just a minor kerfuffle, the sort of thing that happens to every politician and soon fades away. Paul Ryan says something on a talk show. Liberals howl. Conservatives defend. And a couple of days later nobody even remembers what it was about. But now I’m convinced it’s about something bigger than the normal inside-baseball political fights. What’s at stake is an attempt to reinstate the old shibboleths that were the foundation of the liberal welfare state that was buried when President Bill Clinton said the era of big government was over and then signed a historic welfare reform act into law.

I’m referring, of course, to the dustup that ensued after the chair of the House Budget Committee said the following on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

That provoked the left to blast him as a racist using “dog whistle” politics in which “inner cities” means black. But as I pointed out on Friday, the faux outrage being ginned up against Ryan flew in the face of just about everything we had learned about the role that family breakdowns and cultural problems have played in creating and perpetuating poverty. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a recognition that one of the unintended consequences of the creation of the welfare state was the way it had produced a near-permanent underclass in our cities that no amount of government largesse seemed capable of ameliorating. As I noted last week, the backlash against Ryan seemed rooted in forgetting everything Daniel Patrick Moynihan taught us about the subject.

But rather than tailing off after a day as I anticipated, the assault on Ryan seems to be growing. In the last three days, we’ve seen a new round of attacks from even more prominent sources such as this hit piece from Politico Magazine and a 700-word-long rant from (as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to call him) “former Enron advisor” Paul Krugman in the New York Times. Yet rather than this being a case of the left simply seeking to damage a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, what is going on is something much bigger. The discussion about “income inequality” was intended to change the subject from ObamaCare and to breathe some life into the lame-duck Obama presidency but it is now morphing into something far more ambitious: erasing the last half-century of debate about the problems of the welfare state.

Ryan’s problem is not just that he tripped over the way some on the left have tried to turn the use of the phrase “inner cities” into a code word for racist incitement. The newly energized left wing of the Democratic Party wants something far bigger than to delegitimize the intellectual leader of the Republican congressional caucus. What they want is to take us back to those heady days of the 1960s before Moynihan’s report on the black family started to strip away the veneer of good intentions that defended government policies that hurt the poor far more than it helped them.

The point is, absent the buzz words about inner cities, you’d have to have spent the last 50 years trapped in some kind of time warp in order to think there was anything even vaguely controversial about the notion that cultural problems play a huge role in creating poverty. To his credit, Andrew Sullivan concedes as much when he defended Ryan from attacks by fellow liberals. Sullivan gets bogged down in a defense of Charles Murray’s seminal book Losing Ground and the question of various ethnic groups’ IQ numbers.

But the argument here is far more basic than such esoteric intellectual debates. The talk about income inequality isn’t only an attempt to associate Republicans with their traditional allies in big business and reposition Democrat elites as the friend of the working class. The goal of resurgent liberalism is also to reboot discussions about poverty in such a way as to ignore decades of research and debate about the ways in which dependency on the government breeds unemployment and multi-generational families mired in poverty.

That’s why the need for pushback on the slurs aimed at Ryan is so important. For decades, fear of telling the truth about the social pathologies bred by big government was assumed to be a permanent obstacle that would prevent change. The racism canard constituted the third rail of American politics that even reform-minded Republicans feared to touch. But by the ’90s, even many liberals understood the system was unsustainable. The passage of welfare reform was an acknowledgement on the part of Democrats that New Deal and Great Society liberalism had flaws that could no longer be ignored. But the shift left under Obama has given some liberals the belief that they can recreate the politics of the past and undo everything Moynihan and Clinton had done to change the national conversation about welfare and poverty. Instead of taking into account the way government policies create havoc for society and the poor, we may go back to the old liberal shibboleths that assume that throwing more money at a problem is the only solution and that the state can do no wrong.

What is at stake here is something far bigger than Paul Ryan’s political prospects. The future of generations of poor Americans trapped by government dependency hangs in the balance if the amnesia about the welfare state that is the foundation of the attacks on Ryan spread. Fair-minded Democrats who remember the cost to the country and to the poor, including so many minority families from an unrestrained welfare state, need to join with conservatives and restore some sanity as well as historical memory to this debate.

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In Trashing Ryan, Liberals Forget Moynihan

In 1965, future U.S. senator and then assistant secretary of labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a seminal report that began the process of changing the way America approached the issue of inner city poverty. The report, “The Negro Family: The Case for Action” raised a storm of controversy because it noted the impact of the breakdown of the nuclear family and the destructive nature of the culture of urban ghettos in which work was devalued. Rather than economics determining the social conditions, the report pointed out that the opposite was true.

Though he traced the roots of this depressing pattern back to slavery and Jim Crow discrimination, Moynihan was blasted as a racist and for denigrating blacks. But for those who truly cared about helping the poor and doing something about the way the welfare state had created a permanent urban underclass, the report was prophetic and helped pave the way for future efforts to reform welfare.

But for those who still make a living from race baiting and diverting the attention of the country from the facts about what produces multi-generational poverty, the truth of Moynihan’s conclusions are still blasphemy. Such persons lie in wait not only to derail efforts to address the problems of the black family and urban poverty but to tar all those who speak about the issue as racists in the same way that Moynihan was attacked nearly 50 years ago. And it is into just such a trap that Rep. Paul Ryan walked earlier this week when Rep. Barbara Lee blasted him.

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In 1965, future U.S. senator and then assistant secretary of labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a seminal report that began the process of changing the way America approached the issue of inner city poverty. The report, “The Negro Family: The Case for Action” raised a storm of controversy because it noted the impact of the breakdown of the nuclear family and the destructive nature of the culture of urban ghettos in which work was devalued. Rather than economics determining the social conditions, the report pointed out that the opposite was true.

Though he traced the roots of this depressing pattern back to slavery and Jim Crow discrimination, Moynihan was blasted as a racist and for denigrating blacks. But for those who truly cared about helping the poor and doing something about the way the welfare state had created a permanent urban underclass, the report was prophetic and helped pave the way for future efforts to reform welfare.

But for those who still make a living from race baiting and diverting the attention of the country from the facts about what produces multi-generational poverty, the truth of Moynihan’s conclusions are still blasphemy. Such persons lie in wait not only to derail efforts to address the problems of the black family and urban poverty but to tar all those who speak about the issue as racists in the same way that Moynihan was attacked nearly 50 years ago. And it is into just such a trap that Rep. Paul Ryan walked earlier this week when Rep. Barbara Lee blasted him.

Ryan was forced to backtrack yesterday from remarks he made on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show in which he spoke of the problems of poverty, family, and work in blighted neighborhoods. As Politico reports, Ryan said the following:

“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” he said, urging everyone to get involved in blighted communities even if they live in the suburbs.

Lee responded with this statement:

My colleague Congressman Ryan’s comments about ‘inner city’ poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated. Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black,’” Lee said.

Ryan denied he was attacking blacks but said that perhaps he had not fully articulated what he was trying to say.

What is most unfortunate about this is not just the way our political culture rewards hypocrites like Lee for crying racism where none exists or that Ryan felt that he had to apologize for saying something that is not only factual but painfully obvious. Rather, the real problem here is that all these years after Moynihan first took the heat for breaking the silence about what causes the cycle of poverty, speaking the truth about the subject is still controversial.

For people like Lee and a host of other racial inciters and their liberal media enablers like Ana Marie Cox, the imperative to address the breakdown of the culture of work and family in poverty-stricken areas is still trumped by their need to use the racist label as a political weapon.

What makes this even more pathetic is that the patterns that Moynihan first wrote about in 1965 now apply to other groups afflicted by poverty. The epidemic of fatherless homes and single mothers on welfare has long since ceased being primarily a black problem but become one that impacts whites and other groups just as harshly. To claim that talking about this vicious cycle of poverty and government dependency is a matter of code words about race is not only a canard but also outdated.

This sorry chapter teaches us that as much as we may think we have transcended the past, the race baiters are bound and determined to see to it that the country doesn’t learn the lessons from decades of failed liberal policies. Race has nothing to this. What this country needs are more people in public life like Ryan who are knowledgeable enough to speak about this basic problem and fewer who thrive on avoiding honest discussions about poverty.

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Race Shouldn’t Define American Politics

The magic bullet of American politics is no secret. When in doubt or when they are backed into a corner—as they are now with ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout compounded, by the exposure of the president’s lies about Americans being able to keep their health coverage—liberals know their best strategy is to change the topic and to start discussing racism. That’s the rather flimsy conceit of an opinion piece published in today’s New York Times as a news story under the rubric of a “Political Memo.” You don’t have to read between the lines to catch on to its not terribly subtle message. All you have to do is to read the headline: “Behind the Roar of Political Debates, Whispers of Race Persist.” According to the Times the proof of this is the fact that the largely liberal-leaning and pro-Obama African-American community backs the president’s signature health-care plan while whites don’t. Were author John Harwood interested in serious analysis of opinion about the issue, he would have noted that the percentage of blacks backing the bill—59 percent—was far lower than the percentage of that community that votes for Democrats, showing just how shaky backing for ObamaCare really is. But instead it was the lead-in for a lengthy dissertation about how Republicans are injecting race and racism into American politics.

The utter absence of racial incitement in American politics has forced the left to invent new forms of alleged racism, such as voter ID laws that are even supported by the majority of African Americans. Nor is the Democrats’ firm hold on the votes of minorities such as blacks and Hispanics terribly surprising, since groups comprising of those more likely to have lower incomes or to be immigrants will always skew to the left. Hyping this split, as the Times does, as being the result of Republican racism is disingenuous. This is a classic example of liberal media bias that seeks to interpret the strong support for limited government or opposition to the president as motivated by hate. But before conservatives completely dismiss it, they need to think long and hard about how they will approach the impending debate about immigration reform.

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The magic bullet of American politics is no secret. When in doubt or when they are backed into a corner—as they are now with ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout compounded, by the exposure of the president’s lies about Americans being able to keep their health coverage—liberals know their best strategy is to change the topic and to start discussing racism. That’s the rather flimsy conceit of an opinion piece published in today’s New York Times as a news story under the rubric of a “Political Memo.” You don’t have to read between the lines to catch on to its not terribly subtle message. All you have to do is to read the headline: “Behind the Roar of Political Debates, Whispers of Race Persist.” According to the Times the proof of this is the fact that the largely liberal-leaning and pro-Obama African-American community backs the president’s signature health-care plan while whites don’t. Were author John Harwood interested in serious analysis of opinion about the issue, he would have noted that the percentage of blacks backing the bill—59 percent—was far lower than the percentage of that community that votes for Democrats, showing just how shaky backing for ObamaCare really is. But instead it was the lead-in for a lengthy dissertation about how Republicans are injecting race and racism into American politics.

The utter absence of racial incitement in American politics has forced the left to invent new forms of alleged racism, such as voter ID laws that are even supported by the majority of African Americans. Nor is the Democrats’ firm hold on the votes of minorities such as blacks and Hispanics terribly surprising, since groups comprising of those more likely to have lower incomes or to be immigrants will always skew to the left. Hyping this split, as the Times does, as being the result of Republican racism is disingenuous. This is a classic example of liberal media bias that seeks to interpret the strong support for limited government or opposition to the president as motivated by hate. But before conservatives completely dismiss it, they need to think long and hard about how they will approach the impending debate about immigration reform.

While immigration is likely to remain on the back burner with the focus on the need for a budget deal and the ObamaCare rollout, the administration as well as key business groups will be pushing hard for it in the upcoming months. Many conservatives oppose reform because they think providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is wrong or because they don’t trust the government to enforce current laws or to, as the bipartisan compromise bill passed earlier this year by the Senate promises, secure the border. But if, as some prominent voices on the right seem inclined to believe, the rationale for opposing reform is that more Hispanic immigrant voters will hurt the Republican Party, then they will have effectively validated the premise of the Times hit piece on the GOP.

Back in June, writing in agreement with something I wrote on the subject, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg stated, “Republicans cannot allow themselves to fall into the argument that they don’t want to legalize illegal immigrants solely because they’re afraid they’ll become Democrats.” But unfortunately that’s exactly what some are still doing. Over the past year, a steady undercurrent of conservative voices have been claiming that the main consequence of passing immigration reform will be to doom the GOP because it will result in the creation of more Hispanic voters. Just this week, pundit Ann Coulter said it on William Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio program without being challenged by the show’s host even though he remains one of the most honorable and sensible conservatives in the country.

Those like Goldberg who argue that Republicans shouldn’t try and justify immigration reform by saying it will lead to Hispanics voting for the GOP are right. They are not one-issue voters, and the economic status of many of them means they will remain in the pockets of big-government tax-and-spend Democrats.

But the moment conservatives start talking about a political imperative to limit the number of Hispanics becoming citizens they render themselves vulnerable to accusations of prejudice such as the ones being floated by the Times. As with the entire issue of immigration, we’ve been here before as a nation. In the late 19th century, Republicans felt that immigrants from Ireland and Italy were natural supporters of urban Democrat machines. Had they taken the long view, they would have realized that eventually the descendants of those new citizens would be just as open to the GOP message as WASPs. But instead, they did their best to alienate them; with Republican presidential candidate James G. Blaine (whose anti-Catholic bigotry was the impetus for the passage of state constitutional amendments banning the funding of religious schools that today thwart school choice) denouncing the Democrats in 1884 as the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” It would be decades before his party lived that down and began making inroads with these voters.

Immigration reform must be debated on its merits. Like Senator Marco Rubio, I believe “amnesty” is what we have now with unenforceable laws, not the prospect that law-abiding people who have been here for many years and are willing to pay a penalty will be given a chance to come in out of the shadows and become citizens. Others will argue that doing so undermines the rule of law. I think that’s wrong, but it is at least an argument rooted in principle. But the moment conservatives start talking about their fear of Hispanic votes, they really are dooming the Republicans to a bleak future and undermining their standing with the rest of the country as well.

Race and ethnicity should never be allowed to define American politics. That’s true for race baiting liberals like the ones at the Times as well as those on the right who speak of a Hispanic peril. The danger to the GOP in this debate is not so much the prospect of a split between those who disagree about the issue but the possibility of many conservatives sending a message to Hispanics that they are not welcome. That is a mistake for which their party could pay dearly.

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Playing the Racism Card in the Shutdown

 The government shutdown has brought out the worst in our political class but the same is true of pundits. It’s bad enough when politicians call each other terrorists and hostage takers or, as Barbara Boxer did yesterday, to compare them to those who commit domestic abuse. We know that’s what Democrats have always thought of Republicans and it takes very little provocation to get them up on their high horses seeking to turn a political disagreement, however bitter it might be, into one in which the other side is depicted as pure scum rather than merely wrong. But the willingness of liberals to speak as if all those who disagree with Barack Obama are, almost by definition, racists, is about as low as it gets.

The attempt to paint the Tea Party as a warmed over version of the Ku Klux Klan has been a staple of liberal commentary for over three years. The fact that race has played virtually no part in the argument about the stimulus, ObamaCare and the current shutdown/debt ceiling crisis doesn’t deter the left from branding its foes as motivated by prejudice rather than just by different views about which decent people can disagree. That’s the conceit of much of Roger Simon’s column in Politico yesterday. Jonah Goldberg rightly called it “fairly trollish” and used it as an example of how formerly respected reporters turned columnists expose the liberal bias of much of the mainstream press in an excellent post on National Review’s The Corner blog. I made a similar point in a piece about a related topic on Sunday. But Simon’s piece exposes a different angle of the bias issue that I’d like to explore further.

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 The government shutdown has brought out the worst in our political class but the same is true of pundits. It’s bad enough when politicians call each other terrorists and hostage takers or, as Barbara Boxer did yesterday, to compare them to those who commit domestic abuse. We know that’s what Democrats have always thought of Republicans and it takes very little provocation to get them up on their high horses seeking to turn a political disagreement, however bitter it might be, into one in which the other side is depicted as pure scum rather than merely wrong. But the willingness of liberals to speak as if all those who disagree with Barack Obama are, almost by definition, racists, is about as low as it gets.

The attempt to paint the Tea Party as a warmed over version of the Ku Klux Klan has been a staple of liberal commentary for over three years. The fact that race has played virtually no part in the argument about the stimulus, ObamaCare and the current shutdown/debt ceiling crisis doesn’t deter the left from branding its foes as motivated by prejudice rather than just by different views about which decent people can disagree. That’s the conceit of much of Roger Simon’s column in Politico yesterday. Jonah Goldberg rightly called it “fairly trollish” and used it as an example of how formerly respected reporters turned columnists expose the liberal bias of much of the mainstream press in an excellent post on National Review’s The Corner blog. I made a similar point in a piece about a related topic on Sunday. But Simon’s piece exposes a different angle of the bias issue that I’d like to explore further.

The headline of his article was “Government shutdown unleashes racism” and it was accompanied by a photo of Tea Party demonstrator waving a Confederate flag in front of the White House at a demonstration this past weekend. But the headline promised more than Simon could deliver as the only points presented in the piece that backed up the accusation lodged in the headline was the flag and a comment made on radio by “Joe the Plumber,” the conservative pseudo celebrity of the 2008 campaign who said in his blog that America needed a “white Republican president” to replace Barack Obama. Other than these two items, Simon’s piece was just the standard denunciation of the Republican stand on the shutdown and it was that theme rather than racism riff that was its substance.

I happen to agree with Simon, and probably most other Americans, that what the plumber said is racist and has no place in our public discourse, though if liberal pundits weren’t recycling the writings of the artist otherwise known as Samuel Wurzelbacher, I’m not sure that most of us would be aware of them.

I also agree that there is something offensive about waving Confederate flags in just about any context other than a Civil War reenactment. I know that those from the Old South see it as part of their heritage but I think we should be able to evolve as a nation away from the “Gone With The Wind” view of the War Between the States. Which means that the rebel battle flag is, whether inhabitants of the old Confederacy like it or not, a symbol of racism and treason (a term I know I employ at the risk of generating a host of angry comments from those unreconstructed Confederates who think the Civil War was about state’s rights rather than slavery and who believe recycling Jefferson Davis’ views about the right of secession isn’t irrational). While the attempts of many liberals like Chris Matthews to interpret all criticism of President Obama as being motivated by racism is slanderous as well as utterly disingenuous, I will concede to Simon that anyone who waves the stars and bars in front of the Obamas’ current residence is pretty much asking to be labeled a bigot and should get no defense from any responsible conservative.

The bias in discussing this issue doesn’t stem from a desire to condemn people who do such stupid things. Rather it is in the unwillingness to place them in reasonable context.

After all, at the height of the public protests against the Iraq War, the mass demonstrations in major American cities convened by liberal groups included large numbers of people who were more or less the leftist moral equivalent of the flag waver at the White House. You didn’t have to work hard at these events to find considerable numbers of those demonstrators waving signs accusing George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney of being Nazis. Nor was there any shortage of rhetoric from these people demanding the ouster of the government of the republic by any means necessary. Yet that didn’t stop the mainstream liberal media from depicting the demonstrations as being in no way tainted by extremists who were along for the ride or from asserting, probably rightly, that they were a reflection of a large segment of American public opinion.

Just as the vast majority of those who wanted out of Iraq were able to see the difference between Bush/Cheney and Hitler, playing the racism card against the Tea Party is intellectually lazy as well as wrong. Both the left and the right need to do a better job policing those on the margins of mainstream movements. But that is not the same thing as painting an entire ideological segment of the public as a function of the fever swamps. Call Republicans who hatched the shutdown strategy misguided or even stupid if you like, but associating all those who want to restrain government spending and taxing and to repeal Obamacare, with racism is slander, not a rational argument.

That liberal pundits can’t resist the temptation to play off this meme says more about media bias than it does about problems on the right.

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1963 to 2013: Obama Was Judged By the Content of His Character

Today’s anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech will feature an address by President Obama. As such, we should have some sympathy for the president. Being asked to give a speech commemorating one of the most famous speeches in American history is an unenviable task. Like someone going to Gettysburg to honor Lincoln’s address, no matter what you say, you’re bound to come up short in comparison to the original. But no matter how pedestrian our current great orator’s words sound when placed in juxtaposition to King’s words, the president’s presence on the podium will have greater significance than anything he says. There is, after all, no more powerful argument about how different the America of 2013 is from that of 1963 than the fact that the president of the United States today is an African-American.

There is no small irony in this since the president, his supporters and, indeed, most of what is left of what we still call the civil-rights movement have spent the last several months attempting to argue that whatever progress has been made, racism is still endemic in American society. Though the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial was a confusing case involving a Hispanic man claiming self-defense, liberals seeking to recapture the ancient struggle for civil rights inflated it into a rerun of the Emmitt Till murder. Commonsense voter ID laws supported by most African-Americans have been branded by no less a figure than the attorney general of the United States (also now a black man) into a new version of the despicable Jim Crow laws that motivated the 1963 march. But the reality of the Obama presidency gives the lie to these false charges. Though contemporary America is neither perfect nor free of individual racists, Obama is the realization of King’s dream.

If there is one thing that we know about our country today it is that in November 2008 and November 2012, it judged a black man by the content of his character and not the color of his skin.

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Today’s anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech will feature an address by President Obama. As such, we should have some sympathy for the president. Being asked to give a speech commemorating one of the most famous speeches in American history is an unenviable task. Like someone going to Gettysburg to honor Lincoln’s address, no matter what you say, you’re bound to come up short in comparison to the original. But no matter how pedestrian our current great orator’s words sound when placed in juxtaposition to King’s words, the president’s presence on the podium will have greater significance than anything he says. There is, after all, no more powerful argument about how different the America of 2013 is from that of 1963 than the fact that the president of the United States today is an African-American.

There is no small irony in this since the president, his supporters and, indeed, most of what is left of what we still call the civil-rights movement have spent the last several months attempting to argue that whatever progress has been made, racism is still endemic in American society. Though the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial was a confusing case involving a Hispanic man claiming self-defense, liberals seeking to recapture the ancient struggle for civil rights inflated it into a rerun of the Emmitt Till murder. Commonsense voter ID laws supported by most African-Americans have been branded by no less a figure than the attorney general of the United States (also now a black man) into a new version of the despicable Jim Crow laws that motivated the 1963 march. But the reality of the Obama presidency gives the lie to these false charges. Though contemporary America is neither perfect nor free of individual racists, Obama is the realization of King’s dream.

If there is one thing that we know about our country today it is that in November 2008 and November 2012, it judged a black man by the content of his character and not the color of his skin.

We may not have arrived at a completely color-blind utopia yet, but Obama’s election and his reelection demonstrated that Jim Crow is dead once and for all. Whites may have been prepared to tolerate blacks in the 1960s or even to give them equality. But in the last five years they have twice shown that they were willing to vote for one for president.

An intellectually bankrupt left and civil-rights groups that long ago lost their way may cling to the idea that little or nothing has changed. Their struggle should have been transformed into one that sought to address the breakdown of the black family and other social pathologies (fed in no small part by the growth of a well-intentioned welfare state in the wake of the passage of historic civil-rights laws) long ago. But instead they cling to the notion that white racism is the problem. In doing so they have perpetuated division rather than seeking to erase it.

One of the main reasons Obama was elected and then reelected in spite of a first term filled with failure was that his presence in the White House corrected a great historic injustice and made Americans feel good about themselves. This may be frustrating for Obama’s critics, but it is altogether understandable. It should also cause those speaking today at the Lincoln Memorial to ponder just how different America is today from the one where King dreamed such a thing might be possible. Instead of decrying America’s failings today, the president and others who speak should be celebrating just how much we have achieved. Barack Obama is the embodiment of American progress. Let us hope he spends today and the rest of his time in the White House fulfilling his promises to try and bring us together rather than working, as he has done, to keeping old, dead, and hurtful fights alive.

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The Descent From the March to Voter ID

This weekend the nation is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. The event is supposed to coincide with the completion of the memorial on the National Mall to Martin Luther King Jr. But what is left of the once great civil-rights movement has spent the summer preparing for the occasion by attempting to recapture the fervor of those bygone days of struggle by hyping new issues of concern. To listen to the racial hucksters that rail at us from their perches at MSNBC and other outposts of the liberal mainstream media, the difference between the America of 2013 and that of 1963 is merely superficial. They tell us that a country that could allow George Zimmerman to walk free in the killing of Trayvon Martin or that might ask citizens to produce a photo ID when voting is as racist as the racially segregated place that King and others denounced in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial five decades ago.

Demonstrating the utter falsity of this charge doesn’t require much effort. We can merely point to the fact that the America we live in has a black man as its president as well as its attorney general. Though it is not perfect or completely free of a variety of prejudices that still lurk in the hearts of some of us, it is a nation that has for the most part transcended its past. The basic rights demanded at the march have been granted. The south has changed, as has the north. Segregation is outlawed and blacks now freely vote in numbers that sometimes outpace that of whites. So it is a sign both of the enormous progress we have made in the last five decades as well as the bankruptcy of the groups that cling to the label of civil rights that the evidence of American racism is today reduced to arguments about a confusing case involving a Hispanic man claiming the right of self-defense and a voter integrity measure that is actually supported by most African-Americans. While it is fitting that the country should pause this week and remember the march as well as the heroism of those who struggled for civil rights, we do the memory of that effort no honor by confusing the genuine grievances it sought to redress with the trumped-up issues now put forward as evidence of official racism.

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This weekend the nation is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. The event is supposed to coincide with the completion of the memorial on the National Mall to Martin Luther King Jr. But what is left of the once great civil-rights movement has spent the summer preparing for the occasion by attempting to recapture the fervor of those bygone days of struggle by hyping new issues of concern. To listen to the racial hucksters that rail at us from their perches at MSNBC and other outposts of the liberal mainstream media, the difference between the America of 2013 and that of 1963 is merely superficial. They tell us that a country that could allow George Zimmerman to walk free in the killing of Trayvon Martin or that might ask citizens to produce a photo ID when voting is as racist as the racially segregated place that King and others denounced in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial five decades ago.

Demonstrating the utter falsity of this charge doesn’t require much effort. We can merely point to the fact that the America we live in has a black man as its president as well as its attorney general. Though it is not perfect or completely free of a variety of prejudices that still lurk in the hearts of some of us, it is a nation that has for the most part transcended its past. The basic rights demanded at the march have been granted. The south has changed, as has the north. Segregation is outlawed and blacks now freely vote in numbers that sometimes outpace that of whites. So it is a sign both of the enormous progress we have made in the last five decades as well as the bankruptcy of the groups that cling to the label of civil rights that the evidence of American racism is today reduced to arguments about a confusing case involving a Hispanic man claiming the right of self-defense and a voter integrity measure that is actually supported by most African-Americans. While it is fitting that the country should pause this week and remember the march as well as the heroism of those who struggled for civil rights, we do the memory of that effort no honor by confusing the genuine grievances it sought to redress with the trumped-up issues now put forward as evidence of official racism.

It should be specified that the plight of a significant portion of the contemporary African-American community is such that we might well wonder how much progress has been made since King memorably dreamed of an America where his children would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” But the severe challenges of poverty, family breakdown, gangs, and a pervasive culture of violence that is part of the creation of a near-permanent underclass is largely the result of the social pathologies that grew out of the welfare state that arose in the aftermath of the march, not white racism. That these problems were the unintentional result of good intentions gone awry rather than prejudice is ironic but it is one that is largely lost on the race hucksters.

Martin’s death was the result of a confusing and violent struggle between two members of minority groups. It was taken out of context and is now routinely characterized by pop icons like Oprah Winfrey as a modern Emmitt Till case. That Martin’s death is not remotely comparable to Till’s murder was obvious to anyone who watched any of Zimmerman’s televised trial during which not a scintilla of proof was produced about Zimmerman’s racism.

But that is just as true of the attempts by the Department of Justice to treat voter ID laws as a rerun of Jim Crow. The vast majority of African-Americans, like every other segment of American society, thinks there’s nothing wrong with asking people to be able to identify themselves when they vote. Common sense voter integrity measures seem reasonable to people that know that, unlike in 1963, nowadays one needs a photo ID to bank, buy cold medicine, or travel, let alone make any transaction with the government. Only those afflicted by the bigotry of low expectations think blacks are more incapable than other Americans of obtaining a free government ID if they don’t have a driver’s license or a passport.

The myth propagated by the left, and echoed by the Obama administration, that voter ID laws are racist is an attempt to racialize an issue that has nothing to do with prejudice against African-Americans. Whereas once civil rights meant an effort to prevent white racists from stealing elections via laws that literally stopped all members of some groups from voting, now it seems to mean preventing any effort to protect the integrity of the votes of all citizens.

The inappropriate rhetoric employed by Obama, Attorney General Holder and those charlatans like Al Sharpton who purport now to speak in the name of the cause of civil rights have debased the coinage of the rhetoric of freedom that was so nobly advanced by King and others at the march. The descent of the civil rights movement from outrage at genuine discrimination to false flag issues like Martin or voter ID shows have far this nation has come. But it also illustrates the irrelevance of that movement to the genuine problems that are faced today by African-Americans.

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No, College Football Is Not Like the Tuskegee Study

In a remarkable opinion piece, Lewis Margolis, an associate professor of maternal and child health at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Gregory Margolis, a senior research assistant at the Brookings Institute, compare the participation of young people in football to the Tuskegee Study. The comparison is off-base, and the Margolises should stop making it.

The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphillis in the Negro Male,” which began in 1932, is infamous. The U.S. Public Health Service told 399 syphilitic black men that they would get free treatment for “bad blood.” Instead, study participants, for the most part, received no treatment, even after penicillin’s efficacy in treating syphilis was established. The study was halted only in 1972 and only because of a public outcry. While historians defend the original intent of the research, few defend the continuation of the study or think that it would have continued had the subjects not been poor and black. Whatever the complexity of the case, “Tuskegee Study” and “racism” are synonymous in our political lexicon.

So when the Margolises say that the participation of young people in football has “unsettling similarities to the infamous ‘Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male’,” they mean that when young people are allowed to play football, in spite of our concerns about concussions and their long-term effects, that is because of our society’s unexamined racism.

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In a remarkable opinion piece, Lewis Margolis, an associate professor of maternal and child health at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Gregory Margolis, a senior research assistant at the Brookings Institute, compare the participation of young people in football to the Tuskegee Study. The comparison is off-base, and the Margolises should stop making it.

The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphillis in the Negro Male,” which began in 1932, is infamous. The U.S. Public Health Service told 399 syphilitic black men that they would get free treatment for “bad blood.” Instead, study participants, for the most part, received no treatment, even after penicillin’s efficacy in treating syphilis was established. The study was halted only in 1972 and only because of a public outcry. While historians defend the original intent of the research, few defend the continuation of the study or think that it would have continued had the subjects not been poor and black. Whatever the complexity of the case, “Tuskegee Study” and “racism” are synonymous in our political lexicon.

So when the Margolises say that the participation of young people in football has “unsettling similarities to the infamous ‘Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male’,” they mean that when young people are allowed to play football, in spite of our concerns about concussions and their long-term effects, that is because of our society’s unexamined racism.

What evidence do they have to back up this astonishing claim? “African American males composed the largest segment of football players (45.8) percent” in 2009-10. Since African Americans constitute less than 13 percent of the population, “African-American football players face a disproportionate exposure to the risk of concussions and their consequences.” That’s it.

As the Margolises acknowledge, “concussion investigators are not knowingly misleading subjects to participate” in football. Moreover, they point us to the data, which show that whites in 2009-10 composed the second largest segment of football players, at 45.1 percent. College football would be like the Tuskegee Study, if the Tuskegee Study had recruited and left untreated almost as many white participants as black participants. Since every participant in the Tuskegee Study was black, the Margolises’ claim that there are “unsettling similarities” between youth football and the Tuskegee experiment is false. Since the Margolises presumably understand the moral weight of the Tuskegee Study, the claim is also irresponsible.

But it gets worse. The data the Margolises cite is not about football in general. It is about Division I football. In my college’s own Division III, Caucasians are 75.7 percent of the players, African Americans only 16.7 percent. Since whites are only about 63 percent of the population, whites face a disproportionate exposure to the risk of concussions in Division III. Yet the risk of concussion in Division III may be greater than it is in Division I. The Margolises’ story, weak even if limited solely to Division I athletes, completely falls apart when the other divisions are taken into account.

As a parent and long-time physical coward, I am inclined to heed warnings against getting one’s children involved in youth football. Moreover, I think it is worth wondering along with the Margolises whether “African-American communities have the information they need and deserve to consider and consent to this risk for their sons,” though I doubt very many parents, white or black, however well-informed, will keep their children out of the Division I programs that the Margolises are most concerned about. However that may be, inflammatory and insupportable comparisons to the Tuskegee Study do nothing to protect young athletes.

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Obama Speaks on Race After the Verdict

Today, Barack Obama delivered an unexpected 18-minute talk on the verdict in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case. The remarks were heartfelt, and interesting, and worth wrestling with, and troubling. He sought to explain, in a manner I thought measured and eloquent, the reasons why black people have taken this case so personally and have reacted so emotionally to it from the outset and after the verdict—essentially that it all goes back to the unfairness and discomfort of being judged visually as a result of skin color. He said “black folks” understand that a young black male is more likely to be assaulted by one of his peers than by anyone else, but that the violence endemic to the black community has roots in a violent past, and that the reaction to cases like these suggest a level of frustration about the history of unequal treatment and violence.

I think all this is true, and an entirely accurate description of the emotions around the case—which has caused people to throw everything they don’t like into a blender and mix up a racialist stew, from concealed-carry gun laws and “stand your ground” laws to stop-and-frisk policies to (Obama’s personal example) being in an elevator where someone clutches her bag in fear that the future 44th president might steal it.

The president concluded, sensibly given some of the ludicrous things said over the past week, by pointing out how much better things are in America than they were during his youth for his kids: “I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But, you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.”

He also splashed cold water on the notion of a “national conversation” on race, one of the cliches of the past week: “haven’t seen that be particularly productive when, you know, politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.”

But here’s the problem at the core.

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Today, Barack Obama delivered an unexpected 18-minute talk on the verdict in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case. The remarks were heartfelt, and interesting, and worth wrestling with, and troubling. He sought to explain, in a manner I thought measured and eloquent, the reasons why black people have taken this case so personally and have reacted so emotionally to it from the outset and after the verdict—essentially that it all goes back to the unfairness and discomfort of being judged visually as a result of skin color. He said “black folks” understand that a young black male is more likely to be assaulted by one of his peers than by anyone else, but that the violence endemic to the black community has roots in a violent past, and that the reaction to cases like these suggest a level of frustration about the history of unequal treatment and violence.

I think all this is true, and an entirely accurate description of the emotions around the case—which has caused people to throw everything they don’t like into a blender and mix up a racialist stew, from concealed-carry gun laws and “stand your ground” laws to stop-and-frisk policies to (Obama’s personal example) being in an elevator where someone clutches her bag in fear that the future 44th president might steal it.

The president concluded, sensibly given some of the ludicrous things said over the past week, by pointing out how much better things are in America than they were during his youth for his kids: “I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But, you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.”

He also splashed cold water on the notion of a “national conversation” on race, one of the cliches of the past week: “haven’t seen that be particularly productive when, you know, politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.”

But here’s the problem at the core.

The president may acknowledge that kids deal with each other better, but what he does not acknowledge, and what those who have lost their balance when it comes to the Trayvon Martin verdict are not acknowledging, is that this country has spent nearly half a century legislating and making policy and discussing how to ameliorate the American history of racism against black people. It has not been ignored; it has not been avoided; it is one of the two or three consuming subjects of our time. The very fact that a black president made the remarks he made about the Trayvon Martin case after having been elected a second time with a combined total of 135 million votes is a far better measure of the United States and its relation to race than anything else that has happened in this country since 2008.

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