Commentary Magazine


Topic: racism

Back to Full-Time Racial Incitement

One of the remarkable elements of the coverage of the George Zimmerman murder trial is the way things have come full circle in the last month. Prior to the televised legal proceedings, there was only one narrative about the case that came through in most of the mainstream media: George Zimmerman, a racist bully, shot down an innocent black teenager in cold blood who came to symbolize every young member of a minority group. But once the country started to watch the trial as ratings-obsessed cable networks prioritized the case above all other news stories, a different story began to impinge on that simple morality tale of good and evil.

Televised trials sensationalize the judicial system and turn lawyers, judges and other assorted courthouse kibitzers into the legal equivalent of sports talk radio. But the one thing that we must acknowledge about the broadcasting of the proceedings is that it made it clear that this was a complicated case that bore little resemblance to the invective and cant about it that was so common among those who spoke about it in the mainstream press prior to the trial. Thus, when the jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges against him, no one who actually watched much of the trial could have been surprised. Though no one other than Zimmerman knows for sure what happened, the evidence seemed to support his claim of self-defense and established clear reasonable doubt about any of the prosecution’s accusations.

Yet now that the trial is over, much of the media seems to have reverted to its previous pattern of treating Zimmerman’s racism and guilt as givens. In much of the mainstream media today, but especially on MSNBC, the verdict has been treated as a green light not only for recriminations about the verdict but an excuse for an all-out, nonstop stream of racial incitement. Where last week it seemed most Americans were rightly trying to assess the virtues of the two sides’ arguments in a hard-fought case, today many liberals among the chattering classes in the media, pop culture and politics have regressed to stereotypes and mindless assumptions that tell us more about their own prejudices than about the supposedly racist state of American justice.

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One of the remarkable elements of the coverage of the George Zimmerman murder trial is the way things have come full circle in the last month. Prior to the televised legal proceedings, there was only one narrative about the case that came through in most of the mainstream media: George Zimmerman, a racist bully, shot down an innocent black teenager in cold blood who came to symbolize every young member of a minority group. But once the country started to watch the trial as ratings-obsessed cable networks prioritized the case above all other news stories, a different story began to impinge on that simple morality tale of good and evil.

Televised trials sensationalize the judicial system and turn lawyers, judges and other assorted courthouse kibitzers into the legal equivalent of sports talk radio. But the one thing that we must acknowledge about the broadcasting of the proceedings is that it made it clear that this was a complicated case that bore little resemblance to the invective and cant about it that was so common among those who spoke about it in the mainstream press prior to the trial. Thus, when the jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges against him, no one who actually watched much of the trial could have been surprised. Though no one other than Zimmerman knows for sure what happened, the evidence seemed to support his claim of self-defense and established clear reasonable doubt about any of the prosecution’s accusations.

Yet now that the trial is over, much of the media seems to have reverted to its previous pattern of treating Zimmerman’s racism and guilt as givens. In much of the mainstream media today, but especially on MSNBC, the verdict has been treated as a green light not only for recriminations about the verdict but an excuse for an all-out, nonstop stream of racial incitement. Where last week it seemed most Americans were rightly trying to assess the virtues of the two sides’ arguments in a hard-fought case, today many liberals among the chattering classes in the media, pop culture and politics have regressed to stereotypes and mindless assumptions that tell us more about their own prejudices than about the supposedly racist state of American justice.

It must be re-stated that the death of Martin was a tragedy. Zimmerman is no hero for having killed an unarmed youth, even if the truth about Martin (that was not heard in court) is that he was not a choir boy. Even though the evidence made a not-guilty verdict inevitable, his behavior was at best questionable and at worst irresponsible. But the problem here was always that the facts of what was a confusing case, in which a Hispanic man who had been beat up killed his assailant in what both police and prosecutors saw as a case of self-defense, simply didn’t fit into the narrative about racism that so many on the left insisted must be the only possible way to interpret the incident.

Yet now that they are freed from the necessity of having to react to the defense’s case and the almost comical weakness of the prosecution’s argument, the liberal media has thrown off all constraints and reverted to the narrative about racial profiling and a martyred victim.

Today on MSNBC, numerous commentators have insisted that the prosecution pulled its punches instead of actually doing all in its power to convict Zimmerman even to the point of tricks in which they sought to withhold evidence. The jury is now denounced as an “all-white” southern panel that is no different from those of the Jim Crow past that tilted the justice system against blacks. Worst of all, professional racial hucksters like MSNBC’s Al Sharpton have been unleashed to treat weeks of evidence and argument about the truth of the accusations against Zimmerman as if they never happened and to gin up protests that will do nothing but enhance the profile of “activists” such as himself. Since the only verdict the left would have accepted is a guilty one, the failure of the prosecution, the behavior of the judge and the judgment of the jury are now being treated as an extension of American’s history of racism. The result is a wave of incitement about race that is painting the same country that just reelected an African-American to the presidency as if it were the segregated and intolerant nation of a century ago.

This is slander, but if much of the media (especially MSNBC, a network that faces a lawsuit for editing of the tape of Zimmerman’s 911 call that made him appear a racist and whose in-house token conservative Joe Scarborough called Zimmerman a “murderer”) really thinks the problem with the trial is that there wasn’t enough race baiting, it is a sign we are in for a new wave of hateful and dangerous invective streaming forth from these outlets that could have incalculable costs.

The reaction of most of the public to the case in the past few weeks while the trial was being televised was testimony to a new maturity about the discussion of race. 

The viewers understood that the tragic death of Martin was the product of a complex set of circumstances and not a morality play. Yet what some in the liberal media—and virtually everyone blathering on MSNBC today—are desperate to do is to ignore the evidence and try to transform it into a discussion of white supremacy or their politicized efforts to ban guns or amend laws that enable people to defend themselves against assailants.

Should President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder heed these voices of incitement and plunge the country into more months or even years of racial arguments by pursuing a foolish effort to charge Zimmerman with civil rights violations, the big loser isn’t so much the man who was acquitted on Saturday night as it is the country. America has come a long way since the days of Jim Crow and made too much progress to allow the likes of Sharpton and the rest of the MSNBC crew to emphasize and exploit racial divisions in order to advance their own radical political agenda at the expense of building understanding between groups and individuals.

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Left Lives in the Past on Voting Rights

Listen to the hue and cry from liberals over the Supreme Court’s decision today in Shelby County v. Holder and you would think the conservative majority had just overturned Brown v. Board of Education or declared discrimination on the basis of race to be legal. Of course, the 5-4 decision on the future of the Voting Rights Act did nothing of the kind. The high court not only reaffirmed the validity of the act but also even left in place Section 5, which created a mechanism that would require pre-clearance by the federal government of any changes in voting procedures in states and localities that were deemed by Congress to be habitual violators of the right to vote. But what it did do was to declare the existing formula stated in Section 4 to be the places where such scrutiny would be carried out to be unconstitutional. The reason for this is so obvious that it barely deserves to be argued: the Jim Crow south that Congress put under the federal microscope five decades ago isn’t the same place today. If there is to be a formula that would require some places to get the government’s prior permission to do anything that affects voting, it should be one based on the current situation, not one crafted to deal with the problems faced by Americans during the Lyndon Johnson administration.

Why then are political liberals and the so-called civil rights community so riled up about the decision? Some are merely offended by the symbolism of any alteration in a sacred piece of legislation. But the reason why the left is howling about this isn’t so much about symbolism as it is about their ability to manipulate the law to their political advantage. Under the status quo, enforcement of the Voting Rights Act isn’t about reversing discrimination so much as it is in applying the political agenda of the left to hamper the ability of some states to enact commonsense laws, such as the requirement for photo ID when voting or to create districts that are not gerrymandered to the advantage of liberals. By ending pre-clearance until Congress puts forward a new scheme rooted in evidence of systematic discrimination going on today, it has placed all states on an equal footing and made it harder for the Obama Justice Department to play politics with the law. It has also given racial hucksters that continue to speak as if a nation that has just re-elected an African-American president of the United States was little different from the one where blacks couldn’t vote in much of the country.

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Listen to the hue and cry from liberals over the Supreme Court’s decision today in Shelby County v. Holder and you would think the conservative majority had just overturned Brown v. Board of Education or declared discrimination on the basis of race to be legal. Of course, the 5-4 decision on the future of the Voting Rights Act did nothing of the kind. The high court not only reaffirmed the validity of the act but also even left in place Section 5, which created a mechanism that would require pre-clearance by the federal government of any changes in voting procedures in states and localities that were deemed by Congress to be habitual violators of the right to vote. But what it did do was to declare the existing formula stated in Section 4 to be the places where such scrutiny would be carried out to be unconstitutional. The reason for this is so obvious that it barely deserves to be argued: the Jim Crow south that Congress put under the federal microscope five decades ago isn’t the same place today. If there is to be a formula that would require some places to get the government’s prior permission to do anything that affects voting, it should be one based on the current situation, not one crafted to deal with the problems faced by Americans during the Lyndon Johnson administration.

Why then are political liberals and the so-called civil rights community so riled up about the decision? Some are merely offended by the symbolism of any alteration in a sacred piece of legislation. But the reason why the left is howling about this isn’t so much about symbolism as it is about their ability to manipulate the law to their political advantage. Under the status quo, enforcement of the Voting Rights Act isn’t about reversing discrimination so much as it is in applying the political agenda of the left to hamper the ability of some states to enact commonsense laws, such as the requirement for photo ID when voting or to create districts that are not gerrymandered to the advantage of liberals. By ending pre-clearance until Congress puts forward a new scheme rooted in evidence of systematic discrimination going on today, it has placed all states on an equal footing and made it harder for the Obama Justice Department to play politics with the law. It has also given racial hucksters that continue to speak as if a nation that has just re-elected an African-American president of the United States was little different from the one where blacks couldn’t vote in much of the country.

The Voting Rights Act was needed in 1965 because for a century the federal government had failed to enforce the 15th Amendment—that guaranteed the right to vote of former slaves and any other American citizen—in the states of the old Confederacy. Though Americans were long taught that the period of “Radical Reconstruction” that followed the Civil War was an abuse that was rightly abandoned, the truth is the attempt to reconstruct the south didn’t go far enough and was ended too soon. What ensued was a Jim Crow regime in the south that was kept in place by a Democratic coalition of northern liberals and southern racists and enabled by apathetic Republicans. That is a sorry chapter of American history, but the achievements of the civil rights era have put it firmly in our past.

The reality of 2013 is that even the left is hard pressed to find anyplace in the country where anyone who is legally entitled to vote and wants to exercise their franchise is being prevented from doing so. Stating that is not to deny that racism still exists in some quarters of American society anymore than any other species of hatred. Nor does it imply that our electoral system is perfect or incapable of betterment. But to leave in place a legal formula that treated some states differently than others solely because of history is not only absurd, it is unconstitutional discrimination. In a country where, as it was argued before the court, Mississippi may have a more healthy voting rights environment in some respects than Massachusetts, preserving the battle lines of the fight against Jim Crow is not only meaningless, it actually hampers efforts to combat illegal practices.

But the main interest of those dedicated to preserving the status quo wasn’t in preventing states from denying a right to vote that is not in question. It was in holding onto their capacity to use federal law to prevent some states from passing voter ID laws that have been wrongly branded as a form of discrimination or voter suppression. The vast majority of Americans—including the members of those groups that civil rights advocates claim will be injured by voter ID laws—think these measures are merely a matter of common sense to ensure the integrity of the election system. But by disingenuously waving the bloody shirt of Jim Crow, the left has sought to brand race-neutral laws like voter ID a form of racism.

Opponents of the majority decision claim this is a judicial usurpation of the prerogative of the legislature since Congress has re-authorized the Voting Rights Act without changing the formula that placed all or parts of 15 states under the Justice Department’s control with regard to voting. But that is due to the fact that the vote to retain the act became a ritual by which members were forced to prove their anti-racist bona fides, not a rational debate about the actual provisions of the law. Congress lacked the courage to face facts on a part of the law that had past its expiration date, so the court was forced to deal with it.

Neither this decision nor the debate that will follow it will affect the ability of Americans to vote because that is a right that is no longer in dispute. What it will do is send a reminder to Americans that we have moved on from our unhappy past and that if we are to protect voting rights, it must be done on the basis of reality rather than sentiment or symbolism. That will make it harder for the left to accuse their opponents of racism without basis. But an American society that has thankfully moved on from this debate will be better off for it.

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Liberal Overreach: The IRS and Race

The theme of the last couple of weeks for liberals has been “overreach.” That’s the word they’ve been using incessantly to try to depict all efforts to hold the administration accountable for a trio of scandals that have undermined the credibility of the Obama presidency. But while the lingering questions about the lies told about Benghazi as well as those about the Justice Department’s spying on journalists are troubling, the need to push back on the investigation into the IRS scandal is a particular priority for the president’s cheering section. Thus, instead of seeking to work harder to get to the bottom of the troubling targeting of conservatives by the nation’s tax agency, many Democrats and others on the left have concentrated on trying to delegitimize those asking the questions.

The principle target of those attacks has been House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, whose reputation for partisanship and combative personality have made him an easy mark for those trying to paint the focus on scandals as merely a Republican tactic, rather than a national imperative to get the truth. Issa’s claim that White House spokesman Jay Carney was a “paid liar” added to this impression even if it is hard to argue with the truth of the accusation. That incident led to a vicious and personal counter-attack on Issa by Obama strategist David Plouffe.

But now it appears that while Democrats may have gained some initial traction with their “overreach” talking point, it’s starting to look as if it is those on the left are the ones who are doing the real overreaching in this controversy. The latest and most egregious instance of this liberal overreach comes from MSNBC host Martin Bashir, who argued on the network yesterday that the anger about the IRS’s political targeting as well as its outrageous misuse of public funds is nothing more than a racist attack on President Obama.

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The theme of the last couple of weeks for liberals has been “overreach.” That’s the word they’ve been using incessantly to try to depict all efforts to hold the administration accountable for a trio of scandals that have undermined the credibility of the Obama presidency. But while the lingering questions about the lies told about Benghazi as well as those about the Justice Department’s spying on journalists are troubling, the need to push back on the investigation into the IRS scandal is a particular priority for the president’s cheering section. Thus, instead of seeking to work harder to get to the bottom of the troubling targeting of conservatives by the nation’s tax agency, many Democrats and others on the left have concentrated on trying to delegitimize those asking the questions.

The principle target of those attacks has been House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, whose reputation for partisanship and combative personality have made him an easy mark for those trying to paint the focus on scandals as merely a Republican tactic, rather than a national imperative to get the truth. Issa’s claim that White House spokesman Jay Carney was a “paid liar” added to this impression even if it is hard to argue with the truth of the accusation. That incident led to a vicious and personal counter-attack on Issa by Obama strategist David Plouffe.

But now it appears that while Democrats may have gained some initial traction with their “overreach” talking point, it’s starting to look as if it is those on the left are the ones who are doing the real overreaching in this controversy. The latest and most egregious instance of this liberal overreach comes from MSNBC host Martin Bashir, who argued on the network yesterday that the anger about the IRS’s political targeting as well as its outrageous misuse of public funds is nothing more than a racist attack on President Obama.

Here’s what Bashir said:

MARTIN BASHIR: The IRS is being used in exactly the same way as they tried to used the president’s birth certificate. You see, for Republicans like Darrell Issa, who knows something about arson, the IRS now stands for something inflammatory. Those three letters are now on fire with political corruption and malfeasance, burning hot. Just like that suspicious fire that engulfed Mr. Issa’s warehouse back in 1982. 

And, despite the complete lack of any evidence linking the president to the targeting of tea party groups, Republicans are using it as their latest weapon in the war against the black man in the White House. …

This strategy is nothing new. And it was explained way back in 1981, by Lee Atwater, who was Bush 41′s chief strategist. In a tape recording, Mr. Atwater revealed how Republicans evolved their language to achieve the same purpose. 

He said: ‘You start out in 1954, by saying ‘n*****, n*****, n*****. By 1968, you can’t say n*****, that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like forced bussing, states rights, and all that stuff and you’re getting so abstract. Now you’re talking about cutting taxes. We want to cut this is much more abstract than even the bussing thing and a hell of a lot more abstract than n*****, n*****.’

So this afternoon, we welcomed the latest phrase in the lexicon of Republican attacks on this president: the IRS. Three letters that sound so innocent but we know what you mean.

It would be easy to dismiss Bashir as nothing more than a crackpot with a TV show, but this “dog whistle” argument is not an isolated instance. The head of the Louisiana Democratic Party made the same point when she claimed the only reason why so many Americans oppose ObamaCare is the color of the president’s skin. In other words, for the left, conservatives have no other motivation or ideology but hatred of blacks.

This is insulting and stupid. But it is also contradicted by the anger against the IRS that Rep. Elijah Cummings, the black Democrat who is the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, has expressed about the abuses of the IRS.

All Americans, no matter their race, have a vested interest in protecting their constitutional rights against a government that continues to seek more power at the expense of the individual. That’s why the majority of Americans continue to oppose ObamaCare. And it’s also why they think the abuses at the IRS must be thoroughly investigated and all those involved held accountable. Republicans like Issa must be careful to let the story tell itself as the investigation proceeds. But it is neither racist nor unreasonable for them to be asking whether those who did these acts were in any way inspired by the inflammatory rhetoric used by both the president and much of the liberal media.

It is not surprising that many on the left would prefer to engage in ad hominem attacks and reckless use of racism accusations rather than face the facts about a government that can’t be trusted. Screaming the “n” word is an escape from the reality of a second Obama administration mired in scandal. But doing this does neither the country nor African Americans any favors.

By seeking to cast all of the president’s critics as bigots who use the “n” word, leftists like Bashir are acting as racial hucksters, exploiting fear and seeking to arouse hatred against anyone who disagrees with them. That’s what the left has been trying to do to the Tea Party movement since it began, and despite their lack of proof for their charges of racism, they have persisted in these smears.

It’s easier to live in a fantasy world where your critics are cartoon bigots than to defend the administration’s conduct. Instead of falsely crying racism, liberals should be listening to their fellow citizens who oppose Obama’s policies and engaging them in thoughtful debate about constitutional principles and policy. But if they do that, they’d have to acknowledge the legitimacy of their opponents, and that is something they’d rather not do.

The only overreaching going on about the IRS is a liberal campaign to silence administration critics with false charges of racism. As enjoyable as this escape from reality might be for the left, they have to know that the American people aren’t buying it.

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Interest in Hagel Speeches Isn’t Racist

One of the lingering questions about Chuck Hagel’s nomination to the Defense Department has been his failure to produce the texts of speeches he gave to various advocacy groups that had been requested by members of the Senate. One of them was a 2008 address given to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League. When reporters from the Washington Free Beacon came calling to ask the ADC for a transcript or a tape, they were thrown out and accused of harassment by the group. Meanwhile they refused to make the material public. That caused some raised eyebrows especially after the Free Beacon unearthed evidence that Hagel had told an audience at Rutgers University that the U.S. State Department was taking its orders from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

But today the ADC says it will make the tape of the speech public and assures Politico that there is nothing controversial in it. Hagel had better hope so since barring a last minute compromise in the Senate, it appears his nomination will be successfully filibustered raising the chances that Democrats will finally give up on this unsuitable candidacy.

But ADC isn’t satisfied with doing its part to help clear the name of a politician with a record of hostility to friends of Israel and opposition to being tough on Iran and Islamist terrorists. Abed Ayoub has gone further and claimed the hunt for the Hagel tape was “racist” and part of a campaign to “demonize” the Arab community. This is familiar territory for a group that has done its best to promote the myth of a post-9-11 backlash against American Muslims. But the attempt to divert both journalists and the Senate from the truth about Hagel’s troubling record shouldn’t succeed. Far from seeking to attack Arabs, those trying to unearth Hagel’s statements have revealed that it is President Obama’s nominee who is the one engaging in prejudicial stereotypes.

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One of the lingering questions about Chuck Hagel’s nomination to the Defense Department has been his failure to produce the texts of speeches he gave to various advocacy groups that had been requested by members of the Senate. One of them was a 2008 address given to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League. When reporters from the Washington Free Beacon came calling to ask the ADC for a transcript or a tape, they were thrown out and accused of harassment by the group. Meanwhile they refused to make the material public. That caused some raised eyebrows especially after the Free Beacon unearthed evidence that Hagel had told an audience at Rutgers University that the U.S. State Department was taking its orders from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

But today the ADC says it will make the tape of the speech public and assures Politico that there is nothing controversial in it. Hagel had better hope so since barring a last minute compromise in the Senate, it appears his nomination will be successfully filibustered raising the chances that Democrats will finally give up on this unsuitable candidacy.

But ADC isn’t satisfied with doing its part to help clear the name of a politician with a record of hostility to friends of Israel and opposition to being tough on Iran and Islamist terrorists. Abed Ayoub has gone further and claimed the hunt for the Hagel tape was “racist” and part of a campaign to “demonize” the Arab community. This is familiar territory for a group that has done its best to promote the myth of a post-9-11 backlash against American Muslims. But the attempt to divert both journalists and the Senate from the truth about Hagel’s troubling record shouldn’t succeed. Far from seeking to attack Arabs, those trying to unearth Hagel’s statements have revealed that it is President Obama’s nominee who is the one engaging in prejudicial stereotypes.

No one is saying that Hagel can’t speak to the ADC or any Arab or Muslim group. The issue is what they say there or elsewhere.

In the case of Hagel, by speaking of the State Department being run by the Israelis, he expanded on the defamatory Walt-Mearsheimer thesis that claimed American Jews had bought Congress and put forward a new conspiracy theory that is even more false and absurd. After all, if there is any U.S. government agency that has long been a bastion of hostility to the Jewish state, it is those sections of the State Department that were long run by Arabists who viewed the U.S.-Israel alliance with distaste.

The report about Hagel’s speech had resonance because he was already on record as having claimed that the “Jewish lobby” had intimidated Congress. It is those comments and not journalists asking questions about the ADC that is prejudicial. Though he disavowed those remarks at his confirmation hearing, the grudging and non-apologetic manner in which he spoke of it as well as his claim that this was the only time he had such a thing “on the record” made it clear that his only problem was that his appointment to the Pentagon had made it difficult for him to openly speak his mind.

It is only natural and logical to wonder whether Hagel said something similar to the ADC and the group — which is supportive of the Walt-Mearsheimer attack on pro-Israel Americans — should stop trying to play the victim. The ADC poses as an Arab version of the Anti-Defamation League but has a long record of support for radical positions. Those who pay attention to this record aren’t racist. They’re just interested in finding out the truth about both Hagel and his cheerleaders.

No matter what the ADC tape shows there is already more than enough evidence available to show that Hagel’s views on Israel and Iran are way out of the mainstream as well as being inconsistent with the public stands of the Obama administration. Democrats need to abandon him and move on with the business of the country by putting forward a suitable and competent Pentagon chief that won’t carry the sort of troubling baggage that Hagel carries with him.

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If You Can’t Insult Ahmadinejad …

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a leading figure in a tyrannical regime that has murdered untold numbers of his own people and which funds international terrorism that has claimed the lives of many Americans, including our soldiers in Iraq. He is a Holocaust denier and, like the government he fronts, is a font of vicious anti-Semitic invective that has repeatedly threatened to destroy the State of Israel. But, according to a Michigan congressman, Americans should mind their manners when speaking of him.

Republican Justin Amash is a second generation Palestinian-American and is apparently under the impression that any comparison of even one of the vilest figures on the international stage to a monkey is a sign of racism against Persians or perhaps prejudice against Muslims and Arabs. Amash lashed out at Senator John McCain today for a humorous tweet in which the Arizona senator made fun of Ahmadinejad’s stated desire to be the first Iranian in space. The Iranians made an unsubstantiated claim that they sent a monkey into space last week and when he heard Ahmadinejad’s comment, McCain, like many other Americans, couldn’t contain his mirth on his Twitter feed:

So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week? “Iran launches monkey into space” http://news.yahoo.com/iran-launches-monkey-space-showing-missile-progress-003037176.html

When he was told of criticism of his remark, the caustic McCain sent out another tweet:

Re: Iran space tweet – lighten up folks, can’t everyone take a joke?

But Amash doesn’t think taking Ahmadinejad’s name in vain is funny and tweeted the following:

Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes.

Race is the third rail of American politics and any comment that smacks of hatred is abhorrent. But the attempt to depict Ahmadinejad as a victim of Western prejudice lacks credibility. The day that Americans can’t crack wise about a purveyor of hatred is one in which we not only have lost our sense of humor but also our moral compass.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a leading figure in a tyrannical regime that has murdered untold numbers of his own people and which funds international terrorism that has claimed the lives of many Americans, including our soldiers in Iraq. He is a Holocaust denier and, like the government he fronts, is a font of vicious anti-Semitic invective that has repeatedly threatened to destroy the State of Israel. But, according to a Michigan congressman, Americans should mind their manners when speaking of him.

Republican Justin Amash is a second generation Palestinian-American and is apparently under the impression that any comparison of even one of the vilest figures on the international stage to a monkey is a sign of racism against Persians or perhaps prejudice against Muslims and Arabs. Amash lashed out at Senator John McCain today for a humorous tweet in which the Arizona senator made fun of Ahmadinejad’s stated desire to be the first Iranian in space. The Iranians made an unsubstantiated claim that they sent a monkey into space last week and when he heard Ahmadinejad’s comment, McCain, like many other Americans, couldn’t contain his mirth on his Twitter feed:

So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week? “Iran launches monkey into space” http://news.yahoo.com/iran-launches-monkey-space-showing-missile-progress-003037176.html

When he was told of criticism of his remark, the caustic McCain sent out another tweet:

Re: Iran space tweet – lighten up folks, can’t everyone take a joke?

But Amash doesn’t think taking Ahmadinejad’s name in vain is funny and tweeted the following:

Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes.

Race is the third rail of American politics and any comment that smacks of hatred is abhorrent. But the attempt to depict Ahmadinejad as a victim of Western prejudice lacks credibility. The day that Americans can’t crack wise about a purveyor of hatred is one in which we not only have lost our sense of humor but also our moral compass.

The conceit of Amash’s attempt to take McCain to the woodshed is the idea that Westerners see all third world peoples as animals who are less than human and unworthy of respect. But McCain wasn’t trying to imply that Iranians or Muslims are monkeys. He was poking fun at a man whose fantastical utterances and unabashed hate has become the butt of jokes for Westerners for years. Indeed, the problem with Ahmadinejad is that too many Americans don’t take the hatred and the existential threat his regime poses to Israel as well as to the security of the world seriously because he is a comic figure and so easily lampooned. If American comics have dehumanized him, it is not very different from the way Adolf Hitler and his Nazi and fascist allies were depicted in American popular culture before the world learned the tragic truth about the Holocaust. It is a not unnatural reaction for those who are themselves dehumanized by haters to return the favor, if only in humorous context. Although he denies the Holocaust while plotting a new one, Ahmadinejad is not the equivalent of Adolf Hitler. But one has to wonder how anyone, let alone a member of Congress, can muster up much outrage about some comic sniping aimed at the Iranian leader.

Amash is probably trying to use McCain’s tweet to further the popular idea that American Muslims and Arabs are suffering under the burden of prejudice. Though the post-9/11 backlash is more myth than reality, it would have been a terrible thing had McCain actually slurred Muslims or Persians. But he didn’t. He just made a joke about Ahmadinejad and the poor primate that is alleged to have been strapped into a rocket by his terrorist masters.

Americans have always laughed at their enemies. It is a healthy reaction and speaks of our self-confidence as well as our justified contempt for those who despise our democracy and threaten the peace of the world. The only questions about Ahmadinejad’s humanity stem from the hate that he spews, not a silly jest. Amash’s faux outrage about the insult directed at the Iranian president tells us more about his priorities than it does about those of McCain. 

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Racism at the Times

There is a New York Times op-ed this morning that is somewhere beyond appalling. It is by Adolph L. Reed Jr., a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Reed writes about the appointment of Rep. Tim Scott to replace the retiring Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Scott, in Reed’s view, is essentially an Uncle Tom because he does not agree with the politics of most black Americans:

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There is a New York Times op-ed this morning that is somewhere beyond appalling. It is by Adolph L. Reed Jr., a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Reed writes about the appointment of Rep. Tim Scott to replace the retiring Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Scott, in Reed’s view, is essentially an Uncle Tom because he does not agree with the politics of most black Americans:

. . . his politics, like those of the archconservative Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, are utterly at odds with the preferences of most black Americans. Mr. Scott has been staunchly anti-tax, anti-union and anti-abortion.

Of course, Tim Scott will not be representing black Americans in the Senate, he will be representing South Carolinians, who are, overwhelmingly, staunchly anti-tax, anti-union and anti-abortion. So it would seem that while white people can be liberals or conservatives according to the dictates of their thinking, blacks cannot. If you’re black but not liberal, in Professor Reed’s worldview, then you’re not really black.

He notes that, “All four black Republicans who have served in the House since the Reagan era — Gary A. Franks in Connecticut, J. C. Watts in Oklahoma, Allen B. West in Florida and Mr. Scott — were elected from majority-white districts.” So? All that proves is that the voters of these districts elected people according to their political positions and not the color of their skins, which is all Professor Reed seems to care about.

He can’t even get skin color right, however. He writes:

Mrs. Haley — a daughter of Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India — is the first female and first nonwhite governor of South Carolina, the home to white supremacists like John C. Calhoun, Preston S. Brooks, Ben Tillman and Strom Thurmond.

Whites don’t all come from northwestern Europe, Professor Reed. Sikhs are overwhelmingly Punjabi. Punjabi is an Indo-European language and its speakers are, to use a 19th century term, Caucasians, i.e., white. It might be pointed out that Calhoun died in 1850, Brooks in 1857, and Tillman in 1918. Strom Thurmond died in 2003 at the age of 100 and had long since abandoned his racist ideas, just as Justice Hugo Black and Senator Robert Byrd, two other Southern politicians of his generation, had abandoned their memberships in the KKK. Of course Black and Byrd were liberals in their later careers, so … Oh, look, a squirrel.

Professor Brooks writes, “Redistricting and gerrymandering have produced ‘safe’ seats for black politicians across the South but have also concentrated black votes in black districts, giving white Republicans a lock.” Well, whose idea was that? It’s a liberal one and not a very bright one at that, as concentrating black votes in certain districts necessarily drains them away from the other districts, making those districts more conservative. And it is based on the thoroughly racist idea that only black districts will elect blacks to Congress. Frank, Watts, West, and Scott prove that idea wrong.

Professor Reed calls his piece “The Puzzle of Black Republicans.” But the puzzle is easily solved. Tim Scott is not a black Republican. He’s a Republican who happens to be black. Professor Reed sees racism in everything. But if he’d like to see a real racist, he needs only to look in a mirror.

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The Rationale for the Racism Canard

Last week, John Sununu lost his perch as one of the Mitt Romney campaign’s leading cable news talking head surrogates when he surmised that the reason former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed President Obama again this year is because both men are African-American. While, as I wrote, there were other, perhaps more compelling reasons for Powell to back the president, liberals seized on Sununu’s statement as evidence of Republican racism. The race theme resurfaced again yesterday when liberal blogger Andrew Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week” that the potential return of Virginia and Florida to the Republican column this year (along with likely GOP pickup North Carolina that he failed to mention) would mean the revival of “the Confederacy.”

Sullivan’s rather simplistic thesis was quickly shot down by George Will who pointed out that it was more likely that the whites who voted for Obama in 2008 but who won’t this year are judging the president on his performance in office rather than having become racist in the last four years. That’s obvious, but the willingness to jump on Sununu and to start talking about the Confederacy is no accident. In an election in which the president seems to be losing independents, Democrats desperately need voters to think more about Barack Obama’s historic status as the first African-American president and less about the record that he can’t run on. The president’s difficult electoral predicament is not a function of prejudice but the fact that more Americans are looking beyond race rather than obsessing about it.

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Last week, John Sununu lost his perch as one of the Mitt Romney campaign’s leading cable news talking head surrogates when he surmised that the reason former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed President Obama again this year is because both men are African-American. While, as I wrote, there were other, perhaps more compelling reasons for Powell to back the president, liberals seized on Sununu’s statement as evidence of Republican racism. The race theme resurfaced again yesterday when liberal blogger Andrew Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week” that the potential return of Virginia and Florida to the Republican column this year (along with likely GOP pickup North Carolina that he failed to mention) would mean the revival of “the Confederacy.”

Sullivan’s rather simplistic thesis was quickly shot down by George Will who pointed out that it was more likely that the whites who voted for Obama in 2008 but who won’t this year are judging the president on his performance in office rather than having become racist in the last four years. That’s obvious, but the willingness to jump on Sununu and to start talking about the Confederacy is no accident. In an election in which the president seems to be losing independents, Democrats desperately need voters to think more about Barack Obama’s historic status as the first African-American president and less about the record that he can’t run on. The president’s difficult electoral predicament is not a function of prejudice but the fact that more Americans are looking beyond race rather than obsessing about it.

Race is the original sin of American history, and anyone who attempted to argue that it no longer plays a role in our society is being disingenuous. But while the 2008 election did not mean it disappeared, it did remove it as an explanation for the voting behavior of the majority of Americans. While it is possible that some people will not vote for the president because of prejudice against his race, it is hardly a sign of bias to notice that there are many Americans — both white and black — who believe the symbolism of his ascendancy to the presidency is an act of historic justice that is an argument in itself for voting for Obama. Indeed, the president has very little to recommend his re-election other than party loyalty on the part of Democrats and lingering good feelings about what happened in 2008.

By contrast, Sununu is not a particularly sympathetic figure, and there are those of us who still bitterly recall that when he was the governor of New Hampshire he was the only U.S. governor who refused to repudiate the United Nations’ infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution. But rehashing his past, including the ethical problems that led the first President Bush to fire him from his post as White House chief of staff, as the New York Times’ Charles Blow did this past weekend during the course of a column that attempted to first brand Sununu a racist and then to smear Romney as one by association, tells us more about the Obama campaign than it does about the GOP. That canard is a disreputable political tactic and nothing more.

The remarkable thing about both the 2008 and the 2012 elections is how unremarkable we have come to see the idea of an African-American running for and then serving as president. The decline in the president’s fortune has nothing to do with the revival of prejudice but is, instead, a result of the sober judgment of a significant portion of white Americans that the man they voted for in 2008 has not merited re-election. Republicans are asking the American people to assess the president on his record, not his race. It is, unfortunately, the Democrats who are the ones who are attempting inject race into the campaign.

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Obama’s the Real Teflon President

Many conservatives are boiling mad about the emergence of a videotape of a 2007 speech given by President Obama at Hampton University. In it, the president — then just a senator from Illinois running for the White House — engages in some disgraceful racial incitement. He claimed the Bush administration deliberately shortchanged Hurricane Katrina victims because of racism. He also lavishly praised Rev. Jeremiah Wright and said he was a mentor. For many Obama critics, this is one more smoking gun proving the president is every bit the radical who is comfortable lying about race and extolling those, like Wright, who hate America and promote conspiracy theories. Tucker Carlson, whose Daily Caller broke the story of the tape, is right to term Obama a shameless demagogue for having the gall to say that Republicans didn’t care as much about poor black hurricane survivors as they did about the families of the 9/11 victims.

But as bad as it is, anyone who thinks the tape will change any votes next month is dreaming. Candidates for president may be judged on their backgrounds but sitting presidents are judged on their records. Nor can we entirely blame the fact that this story got buried by the press. It is true, as Politico notes in a feature about the video, that the liberal mainstream media did not make a big deal about the remarks when they were reported early in 2008 much as they failed to hold Obama accountable for another statement made that year in which he derided Americans for “clinging to guns and religion.” But let’s also understand that the problem goes deeper than just the press.

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Many conservatives are boiling mad about the emergence of a videotape of a 2007 speech given by President Obama at Hampton University. In it, the president — then just a senator from Illinois running for the White House — engages in some disgraceful racial incitement. He claimed the Bush administration deliberately shortchanged Hurricane Katrina victims because of racism. He also lavishly praised Rev. Jeremiah Wright and said he was a mentor. For many Obama critics, this is one more smoking gun proving the president is every bit the radical who is comfortable lying about race and extolling those, like Wright, who hate America and promote conspiracy theories. Tucker Carlson, whose Daily Caller broke the story of the tape, is right to term Obama a shameless demagogue for having the gall to say that Republicans didn’t care as much about poor black hurricane survivors as they did about the families of the 9/11 victims.

But as bad as it is, anyone who thinks the tape will change any votes next month is dreaming. Candidates for president may be judged on their backgrounds but sitting presidents are judged on their records. Nor can we entirely blame the fact that this story got buried by the press. It is true, as Politico notes in a feature about the video, that the liberal mainstream media did not make a big deal about the remarks when they were reported early in 2008 much as they failed to hold Obama accountable for another statement made that year in which he derided Americans for “clinging to guns and religion.” But let’s also understand that the problem goes deeper than just the press.

In 2008, Americans eager to believe in a post-racial, post-partisan African-American candidate for president filtered out any evidence that contradicted their desire for “hope and change.” In 2012, many appear ready to do the same thing when it comes to ignoring the reality of the president’s failed record on the economy and foreign policy. Much of the press may be in the tank for Obama, but the half of the electorate that may vote for him join them there. It’s time to face up to the fact that Obama, not Ronald Reagan, is the real Teflon president.

What conservatives have always failed to understand about Obama is that the rules that constrain other politicians do not apply to him. This speech should have been damning evidence of Obama being more fit to serve as Al Sharpton’s sidekick than the presidency. But though the mainstream media reported the story, other than conservatives who were already against him few cared about it because it contradicted their desire to view the future president as someone who was above such behavior.

The Obama they wanted to believe in was the man who made a speech in Philadelphia in the spring of 2008 that was treated as the best speech given in Pennsylvania since Abraham Lincoln began an address with the words, “Four score and seven years ago.” In that one, Obama carefully distanced himself from the same man that he embraced as a hero only a few months before because he had become a liability. In that speech to a racially mixed audience at the Constitution Center, Obama not only eschewed the “black dialect” he affected at Hampton (and which Joe Biden would use four years later when he told another black audience in Virginia that Mitt Romney would “put y’all back in chains”) but put forward an argument asking us all to rise above racial divisions. It was a clever piece of rhetorical ju-jitsu and worked like a charm, even if it was patently insincere.

The point here is that none of this was a secret when Obama gave his Philadelphia speech. Those who wanted to know about his radical connections and to draw the dots between Wright and people like former terrorist Bill Ayers and Obama’s future policies had the evidence to do so. The problem is liberals and many independents wanted so badly to believe in him that they simply ignored anything that didn’t fit the story they wanted to hear or exposed his hypocrisy.

It’s not only too late now for this video to change the country’s opinion of a man for whom they’ve been playing “Hail to the Chief” for the last four years. It was probably too late even in the spring and summer of 2008 to convince those who were already beguiled by the notion of Obama’s messianic appeal.

Republicans are befuddled by a president who leads in the polls despite giving himself an “incomplete” on a failed economy. But Obama is impervious to the truth about his past racial incitement for the same reason a majority may not wish to hold him accountable for his mismanagement of the economy. Those who will ignore both do so not just because they still blame President Bush for the economy but because they think the first African American president deserves re-election no matter what he has done in office.

That leaves Mitt Romney with a still viable but extremely narrow path to the presidency. This is yet another reminder that Republicans need to forget about old tapes that won’t influence the small group of undecided voters and concentrate on economic arguments that can flip them back to the GOP.

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The Left’s Race Dog Whistles

Some Republicans may be shocked and confused that Democrats are seizing on any mention of welfare or immigration or any other legitimate political issue that can be described as racism. They shouldn’t be. Democrats have been howling about “coded language” and “dog whistles” all year, as well as making race-based complaints about voter ID laws. But lately they have become less subtle as Vice President Joe Biden’s threat that Republicans want to “put y’all back in chains” to a mostly black audience indicated. The hysteria on the left on this point has become particularly intense this week, as the Republican National Convention has served as a convenient target for commentators like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews who have become nearly unhinged trying to prove that Republicans are appealing to racism.

But if anyone is determined to keep race on the minds of Americans it is the Democrats. The obsessive search for hidden racism in Republican rhetoric isn’t merely because, as Mickey Kaus noted today on his blog, they “simply have race on the brain.” It’s because waving the bloody shirt of the fight against segregation is their only way of recapturing the magic of 2008, in which Americans took pride in voting for Barack Obama because doing so was a way to take part in a historic achievement. After four years of presidential futility, it’s not possible to make voters buy into another round of “hope and change.” But it is still possible to make independents and wavering Democrats think voting Republican will undo the progress that Obama’s election signaled.

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Some Republicans may be shocked and confused that Democrats are seizing on any mention of welfare or immigration or any other legitimate political issue that can be described as racism. They shouldn’t be. Democrats have been howling about “coded language” and “dog whistles” all year, as well as making race-based complaints about voter ID laws. But lately they have become less subtle as Vice President Joe Biden’s threat that Republicans want to “put y’all back in chains” to a mostly black audience indicated. The hysteria on the left on this point has become particularly intense this week, as the Republican National Convention has served as a convenient target for commentators like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews who have become nearly unhinged trying to prove that Republicans are appealing to racism.

But if anyone is determined to keep race on the minds of Americans it is the Democrats. The obsessive search for hidden racism in Republican rhetoric isn’t merely because, as Mickey Kaus noted today on his blog, they “simply have race on the brain.” It’s because waving the bloody shirt of the fight against segregation is their only way of recapturing the magic of 2008, in which Americans took pride in voting for Barack Obama because doing so was a way to take part in a historic achievement. After four years of presidential futility, it’s not possible to make voters buy into another round of “hope and change.” But it is still possible to make independents and wavering Democrats think voting Republican will undo the progress that Obama’s election signaled.

The welfare argument is particularly disingenuous, but it is being treated as a license to engage in the most vicious rhetoric imaginable against the GOP. Hence, Matthews’s television tirades and, to seize upon just one of many possible examples, Joan Walsh’s accusation today at Salon that Rick Santorum engaged in “race baiting,” “lying” and “creepiness” during his convention speech because of his mentioning of the welfare issue and the president’s decision to stop the enforcement of some immigration laws.

But the liberal claim, repeated as gospel not only on the opinion pages of the mainstream media but on their news pages as well, is that Republicans are lying about Obama’s changes in the Welfare Reform Act. They insist that he changed nothing and that the GOP charges that he gutted welfare-to-work regulations are fabrications. But the truth, as Kaus noted, is much closer to the Republican narrative than that of the Democrats. It’s true that, as they have repeated endlessly on MSNBC, all Obama did was to give states flexibility in enforcing the law. But taking away such flexibility was the whole point of the movement to reform welfare that culminated in the passage of the act that was signed by Bill Clinton. Obama’s changes will allow states to eliminate work requirements. That’s a fair point and has nothing to do with racism.

But to treat any mention of welfare as a code word for black is a sign of the liberals’ plantation mentality, not that of conservatives. The assumption that welfare equals black is not only factually incorrect — more whites receive such assistance than blacks — it is an insult.

That fits in with the Democrats’ efforts to treat voter ID laws aimed at combating fraud as the next generation of “Jim Crow,” since they assume that minorities are not as capable as whites of obtaining the photo ID that is needed for virtually every other transaction required by society.

Far from the Republicans wanting to talk about race, it is only in the interest of the Democrats to reopen these old wounds. That’s also why the left is going all out to discredit any black person who dares to oppose Obama. Hence the deluge of abuse being showered today on Utah Republican Mia B. Love as well as Democrat turncoat Artur Davis, both of whom wowed the nation with their convention addresses last night.

No American racist was likely to vote for Obama in November with or without a helpful reminder from either party that he was African-American. But plenty of moderates otherwise inclined to support Romney may be scared away from the Republicans by false charges that the GOP is appealing to race. The only dog whistles today being sounded are all from the left, as Democrats desperately attempt to convince Americans that it is still their duty to vote again for Obama.

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Romney Respect is Labeled Race-Baiting

You might think it would be more offensive for Mitt Romney to skip the NAACP convention entirely than to show up and give a respectful speech as he did yesterday — but you’d be wrong. (Well, actually you’d be half-right: the left probably would have accused Romney of racism either way.)

According to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, Romney outed himself as a race-baiter just by showing up at the NAACP. As this theory goes, Romney apparently knew that getting booed would send a subtle signal to racists that he was on their side (via Washington Examiner):

Speaking to TheGrio.com’s Goldie Taylor, O’Donnell said, “Tell me, Goldie, if I’m being too cynical, to think that the Romney campaign actually went in that room today with the hope of getting booed, at least three times, because they want the video of their candidate being booed by the NAACP to play in certain racist precincts where that will actually help them.”

Taylor agreed with O’Donnell’s assessment, adding Romney appeared “paternalistic” and criticized him for using a “derisive word” like “ObamaCare” to describe the President’s Affordable Health Care act.

Okay, but why would Romney even need to send some sort of clandestine signal to these “racist precincts” O’Donnell mentions? I assume that many of the people in these “racist precincts” possess eyes, and have already caught on to the fact that Obama is African-American and Romney is white. For racists, that choice would probably be self-explanatory. No need for any secret dog whistle there.

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You might think it would be more offensive for Mitt Romney to skip the NAACP convention entirely than to show up and give a respectful speech as he did yesterday — but you’d be wrong. (Well, actually you’d be half-right: the left probably would have accused Romney of racism either way.)

According to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, Romney outed himself as a race-baiter just by showing up at the NAACP. As this theory goes, Romney apparently knew that getting booed would send a subtle signal to racists that he was on their side (via Washington Examiner):

Speaking to TheGrio.com’s Goldie Taylor, O’Donnell said, “Tell me, Goldie, if I’m being too cynical, to think that the Romney campaign actually went in that room today with the hope of getting booed, at least three times, because they want the video of their candidate being booed by the NAACP to play in certain racist precincts where that will actually help them.”

Taylor agreed with O’Donnell’s assessment, adding Romney appeared “paternalistic” and criticized him for using a “derisive word” like “ObamaCare” to describe the President’s Affordable Health Care act.

Okay, but why would Romney even need to send some sort of clandestine signal to these “racist precincts” O’Donnell mentions? I assume that many of the people in these “racist precincts” possess eyes, and have already caught on to the fact that Obama is African-American and Romney is white. For racists, that choice would probably be self-explanatory. No need for any secret dog whistle there.

And yet for some reason this absurd MSNBC claim seems to have caught on. At the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky also chimed in:

But [Romney] wasn’t a race-baiter until yesterday. That speech wasn’t to the NAACP. It was to Rush Limbaugh. It was to Tea Party Nation. It was to Fox News. Oh, he said some nice things. And sure, let’s give him one point for going there at all. But listen: You don’t go into the NAACP and use the word “ObamaCare” and think that you’re not going to hear some boos. It’s a heavily loaded word, and Romney and his people know very well that liberals and the president’s supporters consider it an insult. He and his team had to know those boos were coming, and Romney acknowledged as much a few hours later in an interview with . . . guess which channel (hint: it’s the one whose web site often has to close articles about race to commenters because of the blatant racism). Romney and team obviously concluded that a little shower of boos was perfectly fine because the story “Romney Booed at NAACP” would jazz up their (very white) base.

Again — why would Romney even need to wink-nudge pander to this large group of mythical white racists Tomasky speaks of? And if Romney really wanted to show his solidarity with racists, why wouldn’t he just skip the NAACP altogether? That’s like going to address a NARAL conference in order to send a message to the pro-life movement that you’re on their side. No matter how chilly the reception, abortion opponents aren’t going to appreciate it.

In the end, Romney did the brave thing. He addressed a group that he knew he had political differences with and little chance of winning over. He put forward his best case without compromising his political message, and he did it respectfully. That’s more than can be said about President Obama, who didn’t even take the time to attend the conference.

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Obama Backers Must Embrace Race Issue

The almost hysterical reaction in the mainstream press to the revelation that one super PAC was planning to run ads about President Obama’s former pastor, the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was highly instructive. For two days, liberal newspapers like the New York Times and much of the rest of the chattering classes have been hyperventilating about something that not only had no connection to the campaign of Mitt Romney but which was specifically condemned by the candidate. And yet somehow we are told that this non-event changed the political narrative of the week and distracted Americans from thinking about the failing economy that is causing the president’s poll numbers to head south.

The alacrity with which the Obama campaign and their liberal cheerleaders seized on the Wright issue spoke volumes about the Democrats’ current weakness. The president’s chief problems revolve around the fact that the economy is so poor and his signature legislative accomplishment — ObamaCare — is deeply unpopular. Because he cannot run on his record, his path to victory in November must therefore involve a careful combination of calumnies against his opponent and attempts to change the subject from the nation’s fiscal health to the one that helped elect him in 2008: race. That is the only way to explain his campaign’s desperate attempt to leverage a marginal story into a major campaign issue.

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The almost hysterical reaction in the mainstream press to the revelation that one super PAC was planning to run ads about President Obama’s former pastor, the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was highly instructive. For two days, liberal newspapers like the New York Times and much of the rest of the chattering classes have been hyperventilating about something that not only had no connection to the campaign of Mitt Romney but which was specifically condemned by the candidate. And yet somehow we are told that this non-event changed the political narrative of the week and distracted Americans from thinking about the failing economy that is causing the president’s poll numbers to head south.

The alacrity with which the Obama campaign and their liberal cheerleaders seized on the Wright issue spoke volumes about the Democrats’ current weakness. The president’s chief problems revolve around the fact that the economy is so poor and his signature legislative accomplishment — ObamaCare — is deeply unpopular. Because he cannot run on his record, his path to victory in November must therefore involve a careful combination of calumnies against his opponent and attempts to change the subject from the nation’s fiscal health to the one that helped elect him in 2008: race. That is the only way to explain his campaign’s desperate attempt to leverage a marginal story into a major campaign issue.

As we wrote yesterday, the argument that any mention of Wright is a sign of racism is absurd. Four years after his election, any time spent discussing the influences on Obama’s character is pointless. But because Wright is a part of his biography that can not be denied, reminding the public of his longstanding ties to a scoundrel is neither a sign of extremism nor racism. Any candidate who spent that much time in the church of such a person — be they black or white — would have much to explain.

The main point to take away from this story isn’t about whether the GOP is right to talk about Wright. Rather, it is the way it has illustrated that the main, if not the sole justification for the president’s re-election is still the issue of race. Four years ago, the president was careful to distance himself from Wright and successfully persuaded the media that this issue was not worth pursuing. But in a stroke of irony, today his campaign embraces the Wright issue — though not the man himself — because they think it is an effective way to remind voters of the historic nature of the Obama presidency.

The fulminations about the supposed ugliness of any mention of Wright in the campaign demonstrate that without race the Obama re-election effort has no convincing rationale other than the tired themes about the perfidy of the Bush administration and class warfare demagoguery that is more intended for the Democratic base than independent or swing voters.

Americans felt good about electing the first African-American to the presidency in 2008, but a big part of that was the notion that Barack Obama was not only a post-partisan politician but also a post-racial figure. The events of the last three and a half years have given the lie to Obama’s pose about partisanship. The Wright kerfuffle illustrates that he needs again to rely upon the sympathy of those who wish to right historic wrongs in order to win in November. But that is a political card that is much harder to play twice. As much as a focus on race is a powerful fact that works to his advantage, the lack of a more positive underlying principle could be fatal to his hopes. Though we should expect the liberal media to hold on to the race theme for all it is worth in the next few months, this is a dubious strategy that will be difficult to sustain in the absence of a genuine economic recovery.

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Fake Outrage About “Ugly” Obama Smears

As Alana noted earlier today, the Obama campaign went into overdrive to condemn a conservative super PAC for considering running an ad campaign that would concentrate on linking President Obama to his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Liberal pundits are also doing their best to muster up outrage about the mere possibility that Wright’s name should be uttered in connection with the president. At TIME Magazine, Joe Klein refers to the planned ads as “really, really ugly.” At the New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal, calls it “race baiting.”

Both are right to call it bad politics. It is a foolish waste of resources that could be better used to remind voters of what a lousy president they’ve had for the last four years. Republicans need to cast the election as a referendum on Obama’s job performance. Personal attacks against Romney are going to be part of the president’s re-election effort. Copying that sort of thing is an unforced error on the part of conservatives. But pardon me if I find the faux outrage these writers are trying to gin up about the mention of Wright is utterly unconvincing.

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As Alana noted earlier today, the Obama campaign went into overdrive to condemn a conservative super PAC for considering running an ad campaign that would concentrate on linking President Obama to his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Liberal pundits are also doing their best to muster up outrage about the mere possibility that Wright’s name should be uttered in connection with the president. At TIME Magazine, Joe Klein refers to the planned ads as “really, really ugly.” At the New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal, calls it “race baiting.”

Both are right to call it bad politics. It is a foolish waste of resources that could be better used to remind voters of what a lousy president they’ve had for the last four years. Republicans need to cast the election as a referendum on Obama’s job performance. Personal attacks against Romney are going to be part of the president’s re-election effort. Copying that sort of thing is an unforced error on the part of conservatives. But pardon me if I find the faux outrage these writers are trying to gin up about the mention of Wright is utterly unconvincing.

Klein has a point when he says the president’s behavior in office shows us he’s not a particularly religious man or much of a churchgoer, so it can be credibly argued that Wright wasn’t much of an influence on him. But although some on the fringes may have seen the Wright connection as an indication that Obama hated America as much as his pastor or a genuine radical, the point about his ties to the reverend was much simpler and far more telling.

Anyone who voluntarily affiliates with an institution for 20 years that was primarily a vehicle for a person like Wright is making a statement about his view of the world. It’s the sort of association that would and should embarrass any politician, and the effort made by Obama’s defenders to treat the mention of Wright as out of bounds or untouchable because of race is utterly disingenuous. Were any conservative politician to be a longtime member of a church that employed a leader who said as many ugly things as Wright did, they would be crucified for it.

The fact is, Americans knew about this and the majority voted for Obama anyway for a variety of reasons. Bringing it up again is dumb, but the effort to brand it as a form of hate speech is risible.

One more point: Rosenthal makes a point of mentioning that the memo about the ad campaign speaks of defeating “Barack Hussein Obama.”

Note the use of the president’s middle name. Nudge, nudge. Think of Saddam Hussein. Nudge, nudge. He must be a Muslim.

Barack Hussein Obama is clearly not a member of a mosque and is, as the Wright episode teaches us, an affiliated Christian. But while saying his name in this manner was treated as offensive during the 2008 campaign  — and one that John McCain specifically rejected — apparently Rosenthal must have nodded off during the presidential inauguration ceremony in January 2009. The moment the president took the oath as “Barack Hussein Obama,” saying his full name ceased to be a political slur.

Where Klein and Rosenthal both are also wrong is their belief this has any political leverage for either side. Talking about Wright won’t convince anyone to defeat the president now. But the assumption that the Democrats’ lethargic base will be fired up by this also doesn’t hold water. Americans voted for Obama in 2008 in spite of his questionable connections, not because of them.

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Silencing Dissent About Black Studies

Author Naomi Schaefer Riley was an ornament to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Brainstorm blog where she provided a keen dissenting voice pointing out the follies of modern academia. Riley, the author of the brilliant The Faculty LoungesAnd Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For, is a critic of the liberal orthodoxies of the American campus. She has earned the enmity of the sector’s establishment by pointing out the con games played by universities that have profited from the creation of sham disciplines and the way college faculties have insulated themselves by focusing largely on the publication of arcane academic papers filled with jargon that makes no sense to anyone outside of their narrow fields.

Having such a voice of reason at a publication like the Chronicle–which caters to the residents of those faculty lounges about which Riley has written–was an important and perhaps daring decision on the part of its editors. But apparently there is a limit to their willingness to allow anyone to speak the truth about the academic world. After Riley wrote a post pointing out the absurdity at the heart of a recent Chronicle feature that highlighted the “young guns” at Black Studies departments around the nation, the publication says “thousands” of its readers protested. Rather than stand by their writer, the Chronicle caved to criticism in the most abject manner possible. In a craven note to its readers, editor Liz McMillen claimed Riley’s post “did not meet the Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles” and fired her. In shamefully throwing Riley under the bus, the Chronicle has not only done her an injustice. It has undermined, perhaps fatally, its credibility as a journal of thought as well as making it clear it will no longer countenance any dissent from academia’s wisdom on race and gender studies.

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Author Naomi Schaefer Riley was an ornament to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Brainstorm blog where she provided a keen dissenting voice pointing out the follies of modern academia. Riley, the author of the brilliant The Faculty LoungesAnd Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For, is a critic of the liberal orthodoxies of the American campus. She has earned the enmity of the sector’s establishment by pointing out the con games played by universities that have profited from the creation of sham disciplines and the way college faculties have insulated themselves by focusing largely on the publication of arcane academic papers filled with jargon that makes no sense to anyone outside of their narrow fields.

Having such a voice of reason at a publication like the Chronicle–which caters to the residents of those faculty lounges about which Riley has written–was an important and perhaps daring decision on the part of its editors. But apparently there is a limit to their willingness to allow anyone to speak the truth about the academic world. After Riley wrote a post pointing out the absurdity at the heart of a recent Chronicle feature that highlighted the “young guns” at Black Studies departments around the nation, the publication says “thousands” of its readers protested. Rather than stand by their writer, the Chronicle caved to criticism in the most abject manner possible. In a craven note to its readers, editor Liz McMillen claimed Riley’s post “did not meet the Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles” and fired her. In shamefully throwing Riley under the bus, the Chronicle has not only done her an injustice. It has undermined, perhaps fatally, its credibility as a journal of thought as well as making it clear it will no longer countenance any dissent from academia’s wisdom on race and gender studies.

McMillen’s note is doubly offensive because its characterization of Riley’s post is incorrect, and because she also chose to grovel to the mob by apologizing for a previous editor’s note in which she invited readers to debate the author’s opinion. Though she now says her previous note was wrong to “elevate Riley’s post to the level of informed opinion,” the only thing that is clear from reading her obsequious apology is that in allowing Riley’s critics to dictate editorial policy, she has debased the Chronicle and herself to a point where neither can be taken seriously.

In examining this controversy, it must be asserted from the outset that nothing Riley wrote was offensive or lacking in civility, as McMillen charged. Riley’s offense was not one of tone or fact but rather in her willingness to say Black Studies is an academic discipline rooted in and consumed by the politics of victimization with little scholarly value.

Riley pointed out something that was obvious to any objective reader of the Chronicle’s paean to those coming in this field: their dissertation topics are trivial and motivated solely by what she aptly calls “left-wing victimization claptrap” in which racism is the answer to every conceivable question.

The dissertations she mentioned speak volumes about the low level of discourse that passes for academic achievement in this field. That topics such as black midwives being left out of natural birth literature, the notion that the promotion of single family homes is racist and the branding of black conservatives as opponents of civil rights are the work of the best and brightest in black studies tell us all we need to know about why Riley is right about the need to eliminate this form of academic fraud.

In saying this, Riley was blunt but transgressed no rules of journalism other than the need not to offend powerful constituencies. But for those devoted to the promotion of this sector of academia, for Riley to have pointed out that the emperor has no clothes is an unforgivable offense that must be punished by branding her as a racist who must be banished from the pages of the magazine. The only “standard” that Riley did not live up to in this post was the obligation to say what many on the left want to hear. Contrary to McMillen, the betrayal here was not on the part of the Chronicle for having published Riley, but in firing her in order to appease an unreasoning pack of academic jackals howling for the blood of anyone with the temerity to point out their shortcomings.

It is painful to watch a respected publication like the Chronicle descend to this level of groupthink. However, this episode does illustrate how out of touch with reality its editors and many of its readers are. The defenestration of Naomi Schaefer Riley only makes plain the depths to which those determined to silence dissent against academic orthodoxy will sink.

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Reviving the Obama Race Canard

Race is the original sin of American history. To deny its influence on our society is as futile as it is illogical. Nevertheless, the attempt to cast President Obama’s re-election campaign as the focus of a racial backlash seems to be more about obfuscating the issues that are animating the vast majority of voters than providing any insight into public opinion.

Yet that is very much the conceit of a front-page feature in today’s New York Times titled, “Four Years Later, Race is Still Issue for Some Voters.” The Times’ sent a reporter to Steubenville, Ohio and beat the bushes to find some racists and found a few, though they seemed to come in some unlikely varieties. The piece failed to explain why if the president won this crucial swing state in 2008 he should be worried about the minority of voters who hold his skin color and ethnicity against him now. As should be apparent even to the Times editor who ordered up this tired attempt to revive the race canard against the Republicans, if the president’s hold on the state seems shaky — as polls say it is — it is clearly not because the portion of the electorate that is irredeemably prejudiced still won’t vote for him but because others who did (and therefore demonstrated their lack of racial bias) now judge his performance unsatisfactory.

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Race is the original sin of American history. To deny its influence on our society is as futile as it is illogical. Nevertheless, the attempt to cast President Obama’s re-election campaign as the focus of a racial backlash seems to be more about obfuscating the issues that are animating the vast majority of voters than providing any insight into public opinion.

Yet that is very much the conceit of a front-page feature in today’s New York Times titled, “Four Years Later, Race is Still Issue for Some Voters.” The Times’ sent a reporter to Steubenville, Ohio and beat the bushes to find some racists and found a few, though they seemed to come in some unlikely varieties. The piece failed to explain why if the president won this crucial swing state in 2008 he should be worried about the minority of voters who hold his skin color and ethnicity against him now. As should be apparent even to the Times editor who ordered up this tired attempt to revive the race canard against the Republicans, if the president’s hold on the state seems shaky — as polls say it is — it is clearly not because the portion of the electorate that is irredeemably prejudiced still won’t vote for him but because others who did (and therefore demonstrated their lack of racial bias) now judge his performance unsatisfactory.

It is undeniable that there are those in our country who still judge people principally by their race. That is unfortunate, and we can hope that the diminishing numbers of those who fall into that category will continue to decrease. President Obama is right when he says he does not think his election forever ended the discussion of race in America. But it did mean that the majority of Americans were no longer so constricted by prejudice so as to render it impossible for an African-American to be elected president. Indeed, as some of those quoted by the Times rightly point out, a desire to demonstrate a lack of prejudice as well as a wish to right some historic wrongs, played a not insignificant role in the Obama triumph in 2008.

The president’s problem this year is, as the Times puts it, “now that history has been made it is less of a pull.” Ohioans, like the rest of the country, are judging him on his performance, and the results are less than gratifying for the president. That means his cheerleaders in the media need to trot out the ghost of American racial politics in order to help stigmatize his opponents.

Despite the obvious evidence that race was not a significant factor in attitudes toward the president, from the outset of the Obama administration there has been a concerted attempt to put down the opposition that the president’s policies have aroused as just a variant of the same racism that gave us Jim Crow laws.  The purpose of this slander is not to root out the recalcitrant vestiges of race in American politics so much as an effort to delegitimize the push back against the billion-dollar stimulus boondoggle and ObamaCare. The dislike of Obama’s policies created the Tea Party revolt that swept the country in the 2010 midterm elections. It had nothing to do with race and everything to do with opposition to the president’s big government vision.

That means in order to run down die hard racists you wind up talking to people who don’t necessarily fit into the liberal stereotype of a Tea Partier who is motivated more by hatred for Obama’s race than his ideas. One example is a Steubenville bank employee dug up by the Times who says she didn’t vote for Obama in 2008 though she usually backs Democrats. Who then did she vote for? According to the article, she cast her ballot for far left fringe candidate Ralph Nader! The bottom line of this entire discussion is a refusal to take seriously the fact that even in Democratic-leaning counties of this rust belt state, most are judging Obama on the economy and little else.

President Obama’s historic status as the first African-American president brings with it some residual racial resentment but that has been more than overshadowed by the kid glove treatment he and his family have gotten in the mainstream press as well as the willingness by many in the media to brand his opponents guilty of racism until proven innocent. If he wins in 2012 it will not be because he is black nor will it be the explanation for his defeat. That’s exactly the way the vast majority of Americans feel about the question, but as long as the Times and other Obama sympathizers are determined to view his critics largely through the prism of race, it appears we are doomed to more tired efforts to shoehorn modern conservatism into the mold of segregationist sentiment to which it has no connection.

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Here We Go Again: Romney’s New Slogan is “Racist”

Last time, the complaint was that Mitt Romney’s slogan was formerly used by the Ku Klux Klan – a claim that turned out to be complete fiction. Now Romney’s latest slogan is being criticized for supposedly promoting racial stereotypes. The phrase? “Obama Isn’t Working.” How anyone sees racism in that is beyond me, but Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher somehow managed:

When I first saw the banner this afternoon, the multiple meanings were clear: President Obama‘s policies aren’t working, the Obama presidency isn’t working, President Obama…isn’t working, as in, doing any work. That’s not a nice thing to say about any president, but like it or not, it becomes a more loaded accusation when leveled at our first black president.

Just to be sure it wasn’t just me, though, I asked several friends about the banner, and four out of four pointed out, unprompted, the stereotype of the “lazy,” “shiftless” black man. One of the people I called was cable news fixture Goldie Taylor, who, upon hearing my description of the banner, said “Are you kidding me? You have got to be kidding me.”

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Last time, the complaint was that Mitt Romney’s slogan was formerly used by the Ku Klux Klan – a claim that turned out to be complete fiction. Now Romney’s latest slogan is being criticized for supposedly promoting racial stereotypes. The phrase? “Obama Isn’t Working.” How anyone sees racism in that is beyond me, but Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher somehow managed:

When I first saw the banner this afternoon, the multiple meanings were clear: President Obama‘s policies aren’t working, the Obama presidency isn’t working, President Obama…isn’t working, as in, doing any work. That’s not a nice thing to say about any president, but like it or not, it becomes a more loaded accusation when leveled at our first black president.

Just to be sure it wasn’t just me, though, I asked several friends about the banner, and four out of four pointed out, unprompted, the stereotype of the “lazy,” “shiftless” black man. One of the people I called was cable news fixture Goldie Taylor, who, upon hearing my description of the banner, said “Are you kidding me? You have got to be kidding me.”

Christopher backs up his thesis by talking to four friends who agree with him, for whatever that’s worth. I had sort of hoped we were past all these fallacious and unprovable hidden racism allegations, but obviously some people are anxious to revisit the lunacy of 2008 (remember McCain’s “Celebrity” ad, which was deemed racist because it featured pictures of Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Obama – supposedly with some hidden message about interracial relationships? Every hack who called McCain a racist for that ad should be ashamed).

If there’s been any bigotry so far this election cycle, it’s been directed at Mitt Romney’s religion. But for whatever reason, liberal pundits seem far less concerned about real anti-Mormonism than they are about imagined racism.

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Barack Obama and Racial Double Standards

Late last week I heard from a theologian of liberal leanings, someone with whom I have been in (often friendly) correspondence for years. He wrote me to voice his objections to my recent “diatribes” against President Obama. That didn’t particularly surprise me. What did surprise me is how he framed his objections. He didn’t take issue with the facts I’ve presented or even my interpretation of the facts. Rather, his concerns were expressed this way:

When I read your constant barrages aimed at the first black president, I think to myself, “Doesn’t Pete, the devout Christian, understand what it took to get to this place? And where would Pete have been in the years of the freedom struggle that finally eventuated in some measure of equality for African-Americans and even a black president?” Isn’t there some way you can temper your attacks on Obama with this history in mind?

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Late last week I heard from a theologian of liberal leanings, someone with whom I have been in (often friendly) correspondence for years. He wrote me to voice his objections to my recent “diatribes” against President Obama. That didn’t particularly surprise me. What did surprise me is how he framed his objections. He didn’t take issue with the facts I’ve presented or even my interpretation of the facts. Rather, his concerns were expressed this way:

When I read your constant barrages aimed at the first black president, I think to myself, “Doesn’t Pete, the devout Christian, understand what it took to get to this place? And where would Pete have been in the years of the freedom struggle that finally eventuated in some measure of equality for African-Americans and even a black president?” Isn’t there some way you can temper your attacks on Obama with this history in mind?

In a follow-up note to me, he elaborated on this matter, saying, “The presidency of an African -American is a dramatic symbol of the advances in the struggle for human rights in this country so long denied to black citizens. Unless you have a record deep in the civil rights struggle, relentless attacks on this symbol will be seen as giving aid and comfort to, if not an expression of, the latent racism that is still much with us in this country. That is why criticisms of this president-as-symbol are not to be made in the same way as the conventional political fisticuffs.”

This was, I thought, an instructive, if discouraging, window into the modern liberal mind.

Set aside the fact that this country that is so filled with “latent racism” elected Obama by the largest margin of any Democratic since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and that he took office with extraordinary good will from the American people.

For the sake of the argument, let’s stipulate that my criticisms of the president are, in fact, entirely justified based on the facts and the record. It would still not matter to him. Why? Because this “president-as-symbol” means he should be held to a different standard than a non-African American. Normal standards of truth, evidence and argument no longer apply. Obama needs to be treated with kid gloves — even if he makes false and malicious charges against others and, in the process, does great damage to our civic and political culture.

To put it another way: the theologian I heard from is insisting that my criticisms of President Obama need to be muted because he is a black man — and unless I have a “record deep in the civil rights struggle” (I was barely out of diapers during the Selma-to-Montgomery marches) criticizing him in the ways I have will “be seen as giving aid and comfort to, if not an expression of, the latent racism that is still much with us in this country.” So there you have it: laying out my philosophical and political disagreements with Obama, in the manner I have, is stoking racist elements in American society — and if I don’t want to be complicit in the rise of racial hatred in America, I need to “temper” my “attacks” on the president.

I pointed out to my interlocutor that (a) being a Christian doesn’t mean one must accept bad arguments and (b) accepting his critique is condescending. He has convinced himself that he is standing up for blacks and civil rights even as he is saying that we cannot treat them as equals. The rules that apply to others don’t apply to America’s first African-American president. Those who are advancing such a view are doing blacks no favor — and I for one cannot believe that President Obama would want to be judged by the color of his skin (which is what this theologian is insisting on) rather than the content of his character and the quality of his record.

The proposition that because Obama is the first black president we should treat him differently than we would treat a non-black is one many of us simply reject. A color-blind standard is of course at the heart of the case laid out by Martin Luther King Jr.

Ten days after President Obama took office, I offered four predictions, the first of which was this one: “while Obama is riding high, race relations will be excellent. But once Obama goes down in the polls and he does things that elicit criticism, be prepared for the ‘race card’ to be played. If it is, then race relations could be set back, because the charges will be so transparently false. If race was used by Obamacons against Bill Clinton, it will certainly be used against Republicans.”

That prediction has played itself out innumerable times since the dawn of the Obama Era. And it’s only going to get worse, as my recent exchange shows.

 

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Trayvon Martin’s Death Turned Into Media-Driven Circus

In the aftermath of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are attempting to use the dead 17-year-old to do what they have spent so much of their adult lives doing: dividing America over racial lines. So are some Members of Congress. President Obama’s words have certainly been more subtle and less polarizing than some others. Still Obama, having waded once before into a local law enforcement issue he chose to interpret through a racial lens (the 2009 arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates by a Cambridge police officer), decided he’d speak out on the Martin tragedy – even before the facts are all in and even before an arrest has been made. That is courting trouble. Newt Gingrich fired back with typical restraint, calling the president’s comments “disgraceful.”

MSNBC (among other news outlets) has been obsessing on the story. Film director Spike Lee re-tweeted the wrong address of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who shot Martin, with the result being that an elderly couple in their 70s were forced to flee their home after receiving death threats (Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, liberal but often responsible, takes apart Spike Lee here). And the New Black Panther party has put out a bounty on Zimmerman and called for his capture “dead or alive.”

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In the aftermath of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are attempting to use the dead 17-year-old to do what they have spent so much of their adult lives doing: dividing America over racial lines. So are some Members of Congress. President Obama’s words have certainly been more subtle and less polarizing than some others. Still Obama, having waded once before into a local law enforcement issue he chose to interpret through a racial lens (the 2009 arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates by a Cambridge police officer), decided he’d speak out on the Martin tragedy – even before the facts are all in and even before an arrest has been made. That is courting trouble. Newt Gingrich fired back with typical restraint, calling the president’s comments “disgraceful.”

MSNBC (among other news outlets) has been obsessing on the story. Film director Spike Lee re-tweeted the wrong address of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who shot Martin, with the result being that an elderly couple in their 70s were forced to flee their home after receiving death threats (Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, liberal but often responsible, takes apart Spike Lee here). And the New Black Panther party has put out a bounty on Zimmerman and called for his capture “dead or alive.”

We don’t know exactly what happened on the night of February 26. But we do know one thing for sure: Trayvon Martin did not deserve to be shot through the chest by a 9 mm handgun that killed him. Whether or not Zimmerman acted maliciously, recklessly, or mistakenly hasn’t been determined. How one views him depends on facts that are still unclear. But one life has been ended and the lives of many other people have been ruined.

We need to allow justice to be done – and justice might well mean the arrest and trial of Zimmerman. At the same time, a decent society would give the parents, family members and friends of those caught up in this nightmare the room to grieve. In days gone by, it would have been viewed as somewhat unseemly to take what ought to be private moments and feelings and have them played out on a public stage; to turn a human tragedy into a PR war. No more. One side wants to conduct a trial by television. The other feels compelled to respond. As a result, Trayvon Martin’s death has been turned into a media-driven circus.

The impulse of those who comprise the political class to reduce every single event in life – including tears and sorrows beyond measure – to partisan political ends isn’t the worst thing in the world. But it’s bad enough. And it needs to stop.

 

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Voter ID is Not Voter Suppression

Democrats have been working overtime lately looking for an issue to excite their base in the same manner that Barack Obama’s symbolic candidacy and post-partisan promises of “hope” and “change” did in 2008. Some liberal pundits have sought to overcome this problem by branding their opponents with the unforgiveable sin of modern American culture: racism. That’s the motive behind the absurd “dog whistle” talk we’ve been hearing about any mention of entitlement spending and the creation of another generation of poor Americans dependent on welfare. Others are ignoring this convoluted and misleading argument and instead going directly for the throat by charging Republicans with attempting to prevent African-Americans from voting.

The main problem with this is there are no such efforts under way, and if there were, they would be both illegal and bad politics. But in order to pursue this fallacious charge, Democrats continually characterize efforts to ensure voting integrity as racist. Thus, in 2012 the requirement that a voter should present a picture ID at the polls is being treated as irrefutable evidence of skullduggery. That’s the conceit behind a disingenuous piece in the online version of the New York Times that doesn’t even bother trying to prove that voter ID is a racist plot. Harvard historian Alexander Keyssar simply assumes this is so, and then proceeds to put in a long history of attempt to suppress votes in this country. The problem with this article is not just his false assumption about voter ID but also his unconvincing attempt to conflate actual disenfranchisement with efforts by politicians to discourage supporters of their opponents from voting.

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Democrats have been working overtime lately looking for an issue to excite their base in the same manner that Barack Obama’s symbolic candidacy and post-partisan promises of “hope” and “change” did in 2008. Some liberal pundits have sought to overcome this problem by branding their opponents with the unforgiveable sin of modern American culture: racism. That’s the motive behind the absurd “dog whistle” talk we’ve been hearing about any mention of entitlement spending and the creation of another generation of poor Americans dependent on welfare. Others are ignoring this convoluted and misleading argument and instead going directly for the throat by charging Republicans with attempting to prevent African-Americans from voting.

The main problem with this is there are no such efforts under way, and if there were, they would be both illegal and bad politics. But in order to pursue this fallacious charge, Democrats continually characterize efforts to ensure voting integrity as racist. Thus, in 2012 the requirement that a voter should present a picture ID at the polls is being treated as irrefutable evidence of skullduggery. That’s the conceit behind a disingenuous piece in the online version of the New York Times that doesn’t even bother trying to prove that voter ID is a racist plot. Harvard historian Alexander Keyssar simply assumes this is so, and then proceeds to put in a long history of attempt to suppress votes in this country. The problem with this article is not just his false assumption about voter ID but also his unconvincing attempt to conflate actual disenfranchisement with efforts by politicians to discourage supporters of their opponents from voting.

Keyssar is right to note there is a history of disenfranchisement in the United States. As in Britain, the franchise was initially restricted to property holders and those who professed the majority religion in some localities. Gradually those restrictions were discarded. But most people also know women couldn’t vote until after World War One and African-Americans were largely prevented from voting in many states by Jim Crow laws until the 1960s.

These chapters of history are unfortunate but are also closed. Anything that comes even close to restriction of the franchise is illegal. Even those laws which once required citizens to learn English in order to vote, a measure that is not quite the same thing as a racial ban but still discriminatory, are as dead as southern poll taxes intended to keep African-Americans powerless.

However, to compare voter ID laws to such legislation is absurd. In an era when you need a picture ID to drive a car, board a plane, get government benefits or do just about anything in contemporary American society, it takes an active and partisan imagination to claim asking someone who is voting to properly identify themselves is akin to Jim Crow. But one must ask if voter ID requirements are racist because they disproportionately affect the poor, how can similar restrictions anywhere else be deemed non-discriminatory?

Like most who make this allegation, Keyssar dismisses out of hand the possibility that candidates and parties cheat at elections. One would hope that this were so, but as historian he knows very well the record of American electoral corruption is just as long and sordid as that of prejudice. Mobilizing the nation’s graveyards on behalf of urban political machines is just as much a part of the fabric of our electoral history as disenfranchisement.

Stealing elections is a venerable American tradition and stretches from the colonial era to our own time. Indeed, just a few years ago it was liberals who pitched a fit when it became known the leading manufacturers of touch screen voting systems — Diebold, ESS, Sequoia, and a fourth, SAIC, Science Applications International — that had replaced traditional paper or lever machines in some localities had donated money to the GOP. At that time in the aftermath of the “hanging chad” election in Florida (which many Democrats still claim was “stolen” from them), Democrats did not think the integrity of the vote was a minor concern and acted to bar the use of some of the machines simply on the suspicion  they might somehow be manipulated to benefit Republicans.

If in just the last decade distrust between the parties is so great, why should we assume neither side would stoop to attempts at getting unregistered or illegal voters to the polls (though some liberals now also claim barring felons is also racist). Given the Democratic suspicion of Republicans, why do they feign surprise or disbelief when some Republicans think the Democrats are attempting to manipulate the results via undocumented voters? Keyssar claims only the poor are disenfranchised, but when elections are not honest, everybody loses in a democracy.

It should also be added that voter suppression techniques which seek to besmirch an opposing candidate or to frame the issues in such a way as to lower the enthusiasm level of the electorate may be dirty politics but it is not the same thing as a violation of the civil rights laws. To conflate, as Keyssar does, this term with actual attempts to prevent groups from voting is intellectually dishonest.

Honest elections are the foundation of trust in the system. Keyssar is right when he claims democracy is fragile. But it cannot be sustained with the hypocrisy and false charges of racism he has seconded.

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Liberal Racism Canard Won’t Work

While Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 largely on the notion that he was a post-racial and post-partisan political figure, its rapidly becoming apparent that many Democrats are hoping he can be re-elected by smearing his opponents as racists. That’s the upshot of a feature in Politico today that takes note that many liberals are using the image of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer wagging her finger at the president during an airport confrontation as proof that Republicans are racially biased.

The idea that Brewer’s finger wagging was racist is beyond absurd. Their argument had nothing to do with race. Moreover, Obama has made a habit of lecturing and wagging his own finger at opponents while nose-to-nose with them. As Politico notes, Brewer was even criticized for noting that it was Obama who was attempting to intimidate her and that he was intolerant of criticism. But equally absurd is the idea that Obama has been subjected to more abuse than his predecessors or that Republicans are using “dog whistle” racist arguments to whip up sentiment against him. Having failed to govern effectively during his three-plus years in office, Obama can’t run on a record of success. So he must instead seek to demonize his opponents and, indeed, all critics, by trying to still their voices by making them fear they will be accused of the one political sin for which there is no forgiveness in contemporary Western society: racism.

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While Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 largely on the notion that he was a post-racial and post-partisan political figure, its rapidly becoming apparent that many Democrats are hoping he can be re-elected by smearing his opponents as racists. That’s the upshot of a feature in Politico today that takes note that many liberals are using the image of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer wagging her finger at the president during an airport confrontation as proof that Republicans are racially biased.

The idea that Brewer’s finger wagging was racist is beyond absurd. Their argument had nothing to do with race. Moreover, Obama has made a habit of lecturing and wagging his own finger at opponents while nose-to-nose with them. As Politico notes, Brewer was even criticized for noting that it was Obama who was attempting to intimidate her and that he was intolerant of criticism. But equally absurd is the idea that Obama has been subjected to more abuse than his predecessors or that Republicans are using “dog whistle” racist arguments to whip up sentiment against him. Having failed to govern effectively during his three-plus years in office, Obama can’t run on a record of success. So he must instead seek to demonize his opponents and, indeed, all critics, by trying to still their voices by making them fear they will be accused of the one political sin for which there is no forgiveness in contemporary Western society: racism.

Obama and his defenders seem to want to have it both ways. They believe the president should be free to lecture his critics and to employ the crudest sort of class warfare tactics to delegitimize opposing views. But they also seek to categorize any sign of resistance to Obama’s charms as a form of lèse-majesté. Presumably, when governors of states are being intimidated on airport tarmacs by thin-skinned presidents, the only proper attitude is for them to simply stand at attention and take it without demurral.

Obama has been subjected to some brutal criticism and a lot of disrespect, some of which is highly regrettable. But so was his immediate predecessor. Anger at Obama is but an echo of the liberal campaign to delegitimize George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Few in the chattering classes who now carry on about abuse of Obama ever gave a second thought to the vile things said about Bush and Cheney.

As for the dog whistle arguments, this is another form of political trickery that seeks to avoid discussion of certain topics. I’m no fan of Newt Gingrich, but his invocation of Obama as a food stamp president has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with his attempt to remind voters of the same arguments he made during the GOP’s successful attempt to reform welfare. The point is that Democrats like Obama who seek to perpetuate the dependence of the poor on the government — especially racial minorities — are doing far more harm than good. Pointing this out isn’t racism; it’s just sensible and realistic social policy.

Branding Republicans as racists is important for Democrats because so many leading GOP figures are themselves minorities. The Republicans are now a diverse party with Hispanics like Senator Marco Rubio and New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez, Indian-Americans like Governors Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley and, yes, African-Americans like Rep. Allen West and Herman Cain, who present an image of Obama’s opposition that liberals cannot abide. They must try therefore to tar them all with the brush of racism lest the debate focus on their rejection of liberal shibboleths. Talk of racism also mobilizes the Democratic base that is always ready to believe the worst of Republicans even if the charge is utterly without a basis in fact.

But the problem for Obama’s would-be defenders is the racism canard won’t work this time. Having been elected to the presidency on the idea that he was a man who rose above such concerns, it is impossible for him to seek re-election by employing Al Sharpton’s tactics. While prejudice is far from dead in America, the only people seeking to whip up racial resentment these days are liberals who hope to cow those who resent Obama and wish to hold him accountable for his failures. If he is to win in 2012, it will be because of the incompetence of his opponents or by a miraculous economic recovery. But the more time liberals spend time talking about Republican racism the less likely it will be that independents and wavering Democrats who are tired of Obama’s excuses will listen to them.

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The NY Times’ Invidious Racial Stereotypes

New York Times editorialists, not exactly known for their racial sensitivity, have an especially offensive editorial this morning. The subject of the editorial is Newt Gingrich’s answer to Monday night’s debate question in which Gingrich defended the dignity and work ethic of minorities.

The editors say that “racial resentment” is behind the following statement of Gingrich’s: “The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.” After disputing the word “put” but conceding that Gingrich’s numbers about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were correct, the editors say this: “Non-Hispanic whites also far outnumber blacks receiving SNAP benefits.” That’s right–and this is more than just an example of what our own Max Boot likes to call the Times’ “self-refuting” editorials; it’s an admission that when someone says “food stamps” the Times hears “African-Americans.”

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New York Times editorialists, not exactly known for their racial sensitivity, have an especially offensive editorial this morning. The subject of the editorial is Newt Gingrich’s answer to Monday night’s debate question in which Gingrich defended the dignity and work ethic of minorities.

The editors say that “racial resentment” is behind the following statement of Gingrich’s: “The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.” After disputing the word “put” but conceding that Gingrich’s numbers about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were correct, the editors say this: “Non-Hispanic whites also far outnumber blacks receiving SNAP benefits.” That’s right–and this is more than just an example of what our own Max Boot likes to call the Times’ “self-refuting” editorials; it’s an admission that when someone says “food stamps” the Times hears “African-Americans.”

Yesterday, James Taranto noted the significance of the standing ovation Gingrich’s comments on equality received from the audience at the debate:

The people who stood and cheered as the former speaker forcefully defended the freedom of “every American of every background” were mostly white members of today’s Republican Party in the state that started the Civil War and later produced “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman and Strom Thurmond. That it was Martin Luther King Day was lagniappe.

Next to the election of a black president, we’d say that Gingrich’s standing O was the most compelling dramatization of racial progress so far this century. Which isn’t to say that racism has been completely eradicated. It lives on in the minds of liberals who see Bull Connor when they look at Ozzie Nelson.

I agree this does not mean race is no longer an issue on which the country can progress further. Indeed, when someone like Joe Biden can become vice president so soon after he blamed minorities for D.C.’s failing school system, disparaged Indian-Americans as 7-Eleven monopolists, and pronounced Barack Obama to be “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean,” we still have some work to do.

And that work perhaps begins with introducing the Times’ liberal editors to some minorities. After all, the most segregated cities in the country are also in overwhelmingly liberal areas. A trip to the seemingly more tolerant South might help; Biden could meet South Carolina’s Indian-American governor, Nikki Haley, or Louisiana’s Indian-American governor, Bobby Jindal, which would probably help Biden think beyond stereotypes. I’m not sure what would help the Times editors move beyond their offensive stereotypes of black Americans, but a conversation with Newt Gingrich might be a good place for them to start.

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