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.