Anti-Obama Racism

One of the trends I noted and commented on during the campaign was the insidious suggestion that one could only oppose Barack Obama’s election as president out of racism.   Now, it seems, we’re seeing the evolution of that theme:  racism must be behind any opposition to President Obama’s policy aims.

Megan McArdle defends [here and here] Arnold Kling from insidious charges of racism.

Glenn Reynolds contends that only “idiots” would charge racism in genuine policy disputes but the demonstrably bright Andrew Sullivan fell into the trap — although quite decently taking it back after reading Megan’s posts. Yet, he continues that line of reasoning more generally, asserting without any evidence or argumentation whatsoever that opposition to Obama’s taking control of the Census in the White House “was championed by Republicans for the usual ‘the-darkies-are-taking-over!’ reasons.”

Because Obama is black, there can be no other reason for disagreeing with him.  QED.

Megan’s absolutely right:

But accusing someone of deliberately using racial code-words to inflame prejudice against Barack Obama is a serious thing.  The very reason it is a serious thing is that in order to try and stomp it out, we have made overt prejudice into the social equivalent of a capital crime.  I approve of this.  But the severity of the punishment means that accusation of the crime should be held to a high standard–“beyond a reasonable doubt”.  It should not rest on a single infelicitous word choice.

Or, in the case of the Census debate, less.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. odograph says:

    There is just a slightly different standard of polite behavior, that’s all. It was wrong to say past President Bush “is the kind of guy I could have a beer with” but writers adjusted and we survived.

    Just be conscious of your metaphor.

    Because Obama is black, there can be no other reason for disagreeing with him. QED.

    Oh, and your hysteria.

  2. Grewgills says:

    I don’t think the referenced Kling article was necessarily racist, but it was stupid on several levels.
    Firstly, who called the Bush tax cuts the equivalent of Germany’s violation of Belgian neutrality? Honestly can anybody name one? This seems like an excuse to use the word reparations 4 times in a 3 paragraph attack on the stimulus package.

    It is easy to see why people disposed to see racism would see code in statements like,

    I think the answer is that it is a reparations bill, not a stimulus bill. People who pay income taxes tend to vote Republican. People who live off taxes tend to vote Democratic.

    Coupling reparations to Democratic constituencies with their hands out will sound like code to anyone sensitive (perhaps overly sensitive) to dog whistling.

    I have seen no evidence to indicate that “people who pay income taxes tend to vote Republican.” I can see how he would want to forward this as a talking point, but is it backed up by any evidence? The answer appears to be no. Looking at the most recent exit polling Obama won every income category other than 50-75K and 100-200K. That indicates to me that the majority of income tax paying citizens that voted last time around voted Democratic.
    As to people who live off of taxes, other than the elderly, I think the evidence is they tend not to vote at all.

    So, is Kling a racist? I don’t know, but I don’t think the evidence is there to say yes.
    The article was either inartful and politically tone deaf or it was artful dog whistling with a viable out built in. Either way it was stupid.

  3. James Joyner says:


    I think Kling’s use of “reparations” in the piece clearly referred to reversing the policies of the Bush era, not slavery.

    To the Democrats, the Bush tax cuts were a heinous evil, comparable to Germany’s violation of Belgian neutrality in World War I. Now, they are demanding reparations, with hundreds of billions of dollars to be paid into teachers unions and other members of the coalition that won the election.

    Kling’s sin was an overly clever metaphor — the stimulus as Versailles Treaty — and sticking with it to the bitter end.

  4. Grewgills says:

    Kling’s sin was an overly clever metaphor — the stimulus as Versailles Treaty — and sticking with it to the bitter end.

    I don’t necessarily disagree. It is certainly plausible that he created a rather strained metaphor and pursued it without thought as to how it would be interpreted. Tone deaf? Yes. Racist? Probably not.

    I have heard nobody other than Kling compare the Bush tax cuts to violation of Belgian neutrality much less claim an equivalence. Belgium of course received no reparations after WWI so the initially strained metaphor breaks down further. This may be a bit petty, but there it is.