Defining ‘Racism’ Down
I’ve noted for months the rise of a meme, first in the Democratic primaries then, and especially, in the general election campaign that the only thing that could possibly keep Barack Obama from winning is racism. Given that he appears to be coasting to victory, drawing in staggering levels of contributions and spending massive sums to advertise in states he can’t possibly win just for the sake of running up the score and creating the illusion of a “mandate,” one would think that talk would go away.
It hasn’t. Indeed, we continue to see it even in the most respectable corners of the center-left. Josh Marshall, for example, writes,
Yes, it looks good for the Democrats. But you need to play close attention to the McCain campaign’s final weeks’ strategy under and just above the radar. McCain’s final strategy relies on two pillars. The first is aggressively playing to voters’ fears of electing a black president. Make no mistake: not just his campaign in a general sense, but McCain himself and his top handful of advisers, are banking on the residual racism in a changing America to get them over the finish line. The second is an aggressive use of innuendo to convince casual voters that Obama is in league with Islamic terrorists bent on killing Americans.
Stripped down to its components McCain’s message to voters is this: “Don’t forget. He’s definitely black. And he may be a terrorist.” That’s the message. The nuts and bolts is a concerted effort to keep Democrats from voting — through intimidation, by striking new voters from the rolls, which is going to happen to lots of them, clogging polling stations to create delays that keep late day (predominantly) Obama voters from voting altogether. Smears in the air and voter suppression on the ground.
This is nonsense. Republicans have been using the Patriotism card against Democrats in every presidential election in my lifetime. Nixon did it. Reagan did it. Bush 41 did it. Dole did it. Bush 43 did it. (I don’t know whether Ford did it; if he didn’t, he should have, considering the narrowness of his loss.) Given that the opponents in each case were Caucasian, it’s hard to see how the tactic is racist. Using a tried-and-true tactic against a biracial candidate doesn’t magically make it racist.
Nor, incidentally, is every mention of race racist. Lots of commentators on the left are upset that some conservatives have presumed that one reason Colin Powell endorsed Obama yesterday are because they’re both black. Presuming this is “racist” when Pat Buchanan, or even Rush Limbaugh, makes mention of it is somewhat understandable given past controversies. But George Will? During a very pleasant conversation about the endorsement on “This Week,” he said, “Barack Obama gets two votes because he’s black for every one he loses because he’s black because so much of this country is so eager, a, to feel good about itself by doing this, but more than that to put paid to the whole Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson game of political rhetoric.”
Now, I don’t know whether the observation is true as a statistical matter. But it’s hardly “racist.”
Nor is the insinuation that race was one factor among many in Powell’s endorsement. Indeed, Powell said as much.
MR. BROKAW: And you are fully aware that there will be some–how many, no one can say for sure–but there will be some who will say this is an African-American, distinguished American, supporting another African-American because of race.
GEN. POWELL: If I had only had that in mind, I could have done this six, eight, 10 months ago. I really have been going back and forth between somebody I have the highest respect and regard for, John McCain, and somebody I was getting to know, Barack Obama. And it was only in the last couple of months that I settled on this. And I can’t deny that it will be a historic event for an African-American to become president. And should that happen, all Americans should be proud–not just African-Americans, but all Americans–that we have reached this point in our national history where such a thing could happen. It will also not only electrify our country, I think it’ll electrify the world.
Which, by the way, is essentially what Will was saying.
Limbaugh’s line, “I am now researching his past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he has endorsed,” is amusing and has more than a grain of truth. The problem with it is that Obama is sui generis. While he’s certainly more liberal than even Powell would normally prefer as president — Powell said so during the MTP appearance — he’s undeniably charismatic, calm, and possessed of enormous political skills. And McCain has certainly given Rockefeller Republicans plenty of reason to jump off the bandwagon.
So, dismissing Powell’s endorsement as being entirely about race is silly. To say that it’s one factor among many, though, is to state the obvious.