Race and Politics: An Inappropriate Response to a Metaphor

A poster at RedState demonstrates how not to approach the issue of race in politics.

The headline of Dave Poff’s RedState post says a lot:  And Even STILL I Am Not Allowed To Make A Racial Slur About Our President? After THIS? AYFKM!?!?!?

Specifically, Poff is offended by the following:

He said Republicans had driven the economy into a ditch and then stood by and criticized while Democrats pulled it out. Now that progress has been made, he said, “we can’t have special interests sitting shotgun. We gotta have middle class families up in front. We don’t mind the Republicans joining us. They can come for the ride, but they gotta sit in back.”

Poff is upset, one figures, because in Obama’s extended metaphor about driving a car into a ditch that he indicates that Republicans have to ride in back while middle class families ride up front.  On the one hand, references to riding in the back are associated with mistreatment of blacks in the pre-Civil Rights era, on the other if one is talking about a metaphorical car (not, btw, a bus) one reckons someone has to occupy the backseat (as opposed to “riding shotgun”).  On one level it is perhaps an ill-advised image for a politician to deploy.  On another, the meaning of the metaphor is both pretty obvious and it clearly has no racial elements.

At a minimum, getting self-righteously offended by this strikes me as a stretch, although I can understand how a political attack on Republicans would rankle a Republican.  The thing, however, that is remarkably striking is the headline and the sentiment it conveys: “And Even STILL I am not Allowed to Make a Racial Slur About Our President?”  The suggestion seems to be that a)  Poff really, really has wanted to use racial slurs in the past, but simply hasn’t been “allowed” to deploy such, and b) that it is possible for a racial slur to be an appropriate response if, in fact, the President says something that really upsets Poff.

This is not the way to demonstrate that opposition to Obama doesn’t contain an undercurrent of racism.  Indeed, the post itself, while less blatant than the headline, doesn’t exactly disabuse one of such notion.  I can understand not liking what Obama is saying about Republicans vis-a-vis public policy, but if that is the situation, make your case—don’t launch forth about your resentment that you think Obama is getting some sort of pass because he is black.  Indeed, if one’s goal is to criticize Obama in regards to race relations, I think that admitting to a desire to deploy a racial slur rather undercuts one’s moral standing (to put it mildly).

I would note that if Bill Clinton made the exact same analogy it may have still upset Poff, but I don’t think it would have inspired a desire to use a racial slur against him.

Let me conclude by noting that on the one hand, this is just some dude writing on a blog and isn’t that big of a deal–although it is a blog that seeks to be a major voice for conservativism/Republicans and whose main writer was given a gig on CNN as a result.  However, it seems to me that things like this very much deserve to be called out.

Update:  Jonathan Bernstein rather succinctly explains the metaphor in question:

Back of the bus is about Jim Crow, and race.  Back of the car is where the kids sit while the grownups are up front.  It has no racial or ethnic overtones.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. John P says:

    Mr. Poff, what you’ve just written is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this forum is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

  2. Franklin says:

    Let’s pretend that Obama meant it in a racist way. How does this give anybody else an excuse to be racist?

  3. Rock says:

    Most people and their brothers down to their third cousins once removed knows what “they gotta sit in back.” means. It’s the same as “colored water fountains” and “colored served round back.” Forcing people to the back of the bus was basically what kicked off the civil rights movement in the first place.

    I was shocked that the President would say something like this. Obviously nobody is minding his teleprompter.

  4. Tano says:

    “Forcing people to the back of the bus was basically what kicked off the civil rights movement…”

    You do realize, don’t you, that Obama was not saying that white people need to sit in the back of the bus. He said Republicans, relative to middle class Americans.

    Trying to, or succeeding at. keeping a racial group from exercising political power is racism. Trying to keep a political party from exercising political power is what electoral politics is all about.

    Promoting a racial group to a privileged position in society (and in a bus) is an expression of racial superiority. Promoting the middle class to a privileged position in the political arena is what both political parties constantly claim to be doing.

  5. Billy says:

    John P FTW

  6. rodney dill says:

    Well Barack probably wasn’t trying to be racist against whites with his comment, but he certainly was trying use that imagery to appeal to Black voters, without eliciting much negative backlash from White voters. Very calculated. (and on a teleprompter of course.)

  7. Lynne says:

    Rather than getting up in arms over this one, I think instead that you can go after Obama’s comments to Hispanics, to encourage them to vote Democratic , which was to ask them to “punish their enemies”. Seriously?!?!?

    This guy is the sitting President of the United States. Once you assume that role, this kind of campaigning is in very poor taste.

  8. John P says:

    Guys, it was a metaphor about a car, not a bus…You can’t simply take the phrase – sit in the back and apply it as broadly as you like.

    I’m just glad he didn’t use the movie Speed in his allegory. Bomb, bus, Birmingham bombings, Keanu Reeves from Speed played Neo in The Matrix, Neo is close to Nero, Nero let Rome burn, Rome was the greatest empire ever known until the United States, Barrack is trying to burn and bomb the United States.

    Knibb High Football rules!

  9. Valerie says:

    Well said.

  10. sam says:

    “I think instead that you can go after Obama’s comments to Hispanics, to encourage them to vote Democratic , which was to ask them to “punish their enemies”.

    Yeah, so? Here’s the quote (via American Spectator):

    “And if Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, we’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us, if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it’s gonna be harder – and that’s why I think it’s so important that people focus on voting on November 2.”

    What’s the big deal about that? He’d clearly saying punish them by voting for their opponents. Or did you think he meant horse-whipping them?

  11. mantis says:

    What’s the big deal about that? He’d clearly saying punish them by voting for their opponents. Or did you think he meant horse-whipping them?

    Deliberate and dishonest misreading, misquoting, or manipulation (video editing) of anything any Democrat says is the first strategy in the wingnut playbook. They know they’re full of shit. That’s kind of the point.

  12. Wayne says:

    If a Republican would have said the same thing about Democrats and/or Republicans, liberals would have been screaming mad. “But but he said get in the back of the car not bus”. Like it matters. Talking about a lame excuse.

    The intent is the same. He wants to treat a group of people (Republicans) like second class citizens. “But but it is not about race so it is OK”. Discrimination is discrimination and it a shame how many of you defend such discrimination.

    And there are those who say Obama is ready to compromise with the Republicans and forget the idea of Obama representing all of America and not just the Democrats.

  13. sam says:

    Jesus, Wayne, dude, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  14. narciso says:

    It’s not reflective of race, more his entitled attitude, he did promise immigration reform, he didn’t deliver, it was a foolish promise, but he made it so. The only argument is how Obama characterized political rivals as enemies,

  15. Tano says:

    “He wants to treat a group of people (Republicans) like second class citizens. ”

    No Wayne, he wants a group of people (Republicans) to be in a position where they cannot get their hands on the steering wheel. He wants you to lose the election.

    “Discrimination is discrimination and it a shame how many of you defend such discrimination. ”

    Well I am glad that you are taking that position. Now please live by your words and make sure you do not discriminate against Democrats next Tuesday.

    “..forget the idea of Obama representing all of America…”

    Ah yes, and in 2012 Obama, doing his best to live up to your standards, should never let a critical word slip from his mouth about any of those running against him. They of course, not being President, shall have no inhibitions.

    good luck with that one, Wayne….

  16. Wayne says:

    Saying negative things about the opposition party is to be expected in a campaign. However that is all Obama has done since he has been elected but then again he has been in constant campaign mode.

    A president should be above politics at times for example at the State of the Union address but Obama hasn’t done it yet. Obama is divisive, demeaning and unPresidential.

    Do you expect people to cooperate with Obama when he tells them to sit down, shut up, I don’t want to hear from you and call them names? He is acting like a dictator and the Republican Party is beneath him and has no business suggesting anything to him.

  17. Juneau: says:

    @ sam

    What’s the big deal about that? He’d clearly saying punish them by voting for their opponents. Or did you think he meant horse-whipping them?

    No, sam. It’s the notion that Republicans are the enemies of all Latinos just because they are standing against illegal immigration. This is not only inaccurate, but it is engendering racial tension under false pretenses. Duh.

    Remember sam… Critical thinking. Try it.

  18. Dustin says:

    Am I the only one who thought (thinks) he was referring to Republicans as children who must ride in the back?

  19. Juneau: says:

    @ Tano

    Ah yes, and in 2012 Obama, doing his best to live up to your standards, should never let a critical word slip from his mouth about any of those running against him.

    Noooo… but he might try being somewhat less than the whining, sniveling, thin-skinned, neophyte that he displays day in and day out. He whines incessantly about – everyone and everything. This pettiness should be beneath a President, but we have found that there are few things which are beneath this child-prince, champion of the liberal left.

  20. reid says:

    Speaking of whining and sniveling, the partisan attack gnats are out in force today.

  21. Pug says:

    I was shocked that the President would say something like this.

    You get the vapors easily. I’m so tired of feigned outrage.

  22. Steve Verdon says:

    I don’t mind riding in the back just so long as we aren’t late to the dim sum restaurant.

  23. Davebo says:

    Rather than making a racial statement I’d say Obama was pointing out the obvious.

    It’s really hard to drive the car off a cliff from back seat. And since the GOP has a recent history of doing just that it seems like a good idea to me.

    I can understand how some would rather deflect this obvious meaning as a racial comment, having cheered wildly during said past off the cliff driving, but it reflects worse on them than Obama.

    Let’s all hold a rally and pretend it didn’t actually happen! And you didn’t cheer wildly as it did.

  24. TG Chicago says:

    The funny thing (well, one of them) is that Poff’s headline actually sounds like a kid in the back seat having a fit:

    “Daddy, can I PLEEEEEEASE call the black man a racial slur???”

    Way to show that you belong in the driver’s seat.

  25. floyd says:

    Pug;
    So your tired of feigned outrage?
    Me too, been hearing it from the left for more than a generation now.[LOL]
    The reactions here prove the hypocrisy.

  26. TG Chicago says:

    Saying negative things about the opposition party is to be expected in a campaign. However that is all Obama has done since he has been elected but then again he has been in constant campaign mode. […] He is acting like a dictator and the Republican Party is beneath him and has no business suggesting anything to him.

    This is clearly false. For proof, I figured I’d grab one of his more famous public appearances, his 7/22/09 press conference about health care:

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2009/07/22/transcript_of_obama_prime-time.html

    I skimmed through it and didn’t find any examples of what you claimed. In fact, he makes a point to compliment Republicans on a few occasions.

    Also, in looking for that one, I accidentally got this one first:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/23/AR2009062301656.html

    Feel free to look through that one as well. One questioner tries to get Obama to say something negative about Republicans who had criticized him, but he doesn’t take the bait.

    Your claim was a lie.

  27. rodney dill says:

    You can claim that Obama didn’t use the ‘back of the bus car” imagery in a calculated fashion, but that would only be putting lipstick on a pig.