Like you, probably, I noticed the big news from Kenneth T. Walsh’s new book, about black Americans and the White House. (For an excerpt, go here.) President Obama has said that racism is at least part of what motivates the Tea Party.
I said “big news,” but it’s not, really: It was kind of written in stone. Who doubted that criticism of Obama, or opposition to him, would be interpreted as racist? For eight years, we heard, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Sometime in 2008, a reader wrote me, “If Obama wins, dissent will be the highest form of racism.”
Lo . . .
(And don’t forget: The Hillary Clinton campaign, in the Democratic primaries, got tagged with racism too. I remember a prominent Republican saying to a big Democrat — a Hillary backer — “Now you know how it feels to be a Republican.” The Dem said, “For real.”)
I have a question: Have you noticed the Tea Partiers cutting Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid much slack on account of their lily whiteness? I don’t think I have. What about the black Tea Partiers? Are we just supposed to ignore them? (Yes.)
Let me take you down Memory Lane, a few years. About Justice Clarence Thomas, Reid said, “I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written.” As we all know, Reid is a literary, not to mention a judicial, genius.
(By the way, I have a friend who is a distinguished federal judge who says that Thomas’s opinions are just about the sharpest issuing from the Court — and my friend is a very big fan of Scalia.)
Now, everyone is entitled to his opinion — and I don’t think that Reid’s comments have racism in them. I think they’re merely stupid. But I have a question (another one): If a white conservative Republican said these things about a black liberal justice — “an embarrassment,” “his opinions are poorly written” — would that Republican be able to continue in public life?
Of course, Reid also said that Obama was a “light-skinned” fella “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” What Republican could have survived that?
In a recent interview with Thomas Sowell — written up for National Review a few issues ago — I asked him about the 2012 election. If Obama loses, will that be bad for American race relations? Oh, heavens. Sowell: “I would go out on a limb and predict race riots. I can’t imagine that the Al Sharptons, Jesse Jacksons, and the whole group of their imitators would sit idly by. It could be the cleanest election ever held on American soil, and they will say he was cheated out of it.”
During the 2008 campaign, I wrote a great deal about this subject: America, Obama, race. For a piece published on this site in October of that year — “That Old Devil Race” — go here.
The thing about claiming your opponents are racist when they’re not? What happens when your opponents, some of them, really do express racism? Well, I guess you just say it again. But some people might say to you, “Well, you said there was a wolf last time.”
I wrote about this business of dissent as “the highest form of racism” in the first year of Obama’s presidency. For a piece in the September 21, 2009, NR — “All Wee-Weed Up: Protests on the right, hypocrisy on the left” — go here.
And allow me to quote the very end of that 2008 piece I cited:
After the Democratic convention, I lingered in Denver for a couple of days. And three times — no fewer — young black men asked me whether I had attended the convention. (This was in restaurants and a hotel.) I said I had. Then they said, somewhat tentatively, “What did you think of the speech?” (meaning Obama’s). I said I thought it was fabulous (which I did — as a piece of oratory). In each case, the young man beamed and beamed.
This sort of feeling simply cannot be discounted. If Obama loses, there will be pain — more than the usual amount of pain following Election Day. A writer named Fatimah Ali, columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, said, “If McCain wins, look for a full-fledged race and class war.” Would it be as bad as that? There would certainly be stokers of grievance, as there forever are.
I repeat, there is an unease in this election, owing to race. There won’t always be, in these presidential elections. And won’t that be a great, fresh-aired day?
Last week, Jacques Barzun was awarded the National Humanities Medal. (He was one of a crop of Americans who won it.) Barzun, as you know, is the cultural historian who taught at Columbia University for many years. In fact, he started at Columbia in the mid-1920s, as an undergraduate. He was valedictorian of the Class of ’27. He earned his Ph.D. there in 1932. He retired from the university in 1975. He now lives in San Antonio, Texas. (What other San Antonios are there, right? Probably a few.)
I have written a little appreciation of Barzun for Humanities magazine: Go here, if you like. And I have a little fun with dates (as I just have, in a way).
Barzun was born in 1907. Who else was born that year? Auden, Moravia, Frida Kahlo, Buster Crabbe, John Wayne. (To name a mere five.) In America, the president was Theodore Roosevelt. In France, the prime minister was Georges Clemenceau. (Did I say that Barzun was born in France? And that he spent his first twelve years there?) I always knew Clemenceau as a World War I prime minister, which he was. But he had a first stint in the job from 1906 to 1909.
The year before Barzun was born, the Dreyfus affair came to its conclusion. Barzun was born a full seven years before the world war — and ten years before America’s entry into it.