Our new racial profiling ripples out from the top. When Rick Perry referred to “a big black cloud that hangs over America — that debt that is so monstrous,” he was accused of racism; the second half of the quote was conveniently omitted. Chris Matthews referred to Perry’s support of federalism with the quip, “This is going to be Bull Connor with a smile.” Lee Siegel just wrote in the New York Times that “Mitt Romney is the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory.” Think for a minute of prominent public figures who at one time or another have been accused by the Obama team of either being racist or playing racial politics against them: Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Darrell Issa, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum. The list grows in direct proportion to the uncertainty of Obama’s political fortunes.
President Obama and his supporters insist that they deemphasize matters of race, but their record in just the last four years reveals a veritable obsession with it, in a manner that was never true of prior minority members serving in high office — think of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, or Alberto Gonzales. We are not that far away from Obama’s appearance on the national scene as a serious presidential candidate in early 2008. Yet he has already reformulated racial discourse in America, most famously blasting Pennsylvania whites who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them,” and introducing “typical white person” into the national lexicon and the racist Rev. Jeremiah Wright into the national consciousness. The mythography of the 2008 campaign was that Barack Obama overcame the burdens of racism; the reality was that racial intemperance during that long year came principally from Barack Obama himself or his personal pastor — and, in our disturbed culture, even to acknowledge that fact earns the charge of “Racist!”
Obama has mainstreamed the practice of profiling friends and enemies on this reactionary basis of racial identity. In a Democratic National Committee video in April 2010, Obama called on “young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women . . . to stand together once again.” Are those not included in his categories, then, not to stand “together” again? Shortly before the November 2010 congressional elections, Obama suggested told a huge audience in Philadelphia that Republicans “are counting on black folks staying home.” In one of his most surreal speeches before the Congressional Black Caucus, Obama in affected fashion adopted the supposed patois of Black America in defining collective interests by shared race: “Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do.” Separately, he appealed to Latino voters not to stay home from the 2010 election, but instead to “punish our enemies” — and not to fall prey to the Republicans’ “cynical attempt to discourage Latinos from voting.” I don’t think a president of the United States has ever, at least since the pre–Civil War era, openly called on a racial group to join with him to punish political adversaries.
Obama stereotyped the Cambridge police department as having “acted stupidly” for detaining his friend Henry Louis Gates, an African-American Studies professor at Harvard. He allegedly complained to political supporters that racial bias explains much of the Tea Party’s opposition to his administration. The wonder is not only that the president of the United States constantly refers to race, but that his serial obsession now earns snores rather than surprise.
Indeed, President Obama’s example has radically brought the politics of race into almost every conceivable forum. Members of the Black Caucus now routinely either allege outright racism or exhibit racist attitudes themselves if opposition arises to the Obama agenda. That is a serious charge, but it is one supported by numerous examples. For Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D., Mo.), white presidents must be “pushed a great deal more” to address black unemployment than would a black president. For Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Tex.), argument over the debt ceiling is proof of racial animosity toward Barack Obama; for Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.), Republicans are trying to deny blacks the vote; for Rep. André Carson (D., Ind.), the Tea Party wishes to lynch blacks and hang them from trees; for Rep. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), Rick Perry’s job creation in Texas is “one stage away from slavery,” and on and on and on. Icons of popular culture — whether a Morgan Freeman (“It’s a racist thing”) or a Whoopi Goldberg (“I’m playing the damn [race] card”) — routinely accuse Americans of racism for their growing unhappiness over the record of the Obama administration.