‘Here’s a little secret,” Keith Olbermann told viewers in 2010. “When racist white guys get together and they don’t want to be caught using any of the popular epithets that are in use every day in this country about black people . . . the racist white guys resort to euphemisms and code words.”
At least Olbermann acknowledged that not all white people are racist; but three and a half years into the first “post-racial” presidency, one might get that impression. Take the list Olbermann enumerated on air: “Cocky, flippant, punk, and especially, arrogant.” Last week, Congressional Black Caucus executive director Angela Rye added cool to the list: “Even cool, the term cool, could in some ways be deemed racial.”
Liberals have spent the past four years tearing out page after page of Merriam-Webster. “Articulate” and “bright” were forbidden early in the 2008 primary season, with Obama defenders dredging up a classy Chris Rock joke that “articulate” is “some s**t you say about retarded people that can talk.” But CNN, Legal Affairs, and other media outlets had bestowed the same compliment on John Edwards during his meteoric rise years before. A 2004 Slate headline called Edwards “bright and articulate and really, really youthful,” while Steve Benen wrote at the Carpetbagger Report in 2003 that “Edwards is a very bright, articulate, and aggressive lawmaker.”
In April, Mitt Romney unveiled a new campaign slogan at a stop in Ohio: “Obama Isn’t Working.” Racist, cried Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher: It evokes “the stereotype of the ‘lazy,’ ‘shiftless’ black man.” Van Jones, Obama’s erstwhile “green-jobs czar,” said in a web chat that the slogan set off “racial fire alarms.” But as the Romney campaign explained, the slogan was a tribute to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party, whose “Labour Isn’t Working” poster, designed in 1978 when the Iron Lady was running for prime minister, was named by Campaign
magazine the poster of the century: Its image of a winding unemployment line “pointed to Britain’s economic climate of rising unemployment, rising inflation, and a growing national debt.” Sound familiar?
Criticism of Obama policy is also racist. During debates over the president’s health-care overhaul, NPR claimed that “a sharp divide [exists] between whites who have a liberal outlook on racial issues compared with those who have a conservative outlook on racial issues.” Meanwhile, responding to South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” outburst during the president’s 2009 health-care address to Congress, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, “But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!”
Reflecting on C-SPAN on Obama’s election to the presidency, filmmaker Michael Moore said Obama succeeded among young voters “because they’re not as racist as the previous generations,” implying that all those older white folks who rejected Obama at the polls were racist.
And if liberals can find racism in Obama’s electoral victories, they can certainly locate it in his defeats. After a federal prisoner received more than 40 percent of the vote against Obama in May’s West Virginia primary, state Democrats blamed the racist voters. But, of course, in a closed Democratic primary, those could not be bigoted Republican voters. The state Democrats condemned their own.
The Left hears so many “dog whistles” in today’s public discourse that one fears to say anything at all. And that’s the point. Liberals use the accusation of racism as a cudgel to cow political opponents. But the refusal by so many on the left to approach with honesty disagreements on questions of policy indicates intellectual bankruptcy, and many are growing savvy to the invocation of race to forestall substantive debate. Furthermore, what anti-black racism does exist in America could not possibly account for the nearly 50 percent of voters who disapprove of the president’s performance, or his policies’ frequent failure in the courts, or his poor performance in his own party’s primaries.
In his book Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, Josef Pieper wrote, “The dignity of the word, to be sure, consists in this: through the word is accomplished what no other means can accomplish, namely, communication based on reality.”
Liberals have spent the last four years manipulating and excising words because they refuse to confront reality.
But then, we already knew that.
— Ian Tuttle is an editorial intern at National Review.