The election of the biracial Barack Obama was supposed to usher in a new era of racial harmony. Instead, that dream is becoming a tribally polarized nightmare — by design, and intended to assist in the reelection of Barack Obama.
Consider the increasing obsession with the term “white” (as in versus “black”), along with the old standby charge of “racism” — nearly all of it emanating from the president’s surrogates and celebrity supporters. Upon the announcement of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential pick, almost immediately Donna Christensen, the non-voting congressional delegate from the Virgin Islands, tweeted: “Wait a minute! Are there black people in Va? Guess just not w Romney Ryan! At least not seeing us. We know who’s got our back & we have his.”
“Got our back” — compare the Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith’s video appealing to African-Americans to cover the president’s back — of course implies that Paul Ryan is a veritable racist who by virtue of his skin color and conservative politics will stab blacks in the back. In that vein, Mia Farrow, viewing the initial Romney/Ryan rally, offers, “Camera pans crowd: whole bunch of white people.”
Here is what Melissa Harris-Perry, the weekend host of MSNBC’s Hardball, said of Paul Ryan’s referring to the Declaration of Independence: “The thing I really have against him is actually how he and Gov. Romney have misused the Declaration of Independence. I’m deeply irritated by their notion that the ‘pursuit of happiness’ means money for the richest and that we extricate the capacity of ordinary people to pursue happiness. When they say ‘God and nature give us our rights, not government,’ that is a lovely thing to say as a wealthy white man.” In the postmodern world of Ms. Harris-Perry, which is the world of Barack Obama, what we say has no innate meaning apart from our class, race, and gender.
Expect the Ryan selection in the next few days to spawn a new flurry of “wealthy white man” invective in a manner that two Clinton-Gore tickets, a Gore-Lieberman ticket, and a Kerry-Edwards ticket never did.
Yet there is no indication of a new racism on the part of conservatives or Republicans. Herman Cain — until dismembered by media accusations — led the Republican primary field for weeks in the polls. Michael Steele ran the Republican National Committee for two years. Allen West remains the Tea Party’s most popular politician. And many polls showed that Condoleezza Rice was the favored vice-presidential candidate among the Republican faithful. George W. Bush chose two African-American secretaries of state. That post has not been held by a white male since the ancient days of Warren Christopher.
Yet when Romney goes to Poland, Cokie Roberts hypothesizes that he is angling for the votes of Polish-Americans. Louise Lucas, a Virginia state senator who identifies herself as part of the Obama “Truth Team,” not long ago blurted out: “What I am saying to you is Mitt Romney, he’s speaking to a segment of the population, who does not like to see people other than a white man in a White House or any other elected position.” According to Ms. Lucas’s logic, if Obama in 2008 won 43 percent of the so-called white vote, and 97 percent of the African-American vote, then there lingers a suspicion of white racism, of prejudiced individuals who are voting on the basis of racial identification rather than the issues.
Among the many unhinged things that the majority leader of the United States Senate, Harry Reid (D., Nev.), has said, the creepiest is his most recent editorializing about a possible Mitt Romney victory in November: “The day after the election 17 angry old white men will wake up and realize they just bought the country.” In 2008, Barack Obama raised about $800 million, well more than double the amount raised by John McCain. Were there any “angry old white men” who helped Obama gain such a substantial edge in money-raising?
Not long ago NBC’s Brian Williams asked Mitt Romney to confirm or deny that he was going to pick “an incredibly boring white guy” as his running mate. In the world of Brian Williams and Harry Reid, “angry old white men” and “boring white guy[s]” refer to suspect conservative others, never themselves, who win exemption from blame for their natural propensities because of their bumper-sticker liberalism. Imagine the fate of any pundit, politician, or media person who talked in stereotyped terms of “wealthy black men,” “incredibly boring black guys,” or “angry old black men.”
This latest round of acrimony follows the accusations this spring of tea-party racism, mostly from members of the Black Caucus. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), remember, claimed that Republican primary candidate Rick Perry advocated a jobs program that was one “one stage away from slavery.” Representative André Carson (D., Ind.) leveled the charge that the Tea Party wanted to lynch blacks from trees. In February, Representative Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) exclaimed, “I saw pictures of Boehner and Cantor on our screens [at the California state Democratic convention]. Don’t ever let me see again, in life, those Republicans in our hall, on our screens, talking about anything. These are demons.”