Eugene Robinson’s Election Day column makes the serious charge that the revolt against the Obama agenda is driven by race, meaning prejudice against a black president. There are a number of reasons why that argument is unhinged, desperate, and beneath an informed observer:
1) Voter anger is directed against the Obama agenda and those who promote it. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are as unpopular as Barack Obama — maybe more unpopular. Dozens of white male incumbents are going to lose today, and it’s not because they supported a black man; it’s because they oversaw the government takeover of health care, borrowed $3 trillion in 21 months, perpetuated a “culture of corruption,” and saw unemployment rise to 10 percent.
2) The Tea Party zealots backed all sorts of candidates: women like Sharron Angle, Hispanics like Marco Rubio, blacks like Allen West, and Asians like Van Tran. Race and gender were incidental, not essential, to their support. Can Robinson say the same?
3) Barack Obama has encountered no more venom — in fact, much less — than did George Bush and Bill Clinton. As of yet, thank God, we have not seen an Alfred Knopf novel like Checkpoint aimed at Obama, or anything like the 2006 prize-winning film Death of a President, which imagined the shooting of George Bush. I don’t recall Robinson suggesting that such sick, unhinged hatred of Bush was either untoward or motivated by nefarious forces.
4) By 2001, the two highest foreign-policy officials of the U.S. government — secretary of state and national security advisor — were both African-Americans. There was some racism directed at them, but it came mostly from the anti-war Left (cf. the despicable comments of a Harry Belafonte) — and especially from abroad, as in the case of the sick anti-Rice cartoons that appeared in the Palestinian papers. Again, I don’t recall outrage from Robinson over that overt racism.
5) To the degree racial divisiveness is more apparent after 2008, it is largely due to the Obama administration. The president himself called for Latinos to see Republicans as “enemies.” He encouraged racial groups to vote on the basis that the Republicans did not wish them to. He used racially loaded imagery to suggest that Republicans should sit in the back of the car. He suggested that the Cambridge police, on no evidence, had engaged in stereotyping and had acted stupidly. His attorney general called Americans “cowards” for not wishing to talk about race on his terms. There is no need to repeat the racist rants of Van Jones. His Supreme Court nominee gave reasons why a “wise Latina” intrinsically would make a better judge than a white counterpart. And all this came after the 2008 mess with the overt racist Rev. Wright, the “typical white person” slur, and the condescending put-down of the white “clingers” of Pennsylvania. To the degree that racial polarization has surfaced, it has been due entirely to Barack Obama’s modus operandi, saying different things to different audiences, predicated on their race.
6) One thing has changed, however. The near obsessive use of the slur “racist” in lieu of an argument has now so inflated the currency of that charge that it has been rendered meaningless — and, in fact, tells us far more about the character of the accuser than of the intended target.