David Sirota at Salon thinks this Crossroads GPS ad is racist:
Specifically, Sirota thinks Karl Rove is, with a genius as evil as it is subtle, “present[ing] the image of an African-American man as an evildoer, referring to him as the tax-raising “he,” and pitting him against the “we” in classic demagogic “us versus them” terms.”
Once you’re done laughing, you’ll probably feel a little guilty, clear your throat, and in your least-condescending-sounding voice tell Sirota that maybe it’s a bit hasty to read racial code into a set of signifiers when Bill Ockham would say plain-old politics explains them just fine. But Sirota has anticipated this bit of logical trickery! He goes on:
Now before you explain that away as non-racial partisanship against a Democratic president rather than coded racial messaging, remember one additional point: In the ad, almost all of the “we” who allegedly oppose tax increases just so happen to be white people. That’s right, save for possibly one or two factory workers blurred in the background of a single shot (I say “possibly” because their ethnicity isn’t clear), all of the “we” who Rove implies are against tax increases — all who are shown while the voiceover says “we need ideas we can all support” — are white. (In all, there are 12 people representing the “we” against Obama — and at most two or three of them are people of color, and that assumes those in question aren’t white, which, again, is unclear. Bottom line: the montage of “we” in the ad is obviously designed to be a montage of White America.)
Keep in mind that in an article the full title and subtitle of which is –
– Sirota is now just frigging counting minorities. After strict scrutiny he spots a couple “possible” matches among the factory workers, but complains that “their ethnicity isn’t clear.” Well I’m just sure said factory workers are sorry as hell about that, Dave, and would apologize to you if given half a chance — but maybe say a bit more about what you’re looking for in a minority so they’ll have something to work with? How do we make that “possible” into a “definite”? Are we just talking melanin here? Or do you have ideas about bone structure, hair, maybe traditional dress? Your readers want to know.
One wholly unoriginal observation here. The most shameful thing about this kind of race baiting is its unfalsifiability. Sirota’s analysis proceeds on the premise that dog-whistling like Rove’s is sufficiently subtle that it requires expert exegesis to reveal the racism within, hence the need for a priestly class of racial Ulama to whom we laymen defer on such matters. The danger here is self-evident. Worse, if we’re now at the point that referring to the President in a third-person pronoun is racist, it’s unclear what sort of ad Rove could have made that would pass muster with Sirota. Suppose Rove had put a lot of African Americans — sorry, Dave, I meant definite African Americans — in the ad? Would Sirota have then thought it unremarkable? If so, that’s some weak sauce, and an easy-enough out for the would-be dog-whistler. Systematic racism should be made of sterner stuff than pointed choices in extras casting. But the likelier answer is that Sirota would have in that case accused Rove of flying a false flag, of dishonestly exploiting the imagery of diversity to imply that Crossroads GPS, the Republican Party, or the Right represent the black community in any way. In other words, Sirota would have thought that ad was racist.