Politics & Policy

Not Everything Is About Race

A wrong and reckless approach.

In his Friday column, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post writes this:

Republicans clearly know that they can find ways to play on racial feeling while fully denying they are doing so. On Wednesday, the North Carolina Republican Party released a television ad showing Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, giving his now-famous sermon in which he declared, “God damn America.” Of course Wright’s comments were offensive, but to pretend that the ad does not have racial undertones would be to deny the obvious. After all, why didn’t North Carolina Republicans focus instead on attacking Obama’s alleged “elitism” or his foreign policy views?

But the ad in question doesn’t mention race anywhere; rather, it includes a clip of Reverend Wright’s incendiary words. Wright happens to be black — but his race is not the reason he’s in the ad. His words are — and if Wright were white, his words and picture would still be used.

Dionne argues that racism has to be the motivation of the North Carolina Republican party because the ad showed Wright’s comments instead of focusing on Obama’s foreign-policy views. But perhaps the reason for that is that Wright’s words insisting that God “damn America” — which Dionne himself concedes are “offensive” and has elsewhere described as “anti-American,” “lunatic,” “pernicious,” and ones we should “loathe” — are far more troubling to many Americans than Obama’s stand on the U.N. or the E.U.

If the ads are racist, then does Dionne believe asking questions about Wright is racist as well? Are news networks racist for having played the clips in the first place? Are columnists who write on this topic playing on racial fears as well?

It doesn’t help matters, of course, when Senator McCain asserts the ads are “unacceptable” and worth “repudiating.” Senator McCain never explains why, perhaps because the ads merely quote Reverend Wright, whom Obama spent 20 years worshiping under and developed a close personal relationship with. Does McCain believe those who are concerned about Obama’s association with Wright are acting against the spirit of Lincoln, TR, and Ronald Reagan (who himself was falsely accused of racism by liberals countless times)?

These kind of criticisms, un-anchored to any persuasive or substantive argument, are the kind that conservatives find discouraging and disturbing. The senior senator from Arizona could probably find more constructive things to do with his time than to help those on the Left brand conservatives as racists. The deeper damage, of course, will be that when real racism does emerge — and it does exist — the accusations will be largely dismissed.

What Dionne is doing, and what McCain is aiding Dionne in doing, is wrong and reckless. People who are troubled by what the Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr. said — which is just about everyone who heard what Wright said — are not racists, and calling attention to what Wright said is not racism. To pretend that’s the case is an effort at intimidation, and I rather doubt it will work. The Wright issue won’t go away, nor should it.

— Peter Wehner, former deputy assistant to the president, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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