Politics & Policy

The Politics of Race

The Left is changing the game.

‘A lot of what the president has experienced is because he’s black,” said Angela Rye, executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, on C-SPAN’s Q&A this past Sunday.

A leader of the Congressional Black Caucus thinks the black president’s critics are racist? No surprise there.

But how does she know? Because in “the language that’s used” by his critics, Rye’s perfect-pitch ear for prejudice has picked up on the latest coded adjective: “cool.” Yes, “even ‘cool,’ the term ‘cool,’ could in some ways be deemed racial.”

She cited as evidence the new American Crossroads ad, “Cool,” which shows “the preezy of the United Steezy” (the ridiculous coinage, highlighted in the video, of late-night host Jimmy Fallon, still gripped by an unremitting Obama crush) dancing with Ellen and otherwise enjoying his status as “the biggest celebrity in the world” while crowds cheer and electronica plays in the background. But that isn’t the way it sounded to Ms. Rye, who said the music reminded her of the “blaxploitation films from the ’70s.”

Of course, hateful conservatives were not the first to call Obama “cool.” In fact, it seems to have been one of the more popular compliments for Obama from tingly-legged commentators on the left — up until last Sunday, when it became the latest codeword in Republican dog-whistle politics.

In April, the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza argued on MSNBC’s Hardball, “This is important, he [Obama] is cool. Mitt Romney is not cool.” In an interview with Reuters, late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel said the president is “hard to make fun of because he’s a cool character.”

But even if Obama has lost some of his “swagger” in recent months, in 2008 he was the King of Cool. Eleanor Clift fawned over his “cool, cerebral style” in the pages of Newsweek, while David Ignatius of the Washington Post remarked how Obama’s “cool, graceful quality evokes John F. Kennedy and the Rat Pack.” Shortly after his apotheosis to the presidency, Ross Colvin of Reuters described the president-elect as “uber-cool.” And at the Daily Kos, Jake McIntyre, fully prostrate, wrote, “And Barack Obama isn’t just cool — he’s redefined cool in politics. . . . He’s always cool. Every candidate for national office for a generation is going to seek to emulate Obama Cool.”

But none can trump Ebony, “the heart, the soul and the pulse of Black-America,” which issued this August 2008 collector’s-edition cover:

“Black Cool.” As it would happen, then, no one has more closely associated “cool” with race than Ebony. No doubt Ms. Rye will condemn this racist language.

Any day now.

— Ian Tuttle is an editorial intern at National Review Online.


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