The Corner

Anatomy of the “Racist” Charge—or, How to Turn a Setback into a Disaster

It is strange to see Democrats and their supporters persist in their efforts – indeed, even intensify them – to equate Obama’s failing legislative initiatives, his dive in the polls, and the rise of protests against him with racism. Polls reveal that it is not just a losing tactic, but an enormously self-destructive one for Democrats.

To make the argument, they would have to prove three points. And so far they have not even come close:

1) Uniquely vicious?

Is the anger against Obama different from what we have seen leveled against presidents in the past? Americans not only know that this is not true, but that some who now charge unfair play were themselves well beyond the bounds of decorum in their own attacks. In the Bush years, “hate” was a favorite word of liberal critics, from both officials (cf. Howard Dean) and mainstream publications (cf. The New Republic). “Assassination” was the rage among liberal culture (cf. Alfred Knopf, the Toronto film festival, the Guardian). “Liar,” “Nazi,” and “brownshirt” were casual slurs from high-profile Democrats (cf. Gore, John Glenn, Robert Byrd, Harry Reid, Pete Stark, etc.). True, shouting “you lie” is more serious than booing the President (cf. 2005), but whereas Rep. Joe Wilson has apologized, none of the booers at Bush’s State of the Union address, I think, felt that ”I’m sorry” was ever necessary. (Questioning Barack Obama’s birth certificate is infantile, even unhinged, but not de facto racially motivated — perhaps analogous to something like Andrew Sullivan persisting in spreading rumors [complete with purported photographs] that Sarah Palin did not deliver her last child and engaged in an elaborate cover-up of a faked pregnancy and delivery to hide her daughter’s own stealth unwed pregnancy.)

2) Is Obama the only minority high-profile figure to have earned real anger? 

No. Clarence Thomas had his character destroyed for partisan purposes, and liberals were enraged when he attributed it to a “high-tech lynching.” Alberto Gonzalez was reduced to a caricature of an affirmative-action beneficiary. Former HHS Secretary Louis Wade Sullivan’s race was explicitly cited by Representative Stark in a particularly nasty attack. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was caricatured in state-run Palestinian newspaper cartoons as a pregnant monkey, few on the left rushed to denounce such virulent racism. The sad truth is that if a Pres. Condi Rice or Pres. Colin Powell were now in the midst of pushing a controversial conservative agenda (e.g., a federal ban on abortions, cuts in federal spending, keeping open Guantanamo, etc.), the liberal press would be as aggressively hostile as conservatives are today against the Obama plans. The only difference would be that all in the liberal camp would be furious over suggestions of racial motivations to their own anger over conservative African-Americans pushing controversial policy. This is self-evident.

3) Do more prominent politicians on the Right engage in racially charged invective, or rather on the Left?

There have been some lunatic local and minor right-wing state officials who have engaged in racist charges. But so far the most prominent violators of our common norms of decency have been on the left, and indeed those in high positions of executive or elected authority.

Van Jones was a White House adviser — one long ago sought out and watched, according to Obama insider Valerie Jarrett. So someone must have known that in racist fashion he had suggested that whites pollute minority neighborhoods and are more prone to commit mass murders in the schools. Top-ranking officials like Rep. Charles Rangel and Gov. David Paterson of New York have accused whites of racism in lieu of honest self-examination of their own failing careers.

There was no need for Eric Holder to accuse the country of cowardice for failing to talk about race on his terms, nor for the president himself to weigh in on a local police matter as judge and jury – to condemn police in general as profilers and those in Cambridge in particular as acting “stupidly.” This was especially unfortunate given the president’s own racialist gaffes in the campaign, whether his persistent confusion over the morality of the racist Rev. Wright, his incendiary dismissal of Pennsylvania voters in thinly disguised, culturally biased, if not racist terms, and his flippant reference to the grandmother who raised him as a “typical white person.”

The fact is that both health care and cap-and-trade simply are not going to make it into law in anything like their proposed forms, due largely to real fright on the part of moderate Democrats who fear losses in 2010, given the abandonment of these issues by moderates and independents.

The false charge of racism won’t change that reality, but it may well, if pursued, turn legislative defeats into political catastrophes for a generation. How strange that with large majorities in the House and Senate, with a president who just months ago enjoyed 70 percent approval ratings, and with a compliant and influential press, the Democratic party cannot pass its own legislation and instead is detouring to label most middle-class voters of all beliefs “racists.” It is as if a group of political advisers got together and brainstormed how in theory to ruin the best liberal landscape in generations.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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