Herbert: Obama should have just called them racists

posted at 10:25 am on April 15, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Bob Herbert joins the vast majority of punditry in scolding Barack Obama over his comments in San Francisco about small-town Midwestern voters. Before readers get their hopes up about Herbert suddenly discovering common sense, they should note that Herbert thinks Obama failed to go far enough. He writes that Obama should have explicitly called them racists:

He was asked at a fund-raiser in San Francisco about his campaign’s experiences in the run-up to next week’s Democratic primary in Pennsylvania. One of the main problems, of course, is that he hasn’t generated as much support as he’d like among white working-class voters.

There is no mystery here. Except for people who have been hiding in caves or living in denial, it’s pretty widely understood that a substantial number of those voters — in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and elsewhere — will not vote for a black candidate for president.

Pennsylvanians themselves will tell you that racial attitudes in some parts of the state are, to be kind, less than enlightened. Gov. Ed Rendell, Hillary Clinton’s most powerful advocate in the state, put it bluntly last February: “I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate.” …

Senator Obama has spent his campaign trying to dodge the race issue, which in America is like trying to dodge the wind. So when he fielded the question in San Francisco, he didn’t say: “A lot of folks are not with me because I’m black — but I’m trying to make my case and bring as many around as I can.”

Instead, he fell back on a tortured response that was demonstrably incorrect.

Well, in fact Obama came close to saying just that. In a portion of the comments that have not received much scrutiny, Obama commented about the cynicism felt by small-town voters about the power of government to improve their lives, which was the overall point of his remarks. He said this (emphasis mine):

Here’s how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, and they feel so betrayed by government, and when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn’t buy it. And when it’s delivered by — it’s true that when it’s delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama (laugher), then that adds another layer of skepticism.

It’s not quite as explicit as Herbert advises, but the implication is crystal clear. It certainly was to his San Francisco audience on Billionaires Row, as the laughter indicates. That same laughter erupted again when he described small-town voters as gun-clinging, Bible-clinging people who have “antipathy to people not like them”, which is almost explicitly an accusation of bigotry.

That was the laughter of recognition, of Obama speaking to their own prejudices about middle America and identifying himself as a holder of those same prejudices. It’s not Obama challenging small-town voters in an honest manner to overcome what he sees as their bigotry. It’s Obama getting together with friends to laugh over their assumptions about middle America.

Herbert then says that it’s “perverse” to see Obama as a divisive figure. Really? How would accusing small-town voters of racism, either barely implicitly as Obama did or explicitly as Herbert wishes, make him anything but divisive? He wasn’t attempting to speak with “great insight and empathy” about the plight of middle America — he was explaining to Obama’s true believers among the hard Left why small-town voters hadn’t jumped on board the Big Government Express. He was drawing lines, and prejudiced and ignorant lines at that. That’s practically a textbook definition of divisiveness.

Fortunately for Obama, he doesn’t appear to be foolish enough to take Herbert’s advice and go the full Jeremiah Wright on the campaign trail. He still hasn’t quite learned the First Rule of Holes, but Obama is smart enough to figure it out sooner than later. When he stops trying to justify his remarks, the furor may finally settle down — but it won’t disappear.

Update: Ace has more on Herbert.


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Eff you too, Herbert.

pseudonominus on April 15, 2008 at 10:28 AM

It probably is good advice, had it been followed from the start. The left can get away with calling people racist. But doing it at this point would be too transparent, even for the Democrats.

exhelodrvr on April 15, 2008 at 10:29 AM

Pennsylvanians themselves will tell you that racial attitudes in some parts of the state are, to be kind, less than enlightened.

It’s nice of him to be so “kind.”

Cicero43 on April 15, 2008 at 10:31 AM

he described small-town voters as gun-clinging, Bible-clinging people who have “antipathy to people not like them”, which is almost explicitly an accusation of bigotry.

I don’t even think you need the “almost” in that last sentence, Ed. I’m glad you are calling more attention to this portion of Obama’s remarks.

mikeyboss on April 15, 2008 at 10:33 AM

And Bob Herbert just put another nail in the coffin of Democratic hopes in November. Please, Bob, keep it up. We’re all rooting for you over here.

Badger in KC on April 15, 2008 at 10:37 AM

Pennsylvanians themselves will tell you that racial attitudes in some parts of the state are, to be kind, less than enlightened.

Well you’re right about that Bobby. Philadelphia immediately comes to mind.

Barry and his Reverend buddies have exposed the real Racists in America and it’s not the Rednecks.

But keep the story alive, Bozos, and we’ll see you in the General.

there it is on April 15, 2008 at 10:37 AM

Please, Obama. Take his advice.

Please take this political theater and exalt it into a political epic!

Lehosh on April 15, 2008 at 10:40 AM

Herbert is likely someone who IS actually racist, but he wants to think that if he votes for Obama it will PROVE that he’s not racist.

So yeah, people in Pennsylvania with all the black elected officials aren’t ready to elect someone who is black.

And Wright is just like Ghandi, right Herbert?

ThackerAgency on April 15, 2008 at 10:43 AM

And Bob Herbert just put another nail in the coffin of Democratic hopes in November. Please, Bob, keep it up. We’re all rooting for you over here.

Badger in KC on April 15, 2008 at 10:37 AM

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Here!! Here!!

georgealbert on April 15, 2008 at 10:45 AM

Sorry, gang, but Herbert’s clearly right to some degree. Of course there are white blue collar voters in Pennsylvania who might not vote for Obama specifically because he’s black. Does anyone here deny that? I don’t. (And, no, this isn’t sarcasm).

Having said that, make no mistake that there are literally millions of both black and white voters who are voting for Obama only because he’s black. Millions. I am personally certain that these racist and affirmative action voters outnumber the anti-Obama racist voters substantially.

But this isn’t exactly shocking news; it has been talked about at great length (see “Geraldine Ferraro”). Herbert’s an idiot and a leftist, but this aspect of his commentary has some merit. He also clearly states that Obama is a fool for missing this point, but also that what Obama did say was untrue.

So, there you have it: two accurate statements in one Bob Herbert column. We shouldn’t be trashing it; we should be framing it.

Jaibones on April 15, 2008 at 10:46 AM

Herbert is likely someone who IS actually racist, but he wants to think that if he votes for Obama it will PROVE that he’s not racist.

ThackerAgency on April 15, 2008 at 10:43 AM

Bob Herbert is black.

mikeyboss on April 15, 2008 at 10:46 AM

Bill Bennett has sort of a photo contest for rural folks who want to submit a group photo of gun-totin’ bitter folks in front of their church–the one they use as a crutch because they’re so bitter. :)

RBMN on April 15, 2008 at 10:48 AM

Should Obama be elected, he won’t have to call anyone who disagrees with him a racist, because his defenders in the media will do it for him. Bob Herbert is just a foretaste of what we can expect if Obama wins.

Lehuster on April 15, 2008 at 10:48 AM

Bob Herbert is black.

And blacks can’t be racist? Bzzzzzt, wrong.

Lehuster on April 15, 2008 at 10:49 AM

Lehuster on April 15, 2008 at 10:49 AM

That wasn’t my point. ThackerAgency mentioned he thought Herbert might be favoring Obama to prove he’s not racist. I took that to mean TA thought Herbert was white.

Of course blacks can be racist.

mikeyboss on April 15, 2008 at 10:51 AM

Bob Herbert is black.

mikeyboss on April 15, 2008 at 10:46 AM

I don’t have time to read his article. But he probably was referring to the racists who vote for Obama simply because they think he is black. Doesn’t Obama routinely get over 90% of the black vote?

JiangxiDad on April 15, 2008 at 10:51 AM

While it’s true there are probably some of them that are racist, Herbert and Obama paint with too broad a brush. There are probably more in that demographic that won’t vote for him because his name is Barack Hussein Obama than because he’s black.

However, the galling thing that literally turns my stomach is this incorrect truism they all push forth from: only whites are racists, and anyone who votes against a black person is racist and that’s the only reason. Blacks can never be racist.

Darksean on April 15, 2008 at 10:55 AM

1) Grew up in a small town…Check

2) Hunted with fire-arms before learning to drive…Check

3) Carry a PDA copy of the Bible everywhere I go…Check

4) Antipathy for racist elitists like Obama…Bzzzt!

Sorry. I guess I don’t qualify. It’s not antipathy that I feel for Obama. It’s more like…sadness.

My collie says:

Sorry, CC. I know that you’re disappointed. God knows how much you WANTED to be a “typical white person.”

Maybe I can make it up with extra credit. For example, I don’t have any idea what the Whole Foods price of arugula is.

I feel like such a failure.

CyberCipher on April 15, 2008 at 10:57 AM

Well, Obama either called us racists or everyone now has an absolute moral authority rebuttal to the racism charge by the messiah himself: I’m not a racist. I’m bitter about government not improving my economic situation.

Dusty on April 15, 2008 at 10:58 AM

Senator Obama has spent his campaign trying to dodge the race issue, which in America is like trying to dodge the wind.

Yeah, we suck.

mymanpotsandpans on April 15, 2008 at 11:01 AM

And so Herbert confirms what we already knew – that Obama was flattering his San Francisco benefactors by implicitly calling all rural whites racist. Thanks, Bob! You brain dead little twerp.

Enrique on April 15, 2008 at 11:02 AM

I would be happy to vote for someone like Condi Rice (though I’d have to know more about her domestic economic policies). And I’m a white male living in Ohio.

I will not vote for The Obamassiah not because he’s black, but for the silly, trivial reason of not wanting a socialist in the White House. His and Herbert’s condescension is that they don’t believe that the white middle & lower class could actually vote on issues and disagree with their belief in big government.

rbj on April 15, 2008 at 11:03 AM

Obama and his surrogates are the gift that keeps on giving. In one fell swoop, they are dismantling the double-standard that exists in race relations, and doing much to eliminate the famous “white guilt”.

JiangxiDad on April 15, 2008 at 11:04 AM

There’s a lot of rocks getting kicked over these days and as usual you find some pretty ugly stuff under ‘em. The libs just keep on showing us what they really are and they’ll never survive that.

Oldnuke on April 15, 2008 at 11:04 AM

Barry wouldn’t clearly criticize the Good Rev. Dr., he sort of condemned some of the things he said that others might have considered controversial, but he will cut rural Yinzers as sharply as he can, and in no uncertain terms.

He did it even though he needs them to vote for him.

Barry comes off as more than an empty suit, those guys have political awareness at the very least, Barry is an idiot.

benrand on April 15, 2008 at 11:05 AM

While sweating the possibility of a ultra liberal president and a democrat majority in congress, I have to admit that this campaign is providing it’s share of fun. I pray that Barak and Michelle continue stepping in it thorough November. Seems like each week brings a new verbal gift from the Obamas. Seriously, this is nearly as much fun as this

mugged on April 15, 2008 at 11:05 AM

It was an accusation of bigotry, and meant for other like minded individuals. This was supposed to be a private setting…a safe environment, free from prying eyes, and microphones. He got caught out, (well…caught out again). This is not a statement he would have made to the press, or included in a speech to us small town bigots. We were’nt supposed to know about it, or how he actually views ‘middle America’. Yet he still has supporters out here. Evidenced by the plethora of “Vote Obama” signs all over the small PA town I live in. Go figure.

DngrMse on April 15, 2008 at 11:09 AM

Bob Herbert is black.

mikeyboss on April 15, 2008 at 10:46 AM

Barry Obama is white.

Jaibones on April 15, 2008 at 11:09 AM

Seems to me that about the only thing keeping bigotry and racism alive in this country is the Democrat party and their liberal minions.

Oldnuke on April 15, 2008 at 11:11 AM

For example, I don’t have any idea what the Whole Foods price of arugula is.

I feel like such a failure.

CyberCipher on April 15, 2008 at 10:57 AM

No way, CC. No one that could come up with that line is a failure…

Jaibones on April 15, 2008 at 11:12 AM

Like I said before, Obama’s speech was “What’s Wrong With Kansas?” This is not trying to dance around some contingent of voters who won’t vote for a Black candidate.

Sekhmet on April 15, 2008 at 11:12 AM

Don’t forget. Obama was “misspeaking” in San Francisco. He wouldn’t have reached his target audience if he said racists. He should have said bigots.

TooTall on April 15, 2008 at 11:13 AM

Bob Herbert is a moonbat of long repute. It would have surprised if he had not weighed in on this topic with something idiotic.

baldilocks on April 15, 2008 at 11:14 AM

I’m tired of being called a racist for trying to apply Dr. King’s “content of character” standard.

Screw it.

Mommynator on April 15, 2008 at 11:22 AM

Barry was against racism before he was for it.

benrand on April 15, 2008 at 11:23 AM

Full speed ahead, Bob Herbert. Let’s bring this festering boil to a head, so we can lance it.

petefrt on April 15, 2008 at 11:35 AM

What was Obama’s strength in Iowa? It was his great oratory; his vague but inspiring generalities of hope and change.

Obama’s questioners and their questions have taken him off his stump speech.

Herbert is telling Obama to go back to the things that got him (Obama) where he is now, hope and change. . .(dare I say it..no even I don’t have the guts to append the ‘b-word’, not after all the turmoil.)

One of Mr. Obama’s strongest points early in this campaign was his capacity to make people feel good about their country again. If I were him, I’d try to re-ignite that flame.

EXCEPT, Obama was not trying to make his audience feel good about this country, Obama was trying to make his audience feel good about him.

rockhauler on April 15, 2008 at 11:39 AM

I will not vote for The Obamassiah not because he’s black, but for the silly, trivial reason of not wanting a socialist in the White House.

Guess you ain’t voting for President this year, then.

Lehuster on April 15, 2008 at 11:49 AM

Bill Bennett has sort of a photo contest for rural folks who want to submit a group photo of gun-totin’ bitter folks in front of their church–the one they use as a crutch because they’re so bitter. :)

RBMN on April 15, 2008 at 10:48 AM

awesome

funky chicken on April 15, 2008 at 12:10 PM

Even better would be a bunch of military folks in front of the chapel on one of our bases in Iraq. Kind of “Halp us Jon Cary” redux.

funky chicken on April 15, 2008 at 12:14 PM

in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and elsewhere — will not vote for a black candidate

Michael Barone has sited evidence that white voters in those states have no problem voting for black candidates. Unless herbert thinks that those same voters would elect a black to any position but president, just more proof that you don’t need a brain to be a columnist.

peacenprosperity on April 15, 2008 at 12:20 PM

Buckle up – If Obama loses, like Katrine, this will be seen around the world just how racist Amerikka is.
Only this time the Dems will get tarred with the brush they like to weild against Republicans.

RobCon on April 15, 2008 at 12:26 PM

OK, so Herbert is black. I didn’t know that. So not knowing that must mean I was judging the content of his comments instead of the color of his skin (which I usually do).

He wouldn’t be racist in the manner that I was referring. But with this article, he sure is being a race hustler just like the best of them. And the point is there that a lot of white people will vote for Obama out of white guilt. I’d bet there’s more white guilt than black prejudice in this election. . . as has been said.

ThackerAgency on April 15, 2008 at 12:32 PM

I can’t believe that in the day and age of the internet and mostly anonymous communication that race has jack-sh!t to do with anything.

My not voting for Obama has far less to do with him being Black, with an Arabic Name, and far more to do with him being a far left democrat who have given me no reason to believe in his empty rhetoric.

Dear God! It’s about the issues, not about what color your skin is!! The argument of racism is tired, old, and less and less relevant.

E L Frederick (Sniper One) on April 15, 2008 at 12:44 PM

I will not vote for The Obamassiah not because he’s black, but for the silly, trivial reason of not wanting a socialist in the White House.

Guess you ain’t voting for President this year, then.

Lehuster on April 15, 2008 at 11:49 AM

Well, it’s not like Bush and the Republicans in Congress were models of fiscal responsibility, or hewed to federalism.

Gah, what a sorry lot of political leaders we have.

rbj on April 15, 2008 at 12:54 PM

The argument of racism is tired, old, and less and less relevant.

Well what’s the alternative for him to consider when he’s rejected? He’d rather say/feel it was skin color, than repudiation of his ideas/philosophy. He loves his victimization. That is the very last thing he’s ever going to give up–and that goes double for his wife and his spiritual advisor.

But thanks to Barry’s persistence (crying wolf over racism), the rest of us don’t give a rat’s ass anymore what he says.

JiangxiDad on April 15, 2008 at 12:56 PM

So Herbert, seeing that his man has managed to insult the very demographic that he needs to win in November, finds a way to make Obama the REAL victim. And the victim of racism, no less.

How perfectly unexpected.

Infidoll on April 15, 2008 at 12:59 PM

Bob Herbert could turn a seminar on PCV pipe valve connectors and drain slope angles for indoor wastewater plumbing into a discussion on race, so why should anyone be surprised about this column. If you took away Herbert’s ability to see racism in every human endeavor in America, the Times would have 16 inches of white doodle space on their op-ed page twice a week (and Bob would probably think that the doodle space being white is also a sign of racism).

jon1979 on April 15, 2008 at 1:09 PM

I’m not sure about the First Rule of Holes, but Barack Obama needs to learn George Allen’s First Rule of Macaca: Don’t insult the voters!

We’re out here, Barry O, clingin’ to our religion and our ballots!

Steve Z on April 15, 2008 at 2:06 PM

The racists that fight our wars, pay for college, pay the taxes, and do the jobs that the welfare entitled won’t do.

You mean them?

Hening on April 15, 2008 at 2:15 PM

Obama’s been playing the race card the whole time come on..

Chakra Hammer on April 15, 2008 at 2:30 PM

When he stops trying to justify his remarks, the furor may finally settle down — but it won’t disappear.

McCain won’t let it disappear, and Obama knows it. That he deflated his own Change/Hope balloon, is sweeter/thicker than molasses. It wasn’t the RVWC, nor Hillary.

Entelechy on April 15, 2008 at 2:32 PM

Bob, I am not calling the inside of this empty suit “empty” because of its color, but because of its emptiness. See if you can get your empty head around that.

drunyan8315 on April 15, 2008 at 3:14 PM

Pennsylvanians themselves will tell you that racial attitudes in some parts of the state are, to be kind, less than enlightened.

Exactly. If you ask the Ivy League educated, rich, elitist, smug, liberals in Pennsylvania; they also think those in the rural areas are inbred, racist, redneck hicks.

See, so even Pennsylvanians agree on this one.

gekkobear on April 15, 2008 at 6:25 PM