The Power Of Thin Skin
posted at 8:09 pm on January 11, 2010 by Doctor Zero
Senator John McCain is under fire for comments made to the authors of a new book, in which he said white people were more likely to vote for Barack Obama because he is “light-skinned” and has “no Negro dialect.”
Fortunately for McCain, honest liberals have been working hard to help him survive the controversy without resigning his office. In a Daily Beast column entitled “McCain Was Right,” Peter Beinart concedes the use of the word “Negro” is “unpleasantly retro,” but adds that “everything else about his statement is undeniably correct. Political scientists have proved it. Famous African-Americans have testified to it.” Even Al Sharpton was gracious enough to dismiss the incident as a “distraction,” after wryly noting that McCain “did not select the best word choice in this instance.”
Oh, wait, hang on a second. It was actually Harry Reid who spoke of the light-skinned Barack Obama and his lack of a Negro dialect, not John McCain. My mistake. I’m sure everything would have played out exactly the same if McCain had said it. After all, there was little controversy over Sarah Palin’s condescending description of Obama as “clean and articulate” during the campaign. Wait, sorry, that was Joe Biden.
Of course there are gigantic double standards for Democrats and Republicans when it comes to uncomfortable racial moments. George Allen, once touted as a strong Republican candidate for the presidency, made the mistake of uttering a weird nonsense word at a rally some years ago, and within a month you could no longer hear the muffled screams and thumping from his political coffin. I’ve heard a few conservatives float the idea that the Harry Reid incident will put hair-trigger racism smears against Republicans to bed for good. That ideal is loaded, kids, and the safety is off. Put it down on the table and back away slowly. Nothing will destroy a promising GOP candidate faster than the foolish belief he can use words half as radioactive as “Negro dialect” and walk away with a hearty slap on the back from Al Sharpton.
The racial double standard is largely a matter of crude political calculation. Many of the same Democrat mouthpieces rushing to help Harry Reid to the fainting couch would pirouette within minutes to attack a Republican in a similar predicament. It’s not all pure political hackery, though. As James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal points out, Geraldine Ferraro’s reputation died from a nasty case of the bug Harry Reid seems poised to recover from. The racism double standard is a logical result of “progressive” thinking about matters of race, and the overall goals of collectivism.
Liberals have stated many times that racism exists in the ear of the offended. If a duly consecrated victim group decides to take umbrage at certain language, it automatically becomes toxic, no matter the intentions of the speaker. On the other hand, victim groups can issue blanket absolution to anyone they wish.
Are you a person of color, who found nothing terribly offensive about the career-ending mistakes of Trent Lott or George Allen? That doesn’t matter, because individual members of victim groups are not authorized to grant absolution. Only collective action can achieve racial justice. Only the leaders of a collective can make important decisions on matters affecting shared identity. You cannot achieve social justice, shatter the glass ceiling, or take care of your poor family on your own. Your needs must be cared for by the powerful leaders of your collective group, who maintain their power by promoting an atmosphere of division.
Collectives value solidarity above all other things. A labor union or racial grievance group draws its power from the absolute, unqualified support of its membership… or, at least, the widespread perception they enjoy such support. Maintaining solidarity requires enemies, as the next Republican who refers to anyone with a drop of African-American blood as “light-skinned” will quickly discover. It also requires loyalty, and the swift punishment of treason, as Clarence Thomas – a man very far from the “eighth-grade writer” Harry Reid once dismissed him as – could testify.
A demonstration of collective morality can be seen in the decision by the Democrats and the NAACP to defend Reid by publicizing the voting records of Republicans who have called for his resignation. There is crass political calculation here, of course – liberal organisms like the NAACP are not interested in persecuting a useful ally. If you grant Reid’s defenders a bit of intellectual honesty, you can interpret their actions as an expression of the idea that insults can only be measured by their damage to the collective, not the umbrage of faceless individuals.
Are you a person of color who found Reid’s comments outrageous? Tough. Your feelings are not important to a leadership that defines “outrage” as legislative resistance to their power. It’s not as if Reid ever did anything truly offensive, such as propose a tax cut for the evil rich. Anyone who has done as much as Reid to keep money and power flowing into Washington, where it can be parceled out by politicians loyal to the agenda of the NAACP, has rendered enough service to the collective to excuse a few uncomfortable ruminations about “Negro dialect.”
The selectively thin skins of racial power brokers serve one other purpose, crucial to the collectivist cause: they make it difficult to talk about individuals at all. As Peter Beinart pointed out in the Daily Beast, Harry Reid’s clumsy comments about Obama are technically accurate. To refer back to my own point above, any Republican who makes a comparably accurate observation will be instantly vaporized. This has a corrupting effect on our discourse, by making people too nervous to speak clearly… and muddled speech leads to confused thought. Look at the Transportation Security Agency, which is forbidden to accurately describe what they’re supposed to be protecting us from, and therefore ends up protecting us from hand soap, shoes, Joan Rivers, and Michael Yon.
Tension and hostility are useful to collectivists, because they produce deference to the leadership. Individuals of any color are cautioned not to think too clearly about social justice, racial equality, or how they might achieve these things on their own. Instead, for their own safety, they are directed to seek the guidance of Big Government and its many deputies. Insurance policies against career immolation are available for politicians… at the low, low price of a few billion dollars of their constituents’ tax money.
As a purely tactical matter, Republicans are better off leaving Harry Reid to plod and groan through the halls of the Senate, until the voters of Nevada show up with pitchforks and torches to put him down. As a point of grand strategy, they should never miss a chance to highlight the racism double standard, without developing any delusions about their immunity to it. In the interests of reason, and in the hope of reducing the level of racial pressure in America today, they should remind Harry Reid that apologizing to Obama isn’t good enough, because the truly injured party is the American voter… who is mightily sick and tired of being told he won’t vote for someone whose skin isn’t light enough.
Cross-posted at www.doczero.org.