The Obama administration long ago cultivated a sense among its defenders that lingering American racism inspires most of its critics, but it was Obama’s supporters in the press who elevated the practice of accusing conservatives of racial animus to farcical virtuosity.
It was Obama’s boosters in the liberal blogosphere, many of whom found microphones for their agitation on networks like MSNBC, who invented the art of detecting “dog whistle” racism. For those unfamiliar, this is the ability to decode supposed appeals to racial solidarity that only a professional can ascertain. While these coded claims are rarely perceived by their alleged targets, they are easily identified by our modern augurs.
The instinct among Obama supporters to invent imagined racism and denounce it with a fervor equal to that of the inquisitors evolved into parody during the 2012 election. Words like “golf,” “apartment”, “Chicago,” and “urban” became synonyms for African-Americans and for President Obama, thus rendering any subject of discussion including those words base and scornful.
As is the carnival barker’s wont, the sequel to this act had to be even grander, more spectacular than the last. So words like “PGA tour,” “angry,” “kitchen cabinet,” and “IRS” were added to the mix of words which only a professional “dog whistle” detector could assess to be signals designed to activate imagined white supremacist sleeper cells.
It was former Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Karen Finney who insisted that “welfare” must join the ranks of banned words with a racially tinged history. “Study after study has shown, very recently even, that Americans – we tend to associate welfare programs with black people,” Finney said at the time. “So, if you didn’t know that, then shame on you. If you did know that, then shame on you.”
“What the Republicans are doing is diabolically clever,” practiced Washington Post racism decoder Jonathan Capehart agreed. “They are, I believe, playing subliminally to racial fears and racial resentments.”
In a display which resulted in his firing, former Politico reporter Joe Williams and a contributor with NBC’s The Grio insisted that conservative commentators who dare mention the name of Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, were the modern equivalent of the Klan. “It’s a claxon. It’s an air raid siren. It’s a call to arms,” Williams insisted.
MSNBC host Chris Matthews outdid the lot when he suggested the fact that Obama even drew an opponent in 2012 was a disturbing indication of the country’s, and Mitt Romney’s, racial anxiety.
The reelection of the president did not quiet the insistence that racism exists today in forms undetectable to those who are not trained mediums, but liberals have made such a joke of this practice that only a narrow audience of true believers still enjoy the performance.
A recent Pew Research Center poll revealed that only 27 percent of the public believes racial discrimination is the “main reason why blacks can’t get ahead.” That figure is inflated by the fact that 80 percent of “solid liberals” agreed with this assertion – 49 points greater than any other group within the Democratic coalition.
What’s more is that this playact is losing its novelty. When public figures make unquestionably racially tinged statements, the usual cast of characters who are our trained racism detectors display a transparent fear for their livelihoods.
In the wake of racially insensitive comments made by former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, Capehart, one of the most accomplished “dog whistle” decoders, warned that calling out this manner of overt, obvious racial rhetoric was less valuable than the work he does.
“The harder reaction to have and the harder conversation to have is with our friends, and co-workers, and strangers, frankly, about all of the little — the small, the more nuanced ways racism rears its ugly head,” he added, résumé in hand.
It is in this light that recent comments made by Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, should be viewed. Holder, who recently implied in a speech before an audience of African-American supporters that Republicans in Congress treated him as harshly as they would any other official in the Obama administration because of his skin color, fanned the flames of racial hatred again in a recent interview with ABC News.
Asked about a statement he made years ago when he said America was a “nation of cowards” on the issue of race, Holder defended his remarks. “I think we are still a nation that is too afraid to confront racial issues,” he said.
The attorney general lamented that it is rare to witness engagement “across the color line [to] talk about racial issues.” He did little to acknowledge his own role in that condition, exemplified by an comment he made minutes before in which he implied that some who oppose him and the president are racists.
“There’s a certain level of vehemence, it seems to me, that’s directed at me [and] directed at the president,” Holder told ABC. “You know, people talking about taking their country back. I can’t look into people’s hearts, look into people’s minds, but it seems to me that this president has been treated differently than others… There’s a certain racial component to this for some people. I don’t think this is the thing that is a main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus.”
For most, this is a joke. The meme that the bipartisan notion of “taking the country back” is somehow racist was long ago debunked. As the brief history lesson above demonstrates, however, no one is listening to this nonsense beyond the cult of true believers. Those for who racism is a religion – ubiquitous and unfalsifiable – nod in agreement at Holder’s self-aggrandizement. All others roll their eyes.
It is natural and right to be incensed over the attorney general’s statement here, but a 30,000 foot view suggests there is even more reason to take heart in his remarks. Only those liberals Democrats the party desperately needs to turn out in the fall are inspired by this rhetoric; that desperate need is met with increasingly desperate tactics. A glance at the polls suggests it will not be successful.
American comity and continuously improving race relations are stronger than one presidency, no matter how committed it is to tearing the country apart.