Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Shades of Racism

An interesting shift in the conversation around Barack Obama’s presidential bid. At first, we saw a lot of this – “Is the country ready for a black President?” Ready? What does that mean? I know when I ask the kids if they are ready, it means do you have you shoes and jackets on so we can go. What would it mean to be ready for a black President?

Of course, it’s really a dodge. What those who ask the question really mean is “Are there enough bigots in this country who would vote against someone who has dark skin that he has no chance of winning?” It’s a classic move right out of the Reagan book of veiled racism. When Reagan used to talk about “welfare queens” everyone in America knew what color those folks were supposed to be (even if the overwhelming majority of folks on public assistance happened to be white). The idea was that overt racism was no longer acceptable, so we needed coded ways to be racist so that we could claim to not really be racist.

Why were they asking whether the country was ready? The idea was to say “I don’t want a black President” without saying it because I’m not saying I’m not ready, I’m simply asking if those other bigots are. What’s the issue with a seemingly fair question?

Think back one presidential cycle. What was the central topic of debate? Is Howard Dean electable? The worst thing you can say about a Democrat is not that he isn’t prepared for the job, not that he doesn’t have the brains or experience, not that he’s (gasp) a liberal. No, it’s that he isn’t electable.

[Aside: They always throw a gratuitous McGovern reference in there claiming that he lost 49 states because he was an anti-war liberal. Strange how everyone conveniently forgets that part of the reason he lost was a campaign of Republican dirty tricks so heinous that it got the President removed from office. But, of course, using the intelligence apparatus of the US government to undermine the Democrats is mere triviality.]

The “Is the country ready for a black President?” line is a simple tactic to put the same albatross around the neck of a promising rising star that they used to clobber the last one.

But then the strangest thing happened. It wasn’t working. Surmise unsupported by any data – the show 24 has completely mainstreamed the idea of a smart, strong, black President. Fox, of all networks, may have been Senator Obama’s campaign’s best friend here. Whatever the reason, the “He can’t win, he’s balck” scare tactic didn’t have legs.

So, if you can’t beat him in one direction, go the other way. If his being black isn’t going to hurt him, try to smack him with not being black enough. This was a desperation tactic thrown out at the end of the Senate campaign where Obama wiped the floor with wacko Alan Keyes. Here you had one black candidate getting routed by another, so what is the obvious slam – he’s not really black. Well, he apparently is a pretty good basketball player, so we can’t use that stereotype. Hmmm. His father is African, not African-American. There it is. He isn’t a descendent of slaves, so that means he’s not a real black man. AND his mother is white and god knows no one in the black community has ancestors who are white. So there it is. If his blackness won’t destroy his candidacy, we’ll see if his lack of blackness will.

Man, these people are pathetic.