by Bruce Thornton
The implosion of the Obama administration will create more and more desperate narratives on the part of progressives as we head toward the November election. With no record of achievement to run on, Obama must try to misdirect voters by shifting blame elsewhere: so far George Bush, the Eurozone crisis, the Japanese tsunami, even ATMs have all been fingered as the cause of our sluggish economic growth and high unemployment. Since the barrel of excuses is close to empty, get ready for something scraped from the bottom: Americans don’t support Obama because Americans are racists.
Of course this charge has already been reflexively trotted out whenever progressives hear something they don’t like, particularly criticism of Obama and his administration. Ex-President Jimmy Carter opined, “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American.” Then what explains our “intensely demonstrated animosity toward” you, Jimmy? ABC’s Sam Donaldson, responding to a conservative reporter’s aggressive questioning of the president, huffed, “Many on the political right believe this President ought not to be there — they oppose him not for his polices and political view, but for who he is, an African American.” Then why do we like Clarence Thomas and Thomas Sowell, Sam?
The racism charge also provides effective camouflage for incompetence. Embattled Attorney General Eric Holder last December claimed that criticism of him is “a way to get at the president because of the way I can be identified with him,” Holder said, “Both due to the nature of our relationship and, you know, the fact that we’re both African-American.” Over at the Huffington Post, race hustler and MSNBC host Al Sharpton said of the Congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, “The highest officer of law and order in this nation has been ridiculed, scapegoated and handled as some sort of criminal throughout this ‘investigation,’” and “was spoken to and mistreated as if he were a child, and reminded that despite his esteemed position, he can and would be profiled. AG Holder was in essence ‘stopped & frisked’ without probable cause, and after he cooperated, he was made an example of.” Such outlandishly false statements neatly evade Holder’s gross incompetence, lying to Congress, and the way he has crudely politicized his office.
Such ludicrous, ad hominem evasions of fact and argument are so common on the left that many dismiss them as mere political background noise. But such attacks are based on an incoherent public discourse on race that reflects a larger intellectual and moral idiocy. Consider the recent speech by Melissa Harris-Perry, host of her own show on MSNBC. Harris-Perry said that after 9/11, white America suffered from a “nationalist fervor” resembling post-traumatic stress disorder. Suffering from this disease, Americans were able to “stomach a kind of horrific racial violence in the name of national security,” and started searching for an “imagined racial enemy.” This happens, Harris-Perry continues, because “Americans in part identify who we are, and who deserves what, through our notions of whiteness and of the racial enemies that are the non-whites.”
Well, the enemy wasn’t “imagined,” he was real, and he wasn’t an enemy because he was an Arab, but because he acted on a theology of violence proclaimed by a multi-racial religion and murdered 3,000 Americans. Next, there was nothing even close to “horrific racial violence” after 9/11. In fact, what is remarkable is the restraint most American showed towards American Muslims, and the obsessive need of the Bush administration repeatedly to tell the world how much we respect Islam and Muslims. Nor did this country attack Muslim countries with the vengeful fury English Lancaster bombers unleashed on German cities in World War II. Instead, our military power was used to liberate two Muslim countries from murderous dictators, and billions have been spent in an attempt to rebuild the infrastructure of those countries and establish politically free governments. Finally, those “notions of whiteness” are kept alive mostly by the race-obsessed like Harris-Perry or Eric Holder. They endorse the reverse bigotry of the university race-theorists, who demonize “whiteness” as selfish, exploitative, and repressed, all the flaws and neuroses that create what Obama called the “bitter clingers to guns and religion.”
If you think I exaggerate, consider the video made at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, part of an ad-campaign created to fight for “racial justice” by pointing out “white privilege.” In the ad, self-flagellating white people confess their “white privilege” with the statements scrawled in ink across their faces. For example, one woman says, “We’re privileged that people see us, not a color.” There’s something incoherent in complaints about being seen as black when all we hear are insistent demands that we recognize how wonderful being black is. Then there’s the man who scolds, “We’re privileged because society was set up for us, and our silence keeps it in place.” These sentiments reflect the old charge of “white-skin privilege,” which had some truth-value before the vast changes in racial relations and opportunities that followed the Civil Rights Act, the astonishing growth of the black middle class, and programs such as Affirmative Action.
But even before those changes, there certainly wasn’t any “white-skin privilege” for poor or working-class whites. I grew up amidst the rural poverty of the San Joaquin Valley, and none of the poor white kids there were being paid to attend Harvard or handed a job with IBM just because they were white. Many of them ended up where many poor Mexicans and poor blacks did: in jail, the army, or on drugs. The obsession with “whiteness” and “white privilege” obscures the real advantages provided by social class and the possession of social capital.
Here we reach the fundamental lie at the heart of such racialist discourse. As Obama himself shows, these days as long as a black person is suitably progressive in his political beliefs, his skin-color is an asset, particularly if he is obviously middle-class in his demeanor, speech, and dress — or as Joe Biden said, “articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” How else explain Obama’s careful fabrication in his memoir of a black consciousness and subjection to racism — which, according to David Maraniss’s recent biography of the president, made him “blacker and more disaffected” than he really was — if not to exploit that privilege? As Jonah Goldberg writes, Obama is “a product of campus culture — at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago — and his vignettes of racial struggle were in some respects the coin of his realm. Later, when he entered the national political scene, he discovered this currency was accepted by much of the mainstream media as well.” For millions of educated, middle-class black people, their race may cause them the annoyance of being followed in a store, but it also can grant them huge social advantages — including becoming the president of the United States.
Those advantages explain why some well-off, educated black people, especially those who work in government, education, and the media, are quick to exploit the race card. By identifying with and capitalizing on the social miseries of under-privileged blacks, they can gain social power, deflect criticism of their shortcomings, and direct attention away from their own socio-economic privilege, which often surpasses that of millions of whites. Meanwhile, the degradation of the black underclass worsens, something that has little to do with race or racism, and everything to do with a dysfunctional culture that scorns the traditional virtues like self-control, personal responsibility, and hard work that in the past sustained black life even in the days of Jim Crow.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that in the next few months Obama and his supporters will obscure his incompetence and failure with the verbal spray-paint of white racism. Without it, he wouldn’t have become president in the first place.
©2012 Bruce S. Thornton