Racism Quick Hits

The accusations that Obama opponents are secret (or not so secret) racists continue to fly. As does the pushback. By far, the smartest response I’ve heard if from John McWhorter:

“It gets to the point where we don’t have a word that we use to call people racist who actually are,” said John McWhorter, who studies race and language at the conservative Manhattan Institute.

“The more abstract and the more abusive we get in the way we use the words, then the harder it is to talk about what we originally meant by those terms,” said McWhorter.

It’s not like we don’t have issues of real racism to deal with. Drug arrests, for example, are heavily skewed toward black people. And just today, four black men were cleared of rape accusations in a case that was similar to the Duke case, only without a giant media machine screaming about it. (The latter case also illustrates the increasing need for people to videotape all sexual encounters; for legal reasons).

My personal opinion is that no debate is improved by injecting race into it, one way or the other. Let’s posit, for the moment, that Obama’s opponents are motivated by racism; I mean, we all know how eagerly Rush Limbaugh embraced tax hikes on the rich under Clinton. What’s the advantage of bringing the issue forward? It only diverts the debate into a cul-de-sac on racism. The ability to argue and persuade the American center to one side or the other is lost.

I’ll agree that there is some irrational and visceral hatred of Obama out there. But I think this has far more to do with his party affiliation than his skin color. We saw this sort of thing during the last Administration. The Left denounced Bush as evil even as he advanced agendas — big increases in education funding, campaign finance reform, Medicare Part D — that they had advocated for years. And now we have many “conservatives” denouncing the big-spending and bailouts they supported under Bush. It is my firm belief that about 2/3 of Americans decided their policy opinions based on the letter after the politicians’ name. That is not new.

In fact, that leads to the biggest problem with the accusations of racism — it destroys any possibility of crossing idealogical lines. During the Bush Administration, his defenders denounced his opponents as terrorist sympathizers who hated America. In doing so, they fell through an intellectual trap door. From that point, they could never criticize Bush and never agree with his opponents, even as he did stuff that they opposed and/or violated the law. Because to do so would mean that they had to agree with people who hated America. Thus the increasingly strained and laughable defenses of things like torture.

If the Left goes to the rabbit whole of racial accusation, they will find themselves in the same intellectual trap door. They will never be able to criticize Obama, even as he does stuff they oppose or violates the law (see his plans to expand Bagram). Because to do so would mean they agree with a bunch of racists.

The temporary victory of demonizing the opposition is not worth the long-term price of slicing ourselves up into intellectually isolated groups. Let’s move on. Please.