There are many ways to play the race card. One way is to exploit ancient prejudices and stereotypes of one race as inherently inferior to another. John McCain knows that one well.
He was the improbable victim of racism eight years ago when it was suggested to some South Carolina voters that he had fathered a black child out of wedlock. In fact, McCain’s adopted daughter, Bridget, is from Bangladesh. It’s the type of racism employed by the David Dukes of the world, and it diminishes us all.
But there is another way to play the race card, and it is just as pernicious and hateful as the first. It turns any disagreement with liberals into an issue of race rather than a difference of opinion. And it’s being played by the political Left with increasing frequency as Election Day draws near. Three examples this week illustrate the extent of the smear.
Earlier this week, Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) attacked Republican criticism of Democrats over the housing crisis as racially motivated. Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told an audience at a mortgage foreclosure symposium in Boston, “[Republicans] get to take things out on poor people. Let’s be honest: The fact that some of the poor people are black doesn’t hurt them either, from their standpoint. This is an effort, I believe, to appeal to a kind of anger in people.” Though unsurprising, Frank’s comments were ironic given his prominent role in creating the housing mess.
Frank’s remark came as Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin was being excoriated by the Left for saying that Barack Obama is “someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.” That comment was seized upon by the Left, which has been pushing the Palin-is-a-racist theme ever since it read racism into her poking fun of Obama’s past as a community organizer. According to an Associated Press reporter, her comments carried a “racial tinge.” This is also ironic as William Ayers, the prominent co-founder of the Weatherman domestic terrorism group with long connections to Barak Obama, is white.
Sen. McCain too has been the target of the Left’s use of race as a weapon to cut off debate. McCain’s reference to Obama as “that one” during Tuesday night’s debate was taken by a number of leftwing journalists as proof that McCain is running a dishonorable campaign. Maureen Dowd, for instance, accused McCain of using the term in order “to warn that white Americans should not open the door to the dangerous Other.”
To suggest that either McCain or Palin is racist is absurd and completely unfounded. But in politics, perception is often reality. Which is perhaps why Whoopi Goldberg recently asked her co-hosts on The View whether under a McCain presidency there would be a return to slavery. And it is why Philadelphia Daily News columnist Fatimah Ali predicted that if Obama loses to McCain, Americans can expect “a full-fledged race and class war, fueled by a deflated and depressed country, soaring crime, homelessness — and hopelessness.”
Of course, race has often been wielded as a trump card by the Left. It’s what allowed Kanye West to insist “George Bush hates black people” after the federal government botched Katrina relief even though President Bush has put more minorities in top positions in his administration than any previous president, and even though Bush has been lauded from both sides of the aisle for his work in Africa, which includes quadrupling aid to Africa during his tenure. Mr. West ought to ask the raucous crowds that greet Bush whenever he travels to Africa, or the African parents who name their sons George Bush, whether the president really hates black people.
The race card is used to cower conservatives into silence, as it was recently when surrogates for the Obama campaign tried to portray Rush Limbaugh as a racist by dredging up a more than decade-old remark about Hispanic workers. Rush’s decidedly not racist remark was taken out of context and splashed onto campaign commercials targeting Hispanic voters in swing states.
And then there’s Keith Olbermann’s recent rant about Rush. “Listen, Rush, cut to the chase,” whined Olbermann, “You want to call Senator Obama a mulatto or an octoroon or something. Go for it. Hell, you want to call him the N-word. It’s in your heart.” Such a hateful and baseless accusation suggests that Olbermann, like many on the Left, longs for a prominent conservative to say something racist or remotely racially insensitive. It’s almost as if the Left knows that it wins when racism thrives.
The Left claims racism as the only possible source of opposition to Obama because it refuses to admit that Obama’s extreme liberalism would put off voters. Accordingly, it portrays any criticism of Obama — as the most liberal presidential candidate in recent memory, for his determination to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq or for his vacuous celebrity persona — as somehow racist.
The McCain camp doesn’t want to make the presidential election about race, ethnicity or religion. Rather, it wants to make it about experience, principles and issues. Trouble is that’s one race the Left just can’t win.