Attorney General Eric Holder, in a recent interview, reiterates the theme heard from the very beginning of President Barack Obama’s administration: opposition to Obama’s agenda equals racism. “There’s a certain level of vehemence, it seems to me, that’s directed at me (and) directed at the president.”
What is Holder’s proof — to the extent that any is required?
After all, following his election, Obama’s favorable ratings reached nearly 80 percent, higher than any president-elect since John F. Kennedy. Obama, in 2008, received a greater percentage of the “white vote” than did John Kerry.
Polls, studies, and statistics, for Holder, aren’t relevant when it comes to racism. Some claim to possess “gaydar,” an ability to discern the sexual orientation of a gay person. Holder, it seems, possesses the instinctive ability to discern “racists.”
Holder added, “You know, people talking about taking their country back. … 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.”
Is Holder truly suggesting opponents disguise their racial animus through rhetoric like, “taking their country back”? Where have we heard the assertion that the take-back-America slogan equals racism?
Ben Jealous, the former president and CEO of the NAACP, made the same argument back in 2010. “They use this rhetoric,” said Jealous, “‘take back our country’ — as if nobody else belongs to the country. … They question the nationality of people of color from the President all the way down. And it’s deeply, deeply disturbing.”
But CNN’s Anderson Cooper played Jealous a montage of Democratic politicians using the very same rhetoric:
Then-presidential candidate Howard Dean, 2003: “Today, we stand in common purpose to take our country back!”
Then-presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, 2004: “To take back our country … “
Sen. Charles Schumer, N.Y., 2006: “We are going to take our country back!”
Then-presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, 2007: “It’s going to be because of you that we take our country back.”
Then-presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton, 2008: “To make sure we take our country back … “
New Mexico’s Gov. Bill Richardson, 2008: “Are you ready to take our country back?”
Then-Minnesota senatorial candidate Al Franken, 2008: “This is the year we take our country back.”
Harvard law professor and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz made the same rhetoric-equals-racism argument back in 1998, only he objected the way the “right wing” refers to themselves as “real Americans.” For example, a former Southern Republican criticized Dershowitz by saying, “Real America understands that the Constitution is there for a reason.”
To this Dershowitz responded, “Whenever I hear the words ‘real Americans,’ that sounds to me like a code word for racism, a code word for bigotry, a code word for anti-Semitism.” We go again to the videotape:
Then-President Bill Clinton, 1995: “Look, I know America first and foremost is a place where individual effort and family values count. That’s why I am successful. But I live in the real America — not in Washington, D.C.”
Then-President Clinton, 1997: “Remember how you have seen things like that during the natural disasters here in California. That is the face of the real America. That is the face I have seen over and over again. That is the America somehow, some way, we have to make real in daily American life.”
Then-President Clinton, 1998: “America’s got a good agenda in the coming months. We can be for saving Social Security first, better schools, a cleaner environment, and a Patient’s Bill of Rights, and we can sell that in every place in America. They are real choices real Americans face in this election.”
Then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, 1994: “They have enabled this day to come about, because they were willing to think differently, to put people first, to solve real problems that real Americans face every day.”
Then-House Minority Leader Rep. Richard Gephardt, Mo., 1998: “We will carry on this fight every day of the rest of this year to fight for the real issues that real Americans care about so deeply.”
Speaking of race, Attorney General Holder said, “The greatest threats (posed by racism) do not announce themselves in screaming headlines. They are more subtle. They cut deeper … and … are more pernicious.” Holder offered three specific examples of “subtle,” “deep,” “pernicious” racism.
What are they? One, the push by some states for voter ID. Two, that black men receive longer prison sentences compared to white men for same crime. Third, that black kids are expelled/suspended at higher rates compared to white students.
In the case of voter ID, blacks support the requirement almost as much as do whites. Prison sentences are based, in part on arrests, something juries are unusually barred from hearing about. As for suspensions, schools in both liberal and conservative areas experience the same thing — black boys disproportionately expelled.
Blame bad behavior, lack of discipline at home or fatherless homes. But blaming the consequences of bad behavior on “pernicious” racism does damage to growth and personal responsibility. Nice work, Mr. Holder.
Larry Elder is a best-selling author and radio talk-show host.