January 15, 2008

Wait, Who Said the Clinton Campaign Was Racist Toward Obama?

by PG

Ramesh Ponnuru might be getting out ahead of the rest of the right, which has been predicting ever since Obama became a potential candidate for '08 that any criticism of him would bring accusations that the criticizer is racist. (They had to change this to "any comment of any kind" after Biden got hit with the Chris Rock references by exclaiming over Obama as the "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean.") Ponnuru says,

But what's interesting is the felt need for the Clintonites to distance themselves from these accusations, so as not to be accused themselves of racism.
But there's nothing racist about pointing out that Obama has used illegal drugs. And there's nothing racist about belittling his career, which has been pretty insubstantial compared to most past presidents. ...
Republicans are enjoying the spectacle of these dueling identity groups. But it's a taste of what the general election has in store for them. The Republican nominee is guaranteed to be attacked as racist or sexist, no matter how innocuous his words.
What's bizarre about Ponnuru's comments is that he's the only person I've heard claim that there is anything racist about mentioning Obama has done drugs or lacks experience. No one else sees racism in the references to Obama's drug use, only stupidity for the Clinton campaign -- of all campaigns -- to get into the issue of someone's smoking pot twenty years earlier. It's not racist for them to do so; it's just hypocritical after Bill Clinton whined about the politics of personal destruction every time the Republicans trumpeted an incident from his past that had nothing to do with whether he would make a good president. Similarly, concern for Obama's inexperience has not been characterized as "racist" by anyone except Ponnuru. Some have called it inconsistent, claiming that his time in the state legislature and in Congress stacks up fine next to the last two presidents' solely gubernatorial experience, but I'd be interested in a link showing any of the usual watchdogs (Jackson, Sharpton, et al.) who have said that you can't call Obama inexperienced because such criticism would be racist. Hell, they're usually the ones bitching about the fact he hasn't logged enough hours marching with them.

However, there's lots of mileage for the Republicans to gain in claiming that Clinton is being accused of racism when she criticizes Obama, or that Obama is being accused of sexism when he criticizes Clinton. Ponnuru says, "The Republican nominee is guaranteed to be attacked as racist or sexist, no matter how innocuous his words." The subtext of this is, "The white male is guaranteed to be attacked as racist or sexist, no matter how innocuous his words," because the Republicans are only running white males, and because their base is, well, white and male. Never mind that the Republicans talked about Obama during the New Hampshire debate and criticized his policies as liberal interest group (Thompson) welfare statism (Paul) that would bankrupt us (Romney) -- oh, and he lacks national security experience (McCain) and executive experience (Giuliani), and he's not a Republican (Thompson). And I didn't hear anyone say these criticisms of Obama were racist, despite coming from a bunch of white males one of whom will be the Republican candidate, because they weren't racist. They were completely fair evaluations of why a moderate-to-conservative voter wouldn't want to elect Obama. I thought some were inaccurate representations of Democratic policy preferences, but none had even the faintest tinge of "because he's black." No one brought up Reaganesque specters of Chicago welfare queens in Cadillacs when they mentioned the welfare state; they talked about how Obama over-relied on the federal government to solve problems and didn't trust the free market and localities. Astonishingly, if you don't say anything about race or that's a codeword for race, no one will think you're racist!

And this was at a Republican primary debate when they were asked the rather silly question of "Why not Obama?" and had to answer off-the-cuff without someone coaching them. I am sure the Republicans can manage just as well when they criticize Clinton, and will be fine in the general election. All of them know how to criticize an opponent on the issues and have shown they can do it. It's sad that with no justification offered, Ponnuru has a lower opinion of the Republicans' racial sensitivity than I do.

January 15, 2008 10:48 PM | TrackBack
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