Political Hay

Race to the Bottom

Obama faced more discrimination in the Democratic primaries than he does today.

By 9.18.09

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Last year Geraldine Ferraro called Barack Obama's race an advantage. "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," she said to a California newspaper, the Daily Breeze. "He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept." Now Jimmy Carter says his race is a disadvantage. Which is it?

Bill Clinton cast Obama's early primary success in the South as a Jesse Jackson-style fluke. Now the same liberals who defended Clinton against race-baiting charges attribute Obama's lack of success to racism in the South.

Carter says Americans don't think Obama is qualified to lead. So did Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. So did her feminist supporters. Gloria Steinem said Obama enjoyed an unfair racial and gender advantage over Hillary: Black males, she noted acidly, got the vote before women. George McGovern agreed, saying "I have a feeling that in this country where we're at today in our thinking, it's going to be harder to elect a woman than to elect a black man."

Where was Carter then? Obama faced more racial discrimination during the Democratic primaries than he faces today. Conservative opposition to him these days is based on policy differences, as Obama himself acknowledges; liberal opposition to him during the primaries wasn't.

Many liberals agreed with his policies, but out of a kind of white liberal paternalism thought that he should wait his turn. Hillary at one point condescendingly implied that Obama could serve as her apprentice for eight years. And long before the "birthers," one of her chief advisers, Mark Penn, thought it preposterous that America would elect someone with Obama's foreign-sounding name and time spent in Indonesia.

If anybody saw Obama as an Affirmative Action president waiting to happen, it was the running mate of Jimmy Carter's vice president. If anybody is assuming the worst of a race reflexively, it is Jimmy Carter himself. And how is it that one of the most unsuccessful politicians of modern times could have such an acute understanding of the people's moods and preferences?

The left sees racism in conservative opposition to Obama's health care proposal even as they cast it as an identical replay to opposition under a white president, Bill Clinton. They have seen it all before, yet somehow it is new and racist.

But then, almost anything qualifies as racism in their eyes. Even that old opposition to Bill Clinton. Author Toni Morrison saw racism in his impeachment proceedings, which transformed Clinton into the "first black president."

In the left's "conversation about race," evidence is irrelevant. Conservatism is automatically equated with racism. Jimmy Carter's malicious and willful assertion would never be treated as front-page news otherwise. Nor would NAACP President Benjamin Jealous be able to say without any proof whatsoever to the Washington Post that an "ambiguous, uncommitted middle" of racists exist in the country, which the "Republican Party's far-right-wing contingent is definitely fighting hard for."

It says a lot about the twisted victimology of left-wing identity politics that the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons are more inclined to embrace Obama as a "black president" in his failures than in his successes. Recall that as Obama went from strength to strength in the Democratic primaries, Jackson was caught in an off-camera moment disparaging him as a sell-out upstart in the crudest terms imaginable, a comment that makes Joe Wilson's look tame. Now that Obama is failing they feel more comfortable with him.

The Democratic primaries pitted feminists against racialists and blacks of Jesse Jackson's generation against those of Obama's. The nation had largely moved beyond race. But the Democrats hadn't. They were still, as Ferraro revealed, "caught up in the concept."

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.