Political Hay

Playing the Racism Card

We are "kind of nervous" when it comes to "talking about that."

By 5.14.08

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It took until March, by which time Senator Obama had been running for President for a full year. But when all those Rev. Jeremiah Wright quotes began to emerge, there was some decorous murmuring about how Americans needed to have a discussion about race.

Yes, but what kind of a discussion?

An answer has begun to emerge. The issue keeps bubbling up, not least in more comments from the Rev. Wright. About left-brain, right-brain distinctions between blacks and whites, for example. To me, that resembled nothing so much as the new phrenology. If Charles Murray, who wrote that notorious book about IQ, had said anything like that, he would have been branded a racist and maybe would be in hiding by now.

The race issue returned soon after last week's primaries in North Carolina and Indiana. In an interview with USA Today, Sen. Hillary Clinton said that she had a "much broader base to build a winning coalition on." Citing an AP article, she added:

"Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again." Polls showed "how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."

"There is a pattern emerging here," she said.

"There is indeed a pattern emerging," replied left wing columnist Joe Conason. "And it is a pattern that must dismay everyone who admires the Clintons and has defended them against the charge that they are exploiting racial divisions."

Hillary was "channeling George Wallace," Conason said.

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert also took umbrage.

"To deliberately convey the idea that most white people -- or most working-class white people -- are unwilling to give an African-American candidate a fair hearing in a presidential election is a slur against whites."

Why is it not giving someone a "fair hearing" to draw attention to exit polls showing that he lacks support among certain groups? When the media gleefully drew attention to Ronald Reagan's "gender gap" when he was running for President in 1984 -- a far higher percentage of men than women supported him -- was that not giving him a fair hearing? How silly!

On Sunday we did hear some commonsense on the issue, from Sam Donaldson of ABC News. On This Week with George Stephanopoulos he said:

"Senator Obama has to solve the problem he had in the primaries, the big states, from the standpoint of white men, and white women. Now when I say this, we are looking at the analysis of the exit polls, not just ABC's, but everybody's, and it's a fact. Of course, I hope nobody is going to accuse me of being a racist. When she [Hillary] says it -- we just played it -- 'Ha! She's playing the race card.' It's a fact, folks, and Senator Obama knows it. And his people are working on that."

Two weeks earlier, on Meet the Press, we heard a remarkable and contrasting comment from Gwen Ifill, who hosts a PBS program of journalists who for some reason always seem to form a clubby mutual admiration society. Here she is on Tim Russert's pow-wow
"It also obscures a, a more fundamental problem which is coming up in this campaign, we are all looking for ways, in our way, to talk about race in the campaign. But what the, the numbers have shown us, the exit polls have shown us in the last week is that what we don't want to talk about is racism, which is, I think, a, a, a real issue. The people who said they -- that race mattered to them, a lot of them voted for Hillary Clinton. I'm not calling the voters racists, but I think, at some point, we have to get back to a word that we're very scared of using in our society, which is the reason why people vote against someone because of their race is not a positive reason, it's a negative, and racism is a negative quality. We have to find some way to embrace talking about that in our coverage, and we're kind of nervous about that."

Well yes, Gwen, you're right. We are "kind of nervous" when it comes to "talking about that." And there's a reason.

On May 1, Robert Siegel, the host of NPR's "All Things Considered," said that according to exit polls in the Pennsylvania primary, 12 percent of all voters had said that race was a factor in the way they voted. The racial breakdown was: 15 percent of white voters, and "nearly one third" of blacks voters who said that race was a factor.

So by these figures, and Ifill's analysis, it seems that blacks may be twice as racist as whites.

Put another way, why is it okay for Obama's supporters to tout the high percentage of African-American votes he is receiving -- 90 percent in North Carolina -- but not okay for Hillary's supporters (and Hillary herself) to mention his relatively low percentage of white votes (40 percent in Indiana and North Carolina)?

Liberals feel entitled to accuse Hillary of playing the "race card" for drawing attention to the voting preferences of whites. Meanwhile, the voting preferences of blacks is touted as one of Obama's great strengths.

My guess is that when the mainstream media say it is time for a discussion about race, what some of them really want is to start leveling accusations of racism.

Do we really want to go down that road? Based simply on voting preferences? I would advise against it. There's a saying: "What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander."

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About the Author

Tom Bethell is a senior editor of The American Spectator and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages, and most recently Questioning Einstein: Is Relativity Necessary? (2009).