Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Race Card

I've been a supporter of Obama since before the Iowa primary. I haven't volunteered for him (because that's not really me) but I've advocated for him and donated to his cause. Generally speaking, I've been proud of the campaign and its supporters.

However, one of the things that has discomfited me about the behavior of my side is how quickly -- not Obama -- but the supporters of Obama have imputed racist motives on their opponents, whether it be Hillary Clinton's camp or John McCain's.

When we were told that Bill Clinton was a racist because he said Obama's campaign was a "fairy tale" I was confused. I thought 'fairy' was derogative for gays, not blacks. Now, I will admit, not all the protestations about the Clintons were unearned. When Bill pointed out that Jesse Jackson had won in South Carolina too, his meaning was pretty clear: like Jesse, Obama was a marginal black candidate.

Still, over and over, the bloggers supporting Obama have used race as a shield for any criticism of their candidate. Here's one recent example, but it could just as easily be a dozen others:

McCain's latest: claiming that Obama will turn the IRS "into a giant welfare agency." And this even though McCain's rationale for this claim is Obama's support for a refundable tax credit, something McCain himself supports as a centerpiece of his health care plan. Par for the course, really: if you figure in the robocalls and recent ads, McCain's entire campaign is now comprised of innuendo and lies meant to tie Obama to various stereotypes of African-Americans and of course Arab terrorism. His purported foreign policy experience hasn't been part of the campaign's message in weeks. Just black, black, black, terrorist, terrorist, terrorist.
Why go to race? McCain's argument that progressive taxation is akin to socialism is absurd on its face and easily refutable without reliance on unprovable imputations about motives. You see, neither Josh Marshall, nor you, nor I can read minds. So why use an argument that will only be credited by someone who already sees ill will in McCain?

I'm not naive. I have no doubt that Obama's race will cost him among certain voters, and I don't doubt there are people on the Republican side trying to figure out how to maximize that effect. I just don't see the efficacy of calling it out unless it is blisteringly obvious. When you yell "racist!" when someone is just being a run-of-the-mill political heel, you cause a lot of defensive reactions. People develop resentments about their side being falsely accused of an abhorrent trait, and this leads them to be skeptical of any claims for minorities. We pay the cost of heightened divisions without enjoying the benefit of winning over hearts and minds.

Obama has avoided heightening the tensions he spoke of so eloquently in his speech on race. Those of us who support him should follow his lead and do the same.

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