This article originally appears on The Moderate Voice
The recent brouhaha over the New Black Panther party getting away with what appeared to be a clear violation of the voting rights act when they stood outside of a Philadelphia polling place with the expressed and admitted purpose of intimidating voters has brought the race card into play from both sides.
There are some on the right who point to the fact that the DoJ dropped the civil case against the NBPP as evidence that President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are bigoted against whites; that when it comes to applying the law fairly and equally, the administration has been derelict in its responsibilities. On the left, the predictable response - as it is with virtually any opposition to the president and the Democrats - is to simply smear millions of ordinary people as racists for even raising the question.
Rush Limbaugh on July 2:
“Who is Obama? Why is he doing this? Why? Why is he doing it? Is he stupid? Is it an accident? Is he doing it on purpose or what have you? … I think we face something we’ve never faced before in the country — and that is, we’re now governed by people who do not like the country, who do not have the same reverence for it that we do. Our greatest threat (and this is saying something) is internal.”
That word ‘payback’ is not mine, [but] it is exactly how I think Obama looks at the country: It’s payback time… There’s no question that payback is what this administration is all about, presiding over the decline of the United States of America, and doing so happily.”
Eric Boehlert believes that this is evidence of racism on the part of Limbaugh:
But today when Fox News (aka the Opposition Party) openly and proudly engages in jaw-dropping episodes of demagogic race-bating, as they depict the president of the United States as a hater of white people who’s quietly assembling his progressive army for a “race war,” the same press corps that dissected every Clinton camp utterance now sits quietly, watching from a distance, and decides uniformly that there’s no story there.
You can practically hear the audible justifications: “Well, it’s just Fox being Fox.” Or, “It’s just Rush being Rush.”
I’m sorry, but when the most-watched cable news channel relentlessly depicts the president and his administration as being the home to get-whitey racists, it’s news. And having the most listened-to radio talk show host in American claim that our first African-American president purposefully keeps the unemployment rate high in order to exact revenge against white America — that’s news too.
That quote about a “race war” is from Glenn Beck. Not surprising, but it is significant to Boehlert’s hysterical, over the top, morbidly exaggerated charges that Fox “relentlessly” depicts the president as a racist. Really, now? Covering a story that the Department of Justice has made bigger than it ever should have been because of their absolute refusal to give their reasons for why they dropped the civil suit against the NBPP to either Congress or, as they are obliged to do, to the Commission on Civil Rights doesn’t sound like race baiting to me. It is news when the Attorney General of the United States refuses to honor a subpoena from the US Commission on Civil Rights. And if it is such a nothing issue, why are Holder and DoJ fighting tooth and nail to keep from disclosing their reasons for not pursuing the civil suit? This is an especially telling question if, as seems likely, the result would be a simple slap on the wrist to the Panthers and their wild and wacky leader Mr. Shabbaz.
Of course, Boehlert couldn’t bring himself to mention several other cases where DoJ is giving the appearance of race favoritism. How about this doozy of a case in a small Mississippi county where the Democratic chairman, Ike Brown, has been doing his best Bull Connor imitation - in black face, of course:
Brown canceled ballots cast by white voters. He stuffed the ballot box with illegal ballots supporting his preferred black candidates. He deployed teams of notaries to roam the countryside and mark absentee ballots instead of voters. He allowed forced assistance in the voting booth, to the detriment of white voters. He threatened 174 white voters by declaring that if they tried to participate in an election, he might challenge them and not let them vote. He publicized the 174 names.
Lest you think this is from the overly-fertile imagination of whistleblower Christian Adams, these incidents were documented in sworn testimony in the court case against Brown brought by career attorneys in the civil rights division. The Holder Justice Department recently failed to object to the continuation of some of these practices when all that would have been required was a letter saying they objected.
Now, I don’t expect Boehlert or other critics of Mr. Adams to respond to each and every allegation he has made regarding DoJ race favoritism in applying the voting rights act. Simply acknowledging that they exist would be a start. The point being, to accuse conservatives of racism because they object to Holder’s actions in the NBPP case is dishonest - especially when there are numerous other examples of Holder’s justice department appearing to show favoritism.
I don’t for a minute believe Holder and Obama are racists. I believe they are politically correct jackasses who sought to bestow a political gift on a favored constituency. For those - including Boehlert - who believe that this issue was small potatoes, perhaps they might explain the furious activity surrounding it from both the White House and the Department of Justice. This timeline of White House involvement and NAACP lobbying on behalf of the Panthers pretty much destroys the idea that there was a legitimate reason to drop the civil suit. It was politics, pure and simple. And having spent the 2008 campaign rightly railing against the politicization of the Bush justice department, Obama and Holder could hardly be expected to admit to doing the same.
This doesn’t excuse Limbaugh or Beck from making their jaw dropping claims about Obama sticking it to white people or that the president is trying to foment a race war. But are those comments ignorant, stupid, irrational, and paranoid? Or are they racist?
You simply can’t automatically identify political speech you disagree with as racist like Boehlert does in his ridiculously exaggerated screed. Of course it’s bonkers to believe that Obama wants a race war, or that he’s out for payback against whites for slavery. But why is that necessarily a racist comment? What makes it racist, specifically? If it were racist based on the fact that it’s nutty and dead wrong, that encompasses a lot of territory. And ascribing racist attitudes based solely on the fact that the president is black just doesn’t cut it unless you want to drastically demean and lower the bar for what constitutes racism in political speech. Using that formula, all opposition speech against the president should be dismissed as racist - an outcome no doubt devoutly wished for by Obama partisans but nonsense on its face.
Call Beck and Limbaugh unbalanced jesters. Suggest they take a long vacation at a mental hospital. But holding a half assed opinion for why a president acts a certain way is not inherently racist even if that president happens to be black. To believe otherwise is to reject the basis of free speech as we have understood it for more than 200 years. The bywords are wrong - not evil. And both sides, as Joe Gandleman points out, have rejected the idea that an opponent is simply mistaken and applied for admission in the Darth Vader School of Political Discourse.
Until scientists come up with a device that can look into the hearts and minds of men and assure us that someone holds a certain opinion because he hates people of another race, political speech should remain free of this kind of incendiary language. It won’t, of course, to our detriment and possible extinction as a nation. The biggest threat to America is not found our serious and inumerable problems, but in the fact that the two sides of every debate are congenitally unable to trust the other side enough so that we can deal with our most daunting challenges as one nation.