Politicians Must Decry Anti-Black Rhetoric

Via Jeremy Mayer

Democrats, led by the Congressional Black Caucus and former President Jimmy Carter, are blaming racism for the virulent criticism of President Barack Obama. Republicans are outraged at the accusation, claiming it is just an attempt to insulate Obama from legitimate criticism.

Let’s take a step back and ask a different question: Would America’s first Jewish president face the same issue?

Imagine that Joe Lieberman had been inaugurated this past January, as an independent with a neocon foreign policy that infuriated Democrats and a domestic health care plan that enraged Republicans. We’d surely see some posters at anti-Lieberman rallies showing hook-nosed bankers meeting in cabals planning the invasion of Iran or the destruction of the American health care system.

The fringes of both the left and the right of American politics have elements of anti-Semitism in them. In that sense, the first Jewish president would have to deal with what our first black president deals with today: ugly stereotypes utilized by angry demonstrators.

But the mainstream leadership of both parties would immediately react to even subtle appeals to anti-Jewish sentiment. One reason Pat Buchanan ended his long career in Republican politics as an obscure third-party candidate was his consistent tendency to cozy up to neo-Nazis, former Nazis and other anti-Semites. When former Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and those closest to her spouted anti-Semitic rhetoric, mainstream Democrats largely abandoned her.

The same ostracism just doesn’t happen with a lot of anti-black rhetoric. Mark Williams, the organizer of the national tea party movement, called Obama, on national television, a “welfare thug,” while marchers at a recent rally carried pictures of Obama as an African witch doctor. I think that’s pretty close to calling a Jewish president a “cheating landlord” or “kike banker” while carrying signs depicting Lieberman in a yarmulke running the world’s media. But there has been no outcry among Republicans, no pledges to avoid Williams and his movement.

Williams is far from alone. Republicans across the country have compared Michelle Obama with an escaped gorilla, put President Obama’s face on new food stamps covered with watermelons and fried chicken and alleged that Obama was going to tax aspirin, since “it’s white and it works.” The most prominent voice in Republican politics, Rush Limbaugh, even tried to whip up white resentment against blacks and Obama by linking the president to a school bus beating, in a way we haven’t really seen in mainstream American politics since George Wallace.

Does GOP stand for “Guilty of Prejudice”? Probably not.

These few incidents cannot alone support Carter’s claim that the “overwhelming portion” of intense opposition to Obama stemmed from the fact that “many” whites were not comfortable being led by a black president.

I recall a great deal of animosity, expressed in extremely personal ways, toward President Bill “Bubba” Clinton when he tried to reform health care. And President George W. Bush’s opponents did not hesitate to get personal about his religion or his family’s background.

White presidents don’t get a free pass when it comes to vicious stereotypes and caricatures.

You don’t need a degree in psychology to understand that people often pick the most obvious avenues of attack in moments of anger. I remember well an ex-girlfriend with a bad mean streak letting me know post-breakup that I was short and balding. Did that mean she was prejudiced against the follicularly and height challenged?

But the difference is, anti-black prejudice remains a significant national problem, and American history is rife with racial violence. Attacking a president because he’s from a rural state (or an ex because he’s bald) is not the same as using race against a black man.

And why is it that both parties run from anti-Semitism as fast as they can, but one party seems to engage in race baiting and racial symbolism with sad frequency?

One clue may be that there’s almost no electoral downside for Republicans in being somewhat racially insensitive. Blacks almost never vote Republican, and many whites seem to find Limbaugh’s race baiting appealing.

By contrast, both parties try hard for Jewish votes and Jewish donations and would pay a significant price if Jews began to widely perceive that one party was even mildly tolerant of anti-Semitism.

If more blacks were part of the Republican coalition, there would be fewer attacks centered on race from the GOP.

But that is certainly putting the cart before the horse. There won’t be significant numbers of blacks in the Republican coalition until phrases like “welfare thug” attract the Republican outrage they so richly deserve.

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