Sunday, April 27, 2008

Is this 'racism'?

Why does John McCain distance himself from the NC GOP ad about Rev. Jeremiah Wright? The heart of the ad is a short video clip of Wright's "God d--- America" quote and the ad says nothing at all about race. Yet, as Peter Wehner notes at NRO, liberals are insisting (and McCain seems to agree) that the ad is some kind of coded subliminal appeal to white racism. Here's E.J. Dionne:
Republicans clearly know that they can find ways to play on racial feeling while fully denying they are doing so. On Wednesday, the North Carolina Republican Party released a television ad showing Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, giving his now-famous sermon in which he declared, "God damn America."
Of course Wright's comments were offensive, but to pretend that the ad does not have racial undertones would be to deny the obvious.
Why? Where are the "racial undertones"? What is so "obvious"? E.J. never says. Apparently, it's so self-evident that any political attack ad involving a black candidate must be racist, that these "undertones" require neither examination nor explanation.

Since E.J. doesn't explain this curious accusation, allow me to provide the deconstruction. First, watch the video again:

The reason that E.J. sees "racial undertones" in the North Carolina ad is this: Wright's sermon is delivered in a voice that might be called culturally black -- and thus at odds with Obama's post-racial image.

The "racial undertones" don't come from the actual words that Wright speaks -- which are not different in any substantial way from the anti-American rantings of Ward Churchill or Bill Ayers -- but in the way he speaks them. Wright delivers these words in a stylized African-American gospel-preacher voice, the kind of voice often used in political oratory by such figures as Jesse Jackson, John Lewis and Al Sharpton.

Wright sounds culturally black, in a way that Obama does not. I've said before that if Obama had gone to Hollywood, he could have had a succesful career playing a forensic scientist on "CSI," a heart surgeon on "Grey's Anatomy, " or a district attorney on "Law & Order," while earning extra money doing voiceovers in commercials for allergy medications. He's got that resonant voice and reassuring manner that would make him a casting director's dream for such roles.

By associating Obama's name and image with Wright's gospel-preacher voice, the NC GOP is meant to remind us that Obama is black -- or so E.J. Dionne seems to suggest. I say "seems to suggest" because, as noted, E.J. never comes right out and says so. He just intuits the "racial undertones" and expects the enlightened reader to nod in agreement.

The big problem with E.J.'s method of "argument" (which is no argument at all) is that it makes blackness a sort of Kevlar shield against criticism. The candidate's pastor can say anything at all -- he can say, "God d--- America" -- and no one can make an issue of his remarks without inviting this kind of insinuation about "racial undertones." The mere fact that the Democratic candidate is black means that liberals can play the race card any time they feel like it.

Personally, I like Obama. He's a cigarette smoker, which makes us both members of an oppressed minority. Politically, of course, Obama's just another liberal. There's no meaningful policy difference between him and Hillary. So in that regard, I don't give a damn who the Democrats nominate, and it would at least be fun to have four years of Jay Leno jokes about Obama trying to sneak out into the Rose Garden to puff a Camel Light.

What troubles me about the way the campaign is shaping up is that liberals are beginning to suggest that they want this election to be a referendum on race: Vote for Obama, or you're a racist. We're seeing that theme already developing in the Democratic primary, and I think there can be no doubt that it will be exponentially enlarged during the general-election campaign if Obama should win the nomination.

Liberals evidently fail to see the inherent risks in waging a campaign on that basis. Just like the Rodney King incident or the O.J. trial, a racialized campaign -- where liberals automatically interpret any Republican attack as racist -- would divide the country in a dangerous way. And what if the Obama presidency should turn out to be a one-term failure? What if there is a scandal or a blunder in foreign policy? If Obama is elected on the basis of his blackness, and if all of his critics are tarred as racists, then what would be Obama's "legacy" if he should prove as unsuccessful as Jimmy Carter?

It is not Republicans who are raising the race issue vis-a-vis Rev. Wright's rants -- or anything else, for that matter. It's white liberals like E.J. Dionne who are playing the race card, and they must bear the responsibility for the result.

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