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Is Racism Just a Scare-Word?

According to First Things, it is. In fact, Elizabeth Scalia’s long and spirited rant on the topic insists that its no longer possible for anyone to dissent from Obama on anything without being called a racist. Conservatives are just all actually just victims getting tread on by the liberal race card police.

What I find funny is that it’s the populist neocons who are tossing around the racist label more than anyone else these days. Didn’t we hear recently that Obama’s a racist who hates all things white?

But more to the point, the idea that racial stuff isn’t playing a role in all this is just absurd. Rod Dreher nails the matter:

Let’s say that Democrat Joe Lieberman was the American president. And let’s say that Rush Limbaugh said this on his radio show:

It’s Lieberman’s America, is it not? Lieberman’s America, Gentiles getting ripped off by Jews on Wall Street. You invest your hard-earned money in a mutual fund, you expect safety but in Lieberman’s America the non-Jews now get stolen from…

What would that sound like to you? Would you be able to call it mere “sarcasm”? Or would you recognize that there was something more sinister at work in this language?

Exactly. If Obama was Jewish do you really think people could say stuff like this without getting rightly labeled as anti-Semites?

The problem is that rational and measured dissent from the current administration is just not all that forthcoming. Frankly, we really need that sort of dissent right now. The problem is not, as Scalia claims that all dissent is now brushed off as racism. Its that the vast majority of those claiming to be patriotic dissenters—at least the ones that are media savvy—are quite clearly acting out of a profoundly racially-charged posture of blind fear and rage. Articulate and rational dissent would be great. That would be helpful beyond belief. But all we get are conspiracy theories about Obama being a secret Muslim Communist Nazi and mad claims that in Obama’s America black men are going to round you up and beat the crap out of you for being white.

31 Comments

  1. This just came out today on the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8258011.stm

    “Former US President Jimmy Carter says much of the vitriol against President Barack Obama’s health reforms and spending plans is “based on racism”.

    Mr Carter told a public meeting there was “an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president”.

    Angry town hall meetings and a recent taxpayers’ demonstration in Washington have been vitriolic towards the president, reports the BBC’s North America editor Mark Mardell.

    Many have not just protested against the president’s policies but have accused him of tyranny, and have promised to “reclaim America”.

    “Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national programme on healthcare,” Mr Carter said at a public meeting at his Carter Center in Atlanta held prior to the Congress vote on Tuesday.

    “It’s deeper than that.” “

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  2. Er, there should be an ellipse between the first two paragraphs and the last three paragraphs.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  3. Andrew wrote:

    A recent opinion piece in my local paper was titled “Polio flourishes where Muslim extremism rules”. Part of the article was interesting as it explained that rumors have been spread that the American vaccine is a rouse to infect Muslims with AIDS, but the fact this was an opinion piece rather than an article allowed the message to become oddly racist. I am waiting with bated breath for the next op-ed piece that I am sure will read something like “Beware of Jew bites, they make you poor” or, “Scientists now believe that swine flu was started by Mexicans who have sex with pigs”.

    Basically I have come to the conclusion that if it is racist, hate filled, and completely insane, it will most likely be believed here.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 10:51 am | Permalink
  4. Hill wrote:

    I’m unclear where people are saying that at no point is race an issue in the criticisms levied at Obama. That would seem to be the argument you are addressing.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    It seems to me that the point Scalia makes is that one cannot dissent from Obama in any way without being accused of racism. Besides being crazy hyperbole at best, what would be the purpose of that argument other than trying to establish that that the accusation of racism against the current dissenters is wrong?

    Again, I’m not against dissent against Obama, I think we need it. But for Scalia to bitch and moan about how everyone persecutes us and calls us racists for criticizing Obama is misguided at best.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  6. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Halden,

    Apparently Joe Wilson is a racist. Do you think he is, Halden? Or do you think his out-burst (whether right or not) came from a material disagreement with what the President was saying?

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 12:24 pm | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Sure he has a material disagreement, but he’s obviously a racist, at least in my view. Not primarily for heckling Obama, though (which btw has never happened to a President addressing Congress before). His irrational fear of illegal immigrants getting healthcare coverage and the fear he’s tried to stir up around that is quite obviously racial, in my opinion.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    However, even if I’m wrong about Wilson I was in no sense claiming that anyone who criticizes Obama is a racist. As I said, I welcome informed, rational, and substantive dissent. I think we need it desperately.

    But that’s not what we’re getting from anyone right now. What we are getting is a whole mass of whacked-out craziness, much (not all, of course) of which is clearly racial.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Permalink
  9. Hill wrote:

    I find your use of the phrase “bitch and moan” to be misogynistic, especially in this context.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    Touche.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  11. Hill wrote:

    I was joking in my previous post, but your criteria for judging Wilson to be “obviously racist” would likely get you labeled “obviously misogynistic” and “obviously homophobic.” Not that I agree with those assessments.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  12. james wrote:

    Let me decode some of the redneck that you are missing in the cultural translation before it reaches the Left coast.

    I know you will refuse to except it, but those on the left are extremely uncomfortable with race. They are compelled to only have positive interactions with other races. Always with the smiling. Blacks often laugh at this phenomenon, so this should not be shocking.

    Therefore when people oppose a black politician vehemently on spending issues, in the exact same language they did Bill Clinton from 92-94, it is heard as racism because the left thinks to themselves how crazy it would be for them to speak that way to a black person. Disagreeing with black president about immigration policy is a racist two-fer.

    Now for the slogans and shibboleths:
    The’ tyranny’ and ‘reclaim America’ stuff is tied directly to founding fathers philosophy of the federal state whether Jeffersonian or Hamiltonian and the inevitable social change that the projected spending and deficits must cause. The federal government creates a broad dependency like publicly provided health care (the obvious final goal that must not be stated except by some in the House) while taxing less than half of the electorate. Now you have the classic two wolves and the sheep voting on what’s for dinner. Once the mob controls the purse strings we’ll have social democracy (close enough to ‘communism’ for Kansas). The highest bidder wins the larger coalition….until they can’t pay….which ironically is already right now. But Obama won’t admit it (95% of people will get a tax cut he says) which is further frustrating leading to the charge of ‘LIAR’ concerning taxes.

    The miracle was that we waited 235 years before this happened. The trajectory has been in place with the growth in federal power in the 20th century, but the south and midwest has been able to hold back the expansion of dependencies. Now the urban/coastal cosmopolitan class who welcomes Euro-style social democracy has partially won adding regional resentments/alienation to the fire. They apparently do not fear the higher unemployment and slower growth that Europe enjoys.

    This leads necessarily to the ‘patriotism’ angle of the protests because being cosmopolitan they lack the ethnic patriotism of the other side. The south and midwest define patriotism as defending(violently if necessary) what is unique and good about America. With civil liberties widely accepted in Europe, the coastals tend to view the remaining unique aspects of America as faults to be reformed. They are patriotic to the ideal America ‘of the future’, but its pretty thinly defined but seems like Europe.

    This is why Obama had to prove/fake his ethnic patriotism with flag-wearing which puzzled liberals as silly capitulation. Liberals tend to find that sort of thing ethnic(bad word) and jingoistic because they don’t “believe in America” right now but rather her ideals calling from the future. Conversely they will wave a flag if it is a protest march against the government which is strange and not enough for a redneck.

    Liberals non-ethnic patriotism also explains their lack of concern about illegal immigration which therefore becomes a litmus test of patriotism at the protests. Cosmos feel less economic threat and no ethnic ties in any case to those complaining. The ‘Muslim’ background details in Obama’s life don’t help reassuring about ethnic solidarity. And finally as for ‘Nazi’ what can you say, Americans love it.

    Until blacks begin to vote by race in numbers under 90-95% for the left, the south will interpret a black man in office as a sign of all the cultural political revolution I have listed. It will and indeed must be misunderstood as racism by a coastal media. But race has no essential part of it. It is just a safe signifier of the “change we fear” or better the “change we don’t have right now”. Email me and I can send you the redneck decoder ring.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    Well, there’s more backstory on Wilson that I think gives credence to the accusation. Like his statement that Strom Thurmond’s interracial daughter should not have gone public about her parentage because it’s a “smear” on the family name.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 1:22 pm | Permalink
  14. Hill wrote:

    So there are no cogent, non-racially motivated critiques of Obama’s policies on offer? I honestly think these sentiments are the product of the way internet news outlets and the blogosphere function. There is no monetary incentive to publicize the critiques you claim don’t exist. But they obvious exist. What you are saying is that there are vocal crazy people in the world. It just so happens that with the internet, you hear about them more often.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  15. Halden wrote:

    Oh, I’m sure they’re out there. I hope they get more press. Right now, however they appear to be in the minority among conservatives of whatever stripe.

    However, this is the point I would still hold against Scalia (following Dreher’s latest post on this, which is quite good): I have not seen any “cogent, non-racially motivated critiques of Obama’s policies” being labeled as racist by the “liberal elites” in the way she boldly asserts.

    In other words, her post is completely false. The stuff that’s out there being labeled as racist, at least that I’ve seen, generally is just that. So rather than throwing up a smokescreen of “now you can’t critique Obama without being a racist,” I wish Scalia had put her effort into making some of those “cogent, non-racially motivated critiques.” Instead she just comes of as reactionary and hysterical.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  16. Lee wrote:

    There’s plenty of rational dissent from the Administration’s policies out there. It just mostly comes from the Left.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  17. Andrew wrote:

    Race will always be a subtext in the illogical arguments against a non-white president. Race is a fear based reasoning and fear based arguments are the only talking points coming from the right and they are starting to gain in popularity on the left as well.

    One of the reason race continues to get legitimately brought up in these debates is because there is no other logical explanation for the unreasonable stance the right is taking. There are plenty of understandable problems that need to be addressed in this health care debate but by rejecting rhetoric and utilizing intimidation and fear the subtext of racism comes out in bold stupidity. The problem is that we are making logical conclusions based upon their actions when their actions have no basis in reality, let alone logic.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  18. Hill wrote:

    Which right and what unreasonable stance? You do realize you are engaging in precisely the sort of “you don’t agree with my obviously logical (but in fact arbitrary) position and are therefore a racist” that this article is trying to point out. You basically just said “well even if there’s nothing obviously racist, it must be racist, because that’s the only way someone could disagree.”

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  19. Andrew wrote:

    I am talking about the fact that there are a myriad of logical arguments that could be brought up to point out the flaws of this Health care plan and yet the vast majority of opposition only uses name calling and hysteria to defend their position.

    I had a discussion with my father the other day. He is a very conservative republican who is strongly opposed to the proposed health care changes. He did everything short of calling Barack Obama an idiot, and yet I never once felt like anything he said was racist. This was because he backed up his statements with arguments based on logic. I still don’t agree with him, but I really enjoyed the debate because it was the first time I was able to speak with someone who was passionately against health care reform who didn’t simply spew vitriol in an emotion based tirade.

    Once somebody is able to explain to me how Obama is the new Hitler in a logical manner I may stop viewing those arguments as racist.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Permalink
  20. Hill wrote:

    Thanks for the clarification. I think the problem with these discussions is that they typically refer to personal experience, which differs substantially even in this country. I live in what may be the most liberal place in the whole universe, and I realize the extent to which that may cause me to see people’s reaction to “political commentary” emerging out of the heartland as over the top. I’m in general not exposed to it, as I try to avoid chasing it down online.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  21. Daniel Imburgia wrote:

    Whatever motivated Joe Wilson’s slanderous outburst at Obama, what needs be criticized is that his outrage was over the possibility that poor immigrants might get healthcare!!! 27 times God told His people in the Torah (the Talmud hyperbolically proclaims ‘27 times 27’) “that one should not persecute the alien and stranger in your land, nor abuse him, that the alien and stranger is to be treated as a family member, given shelter and food, that there be only one and the same law for the alien and for God’s people….” What is God’s explanation for this socialist, trans-national, open border policy? “Because you were once alien and strangers in a foreign land, abused and oppressed, and I delivered you” God reminded the Israelites over and over. I don’t reckon I need to go into how the Christian bible attends to this issue. Obama assured us in his speech that “no illegals would be allowed access to healthcare in his plan.” Wilson apologized, both parties have added big bucks to their political campaigns, self-righteousness and moral indignation abounds, and the poor suffer. obliged, Daniel

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 5:52 pm | Permalink
  22. Hill wrote:

    Well said.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 5:57 pm | Permalink
  23. Halden wrote:

    Indeed.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink
  24. roger flyer wrote:

    Right

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 7:30 pm | Permalink
  25. james wrote:

    This seems like bleeding-heart “conservatives are so mean” line of thinking. No one is or can object to illegals getting healthCARE since by federal law everyone entering an emergency room gets treated and always will, no payment necessary. I think that pretty much fulfills the biblical kindness to aliens requirement not to mention the never imagined scale of 11 million aliens and strangers wandering around. That’s more like the situation of the Philistine aliens in the book of Judges.

    Getting subsidized heath INSURANCE which is the actual discussion is another matter and should not be an entitlement to illegals. Canada doesn’t allow it so that should make you feel better since the cool countries won’t allow it either. That would be an invitation to the world to drain our finances with any and all expensive health cases. Moral hazard. There are only so many magical healthcare ponies for Obama to distribute, then he’s out.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 11:30 pm | Permalink
  26. james wrote:

    Halden’s “indeed” is not to my post I assure you, but the one above it. The threading was unintentional.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 11:31 pm | Permalink
  27. kim fabricius wrote:

    Now that was a proper douche. Merci, Daniel.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 11:32 pm | Permalink
  28. Dave Belcher wrote:

    Yes, Bobby, Joe Wilson is racist: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/opinion/13dowd.html

    Is there anyone who is not racist, and how does one know one is not racist? Only in Christ Jesus our Lord…not kidding at all, by the way.

    Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 6:04 am | Permalink
  29. Hill wrote:

    Well put. The truly ironic thing… and I think this actually sums up the complexity of this issue, is that in a sense, Joe Wilson was right:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203440104574409501904118682.html

    It’s hard to characterize the instances described in that article as anything other than deceptive.

    Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 9:24 am | Permalink
  30. Daniel Imburgia wrote:

    You bring up some important issues James, allow me to paraphrase; by what measure of reasoning does one advocate for a state/govt. to be responsible for fulfilling a particular interpretation of the Biblical mandates for justice, mercy and caritas. In addition, if a state/govt. assumes part of what some Christians identify as Biblical mandates to the church or individual believers, how does that affect the scope of Christian call/responsibility to justice/Love/charity? And finally, by what theological reasoning can one compel other citizens, and/or other Christians, that do not share one’s biblical understanding, to fulfill a particular interpretation? There are many that address these questions of political theology, the latest comprehensive effort is by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.” There is much to engage and critique there, but he addresses most of these questions in a knowledgeable and insightful way. (I have been hoping for a more thorough engagement here someday). “Political theology: Public Religions in a Post Secular World,” is a work I would recommend, particularly the essays by Habermas, Judith Butler and Bettino Prato. I am sure others here, as well as yourself, may have some good recommendations as well. Blogs, I reckon, are not often a vehicle for a systematic or comprehensive working thru of these kinds of questions, still, they often goad me to further study and reflection. Thanks for your comment james, obliged, Daniel (ps, does anyone ever even read these after they are superceded by other posts?)

    Friday, September 18, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink
  31. Daniel Imburgia wrote:

    You bring up some important issues James, if I may paraphrase: by what measure of reasoning does one advocate for a state/govt. to be responsible for fulfilling a particular interpretation of the Biblical mandates for justice, mercy and caritas. In addition, if a state/govt. assumes part of what some Christians identify as Biblical mandates to the church or individual believers, how does that affect a Christian call/responsibility to justice/Love/charity? In addition, by what theological reasoning can one compel other citizens, and/or other Christians, that do not share one’s biblical understanding, to fulfill a particular interpretation? There are many that address these questions of political theology, the latest comprehensive effort is by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.” There is much to engage and critique there, but he addresses most of these questions in a knowledgeable and insightful way. (I have been hoping for a more thorough engagement here someday). “Political theology: Public Religions in a Post Secular World,” is a work I would recommend, particularly the essays by Habermas, Judith Butler and Bettino Prato. I am sure others here, as well as yourself, may have some good recommendations as well. obliged, Daniel

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

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