Playing The ‘Racist’ Card

Someone I have heretofore had considerable respect for, Melissa Harris-Perry, wrote an article in The Nation (“Black President, Double Standard: Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama“) that disappointed me in the extreme. In essence, Harris-Perry plays the “racist” card, claiming that white liberals are abandoning Obama because he is black, in a way that they did not abandon Bill Clinton in allegedly similar circumstances in 1996.

Where to begin? First, the comparison with Clinton is specious.

There are some similarities. Clinton, like Obama, is a conservative Democrat. Clinton, like Obama, is an excellent public speaker. Clinton, like Obama, tossed a lot of bones to conservatives both in his own party and across the aisle, especially on social issues such as gay rights and the war on some drugs.

But there, in my opinion, the similarity ends. Clinton inherited an economy that was lukewarm or worse and managed a turnaround that benefited large numbers of people. Obama inherited an economy wrecked by George W. Bush and proceeded in exactly the wrong direction, making it much worse, with worse still to come. Obama inherited wars and a fear of terrorism from George W. Bush, maintained both major wars and exacerbated the fear of terrorism; Clinton challenged acts of terrorism in U.S. civilian courts and won. Obama inherited a “unitary executive” theory from the George W. Bush administration and extended it… that’s right, extended the claims for presidential powers… to the point of jailing people indefinitely (including American citizens) without charge and without access to any sort of due process, and… this tops it for me… secretly ordering targeted assassinations of American citizens, again with no due process whatsoever. Clinton almost certainly never heard of a “unitary executive” during his terms as president.

Oh, and Clinton had no plans that I know of to eviscerate Medicare and Medicaid. Obama… well, you know.

If all of that doesn’t constitute reason enough in Harris-Perry’s estimation for me as a white liberal to abandon Obama in 2012, well, I have to question the standard by which she evaluates racist behavior in white liberals.

Am I a racist? I don’t know… no white person really knows to what degree s/he is a racist; we don’t have the racial lenses through which to see the signs. I don’t think I am a racist, but I utterly decline to put on a performance for Harris-Perry’s sake, or apologize or back down in the least from my stated grievances against Obama as president. As president… emphasis on that… he has betrayed virtually every campaign promise he made before his election. As president… limiting my criticism to Obama in that role alone… he has committed numerous acts of dubious constitutionality. As president… he isn’t too much different from George W. Bush.

David Sirota presents a similar case in his Salon article “Why white liberals are (really) ditching Obama: Racism isn’t responsible for the president’s drop in popularity. His right-wing policies are“. I am glad to see there is at least one white liberal with higher web stats than my own to publish the case. There is really no response to the accusation of racism; it is the card that trumps all others in the game of politics. But those of us who oppose Obama on policy grounds need to say it over and over again anyway: Obama is losing my vote by being effectively a Republican more conservative than Ronald Reagan. Period.

Here ends the rant for the moment.

(H/T Avedon for the link to Sirota.)

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  • MandT  On Thursday September 29, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Harris-Perry’ is totally off base and deserves to be roundly called out for her ‘racist’ scree. Harris-Perry is heavily invested in the Obama presidency and her lucrative appearances on MSNBC and The Nation. If white liberals are abandoning Obama it’s because of his faux populist campaign for president and his treacherous governing in the interests of the corporate oligarchy. That Harris-Perry is getting a pass on this is outrageous.

    • Steve  On Thursday September 29, 2011 at 6:27 pm

      MandT, your assessment is completely correct, but I would disagree that Harris-Perry is “getting a pass on this.” Quite a few white liberals seem to be calling her out. Sirota is one; Avedon is one. I am one, though few bother to read me. 🙂

      I have tried never to call out a black person merely for taking whatever small advantage there may be in being black… Dog knows I take advantage of all the attributes I was born with, in conscious and subconscious ways, and they should be able to do the same without criticism.

      Calling someone a racist outright is a different matter: there has to be damned good evidence of it before it is a valid criticism, and I just don’t see that evidence here. Most white liberals are… just who they are, no more, no less. Maybe some have racist pasts. (I do not. My parents would never have tolerated such.) But there is no true equality on the basis of a candidate’s race until one can disparage a candidate of a different race from one’s own for reasons unrelated to race, i.e., policy reasons, and not be called a racist for doing so.

  • MandT  On Thursday September 29, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Racism seems to be an incurable disease among some folks. My dar goes up immediately when it appears, even in the subtleties of conversation with friends. It always makes me slightly ill and I often have to second guess myself whether my thoughts on occasion are racist or cultural critique.. That such an ab-reaction should come from a progressive intellectual of Harris-Perry’s deservedly elevated status only makes the argument that racial memory and it’s horrific history has not vanished in some imaginary post-racial America.

    • Steve  On Friday September 30, 2011 at 12:10 am

      MandT, there’s no doubt that racism and similar maladies are still with us… no doubt at all. Harris-Perry is wrong, however, to attribute Obama’s slipping poll numbers among people like me… white liberals… to racism. Whether or not I’m a racist… Dog knows I try never to be one… my objections to Obama are entirely and only on a policy level. And I would still vote for him if it were not for those targeted assassinations on American citizens that he ordered.

  • NTodd Pritsky  On Thursday September 29, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    My only quibble is that I don’t think Obama went the wrong direction on the economy, nor did he make it worse. I think the stimulus and auto bailout, if insufficient, objectively kept things from getting worse. Even the ACA with all its flaws and wealth transfer to insurance companies does help millions of people.

    • Steve  On Thursday September 29, 2011 at 11:48 pm

      NTodd, you are no doubt correct that the stimulus did something (as opposed to nothing), but Obama was told beforehand by name-brand economists such as Paul Krugman and Robert Reich that what he had done was not nearly sufficient. And it hasn’t been. Unemployment is still obscenely high and not decreasing. Home foreclosures continue apace. How much credit should one give Obama for a gesture in the right direction, after which his follow-up has been effectively… nothing? Obama is president. He’s not a senator anymore. It’s all on his shoulders to make things work. Yes, I agree, Republicans are doing their damnedest to make that impossible… but he’s not even challenging them on the really important things. He’s got to stop the austerity bullshit: people are dying while he pursues austerity.

      Civil liberties led me to abandon him… “hit” contracts on American citizens neither charged nor tried are simply outside the pale… but his economic malfeasance is equally inexcusable. Most of us have read at least some of Keynes, and we have an example in the Great Depression that proves it works. What can possibly excuse his refusal to at least pursue that approach? Is his political future more important than four more years worth of unemployment for many Americans, or losing their homes?

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