Time for a “Southern Strategy”
In what is, no doubt, a sign of increasing desperation driven by Mitt Romney’s perpetually lousy poll numbers, conservatives from across the media spectrum have, in recent days, turned to their old standby strategy. When things get tough, naked appeals to racism might just do the trick:
The first to pick at our nation’s freshest scab was “reasonable” conservative George Will, who in an October 1 column titled, Can Romney turn this contest around, compares Barack Obama to Frank Robinson, the first black manager in major league baseball:
Obama’s administration is in shambles, yet he is prospering politically. This may not, however, entirely be evidence of the irrationality of the electorate. Something more benign may be at work.
A significant date in the nation’s civil rights progress involved an African American baseball player named Robinson, but not Jackie. The date was Oct. 3, 1974, when Frank Robinson, one the greatest players in history, was hired by the Cleveland Indians as the major leagues’ first black manager. But an even more important milestone of progress occurred June 19, 1977, when the Indians fired him. That was colorblind equality.
Managers get fired all the time. The fact that the Indians felt free to fire Robinson — who went on to have a distinguished career managing four other teams — showed that another racial barrier had fallen: Henceforth, African Americans, too, could enjoy the God-given right to be scapegoats for impatient team owners or incompetent team executives.
Elsewhere in the column Will expresses surprise that conservatives’ attempts to manufacture scandals from Solyndra, Tesla Motors, and from the ashes of the U.S. consulate in Beghazi, have not gained traction with the U.S. public. The only possible explanation?
…the nation, which is generally reluctant to declare a president a failure — thereby admitting that it made a mistake in choosing him — seems especially reluctant to give up on the first African American president.
And so, in just as many words, George Will christens Barack Obama the affirmative action president, a man who is on track to be re-elected to the presidency of the United States, not because he is the better candidate, but because he is the blacker one.
Now, it could be that Americans have brushed off the Solyndra affair by noting that investments fail all the time, despite the best hopes of the investor, and absent any real evidence of intentional corruption, they would rather a president who took a chance promoting new industries than one who advocated allowing entire sectors of the economy to go bankrupt. It could be that the American public is excited by the potential of products like Tesla Motor’s electric cars and General Motors’ Volt, despite the best efforts of the right-wing media to portray these innovations as wasteful boondoggles forced on U.S. industry by a government that naively thinks that the best way for U.S. companies to prosper is to look forward to tomorrow’s technologies, rather than remain mired in technologies of yesterday. It could be that after 10 years of seemingly endless war in Iraq, and Afghanistan, the American public is no longer particularly shocked by a terrorist attack on an overseas government installation. But no, George Will is certain that only white guilt can explain the presidents’ continued appeal.
Elsewhere in the festering world of right-wing media, a more overtly, nakedly racist coordinated appeal to white voters has taken shape as the Drudge Report, The Daily Caller and Fox News are all currently running bold headlines decrying a 2007 speech that Barack Obama gave on the subject of Hurricane Katrina, and the neglect that the City of New Orleans suffered in its wake. Fox News breathlessly reports:
…in the address, delivered during the upswing of the Democratic presidential primary season, candidate Obama specifically criticizes in outspoken terms the decision not to waive a federal law known as the Stafford Act that requires communities hit by disasters to match 10 percent of federal aid.
“When 9/11 happened in New York City, they waived the Stafford Act. … And that was the right thing to do,” he tells the crowd at Hampton University in Virginia. “When Hurricane Andrew struck in Florida, people said, ‘Look at this devastation. We don’t expect you to come up with your own money. Here, here’s the money to rebuild. We’re not going wait for you to scratch it together, because you’re part of the American family.’ ”
Obama, echoing rapper Kanye West’s infamous anti-Bush remarks a couple years earlier, then argues that New Orleans was treated differently, suggesting the reason was that the city is mostly black.
“What’s happening down in New Orleans? Where’s your dollar? Where’s your Stafford Act money?” Obama says. “Makes no sense. … Tells me that somehow the people down in New Orleans they don’t care about as much.”
Yes, echoing rapper Kanye West… that rapper… that black rapper!
But, of course, there’s more to the tape. The speech, delivered at an African American congregation also features moments in which the future president shockingly praises his own pastor… the notorious… wait for it… the inglorious…. wait for it… Jeremiah Wright!
And so Fox and the Daily Caller have dredged up an old video recording of a speech that was extensively covered in 2007 (this was, after all, given in the run up to the Democratic primaries) to once again dredge up the memory of Jeremiah Wright and inject the issue of race into a campaign that has, thus far, been about everything but race.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Daily Caller is even less reserved in it comments, less veiled in its appeal to white racism as it characterizes Obamas words and tone thus:
The racially charged and at times angry speech undermines Obama’s carefully-crafted image as a leader eager to build bridges between ethnic groups. For nearly 40 minutes, using an accent he almost never adopts in public, Obama describes a racist, zero-sum society, in which the white majority profits by exploiting black America. The mostly black audience shouts in agreement. The effect is closer to an Al Sharpton rally than a conventional campaign event.
An “accent he almost never adopts in public” appears to be the Caller’s way of warning White America that this seemingly post-racial, pleasant sounding, well-spoken, polite black man is, in fact just a well-disguised black thug. Don’t be fooled, White America, don’t let him fool you we know the truth. Kanye West, is also invoked, of course, in the context of Obama’s criticism of the Federal government’s refusal to waive Stafford Act requirements:
“Now here’s the thing,” Obama continues, “when 9-11 happened in New York City, they waived the Stafford Act — said, ‘This is too serious a problem. We can’t expect New York City to rebuild on its own. Forget that dollar you gotta put in. Well, here’s ten dollars.’ And that was the right thing to do. When Hurricane Andrew struck in Florida, people said, ‘Look at this devastation. We don’t expect you to come up with y’own money, here. Here’s the money to rebuild. We’re not gonna wait for you to scratch it together — because you’re part of the American family.’”
That’s not, Obama says, what is happening in majority-black New Orleans. “What’s happening down in New Orleans? Where’s your dollar? Where’s your Stafford Act money?” Obama shouts, angry now. “Makes no sense! Tells me that somehow, the people down in New Orleans they don’t care about as much!”
It’s a remarkable moment, and not just for its resemblance to Kayne West’s famous claim that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,”
And oh, did you notice the pattern here? The word “black” in the above passages does not actually appear in the quoted sections. The president never directly alludes to Kanye West. These are editorial embellishments, meant to make the speech sound more divisive to white ears.
And so the Right, having been deprived of all its usual powers of rhetorical persuasion by an American public that simply doesn’t care for its candidate or its message, is left with little more than naked appeals to racism. That’s their new game-plan. It’s their last hope. Even the “reasonable” ones, like George Will are taking refuge in it.