Monday, October 6, 2008

To John McCain: It's not that you're a racist...

It's that you're a shameless cynic who sees racial antipathy as an asset to your candidacy.

There's an anecdote I remember from towards the end of the Democratic Primary. Bill Clinton was stumping for his wife in North Carolina (a state, you'll remember that went overwhelmingly for Obama). He met a couple of women on the rope line, and asked if they would be supporting Hillary. One of them, an African American woman, said that North Carolina was Obama country and she was going to support Obama. Bill Clinton responded to this by asking simply, "Do you think I'm a racist?"

This was the first and only time I remember him phrasing the sentiment in the form of a question. The Clinton campaign had spent a lot of time since January, or December really, insisting they were not racists. They were the only campaign actually using the word racist, but they were staging it as a defense of an accusation that nobody was making (at least not publicly). It's true that there were various suggestions that the Clinton campaign was peddling in racially loaded and insensitive language, but rarely was the motivation for this language attributed to an antipathy the Clintons had towards black people.

Off the top of my head, here's a list of what came out of the Clinton campaign from December through late January:

Billy Shaheen (NH Clinton co-chair): Gives an interview in which he ponders whether or not Barack Obama was ever a drug dealer.
Bill Clinton: Taking numerous quotes of Obama's out of context suggests his stated opposition to the war was 'the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.'
Hillary Clinton: responding to comparisons of Obama to MLK and JFK, decides to compare herself to LBJ and in so doing, minimized the role of MLK in civil rights legislation.
Francine Torge (a Clinton NH surrogate): While introducing HRC stated: 'Some people compare one of the other candidates to John F. Kennedy. But he was assassinated. And Lyndon Baines Johnson was the one who actually' passed the civil rights legislation.
The Clinton campaign defends a lawsuit brought by the Nevada Teachers Union that sought to change the caucus rules by closing down at-large precinct locations, thereby limiting access to the caucuses for union employees and effectively suppressing voter participation among a disproportionately minority group.
Robert Johnson (Clinton supporter and founder of BET): Makes deliberate and mocking reference to Obama's candidness with regard to drug use in his youth. Later asserts that he was instead referring to his time as a community organizer.
Hillary Clinton: In the SC debate Clinton responds to a reference of her history working on the Board at WalMart with a statement that while she was working for families, Obama was representing his "contributor, Rezko, in his slum landlord business in inner-city Chicago."
Bill Clinton: In attempt to minimize Obama's overwhelming victory in South Carolina, and in an apparent non-sequitorial response to a question, compares Obama's victory in a primary to Jesse Jackson winning caucuses in South Carolina.

One could most certainly go on from there. I haven't even brought up Geraldine Ferraro. The point is with all of this going on, the harshest thing that ever came out of the Obama campaign was the suggestion that all of these incidence viewed together could be construed as a disturbing pattern. From that statement, the Clinton campaign claimed Obama was playing the so-called "race card," and from that point on Bill Clinton repeatedly asserted that he was not a racist.

Nobody in the media ever pointed out to Clinton that he wasn't being called a racist. Nobody ever pointed out to the Clinton campaign that simply not being racist did not absolve white people from any incidents of racial insensitivity. That it was possible for the Clintons to offend black people, and that insisting they were somehow the victims of their own insensitivity would only make them appear more boorish than if they were to accept the potential for their words to offend in the first place.

One of the fundamental flaws of the Clinton campaign (and perhaps the Clintons as people) was an inability to accept responsibility even when they were clearly at fault. Instead, they doubled down on their insensitivity. The African American community had, in questioning their motives, wronged the Clintons, so in true Clinton form, the campaign turned their backs on the community they could always rely on. To hell with them.

It became acceptable for Gloria Steinem to compare the plight of African Americans to the plight of women and to suggest because women received the right to vote in the 20th century and blacks sort of got the right to vote in the 19th (even though they were still being hanged in the 1960s for attempting to register) that it was historically worse to be a woman in America than it was to be black.

It became acceptable for Geraldine Ferraro to go on Fox before the Pennsylvania Primary and essentially claim that Barack Obama was another unqualified black man taking a job from a white woman who supposedly had 35 years of experience.

It became acceptable for the Clintons to go along with the demonization of an African American minister Bill Clinton had invited to the White House as a form of absolution during the Lewinsky scandal.

It became acceptable for Hillary Clinton to take a quote regarding why white working class voters tend to vote against their economic better interest out of context and use it to portray Obama as a condescending elitist.

It became acceptable for Hillary Clinton to equivocate on 60 Minutes about whether or not she believed Obama was a Muslim.

Somewhere along the line the Clintons decided they weren't going to win the black vote, so they had to compensate by winning a disproportionate share of the white vote. This meant holding their nose and exploiting the deep-seeded racial animosity they knew existed within a sizable portion of the white working class Democratic electorate. They did it not because they were racists, but because they were sons of bitches who understood that history is written by the winners and who believe there's therefore no such thing as a noble defeat.

They were wrong.

And I have to believe the McCain campaign is wrong if they believe the overtly and unquestionably racist tactic they've adopted of late is going to payoff in the end.

Barack Obama is not simply the first African American to be nominated by a major party for the office of the presidency, he's a father of two small children who are too young to understand that John McCain doesn't think their father is a terrorist--regardless of his middle name or his former pastor. The thing is, John McCain is too old not to understand that his campaign is now teetering on the edge, not of forever damaging his brand, but of inciting violence against a man who very well may be the next President of the United States.

So to John McCain, I just have to say, it's not that you're a racist, it's that you're a narcissistic scumbag, an irresponsible and despicable person who, while not terribly bright, should be smart enough to understand when a line that needn't be crossed has been crossed.

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