The GOP has resorted to another of its time-tested ploys to hammer President Obama. That's to tag him as a race baiter. The take-off point for this old ploy was Obama's keynote address at the recent National Action Network convention. Obama lambasted the GOP for doing everything legally and extralegally it could to obstruct, dampen, and eviscerate minority voting. GOP-controlled legislatures have passed a legion of thinly disguised voter-suppression laws in more than a dozen states. There's also been a steady stream of voting-rights lawsuits and court challenges.
Obama's repeated call and frontal challenge to the GOP to back a minimum-wage hike, extension of unemployment insurance, and legislation to deal with the grossly unequal gender gap in pay has further stoked the GOP's ire. The GOP ploy really kicked into high gear when Attorney General Eric Holder had the temerity at the NAN convention to call out the GOP on its blatant race baiting by bluntly demanding, "What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?" He meant the racial abuse from the GOP.
Holder, as always, was again instantly plopped on the hot seat by GOP pundits, right-wing bloggers, websites, and talk-show hosts and accused of racial polarizing. He didn't back away from his contention, nor should he have. But it wouldn't make much difference anyway.
Holder and Obama are African Americans, and there's rarely been a moment during their tenures at the Justice Department and the White House, respectively, that they haven't been relentlessly reminded of that. But while Holder is the convenient whipping boy for the racial table turn by the GOP, the target is really Obama. The one time that he did gingerly venture into the minefield of a racially charged local issue was his mild rebuke of the white officer who had cuffed Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates in 2009. The reaction was instant and furious. Polls after his mild rebuke showed that a majority of whites condemned Obama for backing Gates and, even more ominously, expressed big doubts about his policies.
Obama relearned a bitter lesson: If you speak out on an issue that involves race, the backlash will be swift and brutal. And it will be whipped into even greater manic fury by the GOP.
The ploy is used to rock Obama back on his heels and box him into a tight racial corner. It's also a serviceable tactic to try to put a brake on Obama's efforts to fire up African Americans and Hispanics to dash to the polls in November. The GOP also has become hypersensitive to the charge that it is racially narrow and insular and a borderline bigoted party. It made a loud but mostly empty effort to try to put a different PR face on the party when it churned out dozens of pages of a blueprint plugging minority outreach. It has even made a few noisy self-righteous and self-serving condemnations of rocker Ted Nugent's racialized words against and about Obama and has tried to put some rhetorical distance between itself and some of the more crackpot statements by GOP state legislators on blacks and Hispanics. But that's more cover than anything, to give credence to its pounding of Obama for allegedly shuffling the race card to divide Americans and retain and win more seats for the Democrats in November.
The GOP's racial ploy may loom even larger in the next few months for two reasons. One is that Obama has shown no signs of backing away from his take-off-the-gloves assault on the GOP for voting-rights suppression. He has little choice. The midterm elections are likely to be a cliffhanger for some Democratic incumbents. Their victory will hinge in getting as many blacks and Hispanics to the polls as possible. The GOP historically has had a built-in advantage in off-year elections in that its core supporters -- older, rural and blue-collar whites -- tend to vote in greater percentages than blacks and Hispanics.
The other compelling reason is that the GOP banked on hammering red-state Democrats up for Senate reelection with guilt by association with Obama and his Affordable Care Act. But polls now show greater favorable support for the ACA, and the fact that more than 12 million persons have signed up for coverage to date makes this tactic more problematic as a political deal maker for the GOP. If that's pushed further to the back of the GOP's political table, then it's back to an attempted beatdown of Obama with race.
The baiting and the assault on Obama will get even uglier. But it won't change one hard fact: that when it comes to race baiting, the GOP will always have the market cornered on that -- and millions know it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of The Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.
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