The most remarkable thing about former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is her boundless knack for sneaking a racial dig into one of her screwy trademark swipes at President Obama and the Democrats. The latest Palin race card play is her likening the country's debt to China and other foreign nations as slavery. Palin is hardly unique in playing on the slavery analogy to make a point. A legion of GOP officials and GOP-leaning mouthpieces have made a studied habit of tossing the slavery analogy out whenever the person that they want to assail is African-American or faintly touches on an issue in which there is an explicit or implied benefit to minorities be it affirmative action, federal spending, government-backed social programs, or education reforms.
It's always done with a wink and a nod to stir and pander to ultra-conservatives and plain borderline bigots. We just witnessed that a few weeks back when GOP ultra-conservatives new darling Dr. Ben Carson branded Obamacare as worse than slavery. For that he got the predictable praise and assent from the hard right. But Palin brings a special mastery to the play on racism and other subtle code racial analogies to savage Obama. That's because she remains the fount of an utter lurid and prurient fascination by many in the media. They know that she's always good for an eye popping quote that's guaranteed to make news and get the tongues wagging.
GOP leaders early recognized that Palin was the perfect stalking horse to say what top party leaders couldn't say on race. A tip of her usefulness on this attack line came during the 2008 presidential campaign. Palin at the time took some heat for telling a meeting of Alaska's black leaders in April 2008 that she didn't have to hire any blacks. The black leaders had complained to Palin about the invisibility of blacks and minorities on her staff and in state governmental departments. Even more damning, she purportedly told the black leaders that she didn't intend to hire any. Palin's campaign manager and a staff representative hotly denied to this writer that Palin had made the comment. However, they quickly declared that Palin was absolutely color-blind in hiring and insisted that she did not push any special programs to boost minority hiring. Palin was as good as her word. There was a glaring paucity of blacks, Asians, Hispanics on her staff and relatively few in top state jobs. Also during the campaign, Palin was mute on the series of racist emails that some state employees sent out on state of Alaska accounts.
Palin gave another boost to the bigots by almost single-handedly reviving the withered on the vine, unabashed, racist-tinged, birther campaign. Palin accomplished that neat trick with her off-the-cuff quip to a conservative radio talk show host that it was "fair game" to question the validity of Obama's birth certificate.
She again fanned the latent bigotry among her fans with her Going Rogue book tour. She flatly said that she'd avoid the big city liberal media hot-beds and tour in mostly small and mid-sized towns in the Heartland states. This was a not-so-subtle code guarantee that her audience would be overwhelmingly white, working-class, and conservative. That's exactly the audience she got. It's an audience that won't make her uncomfortable.
This didn't type Palin as a racial bigot. But it did type her as the latest in the long train of right-side GOP politicians who calculate that they can score big with a subtle play of the race card. During the past decade, a parade of Republican state and local officials, conservative talk show jocks and even some Republican bigwigs have made foot-in-the-mouth racist cracks. Their response when called on the carpet has always been the same. They make a duck-and-dodge denial, claim that they were misquoted or issue a weak, halfhearted apology. And each time the response from top Republicans is either silence, or, if the firestorm is great enough, to give the offender a much-delayed, mild verbal hand-slap.
Palin never has had that problem. Even though she has long fallen out of favor with GOP leaders and has proven toxic wherever she appears to try and stir support for a far right GOP candidate. But it's the media's fascination with her combined with her noisy far-right constituency that revel in her potshots at Obama, especially the ones that have the odor of race attached to them, that gives her political shelf value. The slavery crack is just the latest, but it won't be the last. As long as Obama sits in the White House, the slavery comparison to anything the right wants to attack and everything that it connotes will always be a serviceable term to toss out with the secure knowledge that it will jangle the desired chord among Palin's GOP fan club and sadly many beyond.
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. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson