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Michael Meyers

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Racial Politics and the Non-White Vassals of White Politicians

Posted: 02/10/2012 5:49 pm

I am cussin' every time I turn on the TV and hear liberal pundits accuse the GOP Presidential candidates of outright racism and of the use of racial code words. It's as if we're existing in a pre-civil rights revolution time warp instead of the 21st century where race in America ain't what it used to be.

The charges of racism are interspersed with accusations of class warfare inasmuch as Mitt Romney, the pundits say, admitted to being unconcerned with the very poor, they who have a safety net, according to Romney. Conservatives, too, bandy about bold allegations of class warfare, when they criticize President Barack Obama's campaign rhetoric, accusations which the liberal pundits cite as further examples of race-baiting by white conservatives against America's first African-American president.

Say what?

When it comes to racial paranoia MSNBC is in a bizarro world of its own. Andrea Mitchell, among others, decried Newt Gingrich's racial overtones as "dog whistles" aimed at white voters. Chris Matthews piped in, accusing The Newt of the racially charged use of "Juan" when Gingrich answered a question from journalist Juan Williams during the South Carolina debate. And MSNBC star host Rachel Maddow inveighed that Gingrich, when he chastised Obama as "Entertainer-in-Chief -- for Obama's having crooned at the Apollo Theater--was depicting Obama as a minstrel; she said Gingrich's criticism was sheer race-baiting, an example of Gingrich's "calling out to minstrelsy."

Obama as minstrel.

Obama as shirker.

Obama as incompetent -- these are, to the liberal pundits, all racial code words -- examples of GOPers vying for his job engaging in modern-day racism.

It's as if every critical word of Barack Obama is to be dissected for proof that the GOP candidates running for President are crude or subtle racists; and their non-white backers and party members are castigated as mere vassals of the white power structure, and as traitors to their race. The harshest calumny has been aimed at GOP Congressman Allen West; but Herman Cain, Ron Christie, and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley have been ripped too by malicious name-calling based on their race and their political persuasion. The noisy whisper is, "How can any self-respecting black, Latino or Asian front for this crop of Republicans who are so hostile to civil rights and who use racial coda to appeal to an angry white electorate?"

I am a civil rights specialist and I know something about racism -- in its overt and subtle forms -- and many guises. But I am still waiting for hard evidence that Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum are running a Southern strategy for the White House prize -- seeking and intending to divide the electorate along racial lines, passions and fears. Yes, yes, yes, I know, the "historian" Gingrich has accused President Obama of being the "food stamps president," but that was a laughable moment, not racial coda. Everybody knows, except the "historian" Gingrich, that LBJ was our "food stamps president." It was Johnson, the former segregationist, who established the federal food stamp program as a response to a national hunger and malnutrition crisis. In fact, as everyone knows, most Americans on food stamps are whites, not blacks.

Still, the pundits at MSNBC assure me that Gingrich is race-baiting when he calls Obama "the food stamps president," and that Romney, the patrician, is out of touch with black and poor folks because he is, after all, a very wealthy man. But wasn't also JFK, and Nelson Rockefeller, and FDR? Wealth alone is not the litmus test for being "out of touch." Nor is double speak, constant compromise, or pretense at caring for the downtrodden sure signs of progressive politics.

And what about this charge of minstrelsy? More than black politicians have been singing for votes. He was off-key, but we all heard Mitt Romney sing "America The Beautiful." And Herman Cain, until his voice grew hoarse from denying sexual harassment allegations sang gospel. "Amazing Grace" made a comeback as an American standard more than a few times when Cain took the stage. I saw none of this singing as racial much less the criticism of it as racial coda, no more than I interpreted the many charges harassment charges against Cain, from white and black women, as "racist."

Obama, as a "minstrel," is MSNBC's invention.

Now, I know that racists, racial buffoons, and race hustlers come in many shapes and guises, but I need firmer evidence that the current field of GOP candidates -- backed up by their non-white supporters -- are running the old race game on us. Yet the only thing MSNBC keeps putting in our face and harping on is their bottom line, seemingly, that a black man who is president can't get no respect.

Of course, I know that we have not yet stamped out racism completely in America. That is exactly why it is so important not to trivialize racism by calling things racist that they are not. False accusations repeated again and again do not make a truth. Liberals should know better than to keep crying racism, falsely. because we need everyone on board and everyone's attention when we spot and fight real outbreaks of racism and skin color discrimination.

I just don't fancy Newt Gingrich -- he's wrong, wrong, wrong -- and block-headed and intemperate on so many issues. His meanness turns me cold -- but isn't that enough of a criticism of him? Do we need go "there" -- that is, conjure up that he is being racist whe he is talking plainly and acerbically?

If the insinuations and outright accusations of GOP racism are real -- that the GOPers seeking to evict the first African-American President from the Oval Office are racist, and they are trying to return America to its antebellum period of race relations, then why haven't the journalists at MSNBC asked a single salient question of the "historian" Newt Gingrich, and of Ron Paul, and the others, about race prejudice and discrimination in America? Such a question is not about food stamps. The genuine article of a question -- which should have been asked in South Carolina -- on the night of Martin L. King, Jr.'s birthday -- is this: "What would you have advised President Eisenhower to do with the Supreme Court's unanimous decision to outlaw public school segregation -- a decision that overruled many Southerners' concept of states' rights? Would you have urged President Ike to ignore the decision? Would you have had the nine justices hauled before the Congress to explain themselves? In your vision of federalism, is the federal law and the Constitution the supreme law of the land, which trumps claims of states' rights, those who said states had a right to deny persons because of their skin color equal protection under the law?"

Newt Gingrich's reply to such a real question would have been telling; he would have, I suspect, had to backtrack on his absurd declaration of war on the federal judiciary. Even Ron Paul, who laments the 1964 Civil Rights Act, would not today urge its repeal. That's because they know America is finished with racial segregation of old. We can't go backwards on race relations and fundamental civil rights protections -- and every candidate, white and black, who wants to get elected, knows that.

We're a lot more advanced on the race question than the MSNBC pundits give us viewers and Americans credit for.

It's also sad that MSNBC's pundits don't yet get that not every white conservative is a racist at heart and that not every black or non-white looks or thinks alike. There are some non-whites who side with Romney; others (including youths) who salute Ron Paul; and some who say amen to Rick Santorum's candidacy. Likewise, Gingrich is drawing support from those citizens and immigrants who think like Gingrich has the right idea about not deporting the undocumented. These GOPers and independents are of different faiths, various skin colors, and ethnicity.. They include Herman Cain, who backs Gingrich, and Nikki Haley, who backs Romney, and the youths who back Ron Paul. They do not think of themselves as turning back the clock on civil rights because of their political views and personal choices. The suggestion that they are either modern-day "racists" or enablers of turning us back to our discredited racial past is sheer racial rhetoric and poppycock.

The GOPers plainly and simply have a different view of things than most of us liberal Democrats. But even I can understand their frustration with big government, high taxation, and the broken promises of the DC establishment. They, and I, are beet red angry. We want things to change for the better. We long for JFK's rising tide lifts all boats. But if that adage still holds, we haven't seen or felt that as yet. Hence, that is why we do see a rising chorus of minorities who are criticizing Obama, the incumbent, and who are breaking party ranks, and joining forces with others, black and white, also are fed up with government as we have known it. And they too also recoil at the rehtoric of Herman Cain about how blacks are on the Democratic Party plantation. That's utter nonsense and he knew it when he uttered that hyperbole. People don't want to be labeled black or white or as "vassal" or "slave master;" that's old-hat now as well as rancorous racial bluster.

The rainbow of divergent opinions about what we should do to fix things is healthy, not symptomatic of going backwards on race. Labeling blacks and Latinos and Asians who support the party of Lincoln "today's Uncle Toms" does not advance us one whit.

I strongly disagree with Congressman Allen West, ex-businessman Herman Cain, Senator Marco Rubio, and SC Governor Nikki Haley, but they're entitled to their viewpoint and their choice of Presidential candidate and political party without being written off as traitors to their race and people.

Those more certain about the manifestations of racism than me -- such as the MSNBC pundits -- may think they know better than me and the rest of us who is and who isn't "authentic" and who is and is not black or Latino or Asian. But I regard the rage of white liberals at MSNBC over the skin color of those who back limited government, low taxation, and who back GOPers over Obama, as singularly regressive, contrived and mischievous. Just because a man shares my skin color -- or doesn't -- tells me no more than that; skin color in America today is not a proxy for anything solid and meaningful by way of prediction or evaluation of efforts. That's what Dr. King struggled to achieve; and that's what we have accomplished-in our victories over racial prejudice -- the right of blacks and all who constitute racial minorities to be treated and regarded as individuals.

Let's all take a deep breath and acknowledge: We have come a mighty long way as a nation in turning the corner on "race." As we evaluate President Obama, and his GOP rivals -- let's ask ourselves -- What does the candidate's race really have to do with anything? MSNBC's pundits may posit otherwise, but what do they really know about race?