Will Someone Help Sen. Graham with All Those Black Folks?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Three weeks ago, in a previous article I wrote, I asked the question: How long will it take for race to appear in the Senate's health care debate?

Well, thanks to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, I now have my answer. Last Sunday Sen. Graham outlined the many reasons why it was unconscionable for tyrannical Democrats to burden his state with health care. Among his complaints, South Carolina has too much unemployment and too many Black people.

What?!

While making the point that the Senate health care bill's extension of Medicaid will place a burden on states, Sen. Graham made the following comment:

I have 12 percent unemployment in South Carolina. My state is on its knees. I have 31 percent African American population in South Carolina. How did they get the 60th vote?

Now, to be fair to Sen. Graham, I'm not exactly sure where the 31% that he mentioned came from; According to Census Bureau estimates, the Black percentage of South Carolina's population from 2006-2008 was approximately 28%. Thus, it's possible that all the stress from filibustering has just left him a little confused. However, in a subsequent television interview, the senator repeated his concern about the Black population, so evidently what he said made perfect sense to him.

If the senator wanted to explain the impact of the Medicaid expansion, why not just mention the percentage of his state that's actually receiving Medicaid? Or why not tell us the percentage of his state's budget that's going towards Medicaid? Instead he tells us the Black percentage and then moves on with the rest of his conspiracy theory.

The fact that Sen. Graham didn't bother to explain the point he was trying to make suggests to me that instead of attempting to seriously discuss Medicaid, poverty and unemployment, he was simply suffering from Racial Tourette's Syndrome (RTS). RTS is a condition which sometimes causes Republicans (and some Blue Dog Democrats) to randomly mention or use images of Blacks and/or Latinos in an effort to motivate their conservative base. Although RTS is not a fatal condition, it has been known to kill legislation and, on occasion, the hopes of certain Democratic candidates.

While my diagnosis of Sen. Graham's condition may appear cynical, it's not quite as cynical as suggesting that he was simply channeling the spirit of Strom Thurmond, the once segregationist senator who's seat Graham took over in 2003. Now, that would be cynical.

Nevertheless, we cannot escape the fact that Sen. Graham's comment falls right in line with what I predicted three weeks ago. Quoting from my previous article:

I hardly expect one of the Senators to set up an easel with one of those pictures of President Obama dressed as a witch doctor. No, it will be far more subtle than that. Instead of shouted, race is likely to be whispered and alluded to in the form of comments about "those people" who take advantage of big government and who make it harder for the good, tax paying Americans. You know "those people"--they're the same ones who hang out with the welfare queens, standing on the corner eating candy bars that they purchased with their fraudulently obtained food stamps.

I make these points not because I take any great pride in being right. There's not a day goes by without me hoping that I'm wrong--without me praying that structural racism will be easier to eradicate than I currently believe it to be. At the end of the day, the real issue is not Graham's comment, but the fact that those sentiments are incorporated into policies and institutions that affect millions of lives. I'm tempted to ask how long it's going to take for the country to have a serious and sustained discussion on race in America, but I'm pretty sure the answer to that question will take longer than three weeks.