Monday, January 18, 2010

Game Change

In case you missed it, the President of the United States has dark skin tone.

I think the vast majority of Americans find this to be appealing. America is a melting pot of ethnicity. Our President exemplifies who we are, and we take pride in that.

Today is Martin Luther King Day, and it focuses our attention on Dr. King’s life and his work. It is also an opportunity for the Denver Post to use page two of the newspaper to teach us how to think about news events that are highlighted on its front page.

Mike Littwin has penned a column titled “Race debate not so black and white.” It is a classic example of how the Denver Post promotes our anti-Republican culture.

Mr. Littwin describes “confusion” about racism in the context of the recent book “Game Change” by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. He points to statements made by Senator Harry Reid and former President Bill Clinton (as reported in the book by anonymous sources) that show these individuals are concerned about the skin tone of political figures. Senator Reid acknowledged his remarks and offered apologies. President Clinton has (so far) kept silent.

Here’s the text of Mr. Littwin's column in its entirety for your review:
First, the good news as we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday: No one can say we're not talking about race these days.

The confusion — and maybe, strangely, it's a sign of progress that we're confused — comes in figuring out what it is we're actually talking about. What is racist as opposed to race-baiting as opposed to just saying something stupid about race? And do the differences matter?

In other words, what, if anything, do Harry Reid's "Negro dialect" quotes from the book "Game Change" have in common with the predictable rant from Rush Limbaugh on Haiti and Barack Obama?

Limbaugh is a serial race-baiter who, even as tens of thousands of Haitians lay dead, thinks the story is that the nation's first black president must be trying to burnish his street cred by showing compassion for black earthquake victims.

People have wasted a lot of time arguing about whether Limbaugh is, in fact, a racist. But the lines have shifted. The old stereotypes — the DPS fried chicken MLK lunch notwithstanding — have mostly gone the way of Amos and Andy. Limbaugh wants to offend. He wants to be insensitive. That's his shtick.

But you can't miss that Limbaugh also offers up a world in terms of black and white. It's how he came to believe that white sportswriters favored quarterback Donovan McNabb because he was black. It's how, time after time, he frames Obama.

He's not Pat Robertson, who deals in another kind of outrage, in which he can somehow believe a deadly earthquake was divine punishment for an 18th-century deal Haitian slaves supposedly made with the devil. Robertson is from the Sodom and Gomorrah school of blame, whether it's earthquake victims or Katrina victims or 9/11 victims.

Limbaugh doesn't want to blame the victims. He wants to blame Obama. And in that cause, he has taken the lead role in what looks like a strategy to subvert the whole concept of racism. It's the same role Tom Tancredo and Newt Gingrich would play in calling Sonia Sotomayor a racist for her wise Latina remark, even if she was clearly discussing the benefits of judicial diversity.

It's how Glenn Beck would call Obama a racist and say he hates white culture. The comment was so over the top that, as far as I know, Beck hasn't repeated it. But it's how you play old-style populist resentment with a twist — in which the Harvard-educated black guy must look down on hardworking Americans in the same way that the other elites, like your Hollywood types, do.

This seems to me to be less about race than about the fact that a black person just happens to be president. Does anyone think that Hillary Clinton would have been treated any more or less gingerly?

But there's racism and there's racism, which brings us back to Reid. I might be tougher on him if it weren't for, yes, my late grandmother.

It's not that Grandma was a walking gaffe-maker. Unlike Reid, she could routinely string together two sentences without saying three things for which she'd have to apologize.

But she was of a certain generation. And it was not unusual for some of her generation to call the black housekeeper "the girl," even if the, uh, girl was 60 years old.

My grandmother, who was strongly for civil rights, would have wondered what the fuss was about Reid's light-skinned comments. It's true, she would have said. She wouldn't have winced when Joe Biden called Obama clean and articulate, either.

And although I can't remember the last time anyone used the words "Negro" and "dialect" in that order, Reid had a point to make about Obama coming from a post-civil-rights background. He just didn't quite make it in a way that has been acceptable speech in the last, say, 40 years.

But whatever year Reid transported himself back to, he didn't venture into Trent Lott territory — not unless I missed the part where Reid had said the country would have been in better shape if we had elected Strom Thurmond, running as a segregationist, as president in 1948.

In any case, Reid's quotes weren't the most disturbing from the book "Game Change." Far more troubling, if true, was the allegation that Bill Clinton told Ted Kennedy that Obama would have been serving them coffee a few years ago. The "quote" wasn't in quotes and it came thirdhand, so make of it what you will. But even a few years ago, the authors would never have risked using it at all.

In the Obama era, everything is different. Obama wasn't elected because of his race, and I doubt he's falling in the polls because of his race. But the continuing noise surrounding the issue of race was inevitable.

Obama is scheduled today to be in Massachusetts — where he polls very well — trying to save Martha Coakley's bid for Kennedy's seat. If she loses — she called Curt Schilling a Yankees fan! — Democrats everywhere will be in full panic mode.

By going there, Obama ensures the vote will be seen as a referendum on him and health care. As Martin Luther King might have put it, he'll be judged on the quality of his policies, not the color of his skin.
Again, to give context to the column, it is what appears on page two of the Sunday Denver Post (yesterday), and is meant to give relevance to the Martin Luther King holiday which is today (1/18/10). It uses text from a recently-released book to draw our attention and provide controversy. It then teaches us how we should feel about these events.

Can you tell which group is wearing the black hats? Here are some quotes from the column that might provide clues:

“Limbaugh is a serial race-baiter…”
“[Pat] Robertson is from the Sodom and Gomorrah school of blame…”
“It’s the same role Tom Tancredo and Newt Gingrich would play in calling Sonia Sotomayor a racist…”
“It’s how Glenn Beck would call Obama a racist…”

We have a column written the day before the Martin Luther King holiday, and it is used to emphasize the theme that Republicans are racists.

And what about what was (allegedly) said by Senator Reid and President Clinton? Their remarks are characterized as comments from concerned individuals who (perhaps) chose inappropriate examples when they added emphasis to their remarks. In the case of Senator Reid, Mr. Littwin invokes the judgment of his grandmother, saying “My grandmother, who was strongly for civil rights, would have wondered what the fuss was about…”

The Denver Post tells us what is considered news on page one. Page two tells us how we are to interpret the news.

In Colorado, “The News” is anti-Republican.

UPDATE 2/8/2011:
This is the other side of the coin.  Where our culture is quick to label Republicans as racists, it is reluctant to issue that label for non-Republicans.

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