The attempts have already begun.
By JAMES TARANTO
April 3, 2008
Note: We’re getting a bit stir-crazy recovering from the broken leg, so we’ve decided to take tomorrow off and venture out into the world. Assuming we manage to avoid further injury, we’ll be back Monday.
With Barack Obama’s “postracial” appeal having proved illusory but Democrats likely to nominate him for president anyway, the party faces a difficult problem: how to persuade Americans to vote for the spiritual protÃ©gÃ© of a man who espouses crackpot anti-American and antiwhite views.
One response, born less of strategy than of reflex, is to claim that opposition to Obama is racist. A pair of recent posts by prominent Angry Left bloggers show just how intense is the desire to impute racism to the other side, and how far they are willing to depart from logic to do so.
The first post, titled “John McCain’s Racist Dogwhistle in Meridian, Mississippi,” ( http://openleft.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=4838 ) went up last Friday on the blog of Matt Stoller. He faulted McCain for planning a speech ( this past Monday in the Mississippi town where, as the candidate said in his speech, “I was once a flight instructor . . . at the air field named for my grandfather during my long past and misspent youth.” ( http://thepage.time.com/full-text-of-mccains-remarks-in-meridian-mississippi/ )
According to Stoller, though, that wasn’t the real reason McCain went to Meridian:
Stoller was echoing his elders, including former Reagan adviser Paul Krugman, who have spent years smearing Ronald Reagan for giving a speech–a “racist” speech, Stoller baselessly calls it–seven miles from Philadelphia in 1980, when Stoller was 2Â½ years old. (We wrote about this in November: http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110010854 ) McCain’s planned speech, Stoller wrote before the fact, “clearly looks like a dogwhistle to racists within the Republican Party.”
Stoller suggests that it is invidious for a politician to give a speech within a 40-mile radius of Philadelphia, where the three civil rights workers were murdered; and that it is also invidious for a politician to give a speech in Meridian, because one of the murdered activists, James Chaney, was born there. By this logic, it would also be invidious for a politician to give a speech in any of the following places:
New York City, where the other two murdered civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were born. (In fact, as David Brooks noted in November ( http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/09/opinion/09brooks.html ), that racist devil Reagan followed up his 1980 Philadelphia speech by flying to New York, where he addressed the Urban League.)
Within 40 miles of Memphis, Tenn., where Martin Luther King was assassinated 40 years ago tomorrow.
Atlanta, where Dr. King was born.
Actually, a politician would probably be well advised to steer clear of Mississippi altogether, since Memphis is right on the state line and Medgar Evers, another civil rights activist, was both born and assassinated in the Magnolia State.
Once McCain gave the speech, Stoller sheepishly updated his post: “I was probably wrong on this incident, it doesn’t look like a dogwhistle.” (Presumably he means it doesn’t sound like one.)
Some commentators have given Stoller credit for his honesty, but we’d like to dwell on the metaphor instead. A dog whistle is also known as a silent whistle, because it emits a tone at a frequency too high for humans to hear, although it is within the audible range for canines. A racist dog whistle, then, is a speech that sounds innocuous to the normal human ear but that racist “dogs” are able to recognize as an appeal to them.
What does it tell us about Matt Stoller that he is able to detect whether the “racist dog whistle” has been blown?
Wait, it gets worse. According to The Atlantic’s Matthew Yglesias ( http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/04/the_old_people_strategy.php ), McCain doesn’t even need to dog-whistle Dixie in order to be making appeals to racism. Yglesias opines that for McCain merely to talk about his military record is “the best way I can think of to try to take advantage of older people’s potential discomfort with the idea of a woman or a black man in the White House that doesn’t involve exploiting racism or sexism in a discreditable way” (emphasis his).
This is a bit confusing, since it implies that Yglesias believes there are creditable ways to exploit “older people’s” purported racial prejudices. Besides, as blogger Tom Maguire points out ( http://justoneminute.typepad.com/main/2008/04/matt-yglesias-t.html ), anyone who is disinclined to vote for Obama because he is black probably won’t have too much trouble ascertaining that McCain is a person of pallor.
But you can see where all this is going. If Obama is the Democratic nominee, the liberal message will be that a vote for McCain is a vote for racism. Our guess it that this will not be a winning campaign strategy: Most nonblack voters will be put off by this kind of crude moral intimidation.
If McCain wins, liberal mythmakers will insist it is because America is a racist country, and their logic will be as airtight as Stoller’s and Yglesias’s. Whether for political reasons or out of their own moral vanity, those who claim they want “racial reconciliation” are all too eager to practice divisive, if stupid, politics.[/i]