Hanson: The Obsolescence of a Slur

Criticisms of Obama are increasingly met by cries of “Racist!” Are his critics racists?

by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
October 2, 2009

The charge of racism has been leveled against critics of President Obama’s health-care reform by everyone from New York Times columnists, racial activists, and Democratic legislators to senior statesmen like Jimmy Carter (“It’s a racist attitude”), Bill Clinton (“some . . . are racially prejudiced”), and Walter Mondale (“I don’t want to pick a person [and] say, ‘He’s a racist,’ but I do think the way they’re piling on Obama . . . I think I see an edge in them that’s a little bit different”).

But are Obama’s critics really racists?

It is a serious charge. If true, it means the hope of a color-blind society is essentially over after a half-century of civil-rights progress. If false, it means that we have institutionalized vicious smears as legitimate political tactics — and, in the process, discredited the entire dialogue that surrounds racial prejudice.

How do we determine the accuracy of the “racism” charges?

1) Is the criticism of Barack Obama unusual by recent presidential standards?

No. Bush hatred was even more intense. Furthermore, it very soon went from fierce partisanship into a deviant desire for the president’s injury or death. Such derangement was tolerated or indeed enhanced by mainstream liberal establishment figures.

Alfred A. Knopf published a novel speculating about killing the president. The Toronto Film Festival gave a prize to a docudrama about an envisioned assassination of George W. Bush. His death became the stuff of a New York play, the dream of a Guardian columnist, and a common theme in the left-wing blogosphere.

A certain amount of this kind of venom was evident in the opposition to Bill Clinton, who was accused of everything from covering up murders to being a serial rapist. By any fair standard, nothing so far in the health-care pushback has approached the smears and dirt directed at Presidents Bush and Clinton.

2) Is there a systematic racialist attack on other black politicians and leaders?

No. Gov. David Paterson of New York, for example, alleges a new racism as the chief cause of his own decline. But it is President Obama himself, not white racists, who is pressuring Paterson not to run for reelection.

Charles Rangel cited racism for much of the public outrage over his behavior. But clearly his problems were caused by his own tax fraud, inability to tell the truth, and violations of ethical standards — which would have destroyed most other politicians long ago. There may well be some racially motivated criticism of prominent at-risk black politicians, but so far there is no evidence that anything other than their own actions accounts for their political troubles.

Professor Hanson’s article continues at NRO.

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