'Racially Tinged Attacks' Against Obama at Huge Washington Rally?
On Wednesday night, ex-president Jimmy Carter made the lead story on the NBC Nightly News with his racism charge against conservative opponents of Obama's agenda. "An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man," Carter said in an interview with anchor Brian Williams in Atlanta.
On Thursday morning, Carter's racism charge made the front page of the New York Times in a "Political Memo" from Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg examining the White House's fervent wish to avoid the issue, "White House Is Sitting Out Race Debate."
President Obama has long suggested that he would like to move beyond race. The question now is whether the country will let him.
He woke up on Wednesday to a rapidly intensifying debate about how his race factors into the broader discussion of civility in politics, a question prompted in part by former President Jimmy Carter's assertion Tuesday that racism was behind a Republican lawmaker's outburst against Mr. Obama last week as the president addressed a joint session of Congress.
Even before that, several conservatives had accused their liberal counterparts of unfairly tainting them as racists for engaging in legitimate criticism of the White House.
It would be a lot easier for Obama to move beyond race if his Attorney General, Eric Holder, didn't keep fueling the fire. But the Times made no mention of two Holder incidents since coming into office. At a Black History Month event at the Justice Department in February, Holder called the American people "essentially a nation of cowards" for skirting the issue of race. And in May the Justice Department dismissed charges against members of the New Black Panther Party in paramilitary garb who shouted racial threats at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day.
Instead, here's Zeleny and Rutenberg explaining how Obama has actually tried hard to avoid racial controversy:
During the presidential campaign, when he disavowed the incendiary remarks of his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., he took the opportunity to explain his views on race in America and invite reconciliation. And after he stumbled in July in accusing the police of "acting stupidly" by arresting the Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., he used the occasion for what he called a teachable moment.
Even as several leading Congressional Democrats distanced themselves from Mr. Carter's comments, some liberals pointed Wednesday to what they describe as an increasing number of racially tinged attacks. At last weekend's conservative protest in Washington, there were Confederate flags, references on placards to sending Mr. Obama to Africa and pictures of him in whiteface, as the Joker in the last "Batman" movie. There are also, of course, the continuing questions from some on the right about his United States citizenship.
Only someone looking for racism everywhere could get "whiteface" out of the well-known (unless you write for the Times) photo-shopped image of Obama as the Joker. The Times, along with the rest of the media, was never overly concerned about vile anti-Bush at anti-war rallies, as Lachlan Markay demonstrated on NewsBusters.
Another point the Times misses is that every political movement has its fringe elements espousing conspiracy theories, targeting every president from the conservative Ronald Reagan through the liberal Barack Obama. Yet the media is disproportionately interested in discrediting those on the conservative side (the Vince Foster "murder," the birther allegations) while ignoring or even tolerating those on the left (Bush was behind 9-11, Diebold rigged the 2004 vote for Bush in Ohio).
At least the Times quoted Rush Limbaugh, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and even Colin Powell, Bush's Secretary of State who supported Obama, to defend Republicans. Then they turned on conservatives again.
Other supporters of Mr. Obama, however, say they cannot help seeing overt racism in some of the conservative attacks.
"You cannot act like you don't have several hundred years of racial context here, where a painted face has a racial context to it in this country," said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster who helped on Mr. Obama's presidential campaign and has studied race extensively.
Mr. Belcher and other Obama allies said that some race-based discomfort was inevitable, especially among very conservative white voters who see Mr. Obama's rise as reflecting a shift in the social order that comes at their expense.
- Clay Waters is the director of Times Watch, an MRC project tracking the New York Times.