There's Liberal Racism Too

There's Liberal Racism Too

By Ruben Navarrette - October 29, 2008

SAN DIEGO -- Joe Biden and I agree on something: This has become one mean and ugly campaign -- although we'd cite different examples to make the point.

Recently in Greenville, N.C., Biden complained about the tactics of the McCain-Palin campaign, the inference by some that Barack Obama is a risky choice, and the pointed questions the Democratic vice presidential candidate had fielded the week before from a TV anchor in Orlando, Fla., including one about whether Obama's thoughts on redistribution of income amounted to Marxism.

"This has been a pretty mean campaign," Biden said. "You know, folks ... some of the innuendo is pretty ugly."

When I think about mean and ugly, I think about the racism that has come from both those who oppose Obama and those who support him.

There is a Republican women's group in Southern California that sent out a newsletter this month joking that Obama, if elected, would appear on food stamps instead of dollar bills. The mailer included an illustration of "Obama Bucks" -- a picture of the Democratic candidate surrounded by watermelon and fried chicken.

But there's another kind of unpleasantness we don't hear enough about: liberal racism.

When Milwaukee radio talk show host James T. Harris, a black conservative, stood up at a town hall meeting and pleaded with John McCain to step up his attacks against Obama, Harris was inundated with hate mail and death threats and called a "Sambo," "Uncle Tom," and a "sellout." Harris said he believes many of the e-mails came from whites.

It takes nerve for someone who isn't black to accuse a black person of not being black enough.

I'm familiar with the concept. After defending Sarah Palin, I heard from a member of the angry left who wrote: "Your (sic) from a third world country, or your family is, stop trying to be white." I also heard from baby boomer activists who regret -- as they see it -- yanking me off that landscaping crew and sending me to the Ivy League. Or as one put it: "Unbelievable that you can sit there and defend Sarah Palin. I broke down doors for you to have a foot into the society you now participate in."

When I praised McCain, a liberal asked: "What are you, the Uncle Tom of Latinos?" She advised, "Make your people proud because you are shaming them."

When trying to assert control over freethinking Latinos and African-Americans, the liberal catchword is "disappointed." Lately, I've received dozens of e-mails from readers who use that word to describe how they feel about me. In the liberal tradition, most of the missives are condescending. Like this: "At one time, your articles were interesting to read but ... it seems you have lost your way." Or this: "You are feeding the ignorant and twisting truths so badly they become lies. ... One day my words will resonate, sorry you lost your way in the meantime."

To read their complaints, it seems the last time I had my bearings was -- coincidentally -- the last time I wrote something with which they agreed. It's part of how broken our political discourse has become. We're not allowed to say that we think either Obama or McCain would make a fine president. We can't agree to disagree; we have to destroy the other side. We're trapped in an all-or-nothing paradigm where partisans demand complete agreement and undying allegiance. We don't allow for nuance, complexity or unpredictability. And we have no interest in being challenged, so we only take in the media sources that reinforce what we already believe and tune out the rest.

That is where we have arrived, and many Americans know it. One reader who sees the good and the bad in each camp wrote: "I used to love politics and having good round-table discussions with friends and family on various subjects, but no more. The anger ... has just flat worn me out. I've decided to no longer waste precious energy and calories on a subject that just brings negative emotions and turmoil."

With too much acrimony and too little tolerance, our politics have become petty and poisonous. That has to change. We're not going to agree on everything. But we're a better country than this. Let's start acting like it.

Copyright 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

Ruben Navarrette

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