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Perfect Storm: Race-Baiting and the 2012 Election

Perfect Storm: Race-Baiting and the 2012 Election

By Carl M. Cannon - October 30, 2012

Provisioned with flashlights, canned food, and bottled water, East Coast residents spent Monday hunkered in our homes for a storm that closed schools, canceled work for some, and left hundreds of thousands without public transportation. Even before the "Frankenstorm" arrived, our elected leaders assured us it would cause severe flooding and massive power outages.

The 21st century has been a time of reverse progress. The “Greatest Generation” dimmed the lights in the great cities of this country, but voluntarily, so as to conserve power and ensure our enemies weren’t provided bombing targets. Today, it only takes bad weather to turn the capital of the free world, technologically speaking, into a Third World outpost.

But while it’s reasonable to wonder whether $900 billion in stimulus spending might have bought us buried power lines and trimmed trees, the waning days of the 2012 political campaign have brought a threat more sinister than Hurricane Sandy. This menace, building for a long time this year, is race-baiting. And much of it is coming from people who consider themselves racially sensitive and liberal.

This is the real Frankenstorm.

It started long before Mitt Romney emerged as the Republican Party standard-bearer. In 2010 and 2011, Democrats routinely characterized the tea party movement as “racist,” notwithstanding the fact that its initial target was President Bush, not President Obama -- or that the tea party movement increased representation of African-American, Latino, and Asian-American conservatives in Congress and the governors mansions -- invariably by backing candidates who challenged (white) members of the GOP establishment.

For much of 2012, another ploy of Democrats and left-leaning media circles has been to accuse Romney and his Republican allies of employing subliminal messages to court the votes of bigots. In the Democrats’ telling, this country is full of people who respond to such “dog whistles,” a cliché that has replaced the “code words” of past campaigns.

One problem is that the “dog whistles” in question usually only can be heard by partisan critics of the Republican Party. Worried that the Obama administration might be weakening the 1996 welfare reform law via Health and Human Services waivers? You’re a racist. Dismayed that poverty has increased since Obama became president? If you had the inelegance to couch your concern by noting that the number of Americans on food stamps has increased in four years, you’re also a racist.

This kind of thing, a staple on MSNBC and in other liberal precincts, can spill over into inadvertent self-parody. Barack Obama plays a lot of golf, and some Republicans have taken -- as Democrats did when Dwight Eisenhower was president -- to gently needle him for working on his golf game while the U.S. economy stagnates. Ah, but even that criticism is racist!

How so, you ask? Ike was white; and anyway, golf is not a pastime most Americans consider an intrinsically African-American activity. True, but Tiger Woods plays golf, you see, and from there we’re off and running.

In a late-August exchange easily confused with a skit on The Onion, MSNBC anchorman Lawrence O’Donnell castigated Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell for a draft of a speech he’d not yet given. In it, the Senate minority leader sardonically chided the president for his time on the links, saying he seemed to be working “to earn a spot on the PGA tour.” Aha! The Kentucky lawmaker’s speechwriters, O’Donnell insisted, were slyly trying to make the connection between Obama and Tiger Woods -- and Woods’ “lifestyle.”

Even fellow MSNBC anchorman Martin Bashir was skeptical, so O’Donnell explained: “These people reach for every single possible racial double entendre they can find in every one of these speeches. . . . But when you get to the Tiger Woods reference, there were people in the speech-writing room -- I know this, without a shadow of a doubt -- who said, ‘Wait a minute, do we really want to go there? Do we really want to go to Tiger Woods?’ And the vote in the room was yes, we do. Mitch McConnell agreed to do it.”

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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