Posted on Wednesday, January 30, 2008
In this time of strife among Democrats, it’s good to know that so many
of the nation’s deepest political thinkers have the party’s interests at
heart. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, former Reagan speech writer
Peggy Noonan laments that “the Clintons are tearing the [Democratic]
party apart. It will not be the same after this.” True, the same column
contends that “George W. Bush destroyed the Republican Party,” but
that’s for another day. In The Washington Post, Robert Novak warns that
the primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama “is fraught
with peril for the Democratic party coalition because it threatens to
alienate its essential African American component.” That would break
Novak’s adamantine heart. On MSNBC, the brows of former Florida GOP
Congressman Joe Scarborough and one-time “morality czar” (and casino
habitué) Bill Bennett are permanently furrowed. On the same network,
virtually every pundit who discussed the South Carolina primary did so
in racial, or, if you prefer, demographic, terms. The Washington Post’s
estimable African American columnist Eugene Robinson started on the
evening of the New Hampshire primary. He wondered aloud if Clinton’s
surprise victory resulted from the “Bradley effect,” i.e., white voters
speaking well of a black candidate, but yielding to racist impulses in
the darkness of the voting booth.
(Uh, oh, “darkness.” Does the word indicate a hidden bias? A perverse
need to associate blackness with evil? Altogether too many
impressionable college students have been trained in this kind of
linguistic alchemy, much as they were once encouraged to find hidden
“symbolic” phalluses in the novels of Jane Austen. Recently, The
American Prospect’s Web site entertained a passionate debate about a
columnist’s “racist” description of Obama as “a fog of a man.” Fog, see,
indicates not fuzziness or vague outlines, but darkness, ergo....
At this level of absurdity, honest debate becomes impossible.
“Identity,” crudely construed, is all, and all is identity. Every
political statement constitutes an affirmation of group loyalty.
“Speaking as an African American gay woman” or “As a long-married white
man....” —that’s supposed to be the end of the story. To disagree
constitutes bigotry. No safe metaphors exist.)
Everything about Obama’s personal story stands in opposition to ethnic
groupthink. It’s a repudiation of Americanism, one he denounces often.
But (like most of us) he has not always been perfectly consistent. He
wasn’t in South Carolina. Many of his supporters, particularly among the
media, want to have it both ways in pursuit of the great goal of
humiliating Hillary and Bill Clinton. For the same reason that Noonan
and Novak are crying crocodile tears, it’s a dangerously divisive
Let’s pass over the ensuing humbug over Hillary Clinton’s MLK/LBJ
remarks, the “fairy tale” business and surrogates’ references to Obama’s
youthful drug use. (Drugs are an inherently black problem? In the
U.S.A.? Who knew? Has there been a presidential candidate since 1992
whose personal drug use wasn’t an issue? OK, Bob Dole. Anybody else?)
Harkening to a theme that pundits had pushed since New Hampshire, MSNBC
broke down South Carolina’s exit polls by race even before actual
results came in. Every newspaper account I read stressed Obama’s winning
80 percent of the African American vote.
On TV, the usual talking heads—Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, Margaret
Carlson et al. —were partying like it was January 1998, when the Monica
Lewinsky story broke and the Clinton presidency was presumed DOA. So
somebody sticks a camera in Bill’s face, asks him an insulting question,
and he reminds them that Jesse Jackson won the South Carolina primary
twice, but never the nomination.
That set off racial sensitivity alarms throughout the media and even
certain normally more sensible precincts of the liberal blogosphere.
Bill Clinton had played the race card! Hands were wrung. Lamentations
filled the air. Because as we all know, Jackson (who supports Obama)
exists in only one dimension, blackness; therefore, any/all references
to his political career constitute bigotry. Everybody else can spend
hours parsing racial demographics, but not Bill Clinton. Except Jackson
himself didn’t object. Neither did Obama. I’m with Congressional
Quarterly columnist Craig Crawford, who told Joe Scarborough: “I really
think the evidence-free bias against the Clintons in the media borders
on mental illness. I mean, I think when Dr. Phil gets done with Britney,
he ought to go to Washington and stage an intervention at the National
Press Club.... [W]e’ve gotten into a situation where if you try to be
fair to the Clintons, if you try to be objective, if you try to say,
‘Well, where’s the evidence of racism in the Clinton campaign?’ you’re
accused of being a naïve shill for the Clintons.” But I’d also say this:
Somebody needs to put the Big Dog back on the porch. His attacks on
Obama are unbecoming in a former president; people are tired of the
Clinton melodrama; and the bigger he looms, the smaller Hillary looks.
—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.