THE RACE-PROBLEM PROBLEM
The latest David Brooks column is titled "No, It's Not About Race." This is in reference to the Obama wars, obviously. He's probably not responsible for the headline, and his dismissal of racism as a motive for the anti-Obama crazies is less categorical -- but barely:
Well, I don't have a machine for peering into the souls of Obama's critics, so I can't measure how much racism is in there. But my impression is that race is largely beside the point.
He happened to see friendly interactions on September 12 between the teabaggers and participants in the Black Family Reunion Celebration, which was taking place at the same time, and, assuming that one anecdote is adequate data, concluded that race is essentially irrelevant. (This post from an African-American blogger who was at the Reunion suggests that Brooks may be right about the lack of tension, although a Wonkette commentator named biznesssavvychic saw some teabag disrupters.)
Two assertions I absolutely don't accept (though they don't annoy me equally):
1. It's not about race.
2. It's all about race.
Brooks is right when he says the current tension is about Huey Long/Father Coughlin populism vs. people perceived as evil urbanites -- but why on earth does that mean it can't be about race as well? It's not either/or. Don't tell me the Confederate flags and witch doctor images would be showing up in precisely the same numbers if the protests were being directed at President Hillary Clinton. (You'd get far more witches than witch doctors.)
Not everything is anti-Obama racism -- Joe Wilson's history of defending Strom Thurmond's alleged honor and the alleged good name of the Confederacy doesn't necessarily mean that he wouldn't have yelled "You lie!" at President Hillary Clinton, or President Bill Clinton, or President Kerry or Gore in a fevered environment like today's. He's angry about immigration, and that's about race, but I don't think it's about Obama's race. And no, I don't think it's racist to depict Obama as a whiteface Joker when the character being parodied is a white guy in whiteface.
Racism isn't the only factor ... and racism is a factor. That seems obvious. Brooks is right to stress populist rage -- just not to the near-exclusion of all else.
What's scary about the Joker poster is that it (and so much else in the right's hyperbole) suggests that Obama is an immediate lethal threat that must be eliminated as quickly as possible. Encouraging that belief could be a formula for anarchy and violence.
If I'd been Nancy Pelosi this week, that's what I'd have said to GOP pols and pundits: You know damn well what a totalitarian is. You know what a fascist is, and a Nazi. You know what Hitler and Stalin were really like. And you know damn well that nothing that's taking place right now bears even a glancing resemblance to the historical nightmares represented by those words. And you have a responsibility not to encourage the people you serve to misunderstand the historical truth because their misunderstanding can be used by you for cheap political gain.
A couple more points about Brooks's column. He writes:
Barack Obama leads a government of the highly educated. His movement includes urban politicians, academics, Hollywood donors and information-age professionals. In his first few months, he has fused federal power with Wall Street, the auto industry, the health care industries and the energy sector.
Given all of this, it was guaranteed that he would spark a populist backlash....
Yeah, right -- unlike the administrations of Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Bush, which were dominated by high-school-dropout blue-collar workers who never met a millionaire and drank domestic beer out of the can.
We now have a populist news media that exaggerates the importance of the Van Jones and Acorn stories to prove the elites are decadent and un-American, and we have a progressive news media that exaggerates stories like the Joe Wilson shout and the opposition to the Obama schools speech to show that small-town folks are dumb wackos.
Yeah, we really exaggerated the opposition to the Obama schools speech, didn't we? We said opponents were calling it socialist indoctrination! We said they were describing it as an attempt to recruit a pro-Obama civilian army! We said school districts were refusing to broadcast the speech! Where on earth did we get all that hyperbolic nonsense?