Political race-baiting works in America, because racism is part of the cultural and historical furniture. In 1960, when Barack Obama’s Kenyan father married Stanley Anne Dunham, a white woman who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, 22 states still had laws forbidding interracial marriages. In 1967, an appropriate year since it was the "summer of love", the US Supreme Court voided all "race hygiene" laws, still on the books in 16 states. David Rosen had an instructive essay on this history on this site last week.
In 1988 Al Gore, running in the New York Democratic primary against Michael Dukakis, attacked the Massachusetts governor for supporting lax parole laws that a year earlier had permitted a convicted black murderer called Willie Horton to leave prison on a weekend pass. Horton used the opportunity to rape a woman.
Dukakis prevailed nonetheless and won the nomination. Then in the fall the Republican dirty tricksters began circulating photos of Horton, an identikit of every white’s nightmare about what a black rapist kicking down the front door would look like. The leaflets insinuated that Dukakis and Horton had been pretty much on a first name basis. The race card was effective and was a significant factor in Dukakis’ defeat by George Bush Sr. In 2000 George Bush Jr defeated John McCain in the South Carolina primary with the insinuation that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. (McCain and his second wife, Cindy, had adopted a child from a home in India run by Mother Teresa.)
Here we are in 2008 and the race card has made its inevitable appearance. True to the Willie Horton model, on February 25 someone in the Clinton campaign sent the Drudge website a photo of Obama in Kenya a couple of years ago, wearing a turban and what looks like a bedsheet pretending to be a nurse’s white uniform, though apparently it is Somali ceremonial rig. Obama’s team cried Foul. Maggie Williams, now running Clinton’s campaign, said Obama shouldn’t be a wuss.
Already the Republicans are using the photo as part of what will be a long summer and fall of two-stepping around the race card. Step One: Get some rough-houser to fire off a slur, as did right wing radio shock jock Bill Cunningham, sounding off ripely this week about "Barack Hussein Obama" as a hack black politician in a speech introducing McCain. Step 2: piously denounce the slur, just as McCain did Cunningham’s.
It happened again last Monday with a press release from the Tennessee Republican Party which announced that it "today joins a growing chorus of Americans concerned about the future of the nation of Israel, the only stable democracy in the Middle East, if Sen. Barack Hussein Obama is elected president of the United States," On Wednesday the Republican National Committee duly reprimanded the Tennessee Republican Party for its use of Obama’s middle name and said it shouldn’t happen again.
Your middle name is Hussein and you run in a US election in 2008? Of course you catch flak. But these are only the early salvos, as the RNC slime squad runs profile groups to help them figure out what it can get away with. Already right-wing columns are pillorying Obama’s mother, an anthropology professor in Hawai’i at the time of her death in the mid-1990s, as a fellow-traveling, crypto commie slut and lover of non-Caucasians.
Obama’s wife Michelle, the candidate’s wife, is being portrayed as several hundred miles to the left of Malcom X, in large part because she said recently that owing to the huge response to her husband’s campaign for hope and change, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country." Cindy McCain has taken to saying that she for one has always been proud of her country. In the last debate Clinton called for Obama to repudiate Louis Farrakhan –a ritual Jesse Jackson knows well. Obama finessed the challenge gracefully, but the Republicans are taking up the theme. Late last week the Clinton campaign was leaking stories about support for Obama from the former Weather Undergound couple, Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, both of whom became respectable fixtures in mainstream liberal Chicago years ago. That hasn’t stopped the Republican hit squads from painting Obama as a secret Muslim, channeling bomb plots from Osama–whose photo an NBC studio grip recently put up behind Obama in a news clip.
All the same, the race card is a tricky one to play. A fall face-off between McCain and Obama will target the crucial independent voters, many of whom will be put off by race-baiting. Attitudes have changed, even since the Horton era. A 2007 Gallup survey found more than three out of four Americans approving of marriages between whites and blacks. In 1994 less than half felt that way.
Liberals Sniffle at Buckley’s Passing
When I first came to America in 1972 I was astonished to find that the conservative cold warrior William Buckley had a television channel paid for out of public funds and reserved for his exclusive use. This was PBS, which alternated Buckley’s show with "Wall St Week". In an effort at balance PBS offered the left’s point of view in Sesame Street. Buckley’s syndicated column was also featured in Dolly Schiff’s New York Post. I found him mostly unwatchable and unreadable, being 97 per cent predictable and disgusting in all his views, with a style intolerably loaded with affectation — fake English urbanity and pompous usage. He was the sort of writer who could never use the word "punishment" without sticking "condign" in front of it, the better to flaunt his stylistic credentials.
His staple was straight cold-war paeans to the unfettered glories of capital. It was all aimed at college-age conservatives. I doubt the rubes could endure him. Who would, when the alterative was Jimmy Swaggart in full spate?
It’s astonishing to read the funeral paeans from liberals, flush with homages to Beckley’s "urbane civility". Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, issues a warm eulogy in Newsweek. John Nicholas echoes these kindly sentiments in The Nation itself. The supposedly left Portside site promptly reprints Nichols. What are these people thinking? All this is evidence of the decay of liberalism. Do they have any memory? Buckley wore urbanity like cheap make-up, badly applied. At the slightest challenge it disappeared and we were left with the hiss and venom of a true reptile. Coulter and the other yahoos descend in part from him. Here’s Buckley confronting the AIDS crisis with an advisory of Nazi lineage: "Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals."
Here are some lines from Buckley’s editorial on "Why The South Must Win" in the National Review in 1957:
"The central question that emerges is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes–the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. The question, as far as the White community is concerned, is whether the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage. The British believe they do, and acted accordingly, in Kenya, where the choice was dramatically one between civilization and barbarism, and elsewhere; the South, where the conflict is by no means dramatic, as in Kenya, nevertheless perceives important qualitative differences between its culture and the Negroes’, and intends to assert its own. National Review believes that the South’s premises are correctThe great majority of the Negroes of the South who do not vote do not care to vote, and would not know for what to vote if they could.Universal suffrage is not the beginning of wisdom or the beginning of freedomThe South confronts one grave moral challenge. It must not exploit the fact of Negro backwardness to preserve the Negro as a servile class. It is tempting and convenient to block the progress of a minority whose services, as menials, are economically useful. Let the South never permit itself to do this. So long as it is merely asserting the right to impose superior mores for whatever period it takes to effect a genuine cultural equality between the races, and so long as it does so by humane and charitable means, the South is in step with civilization, as is the Congress that permits it to function."
Spoken like a true Nazi!
So, farewell Mr Buckley. How wrong you were. How vile the tyrants and the wars you cheered for.