Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jimmy Carter, race, and wondering if there is an Ike in the house

[I'm not referring to Tina Turner's ex.]

Curiously enough, though I am not their biggest fan by any means, I think that CNN has put out the most even-handed coverage of responses to former President Jimmie Carter's racism charges about many opponents of President Obama.

Unfortunately, the manner in which the article is written does not lend itself to excerpting, so visit it here.

I have been sorting out my own thoughts about the Carter assertion, which now have surfaced in two different venues, his NBC interview and his speech at Emory University.

From what I can tell, the Emory University speech constitutes [choose your term] either fine-tuning or back-tracking by the former President:

"When a radical fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the president of the United States as an animal or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler or when they wave signs in the air that said we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kinds of things are beyond the bounds," the Democrat told students at Emory University on Wednesday.

"I think people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African-American," he added.

This statement concentrates primarily on a radical fringe element of demonstrators and lists specific actions that Carter feels inappropriate. Then Carter says that people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced by racism.

Compare that with Carter's original language:

Former President Jimmy Carter said in an interview Tuesday that Congressman Joe Wilson's "you lie" outburst to President Obama was "based on racism" and that many of the critiques leveled against the president have been made because of his black heritage.

"I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man," Carter said in an sit-down with NBC's Brian Williams.

Carter specifically said that Wilson's comment was "dastardly" and part of an "inherent feeling" held by many Americans -- particularly Southerners -- that African-Americans "are not qualified to lead this great country."

It's a fairly far cry from equating Congressman Wilson's two-word outburst with people carrying signs that suggest President Obama should have been buried with Senator Ted Kennedy, isn't it?

Here [for exactly what it's worth] are my thoughts on the issue:

1] When Carter's position is that there a radical fringe element of demonstrators potentially motivated by racism, I think he's correct. It's difficult to draw an exact line, and both sides in the debate are interested for their own reasons in obscuring that line--but the racism among fringe critics of Barack Obama is undeniably there.

2] When Carter's position is that the overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is motivated by racism, he undercuts his own credibility because of the use of that phrase overwhelming portion. Watch the video; read the transcript. There's not much wiggle room in the original statement: former President Carter is saying that the overwhelming majority of President Obama's harshest critics are motivated by racism. So I proposed to myself a thought experiment: if we had a charismatic, forty-something white Senator who became President and was saying all the same things and backing all the same policies as Barack Obama, would there still be this much harsh criticism by social conservatives, neo-conservatives, and others?

My conclusion is that there would be significantly less far fringe (by about 60%), but it would still be there.

But I also think that the fear of socialism criticisms would be just about as strident (85-90% range) and that there would be just about as many of them (80-85%) range.

The GOP was not going to turn moderate upon losing the election of 2008 no matter who the Democrats elected. Had he been able to keep his pecker in his pants, and had he won the election, John Edwards would be facing damn near as much strident opposition from the GOP and conservatives. But then there's point three....

3] That 60% increase in the fringe, given the force multiplier of 24/7/365 MSM, the blogosphere, and viral videos has catapulted the rawest, most volatile and most polarizing aspects of America's long-deferred debate on race right into our faces. In a sense, the election of Barack Obama did not signify the arrival of post-racial America by any means; it merely eliminated our ability to keep dodging the fact that we have been dodging the issue for decades.

And here Mr. Carter wins absolutely no plaudits from me, because it is difficult to point to anything beyond driving some nails into homes for poor Black folk to use the power of his former Presidency to help us get to that debate. Where was Jimmie for the teachable moments when Jesse Jackson won the South Carolina primary? On Clarence Thomas? On Colin Powell? On Doug Wilder and the Robert E Lee image controversy in Richmond, Virginia? The answer: pretty much nowhere to be found.

[If he actually said anything in any of his books that's not an excuse, by the way, since pretty much nobody ever read any of them in the first place.]

4] Right now, unfortunately, both of our major political parties are playing the race card as hard as they can. Would Michael Steele have become RNC Chair if he wasn't African-American, and the color of his skin did not serve a political purpose? I have my doubts. On the other hand, from South Carolina forward Barack Obama's handlers and surrogates--as well as the man himself on occasion--have been more than willing to drop that card themselves.

The only thing I find as reprehensible as the conservatives' failure to call out their own fringe is the liberals' refusal to acknowledge that they have knowingly besmirched the innocent along with the guilty for political gain.

5] My only prediction: the whole mess is going to drive people back toward the political center in a big way, to the immense discomfort of both ends of the traditional political spectrum [and, no, I don't think it will be a boon for libertarians, either]. by 2012 a strong, charismatic centrist [leaning a little either to the right or left] is going be a major threat to Obama's re-election. That's not Hillary or any of the current crop of GOP midgets from Pawlenty to Romney, and it's not going to be a Senator, either. We're either going to see an obscure Governor (ala Clinton in 1992) or a completely non-traditional candidate come out of the woodworks--a David Petraeus, perhaps, running as the ultimate outsider (for the record, I don't want him for President).

What I'm saying is that in 2012 the country will be ready to like Ike if an Ike can be found. Once upon a time I thought that might be Colin Powell some day, but that plane left a long time ago. I do see the GOP actually willing to draft somebody like Tommy Franks if they could get him to run.

Not a real coherent post, but if you haven't noticed, these are not exceptionally coherent times.

1 comment:

G Rex said...

FTR, the signs you refer to read that President Obama's healthcare reform scheme should be buried with Kennedy, not Obama himself. Of course, this in itself is a fallacy, as the President has not advanced an actual policy of his own but merely made vague suggestions at endorsement of the various plans that are burbling their way through Congress. All about plausible deniability, you know.