Reflections Magazine August 2010
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Playing the race card



Several stories pertaining to race relations have made national headlines in recent weeks. On July 13, for instance, “over 2,000 NAACP delegates…unanimously passed a resolution—as amended—called ‘The Tea Party Movement,’ asking for the repudiation of racist Tea Party leaders,” according to one NAACP press release. Another press release issued by this oldest, largest civil rights organization in the country explained that “the language” of said resolution “[had] been misconstrued” by conservative bloggers “to imply that the NAACP was condemning the entire Tea Party Movement itself as racist.” Insofar as their resolution of condemnation really was misconstrued, much of the blame belongs to the NAACP delegates themselves; by calling it “The Tea Party Movement Resolution,” which suggests unqualified condemnation, they invited such a misconstrual.

More troubling than this, though, is the story of the Justice Department’s decision to dismiss the voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party, members of which armed themselves with machetes and showed up at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008 spewing anti-white vitriol. “The New Black Panther case was the simplest and most obvious violation of federal law I saw in my Justice Department career,” said J. Christian Adams in The Washington Times on June 25. Mr. Adams resigned from his position as a Justice Department attorney on account of the decision to dismiss the case. “Citizens would be shocked,” Mr. Adams went on, “to learn about the open and pervasive hostility within the Justice Department to bringing civil rights cases against nonwhite defendants on behalf of white victims. Equal enforcement of justice is not a priority of this administration.”

How could this be happening under the administration of President Barack Obama, given all of Mr. Obama’s lofty rhetoric about moving above and beyond the political exploitation of interracial animosities? As he proclaimed on March 18, 2008 in his widely-applauded campaign speech on race relations, “One of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign [was] to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.”

Those who accept Mr. Adams’ interpretation of the recent Justice Department decision are left to wonder how the president can honestly be said to be fulfilling this task. What might he have meant by the words “a more equal America,” if not something like “an America in which there is more nearly perfect equality before the law?” From other pieces of Mr. Adams’ eyewitness testimony we get an idea: “Some of my coworkers,” Mr. Adams claimed, “argued that the law should not be used against black wrongdoers because of the long history of slavery and segregation. Less charitable individuals called it ‘payback time.’” Perhaps, then, it is a two-wrongs-make-a-right sort of equality that the Justice Department of Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder intends to pursue—hardly the best means to the avowed end of interracial harmony.

Moreover, this spring we heard Mr. Obama assert that Hispanic Americans in Arizona who take their children out for ice cream are “going to be harassed” thanks to that state’s new immigration law—a law that has been in part struck down by a federal judge while Arizona Governor Jan Brewer files an appeal in defense of the law. In fact, any police officer who “harassed” Hispanics for the mere public eating of ice cream would be punishable under this very law. Here again, we notice quite a difference between campaign rhetoric and presidential performance. In his aforementioned campaign speech on race, Mr. Obama explained that the resentments felt by members of one race toward members of another “[are] exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.” We are meant to understand by this, of course, that Mr. Obama, a statesman of such high principle, could not possibly engage in such up-ginning; unfortunately for the president, his silly and unfounded ice cream remark gave the lie to this idea.

So it would seem that things have not changed much, after all. We see today what we have seen for years: the levying of accusations of racism by liberals against those who oppose their agenda. Yet we have reason to hope for change here: running for Congress this fall we find an historic number of black Republican candidates—proof (as if the racial diversity among Tea Partiers were not proof enough) that, contrary to what liberals would have us all believe, conservative values appeal to ordinary, decent Americans of all races.

Of particular interest is the candidacy for South Carolina’s First Congressional District of Tim Scott—a small business owner and 13-year member of the Charleston City Council. He attributes his successes to the “conservative, traditional, and religious values” instilled in him by his hardworking mother. Mr. Scott’s election to the Charleston City Council marked the first election of a black Republican to county-wide office in the state of South Carolina since Reconstruction. His election to the U.S. Congress would mark, in turn, the first election of a black Republican to national office from that state since the same era of our history. Surely, though, Mr. Obama spoke for every black American when he said in his campaign speech that “even for those blacks who did” manage to overcome the obstacles of discrimination to build successful lives for themselves, “questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways”—right? On the contrary, Mr. Scott attributed his wide margin of victory in the primary election to the colorblindness of conservative voters: “They care about ideas and ideals. Period.” Similarly, in response to questions about the symbolic significance of his victory in that election over Paul Thurmond, son of the late Senator Strom Thurmond, Mr. Scott said simply that in his view “Paul was always more of a [Charleston City] Council colleague than a son of Strom Thurmond.”

Despite Mr. Obama’s false rhetoric, perhaps the upcoming mid-term elections will help achieve what his presidency has not—an end to the exploitation of interracial animosities for partisan political purposes.

-Clint is a researcher at The Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal. This article was written in collaboration with the EBI editorial staff.


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