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Keep Fear Alive

The liberal obsession with playing the race card.

Nov 21, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 10 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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The explicit language may not have been there, but if results counted, Humphrey would have dined on the bill many times over. “Do you want a society that is nothing but an endless power struggle among organized groups?” Humphrey asked later, which is a perfect description of what his party turned into. Reagan was maligned as a racist for doing no more than trying to return to the vision of Humphrey, which makes sense as they were Democrats in the same era. Reagan was still a Democrat in 1948, when Humphrey made his name with his speech at the convention, urging his party to step from the shadows of segregation into the bright sunshine of civil rights.

Fact number three is that the South moved into the Republican column for the first time in the election of 1964 and has stayed there since, leading to the belief in the minds of some that it stayed there for exactly that reason, and that time has stood still. In real life, though, time has brought wondrous changes to the GOP and to Dixie alike. With desegregation and air conditioning the Old South took off like a rocket, becoming the country’s fastest-growing region, drawing immigrants and industries from all over the world. Some of the biggest states are in the South, some of the busiest technical corridors, some of the best schools and hospitals; and some of the best GOP minority leaders, about which much more below. 

At the same time, the GOP would make itself over, embracing new issues and new blocs of voters, becoming the party of free market forces, traditional values, and a pro-active stance on defense. Reagan brought into his coalition Democratic hawks, neoconservatives who were civil rights backers, and a new generation of activists, mainly enthused by free market ideas. It became more Jack Kemp’s party and less that of Strom Thurmond, who himself had undergone changes: Within a few years of crossing the aisle, he would be backing black nominees for federal office, wooing black voters, and hiring black staff. In 1964, there was one main reason white Southerners would prefer the Republican party; by 1968, when riots emerged, there were more of them; by 1972, when the Democrats nominated George McGovern, there were a great many more. As racism started to fade, new issues rose to anchor the South to the party of Reagan, for which the party of “amnesty, abortion, and acid” was a very bad fit. The transition was fixed when Southern conservatives began electing nonwhites and women who shared their values. The conservative governor of Louisiana is the child of Indian immigrants. Conservatives in Florida elected a black and Hispanic who are favorites of conservatives everywhere. South Carolina​—​home of John C. Calhoun, interposition, secession, Fort Sumter, Strom Thurmond, and of the flap over the Confederate flag at the grounds of the state capitol that has gone on forever​—​has a Republican governor who is female and also the child of Indian immigrants, and a black Republican congressman who defeated the son of Strom Thurmond in the election last year.

 Liberals may believe geography is destiny and is eternal, but events have proven otherwise. The Dixiecrats like Thurmond are long gone, and in their place are armies of younger conservatives, raised long after the civil rights struggle, whose hackles rise skyward on being told they are and will be racist forever because before they were conscious of anything a senator from Arizona cast a bad vote for good reasons a long time ago.

Those watching returns from the 2010 midterms were not surprised when Tea Party conservatives raised Cain, West, and others, but time-worn mental habits die hard. Roger Simon of Politico told Howard Kurtz on Reliable Sources that Rick Perry’s reference to Obama’s birth certificate was meant to stir the bigots up. “Why would Perry use that in the primaries instead of saving it for the general?” he asked. “It’s because being extreme perhaps, and a little bit racist, perhaps, gives you good bona fides in a Republican primary. It shows them that you are on the same side.” But Herman Cain was already leading in most polls of Republican primary voters, and when Perry was fading, his supporters went to .  .  . Cain. 

“You think about white Republicans who don’t like black folks,” said Ed Schultz on his MSNBC program. “It’s almost as if this guy [Cain] is trying to warm up to them and tell them what they want to hear.” His guest, Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, agreed, and directed our eyes to “post-intentional racism,” which would be “racism that people don’t intend to have or to act upon,” as explained in the book More Beautiful and More Terrible by Imani Perry, described by its publisher as meaning “a new and distinct form of racism that is ‘post intentional,’ neither drawing on the intentional discrimination of the past nor drawing on biological concepts of race.” That’s helpful. Then you have the usual run of Democrats saying it’s racist when black conservatives tell white conservatives that blacks don’t need Democrats “helping” them. As the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto has explained it, “These white Republicans are so racist that they’re willing to elect a black man president just to keep black people down.”

As the ruminations on race and Republicans get more and more silly, the question arises as to why liberals still bother, and the reasons appear to be three. First, it serves their purpose politically to have large blocs of voters think that the opposite party is biased against them. Second, it serves their emotional need to feel more enlightened and virtuous. Third, it appears that they really believe it. As they see it, race is the center of everyone’s universe, and comes in two forms: the malevolent racism practiced by their political enemies and the benevolent race-conscious public policy adopted by themselves. Malevolent racists burn crosses, discriminate, try to make life as hellish as possible for those they see as “the Other.” Benevolent racists, on the other hand, are ridden with guilt, torture the rules to ensure racially just outcomes in hiring, promotions, college admissions, etc., cherish diversity (except of opinion), and regard as unjust any system in which the best professions and places do not reflect or exceed the minority representation of the country in general​—​except in their neighborhoods, and in the places where they work. 

What they do not accept is the possibility that there is any position between these two poles, in which people are neither hostile to nor solicitous of others; bear no ill will, yet do no favors; take people as they are on a one-by-one basis, or leave them alone. To the benevolent racist, those who aspire to color-blindness are lying, victims of subconscious or post-intentional racism, or blind to nothing more than their evil, malevolent hearts. 

This view was expressed best in 1998 in a speech by Al Gore to a group of black ministers, when in a clunky and maladroit metaphor​—​this is, after all, Al Gore we’re discussing​—​he said people who claimed to be color blind were in reality hiding in duck blinds, ready to gun down their prey. This view is what for the past 40 years has been keeping them from registering the evidence that since Reagan’s election conservatism has been ideology driven, as it, along with most of the rest of the country, has reached the conclusion that race by and large does not and should not count. The last piece of evidence fell into place with a clunk when Herman Cain was accused of assault and harassment​—​by an assortment of blondes. The most right of the right wing stood up for the black man. Rush Limbaugh called it a media hit job. Laura Ingraham mocked the white “floozies.” The “third rail” of race has been touched, and is plumb out of voltage. As John Cleese might say, it is an “ex-issue.” It is, and now ought to be, dead.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and a columnist for the Washington Examiner.

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