Barack Obama, the candidate who wants to end divisiveness, and who wants to run a clean and honorable campaign without negativity, said the following in a recent campaign speech at a Florida fund-raising reception:
It is going to be very difficult for Republicans to run on their stewardship of the economy or their outstanding foreign policy. We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid. They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?”
We have here a truly masterful attempt to flames of paranoia on the part of his followers and adopt the mantle of victimization for himself, thus raising rather than lowering the amount of divisiveness and vitriol in the campaign. Pretty good for just a couple of sentences.
Obama is correct in saying that there have been racist remarks against him. These have originated from fringe elements and/or commenters in the blogosphere and/or anonymous email campaigns. They focus on his “funny name,” for example, or the fact that he’s black.
But in this speech he appears to attribute—or to encourage his supporters to attribute—these charges to the entire Republican Party, couched as a threatening “they.” At the same time, he fails to differentiate these attacks—and actually connects them as part of an undifferentiated list—from extremely legitimate concerns that people have voiced about other characteristics of his, such as his inexperience.
In the final sentence of the paragraph he slyly encourages a phenomenon I’ve noticed happening more and more: the charge that any criticism of Obama emanates from racism. If the racism isn’t overt and clear, as in the emails, then it’s covert; “inexperience” (a valid concern based on the objective facts of his history) becomes a code word (wink wink) for hidden racism and fearmongering.
This is dangerous demagoguery.
Because one so seldom hears overt expressions of racism any more, and certainly not from mainstream candidates, there has been a tendency to imagine it is everywhere, but hidden. Here Obama cynically fosters that belief and encourages the definition of his entire opposition as energized by this impossible-to-prove—or, more importantly, impossible-to-disprove—motive.
No, it turns out that most of them haven’t mentioned he’s black, except in approving terms. But they don’t have to nowadays to be racists; Obama has taken care of that.