Saturday, October 11, 2008

Attacking Obama in a Post-Racist Society

Back in the 60's, Nixon used to peddle racism to the masses by complaining about inner-city crime. Reagan would speak bitterly of welfare queens. Gingrich would demand an end to affirmative action. And while the enemy the Bushies gave us was color-oriented (brown), it had a tactical purpose because there really were scary brown people trying to kill us; all they had to do was exaggerate the numbers. And of course, all of these people had illegal immigration to stand proudly against (even while their investors were loving them some cheap labor).

But the one thing in all this is clear: Outright racism doesn't sell. At least not in a national election, anyway. Even in a purple state like Virginia it was deemed a career-killer to refer to a brown person as "macaca". You might not have known what "macaca" meant, but you got the general gist of it. And people rejected it. In fact, even racists object to racism these days. They will insist that they're not racists and that there are good reasons for why they seem to be acting and sounding like racists. Because even they, with their pea-sized brains, realize that racism doesn't sell.

But all the same, we know these people are racists because of the way they act, and they can really get in deep doodoo for acting this way. And anyone associated with this will get in trouble for it. Nixon realized that he couldn't openly diss black people, and that was forty years ago. These days, racism is even less tolerated by the masses. Sure, it's out there. But even the racists know their days are numbered.

Even the white supremacists will insist that they're just trying to defend their "heritage" and just want "equal" rights for white people. This is not the racism of Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrats.

Offending the Racists

And I was thinking about this after Digby posted this picture of a billboard in Missouri:

And Digby seems to take this as some warning of what we've got to face. And the commenters there seem to think this is some big problem and that someone should destroy the sign. But why? Sure, it's offensive. But it's offensive to lots of people. And rather than convince even one person to vote for McCain, the only possible effect it could have would be to push people away from McCain.

Not only is the sign repulsive, but it's childish and dumb. And if the message at the bottom of the sign might have some effect on undecided voters, the racist image of Obama completely poisons that message. With one fell swoop, the idiot who put up the sign has openly linked the anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-tax, and pro-gun movements with racism. And if you support any of those things but are repelled by racism, you'll be upset at the side who besmirched your issues with such blatant racism. The sign would have been much more effective with an actual image of Obama. A racist can hate Obama's face without realizing they're racist; but the cartoon image was simply too over the top.

And again, a big part of modern racism is that there are few racists left who are proud of their racism. They might make racist jokes, treat minorities poorly, and avoid voting for Obama because of his race; but they'll lie to themselves about it. Because it repulses them. Racist jokes are rationalized on the basis that they're "just jokes." They'll tell themselves that minorities are to blame for their own problems, and that it's only the "dirty" negroes that they oppose. Because racism has hit such a low point that even most racists don't want to think they're racist.

And this sign will hurt their self-image and will make them feel ashamed. Very few will defend this sign by saying "It's ok because Obama is black and black people are inferior to us and shouldn't be president." They'll say that it has nothing to do with race and that it's just a funny picture based on Obama's "true" religion. Because even the sign's defenders can't admit to themselves that they're racist. And there will be even more racists or pseudo-racists who are offended by this image, because it hits so close to their real attitude; which embarrasses them. And then there is the rest of America, which will truly be repulsed by this.

Embrace the Crazy

And it's obvious that this is happening and that there is a backlash against the attacks on Obama. Racism was a trap against Republicans and they fell right into it. Because they lack self-awareness, they imagined that they were able to negate the racism charges, and their efforts have at least gotten Obama's campaign too timid to complain about racism. But this still looms as a huge issue, and all it takes is a single racist cartoon image of Obama to bring the whole house of cards on top of them.

Nixon knew better than to run an openly racist campaign, because even most racists don't want to admit that they're racist. But now with a black president on the way, the crazies are coming out of the woodwork. Digby wants to warn us about this, as if this is some big danger looming for us. But just as the crazies helped Clinton maintain high approval ratings throughout the 90's, these crazies will get majorities to run to Obama in droves. Even many racists will feel ashamed of that anti-Obama sign.

Things will seem tough for us, because the crazies are always the loudest and most confident. But in the end, we need to embrace the crazies; to give them enough rope with which to lynch themselves. The Republican Party has been wooing these people for several decades. It behooves us to let them reap what they've sown.

1 comment:

Nellcote said...

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.
And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

--Lee Atwater