Wednesday, August 06, 2008

John McCain Not Personally a Racist? Oh, Okay then!

In an otherwise excellent essay ("Up From Chicago") Terry Neal, h/t Atrios, takes a two by four to the embedded racism, and the fear of the word "racist" that has underlain both the major media and the McCain campaign against Obama. And yet...and yet...Neal still falls into the trap of assuming that "racism" must be something a person feels on a deep inner level before we can call that person a "racist." The assumption that the slave owner has to believe his own propaganda before we can impugn his motives in owning slaves seems bizarre to me. More... Surely holding Obama in contempt because he's a young, black, upstart and acting that out through ads, signs, and attacks isn't proof that John McCain is personally prejudiced against all black people. Clearly he is just extremely angry at one black guy who happens to be standing in his way. But so what? It wouldn't be possible to run the campaign McCain is running without depending on speaking the language of racists, and speaking *to* racists about their fears, and promising racists that through their vote against this one black guy they will strike a blow against all uppity black people. If that isn't racist in an existential sense, I don't know what is.

But the continued insistence that we should look in John McCain's heart, rather than merely watch his lips, is no more bizarre than this piece of bizarro world boilerplate on the excellence of John McCain as an honest politician:

But, just so we're clear, this is not an argument that McCain is a racist. One of the most fascinating political speeches I personally witnessed came April 18, 2000, when McCain returned to South Carolina to apologize for his failure to denounce the Confederate flag during his primary battle with George W. Bush months earlier.

Standing before the conservative South Carolina Policy Council think tank, McCain said, "I should have done this earlier when an honest answer could have affected me personally. I did not do so for one reason alone. I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth."

What makes this speech less self interested, and less political, than the original decision to support the flying of the Confederate Flag? Is the reporter under the impression that McCain had given up his political pretensions to high national office? Because if he had, there was no risk to him at all politically. And if he hadn't? Surely this was merely the opening salvo in McCain's attempt to retake the moral high ground for his next run at national office? In either event, the speech denouncing *himself for opportunism* and, just between us, race mongering with prejudice, was just another example of a politician's willingness to do anything, and say anything, to get over on a credulous populace and an even more credulous press. When running in South Carolina do whatever it takes to get South Carolinan white votes, even on the basis of uncoded racist pandering. When losing in South Carolina, throw the South Carolina white voter overboard as impossibly racist and backward, and reassure other voters that in the future you will be pure. Both gestures are equally self interested and political, in the deepest meaning of the word. But more to the point the second gesture, going back to your vomit and repudiating it, has the benefit of getting free media coverage not ordinarly granted to the loser in a contest. Its humility- and- honor- mongering brought to a high, almost Uriah Heep, level of disengenousness. Going back to South Carolina to give a speech after losing the primary is what an ordinary observer of politics would call "chum" for the fish, not an instance of courage.