Wednesday, August 06, 2008

McCain, the Clintons, and the 'Race Card' Card

The most poisonous legacy of the Clinton campaign is this: a lot of Democrats now embrace the Republican frame in which any accusation of appealing to racism, made against any white politician, is presumptively bogus (is, in fact, far worse than racism itself). (Conversely, in this frame, any accusation of 'playing the race card' made against any African-American politician is presumptively true.) People like Lambert, Jeralyn Merritt, Taylor Marsh, Riverdaughter1--all of them laid the groundwork for the campaign McCain is running today.

That's not to say that McCain wouldn't be running on the same coded appeals to racism without them; this was always the plan. More... What they did was broaden the potentially receptive audience for the McCain campaign's pre-emptive attacks on Obama for 'playing the race card', meant to neutralize any potential complaint about racist campaigning by the Republicans.

And they did it the same way Republicans spread their own memes: dishonestly. The fundamental dishonesty in this case was to elide the distinction clarified in this video (hat tip: Hogan), between what one does and what one is. They took accusations that the Clinton campaign was making coded appeals to racism (accusations that were sometimes clearly correct, sometimes murkier, but never crazy) and transformed them into claims that the Clintons were 'racists'--a charge that, as Jay Smooth observes, is much more inflammatory and much easier to swat away.

It's a dishonest line that Bill Clinton himself continues to flog--even though he was never called a 'racist' in the first place (he was, rightly, called out for racially coded remarks, which is altogether different). And it leads directly to the John McCain is not a racist meme that aimai slammed this morning.

I don't consider Lambert, Jeralyn, Taylor Marsh, or most of the anti-Obama club 'racists' (Riverdaughter is another matter entirely; her blog is saturated with the vilest kind of coded racism). They have, however, done a hell of a lot to advance a fundamentally racist meme that the Republicans have picked up and are running with.

1Sorry, no links.