Sunday, September 12, 2010
From an immigration law in Arizona
to a planned mosque near Ground Zero to Glenn Beck emoting at the Lincoln Memorial
on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, the controversies roiling American politics in recent weeks and months have featured an ugly undertone, suggesting meanness, prejudice and, in the eyes of some, outright racism. And it is conservatives -- whether Republican politicians, Fox News commentators or members of the "tea party" movement -- who are invariably painted with that brush.
There is power in the accusation of racism against conservatives, one that liberals understand well. In an April 2008 post on Journolist, a private online community for liberal journalists, academics and activists, one writer proposed a way to distract conservatives from the campaign controversy surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's pastor. "If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they've put upon us," Spencer Ackerman wrote. "Instead, take one of them -- Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares -- and call them racists."
No doubt, such accusations stick to conservatives more than to liberals. It was then-Sen. Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, after all, who described presidential candidate Obama as "the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." If a conservative politician had offered such an opinion, his or her career might have ended; Biden was rewarded with a spot on Obama's ticket. Liberal missteps on race and ethnicity are explained away, forgiven and often forgotten; conservative ones are cast as part of a sinister, decades-long story of intolerance and political calculation, in which conservative ideology and strategy are conflated with bigotry.