Anyone hoping that the election of the first African-American president in 2008 would usher in a post-racial era, putting our sordid racial past behind us once and for all, is bound to be bitterly disappointed. I happen to have known better, but it still is jarring when you consider how race is playing such a large role in the comical, ugly and tragic scrum known as the sprint to the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
It wasn't supposed to be this way, but when the Republican Party effectively abandoned its outreach to blacks and extended a beefy hand to Southern whites who once had reliably voted Democratic, the die was cast.
Let's get a few things out of the way before proceeding: Some blacks are racists, not all Republicans are racists and not all Democrats aren't racists. In fact, the uglier chapters of America's racial history were written by Democratic politicians in Congress, statehouses, city halls and sheriffs departments. And the unwritten Republican policy of discouraging black interest, whether indirectly or by voter suppression efforts that are ongoing in the run-up to 2012, has been more of a tactical decision than one based on racism.
But the results are apparent: The last black Republican in the House of consequence gave up in disgust in 2003. There has not be a black Republican in the Senate since 1979. And beyond voter suppression, the GOP has consistently voted against black interests for years.
Meanwhile, a mere 4 percent of blacks voted for the McCain-Palin ticket in 2008 and while it would be logical to suggest this was because the top half of the Obama-Biden ticket was a black man, 43 percent of white voters overall (the largest number since Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford in 1976) and a record 54 percent of young white voters backed the upstart from Illinois.
So it's easy to see why today's Republican Party -- yes, the party of Abraham Lincoln -- has become a haven for racists, some of whom openly loath Obama simply for his blackness, including the occasional state or county GOP leader who speaks their mind and for many others through an email, Tweet or ugly online image. And boy are these folks virtuosos when it comes to playing the dog whistle.
This climate is fostered by right-wing hate radio and most especially by Rush Limbaugh, the party's de facto leader. (If you don't think that's true, then who is the party's leader?)
Which makes the entry of Herman Cain into the 2012 presidential scrum all the more . . . well, interesting.
I initially welcomed Cain. I knew nothing about him other than he seemed to be a smart guy with a winning personality who had made millions of bucks selling pizzas. It didn't bother me in the least that he had sat out the Civil Rights Movement in the leafy confines of Morehouse College in Atlanta. After all, most blacks didn't become involved. And huzzah huzzah huzzah! An African American was taking on the first African-American president. Now that’s progress!
Well, it's not.
This is because the right wingers who have the keys to the Republican clown car have embraced a man who happens to be black (and in fact argues that he's "blacker" than Obama) who is unqualified to be president but can spew out vapid policy ideas with a toothy Cheshire cat-like grin.
That the serial allegations that Cain came on to women in unwelcome ways and in one case groped a woman in return for the promise of a job have hardly affected his standing in the polls speaks volumes about the GOP's disdain for women but introduces a twisted new dynamic into the annals of racism in general and racism in the Republican Party in particular.
Some if not many members of the party's shrunken base are white men from Southern states who become apoplectic and reflexively reach for their shotguns at the thought of blacks getting near their woman folk but think that Cain's alleged sexual assault of a white woman is okey-dokey. (And don’t give me any guff about terming it a sexual assault. It is.) To think that only a generation ago they wouldn't let Cain use the same water fountain or lunch counter and only a few generations before that would have lynched him for even looking at a white woman.
Limbaugh, of course, has poured his own special brand of high-octane gasoline on the scandal, accusing the news media of using "the ugliest racial stereotypes they can to attack a black conservative," something he has not hesitated to do in the past while attacking a certain black liberal or moderate or whatever Obama is. Limbaugh mocked Sharon Bialek, the white woman who says that Cain groped her, pronouncing her name "buy-a-lick" and asserted that the fact that she smiled in answer to a question at her press conference last week was proof that she had made the whole thing up.
(The Democratic Party, by the way, doesn't get a free pass. It is quick to put a racial spin on issues where it doesn't see eye to eye with their Republican peers that have little or nothing to do with race, but neither are Democrats who don't like Cain being racist. They just recognize the guy for what he is -- an ignorant, misogynistic boob.)
How is it that we still seem to be so obsessed by race?
I would like to think that the answer breaks down along generational lines, with that record 54 percent of young people who voted for Obama being substantially color blind (which is not to say that young people who voted for McCain were not), while race matters very much for members of older generations (Republicans and Democrats, right?).
The unashamedly racist and anti-Semite Pat Buchanan, the failed Republican presidential wannabe and historian with a demonstrably shaky grasp of history, is the (pardon the term) intellectual face of the older whites -- and I believe there are many of them -- who rue the day not so far in the future when whites will become a racial minority and a touchstone of what it means to be American (for them) will cease to exist.
It would be nice to think that when this occurs a post-racial era will indeed be ushered in. But it also would be naive. Just about the only thing certain is that today's Republican Party is slowly committing electoral suicide while perfectly positioning itself to be the standard bearer for the angrier element of that new minority as it becomes an increasingly minor party itself.
Monday, November 14, 2011
We Have Not Yet Arrived At Obama's Post-Racial Moment. Not By A Long Shot.
Top photo by Erik S. Lesser/The Washington Post