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Opinion: Editorials

Obama's defenders cry wolf on racism

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Opinion,Editorial

New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait wrote in late July that anger over President Obama's disparagement of small-business owners ("You didn't build that") really came from the fact that it was delivered in "black dialect." Earlier this month, AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka accused the members of his own union who did not back Obama in 2008 of doing so out of "pure racism." Last week, Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd in Danville, Va., that the Republican ticket wanted to "put y'all back in chains."

The disturbing theme is unmistakable. It is quickly becoming standard for Obama's defenders to brand all criticism of or opposition to the nation's first black president as somehow motivated by racial animus.

Liberal pundit Toure Neblett topped all others last week on the MSNBC show he co-hosts daily. Neblett said on national television that Mitt Romney had engaged in the "n----rization" of Obama. The telltale sign of Romney's "racial coding?" His use of the word "anger," as when he called Obama "angry and desperate" and said he should take his "campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago." Neblett later apologized for his use of the inflammatory word, but not for his sophistry.

His argument, of course, is preposterous. Is it now permissible to call angry people angry only if they happen to be white, as with John McCain or John Bolton? Or as when Paul Begala prescribed "anger management" for President George W. Bush after a 2004 debate? And what about the proverbial "angry white male?"

With Obama and his top surrogates variously accusing Romney of securities felonies, of causing a woman to die of cancer, and of wanting to bring back slavery, might it just not be that Obama is indeed operating precisely the "angry and desperate presidency" that Romney described, completely irrespective of the president's ancestry?

A few irresponsible writers on the Left have been issuing fake wolf-cries of racism ever since Obama's election. Mercifully, the president can still say that he has not personally stooped so low -- and we hope he never does. Obama has pointed out that America is not a racist country: As he put it, "I was black when I was elected."

The racialization of every innocent comment is not just tedious. It is also damaging to democracy and to society in two important ways. First, America has come a long way, not only eradicating institutional sanction of discrimination but also shaming its practice. America imposes a lasting societal stain upon those found guilty of racism. The abusive politicization of this healthy stigma, all just to protect a single politician from defeat, is a short-sighted attempt to squelch legitimate political conversation, and with it democracy.

Second, this dishonest behavior by Neblett and the others actually weakens the legitimate societal shaming of real racism -- which still exists, by the way, and which does sometimes include the use of "coded language." Those who lightly and carelessly attribute racism in this way are only undermining legitimate societal hatred of real racism. If they ever succeed in racializing every innocent statement and act, they will only cause Americans to stop taking real racism seriously. The boy who cried wolf, as everyone knows, was eventually devoured.

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