We should notice that when someone claims “the race card” has been played, he or she identifies a single meld or toss and ignores the many other cards on or under the table.
Indeed, we cannot validly isolate a “hand” or a “trick” of racial cards. The game may slacken or quicken, and various players leave the table as others are dealt in, but betting and bluffing about races and racism have endured for centuries.
President Jimmy Carter played the race card in his recent remarks: “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.” If you noticed that President Carter emphasized “intensely demonstrated animosity,” you were nearly alone. When race and racism are overtly in play, what this or that celebrity actually said — the language of the racial politicking — quickly fades beneath heaps of verbiage. What President Carter actually said almost instantly did not matter. Longstanding dodges and ruses immediately dominated the airwaves.
More attentive to their practiced racial defenses than to what President Carter actually said, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” dusted off the “Where’s Your Evidence?” race card. They insisted that Carter cite specifics. I may belabor the obvious when I remind us all that such evidence is seldom demanded when a “Morning Joe” guest is repeating bromides or endorsing panaceas. Ms. Brzezinski and Congressman Scarborough, intelligent and experienced broadcast performers, know that obdurate racists, sexists, anti-Semites, and other bigots typically breast their cards lest their attitudes and beliefs be so obvious that even MSNBC entertainers must acknowledge prejudice and hatred. Indeed, I suspect — but have no evidence for, I admit — that the “Where’s Your Evidence?” card almost always signals that not a double standard but multiple standards are in play. Having disgorged their assurances that Americans are not “Cracker Nation,” Mika and Joe then turn to “Morning Joe” regular Pat Buchanan for confirmation that President Carter is mistaken.
But “Cracker Nation” signals that a follow-up race card is imminent as well. Frank Rich of The New York Times barely paused to acknowledge a central premise of U. S. politicking: “”With all due respect to Jimmy Carter, the racist component of Obama-hatred has been undeniable since the summer of 2008, whe Sarah Palin rallied all-white mobs to the defense of the ‘real America.’ ” Is this the “Racism as Usual” card? Bill Maher coined “Cracker Nation” to dramatize weariness with those who deny the undeniable. What do we expect of atavists and populists? The very contempt that demagogues court, journalistic and entertainment elites supply populists with the “Racism as Usual” card. The sheer deniability of abject racism means that racists are unaffected, which means that preening scolds are affected but not effective.
Of course Michael Steele of the GOP threw in the “Partisan Combat” race card. Carter said it. Carter is a Democrat. It follows that Democrats are tarring Republicans as racists. When Steele and his party disavow the birthers, La Rouche enthusiasts, and other indefensibles in their own party, they may become the innocents they pretend to be. Until then, the spectacle of an African-American with no discernible talents or insight defending members of clubs that will not admit him is at least distasteful. Appointed after Obama won the presidency, Mr. Steele demonstrated how merit-free his appointment was.
Chairman Steele then played the “Righteous Indignation” card. He said that the vehemence that the Mad Hatter tea parties and town meetings displayed not racial animosities but alarm at Obama’s health-care proposals and at his cap-and-trade policies. Which source of alarums is more implausible? Not one American in 100 could define “cap and trade” to escape water-boarding or listening to a Michael Savage broadcast. No one knows what Obama will end up proposing. In sum, if Mr. Steele is correct that President Carter over-estimates racism in the tea parties, he is deliberately misleading to cite as causes of unrest issues and policies about which almost all Americans know nothing until broadcasters shower them with shibboleths and slogans. “Righteous Indignation” at death panels and socialized medicine is far less plausible than that villagers are headed to Castle Frankenstein at the insistence of manufacturers of pitchforks and merchants of torches.
Rush Limbaugh, who knows something about racism and hemorrhoids, broadcast his “Carter is a Hemorrhoid” card. What does “Righteous Indigination” mean when an infotainer has no dignity?
Glen Beck replayed his “Obama is the Real Racist” card. Please see an earlier entry in this blog about the “Tu Quoque” fallacy.
If you would understand how one should have responded to President Carter, read Charles M. Blow’s “Here We Go Again” in The New York Times National Edition 9-19-09, p. A17. Mr. Blow notes that President Carter may have exaggerated, but those who came back at him minimized.