As a lot of people have been noticing recently, it's past time we had an honest conversation about race in this country. The problem is what happens to the conversation as soon as conservatives get involved.
Of course, the real problem with race in America originates with conservatives, so perhaps that's not surprising. This is a historic problem. After all, it is conservatives who resisted the end of slavery. It is conservatives who instituted, and then protected with a fifty-year campaign of terrorism known as lynching, Jim Crow laws and segregation in the South. It is conservatives who resisted the Civil Rights Movement with every ounce of their energy. And it is conservatives today who resist any kind of advancement in civil rights for minorities.
As we've explained previously, their favorite rhetorical technique in pursuing this anti-rational course is what we call "the bloody shirt gambit": Converting perpetrators into victims and victims into perpetrators by claiming that the very discussion of the atrocities committed by violent right-wingers is an act of demagoguery and thus more vile than the original act in question itself. They scream, "You're waving the bloody shirt!" any time someone talks about the realities of their racial bigotry -- or, in more recent vintage, "You're playing the race card!" -- and suddenly the very discussion of the matter is placed off-limits.
A good example of this happened recently, when Time's Joe Klein appeared on Chris Matthews' Sunday news show on NBC, and the discussion of how President Obama was discussed by the panel, including Klein and Helene Cooper. At one point, the discussion ran like this:
Cooper: Four years of covering Barack Obama, he does not play the race card. Not in a negative way. He does not do that.
Klein: He hates it. He hates it. He probably should, though -- he probably should address it because the bitterness out there is really becoming marked.
Immediately, the headlines on Drudge followed those that appeared at Dan Riehl's wingnutofastic joint, to wit, that Klein was urging Obama to "play the race card" -- even though what Klein clearly said was that what Obama needs to do is address the rising tide of racial animus that's being whipped up out there by the right-wingers playing the race card.
Such nuance, of course, was well over the heads of the folks at Fox News, who followed the Drudge lead and featured a segment on The Five discussing Klein's alleged faux pas as having urged Obama "play the race card". They all agreed that it would be a bad idea for Obama to "play the race card" by discussing racial tensions.
So Klein posted this response:
According to Mr. Drudge and Real Clear Politics, I’ve advised the President to play the race card on the Chris Matthews Sunday show. I didn’t, of course. The question to the panel was whether the President was going to have to address what appears to be a growing racial bitterness in the country. My response was that he should. That’s different from “playing the race card,” which is a term I’ve never used–it’s a cliche and a bad one, implying a political gambit or stunt. Political stunts that involve race are obnoxious. But race and ethnicity are issues that the President has addressed with intelligence in the past and, if the current Republican dog-whistling continues, may be something he might want to address in the future.
I don't normally defend Joe Klein -- the classic Beltway Villager -- but this was a sterling response that addressed the core issue: namely, the Republican campaign to clearly stir up racial resentment against Obama among working-class white voters, which even the most "centrist" observers can see is occurring.
Nonetheless, it naturally drew the ire of the natterers at The Five the next day:
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