Race Debates

There’s been a bit of back and forth today between former Atlantic colleagues Ross Douthat (conservative) and Matt Yglesias (progressive) over the role race has played in the election. Ross begins by arguing that there’s been far too much over-analyzation of McCain’s attacks, to which Yglesias replies that irrespective of whether or not the attacks have been racist, the Republican has a long history of dog-whistling these sorts of issues and that if Obama loses it will likely be because of racism, if not because of McCain’s attacks. Ross then retorts with this:

Consider, for a moment, that here we are, five days away from the election, and a Republican nominee for President has run a campaign against an African-American opponent that has barely touched any of the traditional racially-charged domestic-policy issues.[…]

[…]Now there are various reasons why none of these issues have played a role in the campaign:  Attacking on some of these fronts would have required flip-flops on McCain’s part; attacking on others (crime, especially) would have reaped vastly diminished returns compared to GOP campaigns of yore; etc. But it’s also the case that the Obama campaign (and its surrogates and allies) have done a masterful job of boxing the GOP in on race-related fronts, playing off the media’s biases, McCain’s sense of honor, and the Republican Party’s unpleasant history to create a climate of hair-trigger sensitivity around terrains and topic that usually hurt Democratic candidates. (Emphasis added)

I’m not entirely sure I’m willing to grant McCain the point for not “touch[ing]…traditional racially-charged domestic-policy issues,” in no small part because of the ludicrous ACORN/Community Reinvestment ACT tomfollery, but also because McCain’s messaging both on the air and on the trail has tried relentlessly to paint Obama as “other“. Now, I’ll concede that “other” doesn’t necessarily mean “black” (as opposed to Muslim, terrorist, etc.), but make a distinction risks seriously splitting hairs. What’s more, John McCain’s failure to condemn — with one exception — the ugliness, and at times, overt racism at his rallies, hasn’t really helped his cause.

Anyway, the problem for John McCain is that while not all Republicans are racist, it’s a tough denial that a) racists don’t comprise a wing of the Republican party and that b) racism hasn’t figured prominently in the GOP’s past. In light of this, it seems pretty unfair for Ross to make the argument that the “Obama campaign…have done a masterful job of boxing the GOP in on race-related fronts.” Rather, the GOP has done a masterful job of boxing itself in on race related fronts. Had it not been for Willie Horton and the GOP’s history of overt racism, there would be no reason to fear recrimination for saturating the air waves with Jeremiah Wright god-daming America. Pinning this one on the Democrats is pretty weak; you reap what you sow.

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