Backlash: The Race-Baiters Get Carded

My favorite line from The Simpsons, FOX's long-running comedy:

Play the race card ... play it!

Homer Simpson demands it from his lawyer as a court case against Simpson appears all but lost. It's a great line because our yellow-skinned hero got himself into his predicament -- and it had nothing whatsoever to do with race, of course. It's not unlike the comedy act coursing through the public square today -- except I’m not laughing. And neither are countless other Americans being broadly accused of racism for daring to critique black politicians.

The perils of using the race card are plentiful. For starters, you typically need some sort of proof to back up your statement, otherwise the charge could blow back. But if you're a liberal, that doesn't always apply. Sometimes, all the proof required is that the person in your cross hairs used "coded" language, which too often is code for "nothing that was said was actually racist in nature, but I'm gonna read something racist into it all the same." New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd couldn‘t be bothered to find the racist code word in the “you lie“ declaration made by Republican Congressman Joe Wilson. She simply invented a racially tinged word from whole cloth to make her case.

Another problem with the race card is timing. Like any card in a deck, it must be played at precisely the right moment, when you‘re stuck with an untenable hand. Said moment could be days before an important election, prior to a hotly anticipated debate, or even as a way to halt sliding poll numbers. Those playing the race card on President Barack Obama’s behalf today won't help Democrats in the 2010 elections, let alone 2012, a time when President Obama might really need it if he’s in a tough re-election fight. Suffice to say, those playing the race card of late -- New York Governor David Paterson, HBO talker Bill Maher, Dowd, and former President Jimmy Carter -- are all ignoring the rules.

Paterson kicked off the latest race-card movement, declaring that attacks on his governorship were racially charged. He added that the country’s racists would be turning their sights on President Obama next. Others quickly followed suit, from “libertarian” Bill Maher to opinion columnist Clarence Page. Heck, maybe it’s better to play the race card than to defend a president who insists his medical overhaul will cover all Americans without costing any extra money. Hope and change -- plus a bit of fairy dust.