The Race Card: Democracy's Parasite?

It is apparent to just about everyone that George Zimmerman’s trial was heavily involved with questions of race. For many blacks (and more than a few liberal whites), it is a clear sign of racism that Zimmerman was not immediately arrested, charged, and tried. For many conservatives – a group which of course includes many minorities -- the subsequent decision to charge him with murder seems like a clear case of political opportunism by Florida authorities, a play to racial hate panderers like Rev. Al Sharpton, the model for Rev. Bacon in Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities.

I am not going to try to split the difference on this: there is no question in my mind that Zimmerman should have been found not guilty -- indeed, that he should never have been tried.

But I do think it is important for Americans to understand why so much of the black community and many white liberals see the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent decision to not charge Zimmerman as evidence of racism.

Politicians -- specificially, Democratic politicians -- have been playing the race card in American politics for a long time. In the nineteenth century, not only Southern Democrats but even many Northern Democrats played the race card, calling the opposition party “Black Republicans” to emphasize that Republicans were looking out for blacks to the detriment of whites.

This book cover shows how Democrats argued that, with the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln, we should next expect black men to be pursuing white women for sex.

Once the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed Congress -- with a significantly higher percentage of Republicans voting “yea” than Democrats -- the Democratic Party did not stop playing the race card. They just changed which race they were trying to inflame to vote irrationally.

Those who wonder why blacks have been so easily swayed to vote Democrat by crude appeals to race have only to look at the nineteenth century, when Democrats used the same approach to get white votes. Democrats play the race card for a reason -- it works, and it works well. In the same way that P.T. Barnum’s famous saying -- “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public” -- says something ugly about popular tastes, the way in which appeals to race always seem to win elections says something ugly about how easy it is to sway people with appeals to the lowest common denominator.