“Something still bothers us about the ‘birther’ kerfuffle,” James Taranto writes in his latest “Best of the Web” column. “Why the compulsion on the left to turn it into a racial matter?”
In response to our column last Thursday, we received this email from a reader who leans hard to the left, and whom we won’t name to spare him embarrassment:
The birther business was always about one thing and one thing only, race, as in right-wing racism, and trying to pretend otherwise is pure nonsense. Trying to turn things upside down and blame Al Sharpton for the racist tone of the whole sorry mess makes me wonder why you are afraid to call a spade a spade. And criticizing Joe Farah without calling him a racist is worse than saying nothing at all. It seems as if you are the only person in the whole country who doesn’t know exactly what’s going on here, but I can’t believe you don’t. But keep the following in mind: Every time you or one of your fellow travelers over at Fox tries to deny what this has been all about, you’ll probably ensure that one more independent voter will be revulsed by the shameful character of the right’s campaign to belittle the president.
We have been writing against bitherism for years. We think its adherents are mendacious, paranoid and foolish. Presumably our correspondent does not disagree, yet to his mind it is worse to say so than to say nothing if one does not also assert that they are racist.
Barack Obama is at least the third consecutive president to be the subject of paranoid conspiracy theories, and it strikes us as odd that anyone who lived through the Clinton and Bush years would automatically assume it must be because he’s black. The false claim that Obama was born outside the U.S. does not reflect any common racial stereotype. Nor, for that matter, do the rumors that he is Muslim. The vast majority of American blacks are natural born and Christian.
Still, we wouldn’t say we “deny” that the birthers are racist. Some of them may be. Our position is simply that it is wrong to throw around such accusations without evidence.
Yet prominent liberals have been doing just that. Last week in an interview with NPR, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker and author of the Obama hagiography “The Bridge,” had this to say about Donald Trump’s birtherian antics:
He’s race-baiting. He’s hatemongering. It’s very clear what he’s doing. He’s trying to arouse half-buried feelings in many people that are unfortunately still there. . . . Just as everybody thinks that they have a sense of humor, no one ever thinks that they’re a racist. But I–my concern here, my fiercest words are for the people who do the active arousing of these feelings, that there are latent racial anxieties or feelings about otherness, or whatever they may–we know that.
“No one ever thinks they’re a racist”–including, it is safe to surmise, David Remnick. For him, white guilt is directed outward; he is certain that other people are racist. His “evidence” is the assertion that they have “feelings” that are “half buried” and “latent.” Could we get The New Yorker’s storied fact-checking department to confirm that, please?
Baselessly accusing their political foes of racism is a way in which today’s liberals attempt to incite fear and loathing of “the other.” As we argued last year, this serves a political purpose in that it helps persuade blacks not to consider voting Republican. But it serves a psychological purpose as well. It reinforces white liberals’ sense of their own superiority.
Yet that sense of superiority is not as secure as it once was. Here is Remnick’s most telling quote from that interview: “Really, I’m not in the habit of screaming racist at every turn. I don’t think you [interviewer Michele Norris] are and I don’t think most people are.”
It used to be that people expressing politically incorrect views about race felt compelled to preface their statements with a defensive denial: “I’m not a racist, but . . .” The editor of The New Yorker, speaking to an NPR audience, now has a similar compulsion to deny that he is “in the habit of screaming racist.”
The tables have turned. Now it is the left that is on the defensive over “racism.” Their outdated attitudes about race put them in the absurd position of arguing that the most powerful man in the world is a victim of oppression because of the color of his skin. Men like David Remnick turn out to be the ones who aren’t ready for a black president.
The left have been marinating in conspiracy theories about their opponents that comfort their worldview since the days of Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” essay in 1964; why should the current strain of Racer left be any different?