Roger’s Rules

Whistlin’ “Dixie” with Frank Rich

“Just Whistlin’ ‘Dixie’”:  that is (as The American Heritage Dictionary puts it), engaging in “unrealistically rosy fantasizing.” But “Dixie” is also a name for the American South, you know the magical “land of cotton”— and, never forget, the land of slavery.

Frank Rich, columnist for the New York Times, can never, ever forget it, and, more to the point, he wants to be sure that you never forget it, either. What a moment it must have been in the Rich household when the phrase “just whistling ‘Dixie’” floated into Frank’s mind as he sat down to write about the “extremist” right-wingers who go to tea parties, hate Barack Obama because he is black, and spew racist epithets at every opportunity.

All of Frank Rich’s columns are special. They do a lot to make the New York Times the paper it is today.  But Rich’s “Welcome to Confederate History Month” on Saturday is something extra special even by Rich’s standards.

The intent of the column was to rescue the standard-issue, ready-made left-wing narrative according to which anyone who dissents from the progressive playbook is racist. Anyone who dissents visibly — by, for example, participating in the tea parties springing up all over the country — is not simply racist but also an extremist.

The narrative has been having a tough time of it lately, though. Three black congressmen claim that various unnamed tea partiers not only hurled racist epithets at them but also spat on them during a demonstration at the Capitol on March 20th. Problem is, no-one who was there can confirm the allegations and the video they said they had is nowhere to be found.

Not, of course, that Rich’s comrades in the leftstream media haven’t tried mightily to push the “tea-partiers-are-racist” narrative.  One of the most embarrassing moments — embarrassing, that is, for NBC — came when an NBC reporter asked a black tea partier whether he felt “uncomfortable” in the midst of all those, you know, WHITE PEOPLE. Really stupid question, but the chap’s response was a model of understated brilliance: “no,” he said, smiling, “no, these are my people, Americans.

“These are my people, Americans.”  Pretty simple. It’s the sort of answer Ward Connerly has been advocating for decades.

But it’s not the sort of answer Frank Rich wants. Take issues like race out of the narrative — take away, that is, the whole smelly machinery of the politics of grievance — and what does the Left have to work with?

Poor Frank Rich. How is it that conservatives can criticize him for playing the race card? Imagine, people even made fun of him for suggesting that “race might be animating anti-Obama hotheads like those who packed assault weapons at presidential town hall meetings on health care last summer.” Frank, Frank: watch what you link to!   Here’s the fellow who showed up with a (perfectly legal) firearm:

Speaking of firearms, Rich thought he had found his smoking gun when he discovered that Robert McDonnell,  the (Republican) Governor of Virginia had  issued a state proclamation celebrating April as Confederate History Month.

Oh dear, Oh dear, Oh dear!  How could he have been so  . . .  insensitive.  Doesn’t the Governor know that for some people (people, I mean, like Frank Rich) the word “Confederate,” when used to refer to the Southern States circa 1860, is irredeemably racist?  Some public-spirited person should send Rich a copy of Pascal Bruckner’s remarkable new book, The Tyranny of Guilt. (I review the book in a forthcoming issue of National Review.) “We Euro-Americans,” Bruckner writes, “are  endlessly atoning for what we have inflicted upon other parts of humanity.  How can we fail to see that this leads us to live off self-denunciation while taking a strange pride in being the worst? Self-denigration is all too clearly a form of indirect self-glorification.”

Rich ends his column with a whiff of sarcasm and a soupçon of cleverness.  OK, there is no “documentary evidence” showing that the tea partiers deployed racist epithets against those congressmen or anyone else. In fact, there is no evidence of any kind, just hearsay. “We can,” says Rich “take solace” in that, though he clearly is not about to. No, we can’t prove those dratted tea party demonstrators were doing anything except exercising their right to criticize, publicly though peaceably, some policies they do not like. “They were, it seems, only whistling ‘Dixie.’” Ha, ha.

His whole column led up to that punch line.  But here’s the thing.  If Rich wants to go on a PC-race hunt, is it really wise to take after Republicans?  There was the embarrassment of warning about the possible racist implications of a demonstrator who showed up at a town hall meeting with a rifle, but, hey, that fellow was black, a fact that Rich conveniently neglects to mention. And you’d think that Frank Rich would know enough to tread cautiously when it came to hurling the epithet “racist” on partisan lines.  After all, the Democratic Party is the party of Senator Robert Byrd, proud though semi-covert former member of the  Ku Klux Klan. And there is this larger and distinctly uncomfortable  historical fact: in the 19th century, the Democrats were the party of slavery: just ask Abe Lincoln.  In the 20th  century, they were the party of segregation. Now they are the party of the neo-segregationist ideology of political correctness.

Frank Rich has wielded the epithet “racist” like the intolerant left-wing commissar he aspires to be.  But The Narrative he supports is showing the strain.  It turns out that the tea partiers are by and large just folks — moms and pops (and, increasingly, their children) who dislike America’s slide into Big Government socialism. Just over a year ago, for people like Frank Rich, dissent was the highest form of patriotism. Now it is a lethal threat to their most cherished political nostrums. More and more, they’re the ones whistling “Dixie,” though it would be deeply impolitic to point this out.