Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Playing the Race Card to Stifle Debate

Let me say two things at the start of this little tirade.

1) I am not a fan of Barack Obama. Not even a little. I have yet to find a policy area in which he and I agree. I do not believe that my opposition to the president has anything to do with his race.

2) I think Joe Wilson was way out of line to shout "You lie" during the president's recent address. That kind of thing usually causes a backlash and it has in this case. It was wrong and foolish to stray from civility.

But the backlash to Wilson's comments have become startling and open a can of worms I would like to address.

I think there is an attempt on the part of the American left to limit the ability of conservative Americans to dissent from the president's policies by playing the race card. The left wing has been making shrill accusations of their own, intimating that the motive for Wilson's statement and last week's "tea party" in DC was racial in nature.

Maureen Dowd began the foolishness on Sunday in the (surprise) New York Times when she wrote, "I've been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer ... had much to do with race, but Wilson's shocking disrespect for the office of the president -- no Democrat ever shouted 'liar' at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq -- convinced me: Some people just can't believe a black man is president and will never accept it." She also wrote that Wilson "clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber."

So, opposition to Obama is rooted in people not wanting to be told what to do by a black man? Does she have any evidence that Wilson is a racist? Does she offer any? In the absence of any evidence to support her claims, I am left with the conclusion that this is an ingenious way to stop people from dissenting from the president's viewpoints - a blatant attempt to intimidate the opposition. Note how she describes the opposition to the president's policy, "shrieking lunacy."

During the runup to Wilson's rebuke on the House floor this week, a Democrat from Georgia, Rep. Hank Johnson, accused Wilson of lending aid and comfort to the KKK. He warned that if Wilson did not receive a rebuke, people would don "white hoods and white uniforms again" and start "riding through the countryside." Here is his full comment. "He did not help the cause of diversity and tolerance with his remarks -- if I were a betting man I would say it instigated more racist sentiment. And so I guess we'll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside intimidating people. ... That's the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked, and Congressman Wilson represents it. He's the face of it."

Why is it that so often, calls to "civility" are only directed at one side. Interesting that Wilson was rebuked, but this kind of race-baiting charge is accepted without question.

The capper, of course, was the comment of that great Baptist statesman, held up as the model of virtue and civility, Jimmy Carter. He said, "I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African American. I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way and I've seen the rest of the country that shared the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time ... and I think it's bubbled up to the surface, because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country."

Again, he offers no evidence to support this harsh accusation. Opposition to the president is racially motivated because Jimmy says so.

Here is my thesis: the American left wants to intimidate the opposition into silence. If you do not support Barack Obama, you are a racist, even if you do not see it. You are supporting the efforts of the KKK and advancing racism in the land.

I say, do not listen. Do not be intimidated. If you do not like the policies of Barack Obama, speak out. Give reasoned, articulate expression to your opposition. Don't get angry and yell and shout - that just feeds into those who would play the race card to intimidate you. Do not let Jimmy Carter stop you from speaking out.

I do not care if Barack Obama is black or white. I care that he is plunging our nation into a debt load from which it may never recover. George W was criticized for driving the nation into huge debts in the order of about 400 billion a year. The debt next year is estimated to be 1.85 TRILLION dollars.

I do not want our nation's healthcare system to be socialized or even some kind of system like that. The government has not run anything well except an army (and sometimes, it has trouble with that).

My opposition to the president has little to do with the color of his skin. I oppose abortion, so I have to oppose Obama. I cannot understand why the government is giving people "cash for clunkers" when we are already drowning in debt. I think "cap and tax" is a bad idea.

If you like Obama, that is your right. I oppose his policies and the direction he wants to take America. And I will not let Jimmy Carter, Hank Johnson and Maureen Dowd intimidate me into silence by accusing me of racism.

It is about bad policies, not skin color.

(All the quotes here were pulled from news reports on the story)


Oloryn said...

I think what you're actually seeing is part of the pervasiveness of Bulverism (also see here and here) in modern public discourse. Bulverism's basic tactic is to assert an invalid or irrational motivation on the part of an opponent instead of trying to refute an opponent's arguments. It is not at all limited to the left, though there are some times I wonder if the left have turned it into something of an art form (e.g. the typical use of the term 'homophobia' makes it a one-word Bulverism, implying that anyone who disagrees with homosexual behavior is motivated by an irrational fear, and their arguments thus can be dismissed). As you note, no proof is ever offered of the alleged motivation - it's just asserted, assumed to be true, and the opponents arguments are dismissed or ignored on that basis.

One of the big problems with pervasive Bulverism is that, as Lewis put it, "Until Bulverism is crushed, reason can play no effective part in human affairs". This is because if Bulverism is accepted as valid, everyone tends to use it (it's much easier than the tedious and difficult process of actually thinking about the arguments involved - it's much easier to dismiss your opponent's argument than to try and disprove them), and everyone ends up merely pointing fingers at their opponent's alleged motivations rather than reasoning on the merits (or demerits) of the arguments involved.

And Bulverism is ancient. The serpent's deception of Eve appears to me to be Bulverism: "You won't die! God knows that if you eat, you'll become like Him". The serpent asserts that God has a nefarious motivation for the command not to eat - that He's trying to prevent man from becoming His equal (the original version of "The Man is just trying to keep you down!"), and on that basis the command can be ignored.

We need to not only reject Bulveristic arguments when we hear them, we need to watch out that we don't fall into them ourselves. It is easy to spot when the 'other side' uses Bulverism. It is tempting, though, to let it slide when 'our side' uses Bulverism, as it seems so 'obvious' to us that the other guys are wrong, and zeroing in on their motivations rather than their arguments becomes easy at that point. That way, though, lies chaos, and reason becoming irrelevant.

Dave Miller said...

That's interesting. Never heard of Bulverism.

Bill said...

Dave: Like you, I'm not a supporter of Pres. Obama (although calling Kanye West a jackass did make me happy). And like you, I have generally relegated the racism accusation against his opponents as liberal bloviating. But the amount of overwhelming hatred for this president that I am hearing from my conservative associates (particularly evangelicals) is giving me pause. I saw nothing like this during the Clinton years. The sheer number of false rumors and exaggerations that spread like wildfire through conservative communities is amazing. I've heard that Obama is the anti-Christ. I was told by a friend that his coworkers were stocking up on assault rifles and ammo because Obama was coming to take our guns. Someone in our church told me Obama-care was already in place because she was denied a medical procedure by her insurance company. Of course there are the infamous "death panel" statements and the sneering use of the president's middle name when disparaging him. The idiotic backlash against his address to students.

I won't say it is racism, but something is going on. My deep concern is that conservatives are going to cry wolf so often, and look like such idiots ("you lie!") that our legitimate concerns are going to be swept aside because we won't have any credibility left.

We need a reasoned, firm, but intelligent response to the policies we oppose (and there are many). Unfortunately, it isn't the reasoned, firm, intelligent people that make the news. We need William F. Buckley, not Glenn Beck.

Dave Miller said...

I think you are right - we need to respond with reason, not anger and conspiracy theories. (Did you see the one about how Obama is the Antichrist?)

There is one part of your statement that I disagree with, Bill. You said that you didn't see anything like this with the Clintons. I did. There were the (probably true) rumors about sexual affairs. But there were wild rumors about Whitewater, rumors about murders and other such things - the Arkansas mafia.

To be honest, I had a more visceral reaction to Clinton (and his wife). With Obama, it is his policies and the way that he is bankrupting America that bother me. Its not quite as personal.

Bill said...

Dave: I do remember those Clinton theories now that you mention them. I still don't think they rise to the level of the vitriol I'm seeing with the current president but perhaps my memory is faulty. Did you see the reaction to John Piper's post about wanting his daughter to see the hear the President's education speech? Commenters were literally ready to write off Dr. Piper's entire life and ministry because he had the audacity to suggest that his daughter ought to hear a presidential speech. The webmaster ended up deleting the most outrageous (Hitler references). The big problem isn't that these are isolated fruitbats who got out of their cage. I see this everywhere.

Our reaction to the President speaks to the very heart of what we claim to be as Christians. When Pres. Clinton was going through the Monica Lewinsky scandal, I stayed glued to the TV just about 24/7. I wanted him to fall, and fall hard. Maximum humiliation was what I hoped for. I was consumed with it, and I wasn't the only one. I was wrong, deeply wrong. Perhaps he didn't get as much as he deserved from our justice system, but he got much more than he deserved from me. I learned from that and hopefully won't make the same mistake again, but I fear a lot of Christians are indeed making that mistake now.

Ron said...

You are right about the racism charge. Jimmy Carter was wrong to try and blame the opposition to Obama on race. Bill’s comments are also on target. There is a lunatic fringe that may not be so much fringe any more that is an embarrassment to those of us who want to make reasoned rational arguments for or against Obama’s policies. Unfortunately much of it comes from the evangelical Christian community.
As far as Clinton is concerned, being from Arkansas, I followed the Clinton scandals very closely. The Clinton Chronicles covered all the misinformation on murders, money laundering, etc. Even the Republican newspaper in Arkansas went through the film line by line and showed it lies from beginning to end. It was distributed and partly financed by Jerry Falwell and his political organization. When asked, Falwell admitted there was much untrue in it but Falwell was never been very particular about being telling the truth. Maybe he got that from his friend Sun Myung Moon.

Maybe those playing the race card are taking lessons from the Conservative Resurgence. Whenever someone opposes one of their actions or does not support their political agenda they are portrayed as a liberal or moderate. This has been a deliberate tactic since 1979. I know when I have pointed out the theological or moral inconsistencies in their actions I have been referred to as a moderate on this and other websites. Actually I am a theological conservative and an inerrantist and that is why I oppose the pseudo-conservative resurgence.