Part 4—What Rush Limbaugh said: “In some cases,” is disrespect aimed at Barack Obama because he’s African-American?
Oprah Winfrey made that claim to the BBC last week. She even said this racial disrespect may obtain “in many cases.”
Commenting on what Winfrey said, Bill O’Reilly used stronger language: “We all know that some Americans do despise Barack Obama because of his skin color.”
After calling such people “bigots,” O’Reilly said this: “The lunatic fringe will hate, no matter what.”
Presumably, race explains “some” of the disrespect aimed at Obama. The problem starts when you tried to say how much of the opposition stems from this source.
In a recent piece in The Nation, Rick Perlstein almost seemed to apply the brakes to the popular liberal claim that Obama is being attacked because he’s black. Presidents Kennedy and Clinton were treated the same darn way, he said:
PERLSTEIN (11/25/13): This time, liberals are also making a new mistake. Call it “racial defeatism.” Folks throw their hands up and say, “Of course reactionary rage is going to flow like mighty waters against an African-American president! What can we possibly do about that?” But it’s crucial to realize that the vituperation directed at Obama is little different from that aimed at John F. Kennedy, who was so hated by the right that his assassination was initially assumed by most observers to have been done by a conservative; or Bill Clinton, who was warned by Helms in 1994 that if he visited a military base in North Carolina, he’d “better have a bodyguard.”According to Perlstein, the vituperation aimed at Obama “is little different from that aimed at” Kennedy and Clinton. But hold on! As he continues, Perlstein seems to say that the vituperation aimed at those earlier presidents was “soaked in racism.”
To Perlstein, today’s vituperation is no different because all of this vituperation has been based on race. See our earlier post.
Can we talk? We liberals are in love with the claim that Obama is being reviled due to race. Presumably, that’s true in some cases, and maybe even in many cases, just as Winfrey said.
But “many” is a highly imprecise term. Meanwhile, our modern pseudo-liberal R-bombing tends to be sweeping and indiscriminate. When we pseudo-liberals bomb, we tend to employ carpet bombing.
With that in mind, let’s see where Charles Blow went when he discussed Winfrey’s statement.
In Saturday’s column, Blow quoted the heart of what Winfrey had said. As he continued, he asked a very basic question, then began to muse:
BLOW (11/16/13): With that remark, Winfrey touched on an issue that many Americans have wrestled with: To what extent does this president’s race animate those loyal to him and those opposed? Is race a primary motivator or a subordinate, more elusive one, tainting motivations but not driving them?Perhaps Blow didn’t mean to do so. But as he framed his question, he seemed to assume that opposition to Obama has to be motivated by race, in every instance.
To some degree, the answers lie with the questioners. There are different perceptions of racial realities. What some see as slights, others see as innocent opposition. But there are some objective truths here. Racism is a virus that is growing clever at avoiding detection. Race consciousness is real. Racial assumptions and prejudices are real. And racism is real. But these realities can operate without articulation and beneath awareness. For those reasons, some can see racism where it is absent, and others can willfully ignore any possibility that it could ever be present.
For Blow, the question is this: is race a primary motivator? Or is its influence subordinate—does it merely “taint” the motivations of those who oppose Obama?
That formulation leaves nobody out. According to Blow, the motives of people opposed to Obama have at best been “tainted” by race.
Perhaps that isn’t what Blow meant. Beyond that, his distinction is rather fuzzy. Based on reactions in comments, very few readers noticed the fact that Blow seemed to say that people “loyal to” Obama must be motivated by race too, in every instance.
Perhaps that isn’t what he meant. But that is what he said
Whatever! As Blow proceeds in the passage we have quoted, he lists a set of “objective truths” which sometimes fall short of that designation. But as he closes the passage, he adopts a constructive stance:
Once again, he casts himself in the role of honest broker. Quite correctly, he says that some people “can see racism where it is absent.” (In our view, liberal thought leader should state this fact more often.) He then makes a slightly stronger claim: Some people “can willfully ignore any possibility that [racism] could ever be present.”
To this point, Blow is playing the honest broker; he’s noting the fact that people can err in equal but opposite ways. And then, if we might borrow from Dylan, he throws it all away.
Blow has been playing honest broker—but now, he is swallowed by tribe. As he continues, this is the sole example with which he illustrates his even-handed, two-sided statement about the ways people can err:
BLOW (continuing directly): To wit, Rush Limbaugh responded to Winfrey’s comments in his usual acerbic way, lacking all nuance:Blow offers no example of someone “seeing racism where it is absent.” Instead, he offers that statement by Limbaugh as an example of someone “willfully ignoring any possibility that it could ever be present.”
“If black people in this country are so mistreated and so disrespected, how in the name of Sam Hill did you happen? Would somebody explain that to me? If there’s a level of disrespect simply because he’s black, then how, Oprah, have you managed to become the—at one time—most popular and certainly wealthiest television personality? How does that happen?”
No one has ever accused Limbaugh of being a complex thinker, but the intellectual deficiency required to achieve that level of arrogance and ignorance is staggering.
Anyone with even a child’s grasp of race understands that for many minorities success isn’t synonymous with the absence of obstacles, but often requires the overcoming of obstacles. Furthermore, being willing to be entertained by someone isn’t the same as being willing to be led by them.
As he does, he directs a very high level of vituperation at Limbaugh. This vituperation inspired the large number of comments which insisted that Those People in The Other Tribe are a pack of stone racists—that the world won’t be safe for democracy until Those People have died.
Tribe overpowered race when Blow gave that sole example. In our view, tribe also swallowed race in Blow’s assessment of Limbaugh’s remarks. Those aren’t the remarks we would have made concerning Winfrey’s statement. But a perfectly sensible point is being advanced in Limbaugh’s comment.
As Bill O’Reilly would later do, Limbaugh assumed that Winfrey was suggesting that there is a high degree of racial reaction in the opposition to Obama. This isn’t a crazy way of interpreting Winfrey’s remarks.
If Limbaugh’s quoted remarks are read literally, he says there is no “level of disrespect” aimed at Obama “simply because he’s black.” Taken literally, that’s what Limbaugh said.
On its face, that claim would seem highly unlikely. It would justify Blow’s assertion that some people “can willfully ignore any possibility that racism could ever be present.”
On the other hand, if we take Blow’s words literally, he has said that any person who is loyal to Obama has motives which are “tainted” by race.
Taken literally, that’s what Blow said. And if we take Winfrey’s words literally, she has said virtually nothing at all. How much is “maybe many?”
When sensible people respond to speech, they don’t always take every statement literally. They may note the literal meaning of what has been said. But they will also listen for the apparent sense of what has been said.
On that basis, Limbaugh is observing a fact about American life that is worth observing: Oprah Winfrey is widely regarded as a good and decent, smart, wise person by a very wide range of white Americans.
That is a very good thing about the drift of American life. Before we start to “see racism where it is absent”—before we possibly start to overstate the amount of race hate aimed at Obama—it isn’t a terrible idea to remember that fact too.
Despite his honest broker framework, Blow doesn’t want to do that. He presents himself as honest broker, then quickly surrenders to tribe.
As he does, he is even willing to bust Winfrey back to the status of “entertainer.” Only a racist would do such a thing! Or so it can seem when demands of the tribe make us overheat.
Dr. Strangelove couldn’t keep his arm from shooting up from his side. In this particular column, Blow couldn’t resist the call of the tribe.
He started out playing it even, noting two ways people can err. But then, he then gave only one example. He forgot about those who see racism when it doesn’t exist. It felt so good and seemed so right to start name-calling Rush.
In this way, demands of the tribe defeat the attempt to stage a full discussion of race. And sure enough! In the very first comment to Blow’s column, he got a pure tribal reaction:
What a wonderful world it will be when “those people” have finally died! Meanwhile, don’t get that commenter wrong: We liberals are stone racists too!
Does this commenter possibly represent the example Blow failed to give? We would be inclined to say so. Meanwhile, variants of her tribal cry litter Blow’s 600 comments.
Her fiery death wish has been recommended by 425 readers. Only two comments have been recommended more.
Tomorrow, we’ll start with them.
Tomorrow: The joy of hate