A year ago, in the final stretch of the U.S. election campaign, I would find myself in New York or Los Angeles or points in between and asked for my thoughts on who would win. I usually answered “John McCain,” more in hope than expectation: I’ve no use for the soi-disant “maverick,” who was a catastrophic candidate, but in those heady days between Sarah Palin’s boffo convention speech and McCain’s characteristically inept response to the economic meltdown there was briefly a faint chance that the Alaskan governor might yet save the Republican party from its rendezvous with destiny.
And at that point the worldly liberal Democrat who had sought my views would nod thoughtfully and agree: yes, McCain would win. Not because of Sarah Palin. But because Americans were too racist to stomach the thought of a black man in the White House.
I never reckoned much to this argument. If you spent 20 minutes on the campaign trail almost anywhere, it seemed clear that many voters felt the first 43 chief executives did not reflect the rich tapestry of the American community and were panting to cross “Vote for a black president” off their to-do list. On the morning of Nov. 5, I thought about all those Democrats so convinced of their fellow Americans’ ingrained racism. As my comrade Victor Davis Hanson put it, we conservatives were wrong about the election results, but those liberals were wrong about their country. Which you would think might prove chastening.
But apparently not. We are now eight months into the 44th presidency. The Obamessiah has come down to earth. He’s now just another 50/50 president, his approval ratings having fallen further faster (according to some polls) than any occupant of the Oval Office since Truman. The obvious explanation for this would seem to be his ambitious, expensive, transformative and radical agenda: the governmentalization of health care, cap-and-trade environmental legislation, the federal takeover of the automobile industry, the gazillion-dollar flopperoo of the non-stimulating “stimulus,” more debt, more deficits, more taxes, more regulation, more government, everywhere you turn. This would be a tough sell for even the smoothest pitchman.
But sometimes the obvious explanation is too obvious. Those “tea party” protests? “This is about hating a black man in the White House,” explained the eminent thinker Janeane Garofalo. “The only thing missing is a noose,” huffed L.A. Weekly about a poster showing Obama as the Joker. It turned out to be the work of a left-wing Palestinian from Chicago, but why get hung up on details? If you oppose the massive expansion of government and multi-trillion-dollar expenditures, you’re a racist.
The other day, President Obama gave a speech to Congress on health care, and, in response to a more or less routine bit of dissembling, a Republican representative called Joe Wilson yelled out “You lie!” Because the President’s speech was a dud, the Democrat-media complex decided to divert attention to the no-name congressman’s outrageous ejaculation and give it the old flood-the-zone treatment. Maureen Dowd, the elderly schoolgirl at the New York Times, weighed in:
“Surrounded by middle-aged white guys—a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men’s club—Joe Wilson yelled ‘You lie!’ at a president who didn’t.
“But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!”
“Boy”? Why, yes. Like some bull-necked plantation overseer from the even-more-sepia snapshot days, Mistuh Wilson was teaching that uppity Nigra a lesson he wouldn’t forget.
I suppose it’s possible that opposition to the federal government’s annexation of one-sixth of the U.S. economy is being driven by nostalgia for segregated lunch counters. And no doubt, if you write for the New York Times or teach race and gender studies at American colleges for long enough, it seems entirely reasonable, listening to a patient profess satisfaction with her present health insurance arrangements, to respond, “You know, if you re-sewed the back of that hospital gown so your ass wasn’t showing, your Klan sheet would be as good as new.”
Thus, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, professor of African-American studies at Princeton, was invited on to National Public Radio to expound on the use of “racial code words” in “the current opposition to health care reform.” For example, explained professor Harris-Lacewell, “language of personal responsibility is often a code language used against poor and minority communities.”
“Personal responsibility” is racial code language? Phew, thank goodness America is belatedly joining Canada and Europe in all but abolishing the concept.
“Code language” is code language for “total bollocks.” “Code word” is a code word for “I’m inventing what you really meant to say because the actual quote doesn’t quite do the job for me.” “Small government”? Racist code words! “Non-confiscatory taxes”? Likewise. “Individual liberty”? Don’t even go there! To an incisive NPR racism analyst, the elderly gentleman telling his congressman “I’m very concerned by what I’ve heard about wait times for MRIs in Canada” is really saying “I’m unable to overcome my deep-seated racial anxieties about the sexual prowess of black males, especially now they’re giving prime-time press conferences every night.” With interpreters like professor Harris-Lacewell on the prowl, I’m confident 95 per cent of Webster’s will eventually be ruled “code language.”
My colleague at America’s National Review, Jonah Goldberg, proposed a simple thought experiment: suppose Hillary Clinton had won the election and proposed the current health care reforms. Does anyone doubt that conservatives would be equally opposed to it? Would that, too, be “racist”? A reader wrote back: no, if they were opposing Hillary’s health plan, they’d be sexist. Er, okay, how about John Edwards? Would opposing his health care reforms be oleaginous trial-lawyer creepy adulterer-phobic?
After being interviewed on TV about my own antipathy to the Democrats’ reforms, I received an email from a (white) lady in New York who said that, if only I were to agree to a course of treatment, I’d soon realize that my opposition to Obamacare stemmed from submerged racial paranoia rooted in “fear of the Other.” Actually, I’ve been opposed to government health care my entire adult life, and wherever I’ve been on the receiving end of it: in Canada, medicare was introduced by a bunch of pasty white guys; in Britain, by a bunch of pasty white blokes; in Bulgaria (where I had the misfortune to be treated for a torn ligament), by a bunch of Commie monobrowed Slavs. Okay, that last one is racist. But you get my point: no black males were involved in my deep-seated racial paranoia about government health care.
As to “fear of the Other,” once upon a time “the Other” was a relatively sophisticated Hegelian concept. Now it’s the feeblest trope from Social Psychology For Dummies. “Fear of the Other” can be hung around the neck of anyone who disagrees with you—because they don’t really “disagree” with you, do they? They just have a kind of mental illness, so you don’t have to bother responding to their arguments about cancer survival rates in Scotland or elective surgery cuts in British Columbia. Indeed, under Obamacare, you’ll soon be able to be treated for your fear of the Other: just lie down on this gurney, one quick jab, you won’t feel a thing.
The surest sign you’re suffering from “fear of the Other” is the reflexive urge to attribute it to anyone who disagrees with you: indeed, the people who most seem to fear “the Other” are those ever more fevered in their insistence that opposition to Democrat policies is nothing to do with the policies. The tea party protesters are not merely “racists” and “Nazis” but also “teabaggers,” a designation applied to them by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the voice of the people and Gloria Vanderbilt’s son. “Teabagging” is apparently a sexual term for dunking the scrotum hither and yon as if it were a sachet of Lapsang Souchong. Not being as expert in this field of study as CNN anchormen, I am unclear as to whether the teabagger is the chap dangling the scrotal sac or the lucky recipient. But, in considering the ease with which its political application spread through the media, one is struck by the strangely fierce need of Mr. Cooper and his fellow journalists not merely to report on the protesters but to sneer at them.
For the record, I have no irrational “fear of the Other.” Rather, I have a deep-rooted fear of the Same. There is nothing new about what the Democrats are doing. These policies are the same old same old that the Euro-Canadian social democratic state has lived with for two generations. I’m in the mood for something new, but, alas, the Obama administration seems to recoil from the Other. I’d say that, in his enthusiasm for the cobwebbed pieties of postwar Euro-statism, Barack Obama seems more like the first Scandinavian in the White House. But no doubt that’s racist, too.