I want to post today about a persistent bit of doublespeak from Republican rhetoricians. When Democrats point out that Republican policies favor the rich over the poor (which they do: check out the regressive tax code, attitudes towards enforcing regulations, resistance to campaign finance reform, and on and on), Republicans accuse the Democrats of "class warfare." This phrase not-so-subtly impugns Democrats as "pink," that is, as not truly supportive of economic and political freedom. That's a sleight-of-hand. In a secular democracy anyone can organize for whatever reason they want. Get enough people to vote for free chocolate milkshakes for all and that's what you'll get. The real erosion of our traditions in recent years has been the diminution of the middle class, both in terms of size and power, as Republicans have used the coercive power of the central government to artificially redistribute the wealth upwards, towards a tiny economic elite that now holds a dangerously large share of our commonwealth. "Supply-side economics" is a cover for graft, an excuse for politicians to divert lavish gifts to corporate allies (it was George H. W. Bush, it's useful to remember, who coined the term "voodoo economics" while running against Ronald Reagan in the 1980 Republican primaries). But according to contemporary Republican rhetoric, anyone who tries to rally the middle class, to organize workers, or to appeal to the interests of the poor is practicing "class warfare." A malevolent bit of political judo.
This week we've seen an equally offensive variation on this tactic from the McCain campaign. They have accused Obama of "playing the race card." Let's consider this suggestion. First of all, there is no contest over black voters. Forget about Obama: the Democrats have won 95+ percent of the African-American vote in the past two elections and will do so this election as well, regardless of who the candidate may be, the Full Employment Act for Black Conservative Commentators notwithstanding. Second, there is a history to the phrase "playing the race card," that is undoubtedly why the Republicans decided to obfuscate it. Traditionally it has referred to race-baiting tactics by the Republicans. Accusing Obama of "playing the race card" manages to throw up some dust for when the Republicans really do start race-baiting, which happens when: they accuse Obama of playing the race card! Positively diabolical. Third, as is borne out by the polls which consistently show the Democratic Party with a huge advantage, but Obama continuing in a tenuous position as he cannot open up a lead among white voters, the cost of a candidate being black continues to outweigh the benefit. The evidence suggests that Obama's race is currently costing him somewhere between five and ten points in the national polls, enough to potentially cost him the election. Fourth, as in the case of class interests, race interests (think of Irish and Italian Catholic urban politicians in the early 20th century) are a perfectly legitimate platform for political organizing, but Fifth, Obama isn't even doing that: he has no reason to work on rallying his African-American base and every reason to try to make himself acceptable to whites. The only even coherent version of "playing the race card" as applied to Obama's campaigning against McCain would be if Obama were accusing McCain of being a racist by sheer virtue of the fact that McCain is running against a black man, and it's true that the Clintons suffered that fate (quite unfairly) in the primaries, which is maybe what scared the McCain campaign into making this preemptive strike. But that backfires (at least I hope it does): there can be no doubt this week that it is the McCain campaign that has injected race into the rhetoric, something Obama has all this time scrupulously avoided doing, which is not surprising since it can only hurt him, something the McCain campaign understands only too well.