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5 Signs Racism Still Rules Politics

Have you noticed no one ever calls Joe Biden a Marxist? Just one of many double standards Obama faces regularly.

US President Barack Obama walks to the Oval Office upon his return at the White House in Washington, DC, on September 25, 2012 after attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Obama delivered an unapologetic defense of American values and



The angry response to my  Salon article last week on White Privilege was as swift as it was predictable. To sum up the wave of bigoted blowback in my email box and on my Twitter feed, the argument from denialists seems to be that race is no longer a factor in American politics, and that therefore, those who mention bigotry in the context of President Obama are, in the ugly retrograde vernacular of the 1980s, “race hustlers” engaging in an unseemly ploy to change the subject from the current administration’s policies.

It’s certainly true that bigotry is not automatically synonymous with criticism of the Obama record. For instance, many liberals (including me) who question the substantive gap between candidate Obama’s policy promises and his policy record are not doing so out of any racial animus; they are doing so out of a sense of democratic citizenship. Similarly, many honest conservatives who oppose the Obama administration’s civil liberties atrocities and Drug War are doing so on principle rather than because of prejudice.

That honest, non-racialized dissent, however, does not mean racism has ceased to be a factor in politics. As  I showed a few weeks back, other parts of the conservative movement are running an explicitly bigoted campaign against President Obama. Just as troubling — and arguably, even more pervasive — is the racist double standards that continue to stealthily define our politics in ways that are difficult to see in the day-to-day grind of election campaigns. For those who pretend otherwise, here are five ways to know those double standards persist.

1. Joe Biden Is almost never called a socialist or a Marxist.Despite a Senate voting record and presidential policymaking record that align him with moderate Republicans from a mere decade ago, Obama is regularly derided as a socialist, a communist or a Marxist. By contrast, Obama’s own white running mate, Joe Biden, has as liberal — or at times even more liberal — a voting record as Obama, but (save for the occasional Newt Gingrich  outburst) is almost never referred to in such inflammatory terms. Indeed, in a rare  interview that brought that term up to Biden, it was framed as a question to him about Obama, not about his own policies. Considering the fact that Biden is, by definition as vice president, carrying the same economic message but isn’t given the same label, this is solid proof that the radical terms applied to Obama are  Lee Atwater-esque methods of using euphemisms for racial epithets.

2. Romneycare is Obamacare, yet the latter is criticized. It’s a well-known, undisputed fact that Romneycare was a conservative health insurance model constructed by the right-wing  Heritage Foundation, and that it was Massachusetts’ state-level  model for the federal healthcare bill ultimately championed by President Obama. Nonetheless, under the first African-American president, the very same healthcare model the GOP championed is now being held up by the GOP as a redistributionist boondoggle. Is it merely a coincidence that the primary difference between Romneycare and Obamacare is that the former was championed by a white guy and the latter championed by a black guy? Almost certainly not, according to social science research.

As Pulitzer Prize-winner Cynthia Tucker  notes:

In 2009,  Stanford University researchers offered volunteers information about a health care plan supported by Obama and one supported by former President Bill Clinton. In fact, the plans were identical. But those who showed unconscious racial biases were much more likely to reject Obama’s plan, the researchers reported.

Social scientists have concluded that many conservative white voters harbor a racial animosity that fuels their opposition to certain forms of government largess, especially if they believe it benefits the undeserving (black) poor. Political scientists Donald Kinder and Lynn Sanders, authors of “Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals,” call it a “subtle prejudice for modern times.”

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