The Ugly Racism of the Right Will Be Their Undoing

Human Rights

It'd be nice to think that the recent surge in overtly racist rhetoric on the right has been a case of random opportunism, provoked by the coincidence of a wealthy black Harvard professor yelling at a white cop who arrested him in his own home. Like, who could've predicted that the professor would be a friend of the Harvard law school graduate who is president, or that president would then say on camera that the cops acted "stupidly"? Or that the incident would happen just as Congress was going into a clinch over health care reform?

The Henry Louis Gates imbroglio did come out of nowhere, and it did give President Obama's opponents a chance to howl about the onerous burdens "reverse racism" puts on the fading white majority in this country. You may not see how that justifies the big-time bigotry that took over the discourse last week, but hey, it's a white thang: There were Birthers insisting that Obama's presidency is illegitimate because he was "born in Kenya"; CNN's Lou Dobbs trying to legitimize the Birthers, and of course, an angry Rush Limbaugh fuming that Obama "is an angry black man." None of them, however, could hold a fuse next to Glenn Beck, who asserted that the biracial POTUS is a "racist" who has "a deep-seated hatred of white people," something so unhinged that even the Brown-Haired-Guy-Who's-Not-Steve-Doocy (the Fox & Friends cohost who had to apologize a couple weeks ago for blurting that Swedes and "other ethnics" are different "species") called him on it.

It's not only angry white male pundits who are waving the white victimhood flag. It's also the chair of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who last Thursday called the kettle dusky by excoriating Democrats who've defended Sonia Sotomayor for "giving cover to groups and individuals to nurture racial grievances for political advantage."

With every passing day it gets harder to think of this sudden dialing-up of whiny hate speech as sheer coincidence. Instead, it's beginning to look inevitable -- so much so that maybe the real question is, What is it about health care that brings out the latent racism in the GOP?

The answer is simple: For two or three generations, Republicans have defeated progressive reform of the health care system by hinting that it would mean redistributing wealth from whites to blacks. As Beck himself said, practically redefining "welfare queen" as "healthcare queen": "Everything that is getting pushed through Congress, including this health care bill, are transforming America, and they're all driven by President Obama's thinking on one idea: reparations."

Nevertheless, when we see that Obama's poll numbers have dropped back to the margin of victory he had in the election and have even gone underwater on his handling of health care, it really shouldn't make us give up on the prospect of reform.

Sure, Professor Gates's run-in with Cambridge's Finest wasn't planned, any more than the rump rebellion at GOP Rep. Mike Castle's townhall meeting about health care by a Delaware chapter of the Birthers (video of which catapulted the loonies to national prominence) was. There was no "conspiracy" linking those two events, but the mainstream media quite predictably chose to make them headliners, all but obliterating detailed discussion of health care reform for more than two weeks (and this just when the subject was beginning to resurface after the blanket coverage of Michael Jackson's and Sarah Palin's exits).

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