Playing the Race Card Against Matriculationists

The release of Obama's birth certificate has released an orgy of hatred, in which anyone who questioned the murky chronology of events of Obama's early life is accused of acting out of racist motives. This is nothing new -- a Google search of "birther racist" comes up with 15 million hits -- but this fresh opportunity to play the race card seems especially virulent. The message is clear: questioning Obama about anything will be treated as beyond the pale of civilized behavior. In addition to fulminating against birthers, it's a preemptive strike against matriculationists who continue to request Obama's academic records.

In my little corner of the news world, this Sunday's Boston Globe had no fewer than four items on its opinion pages about birther racism. James Carroll's Monday column on the same theme has to be read to be believed. Here's a closer look at some of the bile spewed by the party of hate:

  • The insidious inquiries about the presidential birth certificate are irrational, ridiculous, and race-based.

This is columnist Joan Vennochi, stating simple facts. After 15 million iterations, it has to be true. No further explanation is required. (Vennochi goes on to make a parallel with the Swiftboat "smears." Weren't the charges of the Swiftboat veterans vindicated?)

  • Requiring black people to produce "papers'' is not a new phenomenon in the tortured history of race in our country. In the South, black people had to produce papers to document manumission (emancipation from slavery), to attempt to vote, or merely to move freely about their communities. Today's racial profiling is a remnant of a primal practice. This ritual, deeply rooted in a racist world view, was brought to a disgusting and disrespectful new level when President Obama produced his long-form birth certificate so that the nation's political discourse could return to the pressing issues of the day.

This letter to the editor was titled, "Cry for Obama's birth certificate rooted in racist past." The logical leaps from 1865 to 1930 to 2001 are staggering. "This ritual, deeply rooted in a racist world view"? What kind of tortured mind makes a straight line out of such unconnected dots?

  • To me, this is a not-so-thinly-veiled shot at affirmative action. Let's suppose for a moment that Obama really wasn't qualified to get into such esteemed universities as Columbia and Harvard, and was only accepted because he is black. Fast-forward to today, and you have an African-American who parlayed affirmative action into becoming president of the free world -- something that never would have happened without affirmative action. So, wouldn't this be a strong argument in favor of affirmative action policies?

This letter writer is severely logic-challenged. No, electing an unqualified President because of his skin color it is a strong argument against affirmative action. And why do we need to "veil" opposition to affirmative action? It's a racist institution.

  • Insinuations regarding the president's academic qualifications implies a racial motive.

This letter either insinuates a thinly-veiled implication, or implies an insinuation. It has to be described with weasel words because birthers are so adept at covering their true intentions.

Finally, James Carroll's "Birthers' Shameful Racist Roots":

There can be no doubt that the lurid contempt shown to the president by antagonists who question his constitutional right to hold office is rooted in white-supremacist hysteria... The issue has been his character as -- well, as the issue of a Caucasian mother and an African father. An inch below the surface of this discussion is the perceived offense not just of blackness, but of miscegenation, that peculiarly demonic legacy of a slave system which took for granted the white owners' sexual exploitation of slaves, while outlawing interracial sex. The biological fact of Obama's existence, not the bureaucratic fact of government records, is what generates the lunatic rage.

Carroll presents birtherism as the continuation of a further litany of sins -- sharecropping, Jim Crow, and crack laws--that have oppressed the black man.

As the column continues, I'm beginning to worry for Carroll's sanity:

That word "birth'' is the key, and what it opens is the door to the invention of racism in the first place. Whiteness as the positive norm against blackness as the negative norm repeats the bipolar social construction that occurred when the racial category of anti-Semitism replaced the religious category of anti-Judaism. Wrong birth replaced wrong belief. Modern racism, that is, began with fixations attached not to skin color or ethnicity, but faith.

And he talks about the "lunatic rage" of birthers? Carroll then moves on to a discussion of "blood purity'' and the Statute of Toledo: "An odd foreshadowing of the Obama-birth affair occurred in 1546..." Odd indeed.

I expect that I am typical of the "birthers" that have been so impugned. I didn't spend any time researching the details, but I was generally sympathetic to further investigation into the circumstances of Obama's birth. This had nothing to do with his race, but with the complicated stories around his early years that didn't always seem to hang together. A white President whose father moved back to the Soviet Union soon after his birth, and whose mother emigrated to, say, Albania, would arouse similar curiosity. And it doesn't help that in general I don't trust the President to tell the truth, and have no reason to give him the benefit of the doubt. He's a terrible president and an arrogant jerk to boot. No, I don't respect him, although "lurid contempt" might be a bit strong.

Mark Steyn has argued  recently that we ought to defeat Obama because his ideas are destructive, not because of a technicality about where he was born. Sensible point. But can you imagine what a real life conspiracy thriller it would be to have Obama's dreadful presidency crash and burn in massive scandal?
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