Sunday, September 21, 2008

Philly Inquirer Articles Raise Key Question

After reading two very good pieces of commentary from the Philadelphia Inquirer, both criticizing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, I found myself asking this question: could a liberal black man get away with nearly as much as she does?

First, Mark Bowden took Palin to task for criticizing Barack Obama for wanting to treat humans as humans:

But it was in that much-heralded speech at the Republican convention that Palin tossed off a line I found more disturbing than anything unearthed about her since. It got a predictably enthusiastic response from the keyed-up partisan crowd.

"Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America," said Palin, and then, referring to Barack Obama, quipped: "He's worried that someone won't read them their rights."

Quite apart from the cheap distortion of Obama's position, typical of most campaign rhetoric, this is a classic lynch-mob line. It is the taunt of the drunken lout in the cowboy movie who confronts a sheriff barring the prison door - He wants to give 'im a trial? It is the precise sentiment that Atticus Finch so memorably sets himself against in Harper Lee's masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird, when he agrees to defend a supposedly indefensible black man charged with rape (falsely, as it turns out).

Now, the question I have is, why does the line of attack Palin is using here work? It's not surprising that Republicans would think it good strategy to attack a black candidate as soft on crime - or in this case soft on the worst kind of criminals: terrorst. Sure, his personality and his political affiliation also add to the attractiveness of this strategy. But let's be real, this works in part because he's black and black people have long been associated with violence and with letting people get away with violence.

But let's flip the tables. What if it were Obama attacking a white politician on such grounds? What if Palin and Obama switched roles? We would then see Obama attacked for not respecting the Constituation. He would be cast as unpatriotic and not "one of us." When will we realize that such a line of attack is not dependent on one's actual positons? These attacks will have roughly the same rate of success no matter what, because they are based on the color of the attacked person's skin, and not on any other political or otherwise substantive variables.

The next article I read was by Dick Poleman. He writes:
She stated on ABC News that Alaska produces "nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy." The accurate energy statistic, according to the federal government, is 3.5 percent. She subsequently amended her boast, claiming during a stump speech that Alaska produces "nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of oil and gas." Wrong again. The accurate oil and gas statistic, according to the feds, is 7.4 percent.

Yet none of that matters to McCain, and why should it?

In America these days, we award everyone for merit, from the brilliant to the mediocre. Just as in Little League, everyone gets a trophy. It's the ultimate in populist democratization. Which is why McCain insists, despite all empirical evidence to the contrary, that Sarah Palin "knows more about energy than probably anybody in the United States of America."
Now, would Barack Obama (or Duval Patrick or Harold Ford or any other black politicain) be able to get away with someting like this? NO! In fact, when we do better than this and succeed, we are dismissed as some affirmative action stunt. It's amazing that right-wing empty suits can talk about how qualified Palin is out of one side of their mouth and criticize Senator Obama for being unexperienced out of the other. Obama (and Joe Biden, and other Democratic candidates at all levels around the country) proves his preparedness for office by not sounding like a moron every time he opens his mouth. However, this doesn't matter, because 45 years after Dr. King's much heralded but rarely heeded I Have a Dream speech, the same white media and priviledged white electorate refuse to evaluate a person by the content of his or her character and not the color of his or her skin.

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