“Dear Mitch McConnell,” wrote Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., last week. “Why don’t you just go ahead and call Barack Obama the n-word? You know you want to.”
What led to this over-the-top racial attack from Pitts? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had the audacity to disagree with an approach taken by former President Barack Obama, who leaked audio of himself critiquing the Trump administration after new revelations about his involvement spying on the incoming Trump administration. McConnell thought it an unwise deviation from norms.
The political media used to agree about the importance of this norm. In 2007, former President Jimmy Carter “incited a tsk-tsking tsunami in the capital,” wrote The New York Times’ Mark Leibovich, for the offense of “failing to observe the protocol that former presidents should speak respectfully of their successors, or at least with some measure of restraint.”
In 2013, CNN ran an article on President George W. Bush headlined, “Bush, like most predecessors, holds tongue on successor.” It’s a norm that most presidents have violated privately and several publicly, but a norm nonetheless. While it might seem a relic of a previous time, McConnell certainly wasn’t out of the ordinary in supporting this norm. And nothing McConnell said suggested he was racist in any way.
Everything Is Racist
Obama also gave a rather political commencement speech last week in which he further criticized current political leaders. That drew the attention of former George W. Bush advisor Karl Rove, who said, “It is so unseemly for a former president to take the virtual commencement ceremony for a series of historically black colleges and universities and turn it into a political drive-by shooting.”
The term “drive-by shooting” is common parlance in politics. To take one recent and high-profile example, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway both used the phrase to describe what the media and other partisans were doing to Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation by deploying last-minute, unsubstantiated accusations against him.
The Washington Post’s Eugene Scott even wrote a column headlined, “Has ‘drive-by shooting’ replaced ‘high-tech lynching’?” to discuss the phenomenon. He noted the phrase was “obviously absent of the racial implications” that he noted regarding Clarence Thomas’s description of his ordeal as a “high-tech lynching.”
But now, we are told by partisans, such language is verboten. Far-left websites pounced and blue checkmarks followed, denouncing Rove as racist for using the common metaphor. Staff writer Jon Lee Anderson at The New Yorker said Rove “just happens to wear a suit instead of a white sheet.” Subtle!
Tried and True Political Messaging
This schtick of calling Republicans racist when they do, well, anything is not new. And it ramps up in election years.
The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart said opposition to a coordinated campaign of political spying and leaking is the same exact thing as “birtherism,” a dodge that deserves to go in the annals of partisan excuse-making. Democratic nominee Joe Biden began his campaign last year, in the midst of a thriving economy, by making false but oft-repeated accusations against Trump regarding Charlottesville.
In 2012, then-Vice President Joe Biden told a black crowd in Virginia that the Republican Party was planning to “put you all back in chains.” In 2000, a Democratic group ran an ad saying that then-Gov. George W. Bush’s stance on hate crimes legislation was equivalent to killing James Byrd, the black man dragged to his death by three white supremacists in a truck in Texas. Policy proposals to ensure the integrity of ballots are routinely presented by Democrats as not just racist but as having no function other than racism.
Although Democrats have a near-monopoly on the black vote, the welfare, busing, and affirmative action programs they passed have failed to produce the promised results. And let’s not forget Democrats remain completely hostage to the demands of teachers unions, which resist basic educational reforms and have made trapping kids in underperforming schools the “civil rights issue of our time.” Because unions demanded it, one of Obama’s first acts as president was to kill off D.C.’s school vouchers program — which disproportionately helped poor black kids.
Democrats have done a lot of grandstanding but very little to revise, improve, or get rid of these expensive programs. Republicans have done next to nothing as well, and without even the political grandstanding.
Unfortunately, Republicans are too often tone-deaf to the concerns of black Americans. Republicans also support what they call “free trade,” which in practice is frequently a complex framework of rules and regulations to pick winners and losers among international corporations. This has hollowed out domestic industries and destroyed key jobs for African Americans.
Democrats remember that they need black voters every few years, so they whip up support with over-the-top rhetoric tarring Republicans as racist. Oddly, though, the Republican response has been to either limply respond or to join in by calling the more populist among them the same names. When Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was the victim of Joe Biden’s drive-by shooting, his response was to meekly assert that such rhetoric was “unacceptable.” That’ll learn ’em, Mitt!
And some Republicans have shamefully joined in the practice of calling people they disagree with on policy racist. Some spent years branding their co-partisans as racist when they support populist policies such as real borders and immigration controls. They even put forth a “Republican Autopsy” that accepted the left’s arguments that such views were racist and needed to be renounced.
In this regard, President Trump may have been the first and only Republican able to withstand this, as much as he’s been able.
Go On Offense
Republicans might consider stepping out of their long-term defensive crouch. If they’re not racist, they shouldn’t be so afraid of being called it by partisans. They should denounce vicious rhetoric and not be afraid to advocate for their political philosophy and the policies that philosophy produces.
They should speak against the messages of The New York Times’ 1619 Project and in defense of the United States, her founding, and her Constitution. They should loudly note that they feel no need to apologize for the country, and to praise it for being the place — despite its many faults — with the most opportunity in the world for all its people. They should be unafraid to note the problems with viewing everything through a divisive, racialist lens and to dismiss racists of all stripes.
Republican establishment figures have fallen for the claim that suburban mothers can be turned Democrat by attacks on Republicans as racist. They haven’t figured out that not only does cowering in the face of media and partisan bullies make you appear weak and unworthy of political alignment, but a lot of voters resent it. A lot of voters wonder why Republicans aren’t doing a better job of defending the country and its founding principles against leftist rhetoric and attacks.
Democrats need huge percentages of minority voters to continue winning. Republicans should fight hard for black and Hispanic voters by adopting broadly popular proposals on foreign policy, jobs, economics, and social policy. Moving away from unnecessary interventionist wars helps, and the Republican Party finally figured that out after a few decades of being captured by interventionists.
Economic deregulation and trade policy focused on strengthening America’s backbone of industrial jobs and production also helps. A focus on all the ways government overreach has harmed family formation and family strength also helps. Black voters are more amenable to being courted than Republicans realize, and are well aware that Democrats have done very little to improve their prospects even as they take their votes for granted.
However, Republicans will have to do more than talk to earn black votes. They have to deliver. In this respect, Trump and other congressional Republicans have made positive steps by embracing and enacting criminal justice reforms. They also need to make an effort to go into black communities and truly listen to and respond to black voters, as well as recruit more black candidates and send a clear message the Party of Lincoln welcomes them as partners and not just as vote suppliers.
Have Some Self-Respect
In the meantime, Republicans leaders should wake up. Racist attacks are a distraction specifically intended to shut down debate. Even more pathetic are Republicans who accuse Trump and his supporters of being racist because they think it will generate them good press. Quislings are never respected, and the media are all too happy to use spineless Republicans as a cudgel against the entire party and conservative movement.
Instead, Republicans need to drive home the message that accusing others of racism without merit is immoral and dangerously bad for our civic health. Grown adults need to learn how to have policy disagreements without accusing others of racism. McConnell should stop acting like he’s the good Republican and Trump is the bad Republican. To powerful voices in the media and social media mobs on the left, all Republicans are the same. There is no way to virtue signal enough for them, so stop doing it.
So to McConnell and other Republican leaders, the next time a pundit or columnist goes out of his way to attack you with vicious racial rhetoric, have some confidence and stand up for what you believe. Tell them to shut up and make an actual argument in defense of this country and her ideals. You know you want to.