NY Guv Hurting Obama's "Post-Racial" Brand

Obama's supporters undermine his most powerful asset

By Robert A.George
|  Monday, Aug 24, 2009  |  Updated 5:39 AM PDT
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Obama's Littlest Constituents

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New York Gov. David Paterson raised such an uproar with his Friday August 21 radio interview blaming the racism in the media for his low poll numbers that White House reportedly called him and told him to tone down his language.

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The axiom says keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but President Obama might consider just keeping his pals as far the heck away as possible.

Too many supposed allies -- black and white -- have injected racism into the political debate in a manner that threatens to set back Obama and other "new" black leaders for some time to come.  

On Friday, New York's black Democratic governor, David Paterson, said it is race, not plunging poll numbers that has prompted calls for him to drop off the ticket next year. But he didn't stop there. In the next breath, he sucked Obama into his misguided vortex of paranoia.

"The reality is the next victim on the list -- and you can see it coming -- is President Barack Obama, who did nothing more than try to reform a health care system," Paterson said. 

The words were barely out of Paterson's mouth before the White House called asking why he was "dragging the president" into his troubles.

Just four years ago there was only one black individual sitting in a governor's chair or U.S. Senate seat, Barack Obama. Today, there are three -- New York Gov. David Paterson, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Illinois Sen. Roland Burris -- plus the president of the United States.  

Come January of 2011, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Obama could find himself alone once again: The Rod Blagojevich-appointed and scandal-tarred Mr. Burris announced last month that he won't be running for a full term. Paterson may not run, and if he does, may not survive a primary. Patrick's poll numbers are scraping bottom, too.

If none of these men are in office 17 months from now, should that be considered a step back from racial progress the country celebrated with Obama's victory last November?  Of course not. Given that two of the men happen to be in their offices because of flukes, their departure says little about racial attitudes and everything about the nutty political cultures of the states from which they hail. If Patrick were to lose his seat, it would say more about the broader economic environment -- plus the fact that he raised taxes in the middle of a recession.

In each case, there are obvious reasons for dreary political prospects that have nothing to do with race.   

But as National Review's Jonah Goldberg wrote this weekend, Paterson is hardly the first Democrat to connect criticism of Barack Obama's policies to racism:  

His shock troops make the same argument about race, sometimes with sophistication, sometimes with the kind of lucid clarity only profound stupidity can provide. For instance, actress Janeane Garofalo summed up the tea parties thusly: “This is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up.”

A more sophisticated version comes from Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell, who finds racism in complaints that socialized medicine would result in fewer Americans “taking responsibility” for their own health care. “What we know over the past 25 years,” she told NPR, “is that language of personal responsibility is often a code language used against poor and minority communities.” In an ABC News story about how racist white militias are somehow connected to town-hall protests, Mark Potok of the dismayingly left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center insists Obama has “triggered fears among fairly large numbers of white people in this country that they are somehow losing their country.” 

Liberals should well understand that none of this is ultimately helpful to the man they helped elect president. The race card and general accusations of bigotry are reliable arrows in the liberals' quiver, just as the questioning opponents' patriotism is for conservatives.

But, the race card is a double-edged sword with Obama in the White House.  From the moment he gave that speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama has offered hope that America can overcome its racial and cultural divisions. Now, the president must figure out how to stop his supporters from overplaying the race card. Affter all, making everything about race could alienate the white indepndent voters who accepted the promise of "Yes, we can" as meaning that getting beyond the black/white divide might be possiblen. 

It would be a remarkable irony if Obama found that what was his most powerful political weapon in 2008 -- the promise of cultural transformation -- could be squandered away by 2012 by over reliance on the race card. 

New York writer Robert A. George blogs at Ragged Thots. Follow him on Twitter.    

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