One of the most dramatically ridiculous example of the “race cards” played several weeks ago — or, if you’re a Democrat, one of the most sensitive, perceptive, and erudite deconstructions and translations of evil, dirty, Republican racist code words — came from all-around expert on everything (just ask him), David Gergen, former advisor to everyone.
Gergen, with his uniquely high-powered ability to penetrate the surface of things, looked at the McCain ad “seeking to portray what it says is Obama’s smugness and false regal perception with a new comparison: to Moses” and discovered, hidden in code that only Southerners can really understand, racism:
[On ABC News This Week] longtime Washington hand David Gergen took umbrage with John McCain’s recent attack ads, charging that the Senator was using coded messaging to paint Barack Obama as “outside the mainstream” and “uppity.”
“There has been a very intentional effort to paint him as somebody outside the mainstream, other, ‘he’s not one of us,’” said Gergen, who has worked with White Houses, both Republican and Democrat, from Nixon to Clinton. “I think the McCain campaign has been scrupulous about not directly saying it, but it’s the subtext of this campaign. Everybody knows that. There are certain kinds of signals. As a native of the south, I can tell you, when you see this Charlton Heston ad, ‘The One,’ that’s code for, ‘he’s uppity, he ought to stay in his place.’ Everybody gets that who is from a southern background. We all understand that. When McCain comes out and starts talking about affirmative action, ‘I’m against quotas,’ we get what that’s about.”
As someone who grew up in much deeper South than Gergen (my Alabama easily trumps his North Carolina), I can recognize Gergen’s faux-erudite nonsense for what it is: the fragrant refuse that one cleans out of horse stalls. When McCain says he’s against “quotas,” I’m inclined to believe, contra Gergen, that he’s against quotas (although he’s no doubt voted for more of them than I would like).
Nonsense, however, knows no regional limitations, and so Gergen is not unique in hearing coded racism every time a Republican speaks, about anything. Thus David Shipler, referring in a Los Angeles Times OpEd last April to Obama’s revealing comments about bitter small town whites clinging to guns and God, also discerned accusations of uppityness behind the Republicans’ Obamessiah spoofs:
Whether by calculation or coincidence, Hillary Clinton and Republicans who have attacked Barack Obama for elitism have struck a chord in a long-standing symphony of racial codes. It is a rebuke that gets magnified by historic beliefs about what blacks are and what they have no right to be.
Clinton is no racist [JSR: but presumably “Republicans” are], and Obama has made some real missteps, including his remark last week that “bitter” small-town Americans facing economic hardship and government indifference “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” Perhaps he was being more sociological than political, and more sympathetic than condescending. But when his opponents branded him an elitist and an outsider, his race made it easier to drive a wedge between him and the white, rural voters he has courted. As an African American, he was supposedly looking down from a place he didn’t belong and looking in from a distance he could not cross.
This could not happen as dramatically were it not for embedded racial attitudes. “Elitist” is another word for “arrogant,” which is another word for “uppity,” that old calumny applied to blacks who stood up for themselves.
So, for Republicans to criticize Obama as “elitist” is really accusing him of being “arrogant,” and that in turn is really nothing more than the old racist slur of calling him “uppity.” This view strikes me as so bizarre that I would say the nation’s media elite has race on the brain … if I thought it had a brain.
So, for the benefit of any race-befuddled liberals in the audience, I’ll attempt to go slow here. First, yes, “uppity” was a despicable racial slur, used in the South and elsewhere to keep blacks “in their place,” i.e., down. It was a double-standard attack on blacks for behavior that was perfectly normal, and expected, from whites, as Shipler recognizes:
Black professionals know the double standard. They are often labeled negatively for traits deemed positive in whites: A white is assertive, a black is aggressive; a white is resolute, a black is pushy; a white is candid, a black is abrasive; a white is independent, a black is not a team player….
Calling a black “uppity” thus was similar to, today, criticizing a woman as “aggressive” for behavior that would be commended as appealingly competitive from a man, as “shrill” or “bitchy” for an argumentative style that would be appreciated as vigorous from a man.
So, again, yes. “Uppity” is indeed a racial and racist slur. But “elitist” is not, and “arrogant” is not! To argue, as both Gergen and Shipler do, that no black can be criticized as arrogant or elitist — and by extension that no woman can ever be criticized as aggressive — is to insist on a new, politically correct double-standard every bit as restrictive as the old, racist one they properly reject. It is to say that blacks, because they were discriminated against in the past, cannot be treated as equals in the present, cannot be judged by the same standards we apply to “people like us.”
But then, the politically correct double standard is already quite familiar; it is the same offensive double standard, that is, that undergirds and justifies all racial preference policies today.