Playing the race ace

The New York Times op-ed page has now crossed the line I was hoping would not be crossed in a piece by Orlando Patterson that makes criticizing Barack Obama or questioning his qualifications — both the essence of campaign debate — tantamount to racism. We have crossed into a land where political discussion is politically incorrect. He says:

I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.

Oh, for God’s sakes, the images could also remind me of Peter Pan and children being protected from the youthful scamp by the shaggy dog.

Oh, and what would solve this problem in Patterson’s view? Not casting a blonde child. Being blonde is a problem.

He concludes:

It is possible that what I saw in the ad is different from what Mrs. Clinton and her operatives saw and intended. But as I watched it again and again I could not help but think of the sorry pass to which we may have come — that someone could be trading on the darkened memories of a twisted past that Mr. Obama has struggled to transcend.

Yes, and as I read this sorry piece again and again and saw its clear intention of painting Hillary Clinton as a racist, I could not help but think that it is a sad day when a Harvard professor and the New York Times sink to playing the race card in this election, turning political debate into victimization.

In this, the age of offense, let me say, I’m offended.

  • Eric Jaffa

    Jeff Jarvis –

    I agree.

    I voted for Obama, but I’m against garbage which portrays the Clintons as racist.

    The NY Times shouldn’t have printed this op-ed.

  • chico haas

    Political correctness couldn’t happen to a nicer group of people than the Democrats. This race (to be clear: the primary) is like watching the Berkeley City Council argue whose lunch used the fewest food miles. Please, please, let it last all the way to Denver.

    (F.D.: I’m a registered Dem)

  • When I saw quotes from that op-ed this morning I could not believe that it was published in the NYT.

  • Michael

    “I could not help but think that it is a sad day when a Harvard professor … sink[s] to playing the race card in this election”

    Haven’t spent much time with Ivy League academics, eh Jarvis?

  • BuzzMachine’s Rules of Engagement insist: “No personal attacks, hate speech, bigotry, or seven dirty words in the comments or comments will be killed along with commenters.”

    Therefore we can assume that tom’s complaints at 4:58pm, being undeleted, are not seen as embodying bigotry against Arabs.

    Personally I agree. Receiving campaign funds from Arabs is no more remarkable than receiving funds from Russians or Canadians or Indians or Filipinos. So I concur with BuzzMachine and presume no bigotry in tom’s remarks…which leaves me with the question: if this is not bigotry, what point is tom making?

  • oops. Tom’s comment was indeed deleted. Please delete mine too. Thanks Jeff.

  • GingerTPLC

    I’m not surprised. I hear all sorts of bigotry straight from my students’ mouths and I know from whence it comes.

    If my students’ parents are to be believed, apparently, Barack Obama is a hidden terrorist and if he is elected, it’s over for the US.

    Likewise, if Hillary Clinton is elected, all men in the US will lose their rights.

    It’s insane and I try to gently broach the subject of another, more sane pov, but it’s a fine line that we as teachers walk.

  • Cooler Heads

    This race is disgusting. On one side is this awful article by Orlando Patterson. On the other is Geraldine Ferraro, who should be embarrassed by her own words: “If Barack Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.”

    It’s pretty hard to keep a tally of all the race and gender baiting in this race. No side is pristine. Hillary’s supporters are as guilty as Obama’s.

    The Republicans are laughing their asses off.

  • PSGInfinity


    You blew it. We didn’t need that. That said, we conservatives have the popcorn popped, the mint juleps poured, the stogies lit, with faithful ol’ Belvedere snoozing at our feet. Be assured we’re thoroughly enjoying the show…

  • Jeff,

    I am curious why you choose (a) not to comment on Hillary’s 60 minutes comment regarding Muslim rumors and (b) did not call out Geraldine Ferraro.

    I am offended – mixing up advocacy and commentary is beneath you.

  • This is offensive, particularly for someone who was once a historic figure:
    Ferraro calls the Daily Breeze back, and re-iterates the Clinton’s campaign’s allegation that Obama is playing the race card.

    “Any time anybody does anything that in any way pulls this campaign down and says let’s address reality and the problems we’re facing in this world, you’re accused of being racist, so you have to shut up,” Ferraro said. “Racism works in two different directions. I really think they’re attacking me because I’m white. How’s that?”

    And if you are looking for someone playing the race card in this election, turning political debate into victimization -spend some time with Howard Wolfson, Ed Rendell and the 43rd President of our country. Then actually speak with Orlando Patterson.

    C’mon Jeff – you are much, much better than this.

  • I think that this op-ed has some relevance in the way that our society is perceiving this election and the amensia that America has about its “twisted past”. The truth of the matter is that Obama is a black man running for President and the media is perceiving him as such with the press associating his success thus far with an overwhelming amount of black votes and the projecting that his losses to clinton have been because of the lack of blacks voting in certain locations.
    Jeff, I think that your initial reaction “oh for God’s sake” and your connection to Clinton’s ad to one of the Disney Classics proves that the media is our main lens through which we perceive things and from which we create stories or remember stories from the past.
    I don’t blame the NYT for publishing this for that reason..since more votes from Blacks have been the stair step for Obama’s success in winning over more states than Clinton, I think that its important to recognize Clinton CHOICE of stories that she is using to campaign againgst Obama. After all, if anything she should know that educated people might actually see this connection or make it as Patterson did. And that is the People’s perogative.. I know that Clinton is not trying to deliberately offend black people in America (maybe just Obama) but she should be well aware that she is representing a history of a race of people who have had the upper hand in this country since its founding and that she has a responsibility to be aware of that in her attempt to win the presidency. I say that the sheer fact that Patterson said this AND that the NYT published it is problematic to Clinton’s campaign which has been filled with other derogatory elements of race and internationalism as well- and not just blacks in America, remember the little mexican boy in traditional garb that she paraded onstage in Texas. I say “for God’s sakes” to that. I mean how many groups of people does she have to degrade to get America’s vote?!

  • Roy Mustang

    Ferraro is right. Obama would not be in this position if he was white. Just as Ferraro wouldn’t have been the VP nominee in 1984 is she was male. Just as Clarence Thomas wouldn’t be a Supreme Court Justice if he was white.

    This is the reality of identity politics.

  • Joe

    Ok so you must be naive to think race would not become a huge issue (in general election too) since he is the first black candidate with a chance. There is a reason some fear for his safety as a candidate and as a potential President

  • Jimmy

    None of this bullshit matters to voters. Barak Obama is not winning races because the press is taking it easy on him. Hillary is not losing races because the press is asking her hard questions. She has every right to question is qualifications, just as Barak Obama has every right to point out Clinton’s so-called qualifications are questionable at best. The only people this type of bullshit matters would never vote for Obama or Clinton. Is any of this new in modern American politics? Please! Voters no better.

  • Ryan

    The Clintons aren’t racists. (Cynical as all hell, yes. Racist, no). Patterson’s Op-Ed is also very stupid, as was the story about how the Clinton campaign allegedly darkened Obama’s visage in a TV ad (incorrect, it turns out). I’m sure there are more, too. But, Jeff, I notice you never point out the ridiculousness of Hillary Clinton’s supporters. I mean, the same stuff goes on in their camp about sexism. Every slip-up is viewed as being some sort of high school drama about the cool, easygoing guy slighting the hardworking, overlooked girl. Remember faux-stories like “The Snub”? Or when innocent remarks (“the claws come out”; “When Hillary is feeling bad, she strikes out…”) are viewed as sexist?

    I mean, if Obama was treating Hillary half as disrespectfully as she has been acting towards him lately w/ the VP stuff, I’m positive nimwits like Taylor Marsh and her minions would have had a conniption. And we all know that this race would have been over long ago had Hillary won 14 of the last 17 contests and had a impregnable delegate lead. So it’s not all unfair for Hillary. And as hard as it must be for her, she sure does bring a lot of it on herself.

    It’d be nice to see a little more balance here, but, hey, it’s your blog. I just enjoy your media angle a whole lot more.

  • MD

    So Jarvis artfully ignores an equally headscratching moment from Ferraro? Meanwhile we see the white vote being splintered further and further as this election goes on something the Clinton campaign clearly gunned for in South Carolina unrelated to the NYT piece.

    As for the ad, it’s not racist it’s fear mongering. Quite a rung up the ladder for her campaign. Of course when media throws heat on Hillary they are automatically sexist rather than just overly familiar with the baggage that comes along with being a Clinton.

    It’s also troubling that exit polls show Clinton supporters unwilling to support Obama in the general even though his supporters are supposedly “the cult.” I’d love to hear Clinton supporters opinion on whether they’d vote and support him if he wins?

    ps, if the Clintonians really want to isolate and unhinge the black vote in a general then forcefully arguing that a Black man running for President did so well because he garnered sympathy from racial guilt is just the way to do it. When I hear a liberal-minded white person who supposedly “doesn’t see race” make such arguments it reminds me why it’s so important for us to keep it in mind.

  • MD

    Ferraro Circa 1988 On Jesse Jackson:

    A pattern. Ferraro is quite the victim:

    From Washington Post, via Politico:

    Placid of demeanor but pointed in his rhetoric, Jackson struck out repeatedly today against those who suggest his race has been an asset in the campaign. President Reagan suggested Tuesday that people don’t ask Jackson tough questions because of his race. And former representative Geraldine A. Ferraro (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that because of his “radical” views, “if Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn’t be in the race.”

    Asked about this at a campaign stop in Buffalo, Jackson at first seemed ready to pounce fiercely on his critics. But then he stopped, took a breath, and said quietly, “Millions of Americans have a point of view different from” Ferraro’s.

    Discussing the same point in Washington, Jackson said, “We campaigned across the South . . . without a single catcall or boo. It was not until we got North to New York that we began to hear this from Koch, President Reagan and then Mrs. Ferraro . . . . Some people are making hysteria while I’m making history.”

  • Patsi

    Thanks for pointing out the obvious. The press has been ginning up this “race war” from almost the beginning.

  • Cooler Heads

    The Dems have relied on a tenuous coalition of black voters, working class white, women. That’s the base. Along with a few limousine liberals.

    This year, that base is going to shatter over the ugly words of people like Patterson, Ferraro, and former president Clinton–the SC comments and more recently the “dream team” stuff.

    I think these sentiments have been present for decades, but everyone kept quiet about it in order to build campaigns and voter support.

    With McCain as the nominee, a liberal Republican with a temper, I think this Dems are in big trouble.

    Too bad. I kind of like Obama, but after the Clintons get done savaging him, he’ll be toast as the nominee. Likewise, Hillary will be loathed by black voters who will stay home in November.

  • Pat Patterson

    The first time I saw the “3:00 AM” ad I was left wondering why the Clinton campaign would draw attention to any even remote possibility that Mrs. Clinton is being woken up by some desk sergeant asking her to come downtownd to pick Bill up. And also asking her why he is out so late on a school night.

    Or it was James Riady warning Sen. Clinton to check an anonymous donation because he might have forgotten to remove the day pack.

  • You have to admit it… it’s genius. The Obama propaganda machine has found a way to go negative without going negative. They just defend against racist attacks.

    As an Obama supporter, I’m saddened to see this happen. Hillary may be many things that some people don’t like, but she’s not running a racist campaign. Obama needs to go back to inspiring people instead of trying to paint Hillary negatively, Show real difference in perspective and approach, not color.

  • Tim

    Guess what? The American public will make up its own mind about Obama and won’t obey these new ground rules that the NYTimes and other press organs seem to have created.

    PS I have a feeling Obama won’t look as glowing a candidate when the nomination is his, but who knows. Which will make the Democratic Party once again look inward and wonder how it could have nominated such a weak candidate.

  • Patsi

    “Too bad. I kind of like Obama, but after the Clintons get done savaging him, he’ll be toast as the nominee.”

    Bull. How about the many, many subtle sexist remarks made by Obama, his wife and his campaign? Obama refers to Hillary having “tea parties” in the White House and during foreign travel, Michelle talks about people who can’t control their own home not being fit to run the country, it goes on….

    Prescott is right…the constant calling racism has been genius. Now people cannot even mention race without being called a Klansman.

    Not addressing race at all becomes the MOST insideously racist tactic of all.

  • Jeff, any chance you might actually comment on the Clinton race ace ? Or it just when it shows up on the NYT Op-Ed piece ?

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  • Bob ,
    After I put up this post, I’ve been offline and in meetings. (The last post was done in my word processor and then I had two minutes to upload it.) So I haven’t had a chance to dig in yet. If it’s not stale and crusty by the time I do get around to it….

  • I’m with Prescott. This is the ultimate jujitsu from the Obama camp: “defending” against “racist” attacks.

    When you need a high-powered microscope, like the kind Orlando Patterson used, to detect “racism,” you render the term “racist” effectively meaningless as a rhetorical weapon for effecting real (positive) social and political change.

    This kind of “discourse” is a disaster for the Democrats.

  • On Ferraro:
    She was horribly wrong to say that Obama is where he is only because he is black. That’s insulting to him and his supporters. It is racist, in my view.
    I think she was right to say that people who’ve criticized him have been called racist and that is a problem; witness the column I blogged about here. I think she’s also right that there’s a lot of sexism in coverage.
    But she screwed herself and lost her point with the first terrible misstep, all the worse because she repeated it.
    There’s my answer.

  • chico haas

    And once the National Campaign heats up, it’ll be racists or sexists vs ageists.

  • Chico,

  • I’ve been reading Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism.
    To see Orlando Patterson’s Op-Ed in juxtaposition to that, well, it’s stunning.

  • Jeff,
    Honestly this:

    lost her point with the first terrible misstep, all the worse because she repeated it

    is just terribly lame.

    When the Olbermann Special Comment this evening (3/11) is posted, please watch & try commenting on.

  • And what’s lame about that? I’m saying Ferraro was wrong and lost the credibility of her one decent point with that. I think I was quite clear. You asked for my opinion and I gave it. Please don’t be a comment cliche.

  • You criticize a professor of sociology at Harvard and the author of “The Ordeal of Integration: Progress and Resentment in America’s ‘Racial’ Crisis” for what you consider playing the race card.

    You claim this “political debate into victimization”. You close by saying:

    In this, the age of offense, let me say, I’m offended.

    You then respond to Ferraro individually, with no mention of the Clinton campaign.

    Urban Dictionary defines lame:

    To be old, Stale, outdated, just a plain blob of moronic clay

    I admire your work a great deal, Jeff, but in this thread (and your ongoing free ride given to the Clinton campaign and their strong management skills & experience), you are clearly lame

  • Cooler Heads

    Jeff, here’s a question: how should the Dems solve this problem? Clearly supporters of both candidates are digging in for a long fight. There will be more Patterson and Ferraro type articles and remarks. By the time this gets to Denver, people will be hardened against each other.

    Obama will go into the convention with more decided delegates and criticism that he won most of them in caucus states. Also, he is a black.

    Hillary will go into the convention with more superdelegates, and criticism that she is not the popular candidate but the more politically connected candidate. Also, she is a woman.

    So, what should the Dems do to avoid a nasty endgame? Who should compromise and why?

  • Cooler Heads —

    No need to be so nervous. What is wrong with a “long fight”? In 2004, Democrats had a short fight, with John Kerry eliminating John Edwards swiftly. Clearly both Rodham Clinton and Obama are superior candidates to Kerry.

    So what, if there are more Patterson and Ferraro articles and remarks? The back-and-forth of controversial comments is a symptom of the unquestioned phenomenon of an involved electorate. Lack of controversy would signify apathy and irrelevance. These controversies represent fringe points of view from both campaigns, not their central talking points, so are unlikely to result in a “hardened” convention in Denver.

    Your observation about the candidates’ contrasting bases of support is accurate. But so what? A strong two-way race means that if one candidate has strengths in one area, the other, by definition, has to have complementary rather than similar strengths. It would be impossible for them both to be strong in caucus states, or both strong with superdelegates.

    Similarly, your observation that he is black and she is female is accurate, but so what? Patterson and Ferraro may have been inflammatory in their comments yet there is no dispute about the underlying truth that she is stronger among white voters, especially women, and he is stronger among African-Americans. No one can deny that racial and gender solidarity clearly play a significant role in this contest.

    Many members of those groups are going to perceive subtle messages — intentional or subliminal or imaginary — from the campaigns to reinforce them in their demographic, rather than ideological, decision. Is there evidence that either campaign has exploited racism, rather than solidarity, to get out the vote? No. Has either used sexism, as opposed to gender affirmation, to get out the vote? No. So this is no big deal.

    You call it a “nasty endgame.” I call it a closely-fought contest. Surely all of us small-d democrats would prefer that our political leaders be selected after a thoroughgoing contest rather than a superficial one. Onwards to Pennsylvania!

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  • Deb Smith

    The sad thing is, there’s very little to debate about Obama and Clinton except the superficial external differences. Their views are carbon copies of standard Democratic policy, most of it aimed at not offending corporate sponsors and major lobbyists, and little if any of it elevated beyond the realm of campaign rhetoric. Both merrily assert they’ll bring the troops home from Iraq by twinkling their magic noses the day after they’re inaugurated. The absurd idea that we can walk away from the mess in Iraq — we broke it, we now on it — is an insult to educated citizens (of which, apparently, there is a small percentage.) McCain is a warmongering corporate toady who will probably get us into WW III, but when he says we’ll be in Iraq a hundred years, he’s probably being realistic and, at least on that point, honest. The state of American Presidential politics is corrupt and cynical, and thus here we are, gnawing over the bones of petty issues like race and gender. Nero fiddled while Rome burned . . .

  • Cooler Heads

    Speaking of the Ferraro incident, a quote from Hillary’s apology to blacks about recent behavior by campaign surrogates:

    “I want to put that in context. You know I am sorry if anyone was offended. It was certainly not meant in any way to be offensive,” Hillary Clinton said. “We can be proud of both Jesse Jackson and Senator Obama.”

    God, she has no sense of how she sounds. Barack may be new to foreign policy, which is concerning. But can you imagine Hillary and her tin ear trying to negotiate with foreign leaders? That is terrifying.

  • Charley

    Hmm. I wonder what Jeff, thinks of …

    No, I already know what he thinks. It came from his Republican friend Hillary Clinton, so he’s all for it.

  • Aha, so that’s how delusional you are, “charley.” Yes, Bill O’Reilly is a big fan of Hillary’s.

  • For decades, the Democrats have promoted division and hatred — between whites and blacks, between women and men — with their politics of identity and manufactured victimhood.

    Now the monster they have created has come back to bite them.

  • how ironic that a phony sellout typical lifer politician like hillary gets accused of racism. well hillary where is your minority support now. well here is a reality check for billary and the capitol hill elite no matter how much she has campaigned and championed programs for her minority votes in the past a black man comes along with no experience,who really is only about advancing his career at the expense of others and who will probably get 99.9% of the black vote in the presidential election based simply on his race only.