One recent headline stuck out like one of those trick pictures that invites you to find the object that does not fit with the others: In the midst of headlines about the net worth of the average American family falling 40 percent since 2007, about American companies still struggling to survive almost four years after the economic downturn and about leaks of classified information that appeared designed to boost Obama's re-election chances, there was the headline about Angela Rye, executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, proclaiming that Obama's critics are racist.
Catastrophic levels of new debt; crony capitalism and bailouts; imposition of Obamacare in the face of overwhelming opposition from Americans; the Fast and Furious scandal and the possibility of an attorney general being cited with contempt of Congress; intrusion into the private business of the Catholic Church; and economic woes too numerous to name would presumably play just fine with mainstream America if only Obama were not black. In light of a record that would sink any other politician, Rye's attempt to divert attention from the Obama record jumps off the page as just plain silly.
Two or three decades ago, such an allegation would have brought forth conservative politicians denying the charge and humbly trying to explain that their opposition was based solely on policy differences and concern for the health of the country. In more recent years, as conservatives caught on to the left's tactic of attacking critics rather than debating issues, conservatives would have counterattacked and exposed the accusation for the diversionary tactic that it is. Nowadays, with America teetering on the edge of an economic abyss and Obama worried about free contraceptives, Rye's accusation of racism was greeted with yawns. Is the race card finally losing its power?
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Ironically, the left could use the race card in the past to put the center-right mainstream on the defensive only because mainstream America has rejected racism. Rather than requiring years of heavy-handed governmental intervention to correct past injustices, the civil rights struggle was won by appeals to the hearts and minds of the American public. Discrimination on the basis of race did not fit with our deepest Judeo-Christian values, and, examined in the light of day, discrimination on the basis of race could not be justified intellectually.
Certainly, the struggle for fairness in racial attitudes was intense, but it was surprisingly short-lived. In the span of a single generation, the idea that people should be judged on the quality of their character and not the color of their skin became mainstream, and it is that commitment to racial fairness that gave the race card its power for many years. Calling someone a racist carried the same moral clout as accusing someone of being a thief, and the reaction of the accused was to defend against the charge. But the left has used the race card so many times that they have overdrawn the moral account on which it depends; the race card is beginning to lose its purchasing power.
And now the left faces an even bigger problem in the growing awareness of the damage done to racial minorities by years of liberal policies. According to U.S. Census data, the black out-of-wedlock birth rate was one in four around the time the left began the War on Poverty. By 2008, that number was almost three out of four. The Heritage Foundation and others have painstakingly documented the relationship between out-of-wedlock births and poverty, lower educational achievement and legal problems. Yet, for all their professed concern for the well-being of black Americans, the left is oddly silent about the root causes of disparate outcomes for black and white Americans. With 90 percent of the black vote going to Democrats, most of whom are liberal, the left's obsession with race appears to be based more upon self-interest than upon racial justice. And the center-right mainstream appears to be waking up to the fact that the self-proclaimed champions of racial equality on the left have a real conflict of interest.
Eric Holder's 2009 comment that Americans have been a "nation of cowards" on questions of race may have been right, but probably not in the way Holder meant it. For years, the mainstream has let the left use the race card to avoid having a difficult conversation about the impact of liberal policies upon black Americans. Perhaps the time has come to shred the race card and have that conversation.
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We might start that conversation by demanding that liberal politicians account for the damage their policies have done to the traditional black family. Then we will find out who the real cowards are when it comes to discussing issues of race.