(The Root) — They know we can’t prove it. We can deduce and infer from their actions, statements and policies. But we can’t confirm that congressional Republicans, a bloc of nearly unbroken whiteness, and their media hatchet people are stealthily deploying race — blackness — to obstruct President Barack Obama at every turn.
But obstructionists seldom give us concrete, irrefutable proof of gutbucket prejudice. When we think we have them cold, they’ll use the I’m-rubber-you’re-glue strategy. You’re playing the race card, they’ll say. In fact, you’re the racists for bringing it up. It’s the “nyah, nyah, nyah” of savvy — or at least well-trained — political machinists. These are men and women who have studied the playbook for Republican race-baiting drafted by party strategist and consigliere Lee Atwater.
“By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires,” said Atwater in 1981, quoted years later by New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. “So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.”
Right-wing pols continually update the Atwater script. During the president’s first term and the campaign that preceded it, Barack Obama was cast as a Kenyan, Muslim, socialist, Nazi witch doctor. Tea Partiers, Birthers and Republican backbenchers were the nasty tip of the spear of a full-on assault, but the big boys pitched in, too, usually in ways that kept them from getting hit by shrapnel from the vilest attacks.
Chris Matthews called out congressional Republicans on air, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2012, for what he deemed thinly veiled racism. Specifically, he cited Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn’s accusation that “unlawful acts” and “incompetence” by the administration came “perilously close” to “high crimes and misdemeanors” and would warrant the impeachment of the president.
“They never say their problem with Obama is that he is black, but look at the pattern,” Matthews said to an incredulous co-anchor. “The pattern is rejection of his legitimacy at the first point, saying he is not really here legally.”
This wasn’t a one-off. In a different segment, Matthews hammered Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus for Mitt Romney’s campaign quip, “No one has ever asked to see my birth certificate.” But he also took him to task for the candidate’s substantive statements, like saying that Obama had “a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements,” which wasn’t true.
“You are playing that little ethnic card there,” said Matthews to a momentarily abashed Priebus. “You can play your games and giggle about it, but the fact is, your side is playing that card. When you start talking about work requirements, we know what game you’re playing.”
Powerful stuff, which hit a wall of deflections and pooh-poohing from the other members of the all-white MSNBC panel. Google this event to see the national s–tstorm of denial that followed Matthew’s comments.
Moments like these offer black folks a dash of vindication. But in a society that doesn’t want to acknowledge the obvious — the persistence of racism — and is wedded to its own myths of egalitarianism, they don’t really change much.