It has become convenient, as of late, for media talking heads and pundits to dismiss legitimate criticism of Obamacare, and other Obama-preferred policies, as simply an extension of racism. Opposition to these programs, it is claimed, must be the result of bigotry rather than simply disagreements about policy, economics, or ideology. This is intellectually lazy as well as incredibly dishonest. To smear someone as racist because they disagree on policy is a very low form of attack, even in the realm of politics.
Are there some racists who dislike President Obama or his policies simply because he is black? Of course there are, but to assume that a majority, or even a sizable portion, of the opposition to his programs is related to the color of his skin is to do a disservice to Americans generally, to Republicans specifically, and it only serves to worsen the culture of disunity that has become so common in the political arena.
Many Democrat pundits and elected officials from MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews, to Louisiana Democratic Party Chairman Karen Carter Peterson, to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius have contributed to this tone-deaf narrative. The more than 50% of the country that opposes Obamacare would be startled to hear that they are being accused of blatant racism, rather than a difference on how health care policy should be crafted and implemented.
What is more startling is that these individuals, sometimes more than mere media talking heads, cannot conceive of opposition to the law that is rooted in anything other than bigotry. The fact is that they know that the opposition to Obamacare is not bigoted. After all, they have never been forced to answer how it is that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), two main opponents of the law and Hispanics to boot, could be at the center of this incredibly racist plot against providing affordable health care. Indeed, if Obama was elected by a majority and his health care law is now opposed by a majority–it stands to reason that there is some overlap. That is to say: there is a sizable group of individuals out there who, for whatever reason, voted for Barack Obama and now oppose his health care law. Are they, too, motivated by racism? These aren’t questions that will ever receive answers because these aren’t questions that will ever be asked of those figureheads and media-personalities that are stirring up the pot.
This narrative is derived from one that is much older and more sinister: that the GOP is a fundamentally racist party, or that its voters are likewise. This is a slur aimed mostly at the most conservative aspects of the party, but that is, whenever convenient, directed at the entire party if necessary. It was from the conservative elements of the party, after all, that Alan Keyes received the most support in the various Republican primaries in which he ran. So too with Herman Cain, the African-American businessman who briefly led the polls in 2012. This does not sound like a party that opposes people based upon the color of their skin, by and large, but rather a party that eschews identity politics in favor of proven policies and good ideas.
Need more proof? Some of the Republican Party’s stalwarts recently have been Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, National Chairman Michael Steele, and Congress members like Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Allen West. Opposition to Obamacare unites all of these individuals, even though they are, gasp, African-Americans too! If that still isn’t enough proof, then there’s yet more evidence. Colin Powell was a front-runner in early president primary polling for the Republican Party in the year 2000 and could have probably won if he had entered the political arena. His 29.7% in that poll topped eventual Republican Primary winner George W. Bush. Eight years later, Condoleeza Rice would perform well in early polling too, scoring almost 20% and placing third behind only Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Republican individuals who are reportedly considering runs in 2016 and beyond include Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, neither of whom could exactly be accused of disliking minorities in politics. According to this poll, even after several years out of the spotlight Condoleeza Rice commands attention in Republican primaries. Furthermore, in 2012 she was the favored choice of 32% of Republican entrepreneurs for vice president. In addition, Politico reported in 2012, that “Condoleezza Rice tops the vice presidential wish list among Republicans and right-leaning independents, according to the poll Wednesday. Twenty-six percent of those polled backed the former national security adviser and secretary of state under George W. Bush as Romney’s No. 2.” Doesn’t seem like these voters got Chris Matthew’s “you’re a racist party” memo.
It is irresponsible to pretend that every person who dislikes Obamacare is somehow akin to Lester Maddox or George Wallace standing at the school-house door. First of all, both of those men were Democrats–not that this is relevant. Second of all, there are plenty of not-bigoted reasons to oppose Obamacare and they have been discussed and written about at length. Unfortunately many Democrats do not like to discuss the merits of those arguments. What people like Chris Matthews do is create more polarization in our country and less civil debate.
Like former President Clinton’s scolding publicly of Sister Souljah, maybe this is President Obama’s opportunity to have his Sister Souljah moment and scold the more derisive and hate-mongering elements on his party.