The list of racist "dog whistle” terms got a little longer over the past couple of weeks, which is a clear signal that efforts to distract the public from the Obama administration’s scandals and failures are becoming increasingly desperate.
This past week’s savior for Obama’s acolytes was Richard Sherman, the amped-up Seattle Seahawks cornerback.
Sherman complained, after some people called him a “thug” for his over-the-top rant following Seattle’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago, that the term has become an “accepted way of calling somebody the N-word.”
Sherman is right to complain about the excessive criticism. What he said makes him one in a long line of tiresome, self-absorbed, athletic braggarts, but it doesn’t come close to making him a thug.
But he is dead wrong about “thug” being code. So are the usual crowd of lefties and race hustlers who've come rushing to say that Sherman is right and that anybody who has ever called President Obama a thug – or, in particular, a “Chicago thug” – is guilty of delivering a barely closeted racial slur.
Uh, no, they are not.
As other, more sane observers have pointed out, the word “thug” has been applied to the all-white Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, and his staff hundreds of times in the last few weeks – for good reason, at least when it comes to his staff. It was clearly political thuggery to cause major traffic jams by closing lanes to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, N.J., for no apparent reason other than payback to one of Christie’s Democratic detractors.
But are we supposed to believe that Christie, who gets insulted regularly in all kinds of ways, is the object of a racial slur?
And that is just the most recent example. A host of white politicians have been called thugs including former presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and, of course, George W. Bush.
The entire Republican Party, which has far fewer black members than the Democratic Party, is routinely called “Rethuglicans.”
And the “Chicago” part? Gee, is it possible that the reference might have something to do with the fact that Obama is from Chicago, and his former chief of staff (who is every bit as much a political thug as Christie, and is also white) is now the mayor of Chicago? Would it be just as racist if Obama was from Seattle and his critics called him a Seattle thug?
It might be worth the Obama team rethinking this latest effort at speech control. But I doubt there will be a mea culpa from anywhere in the “progressive” (watch out before that term gets labeled as racist code as well) camp. The real agenda here, after all, is to deflect any substantive criticism of the president with another tired, guilt-trip distraction.
That was especially crucial this past week, given that the most notable elements in a pedestrian, cliché-ridden State of the Union address was that Obama intends to ignore laws he finds inconvenient, and also to ignore the legislative branch unless it rubber stamps his initiatives. Only then is he “eager” to work with Congress.
If everybody who has a problem with the speech has to sort through the words they are allowed to use when taking issue with the president, well, there is a better chance of defanging their criticism.
It also makes it much easier for dozens of “expert analysts” who populate TV talk shows to dismiss any criticism of the president’s conduct, policies and proposals simply by declaring it racist.
This undermines what everyone claims they want – a real discussion of “issues.”
Racism still exists, of course, but it is not a factor here. Playing the race card over policy differences is not an argument; it is a transparent, sophomoric attempt to shut down an argument. And that reflects poorly on the president and his defenders.
Yes, there will always be a few on the fringe who view the president through a racist lens. They are marginalized by both conservatives and liberals, as they ought to be. The reality is that virtually all of the criticism of the president has nothing to do with race. It has been said many times but apparently needs repeating: The president is just as white as he is black.
Finally, the saddest element of this attempt at diversion is that it undermines what all the race hustlers claim is their goal – equality.
What does it do for equality to contend that calling a white person a thug is not racist, but using it to criticize a black person is? How is it equal to have a double standard for a word like that, especially in the “it-ain’t-beanbag” world of politics?
To suggest that word cannot be used about black politicians is to suggest that they are more fragile than their white counterparts. It is that kind of “soft bigotry” that is the real racism.
President Obama – and Richard Sherman, for that matter – are more than capable of making their case for their views, words and actions. They don’t need any “help” from those demanding a ban on words that have nothing to do with racism.
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org