The West Blogosphere and Democrats are in an unbelievable tizzy about Obama’s race speech, trying to figure out what it all means and whether it’s good or bad for Obama, and good or bad for Democrats, and what was he thinking talking to voters like adults (thank you Jon Stewart, for calling it what it is.)
For one possible answer to what Obama’s thinking, Kevin Drum pointed me at a Newshoggers post that makes a compelling argument that I haven’t seen anywhere else. The bookends on the post drive the point home:
In the past couple of years, one of the most reliable indicators of a winning Democratic issue is when the conservative movement Id is at the forefront of the public debate. It is ugly, repulsive and oozing with pus, and it alienates marginally attached Republican voters and winnable for the GOP Independent and Democratic voters. We want more of the conservative Id in the forefront of the conversation…
…The conservative Id is ineffective and counterproductive to advancing the GOP’s political fortunes, and it is not something that should inspire fear in Democrats. Instead it should be welcomed as a golden opportunity to create a sharp and sustained politics of contrast that works.
In other words, if the race-bait genie won’t go back in the bottle, it is damn well not going to skulk in the shadows in this campaign. Make the genie–the fetid rot at the heart of today’s GOP–stand front and center and put on its show, singing and dancing and implying LBJ’s famous turn of phrase–the right will get bolder and bolder pushing the racist associations, and eventually O’Reilly or Hannity or even McCain with his famous short temper will take the next step and make a lynching joke, or a porch monkey reference, or something along those lines.
The thing is, for the race baiting to really work in the way that the right wants it to work, it has to be something that you can’t confront directly. It has to be like a dream, or an overheard snippet of conversation between two people whose voices you don’t recognize, or something that you catch a glimpse of out of the corner of your eye, but when you turn to look, it’s gone. And Obama’s speech shows he will have none of that. If the implied and subtextual “Nigra, Nigra, Nigra” turns into an explicit “Nigger,” there will be pandemonium, and all bets will be off. And really, who thinks the noise machine, the Limbaughs, the Hannitys, and the O’Reillys can be controlled, or can control themselves? Who thinks it won’t go there?
Obama is using lots of words, and relatively complicated arguments, but at least one of the messages he’s attempting to send to the media, to the right, and to the electorate, is very simple, and goes something like this: “Are you sure you want to go there? I mean, are you really sure that you want go there, because you’ll lose control of it. You’ll bring back images of fire hoses and dogs and segregated water fountains and the American flag used as a spear. That’s where it will go, because this country’s racial history is ugly, and you seem to have forgotten that our racial civility is only the thinnest of veneers. You’re still sure? Okay then. Bring it.”