The Daily Caller Video, President Obama and the Race-Obsessed Right

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Movement conservatives say that liberals are neurotically obsessed with race. They would know what that's like.

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Conservatives say that liberals are obsessed with race. Bill O'Reilly avows it, as does Bernie Goldberg. Noemie Emery wrote in The Weekly Standard about "the liberal obsession with playing the race card." Says Ann Coulter, "liberals and white supremacists are the only people left in America who are neurotically obsessed with race. Conservatives champion a color-blind society." In more elevated conservative forums the critique is that academics and media types are constantly inserting racial analysis where it doesn't belong, as if it's the only lens through which to look.

There are instances when liberals actually do put undue emphasis on race. Academics and journalists too.

But in the age of President Obama, a strong case can be made that the right is as obsessed with racial subjects as the left, if not more so. The latest example came late Tuesday, when The Daily Caller published a video of Obama speaking about Hurricane Katrina in 2007 to a largely black audience.

Take a look at the publication's Web site:

obama DC page.png

 

What does it take to make five-year-old remarks the biggest story of the moment in conservative media? A racial angle. That's all it ever takes. Since 2009 there's been a conservative obsession with proving that the real Obama is a black radical who has it in for white people. That intention runs through the conspiracy theories that Michelle Obama was caught on tape talking about "whitey;" the Breitbart.com story about Obama hugging a critical race theorist while in law school; Newt Gingrich's demagoguery during the Trayvon Martin case; Rush Limbaugh's insistence that in Obama's America it's permissible for blacks to beat up whites on school buses; Dinesh D'Souza's insistence that Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonialist; and other stories too.

These conservatives don't care that President Obama's actual record on racial matters is anything but radical. Nor do they care that his reelection poses zero threat to white people as a class.

It isn't any proposed policy change that gets them going. There isn't any sound, substantive reason that they focus on racial controversy. They're just race obsessed. Racial angles are constantly emphasized in right-leaning media because that's what the conservative audience wants, every bit as much as the average New York Times reader wants a very different sort of race-focused journalism. On the right, ethnic studies is treated as an illegitimate discipline for the race-obsessed; but positing that Americans are supporting Obama's reelection because of a psychological aversion to black people failing? That is totally acceptable speculative commentary.

"This guy is whipping up race hatred and fear," Tucker Carlson of The Daily Caller said on Fox News. So according to Carlson, Obama said some stuff in 2007 that should totally shock us because nothing like it has been part of his rhetoric as president; those words would remain totally obscure if not for Carlson; but it's Obama who is "whipping up race hatred and fear," for telling a black audience that the federal government did less for Katrina victims than other natural disaster victims, in part because they were poor and black. For conservatives, complaining that college administrators do less to accommodate students because they're white is perfectly respectable commentary, and anyone who says otherwise is enforcing political correctness; but a specific critique of disaster relief dollars shortchanging blacks is "whipping up race hatred," and labeling it beyond the pale isn't political correctness run amok at all.

I wrote about this subject once before:

A lot of conservatives honestly believe that the left is obsessed with race, while the right is assiduously colorblind, and wouldn't think about the subject, let alone discuss it, if only its adherents were in charge. It's time that someone explain to them why the rest of America isn't buying it. The right's race problem is a lot bigger than its most popular talk radio host, but he's a good place to begin. Remember when he got a gig as an NFL commentator? If you watch Monday Night Football or Sports Center, you don't see much critical race theory creeping into the analysis.

But after bringing in Rush Limbaugh, a conversation about Donovan McNabb's performance turned into what, if it were submitted as a term paper in a black studies class, might be titled, "How Racial Expectations Affect The Post-Civil Rights-Era Treatment of Black Quarterbacks In Mass Media." Whatever you think about Limbaugh's comments, he is the one who deliberately and needlessly brought McNabb's race into the conversation. He's also the man who won the 2009 award for accusing more people than anyone else of racism. And the man who responded to an obscure news item about a white kid getting beat up by a black kid on a school bus by saying that sort of black-on-white violence is perfectly kosher in Barack Obama's America. And who can forget his mocking mimicry of the way that Chinese people speak? If a black talk show host treated whites like Limbaugh treats minorities, conservatives would go ballistic.    
That is still true.

If the New York Times was constantly searching for archival footage to prove that Mitt Romney doesn't like black people, or that he is "whipping up race hatred," the conservative media would accuse them of frivolously ignoring the actual issues that this election ought to turn on. It would say that they were exploiting the racial anxieties of Americans to tarnish the character of a man whose long record of public policy-making shows no evidence of racial animosity or radicalism.

When it comes to racial demagoguery, the right has become everything it says it hates about the left.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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