Why Obama Won't Touch Perry's Hunting Camp Scandal

Silence in this case has its political advantages

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If Monday's briefing by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is any indicator, President Obama will avoid commenting on the racist moniker formerly associated with the hunting camp of Texas Governor Rick Perry. "The name is clearly offensive and ... from what I've read the governor shares that opinion," said Carney this afternoon. There are a number of reasons why the president might avoid the issue. One, in particular, was outlined by Atlantic senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates earlier today. Here's what Coates said followed by other rationales for side-stepping the ugly issue:

The president knows raising the issue will only slow him down "When people ask why we can't have a 'conversation on race,' or wonder why Barack Obama generally avoids any discussion of white racism, they really should remember the country he governs," Ta-Nehisi Coates writes. He cites a quotation in The New York Times from the son of Perry's scoutmaster who doesn't find anything offensive about "Niggerhead," the name of the hunting camp.  "That's just what people call it," he said. Coates suggests Obama would just get dragged down by weighing in on the issue:

Whatever my critique of Obama's rhetoric to black audience, the dilemma seems fairly clear to me. 

We can talk about Skip Gates wrongful arrest. Or we can pass health-care. We can not do both.

The president takes Perry at his word Following the Washington Post article on Perry's hunting camp, the Perry campaign issued a denial. “A number of claims made in the story are incorrect, inconsistent, and anonymous, including the implication that Rick Perry brought groups to the lease when the word on the rock was still visible,” Perry's spokesman said. The campaign insists a rock painted with the racial slur was obscured in the early '80s, soon after Perry's father leased the camp. But The Post maintains that the rock maintained the name for much longer than that. "We stand by our story." Still, the president could be siding with other Democrats who describe Perry as inclusive and tolerant. “He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” said former Democratic state representative Ron Wilson, who has worked with Perry and is black. “He didn’t then, and he doesn’t now.”

He wants to stay above the fray When President Obama has seen opportunities to criticize the GOP presidential field, particularly Perry, he hasn't sat on the sidelines. Over the weekend, for instance, he blasted the candidates for not defending a gay soldier who was booed during the last televised debate. And, if the president wanted to, he'd merely have to note Perry's 2006 statements on why Perry may not be ready to lead the country. As the Texas Tribune reports, during a 2006 gubernatorial debate, Perry attacked independent candidate Kinky Friedman for using epithets himself. “Mr. Friedman, words matter,” Perry said. “If you’re going to be the governor of the greatest state in this nation, you bet you use those types of terms and it’s going to deflect from being able to do the good things that need to occur.”

However, the matter has caused some degree of GOP infighting, which the president may just let play out. On ABC's This Week, Herman Cain said the name reflected Perry's racial insensitivity. "Since Gov. Perry has been going there for years to hunt, I think that it shows a lack of sensitivity for a long time of not taking that word off of that rock and renaming the place," he said. "Yes, it was painted over. But how long ago was it painted over? So I'm still saying that it is a sign of insensitivity." As The Washington Post notes, Cain may continue to press the issue on his own. "Cain’s presence in the presidential field makes this issue much more difficult for Perry, because if there’s anybody who can press it going forward, it’s an African-American candidate."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.