Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The New McCarthyism

Senator Joseph McCarthy was an anti-Communist in the 1950's who held hearings into Communist infiltration of Hollywood. His infamed question "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?" did very little to pull infomation from a witness, but it did have the advantage of tagging the person asked with that label, regardless of the answer.

In those days, when schoolchildren were being trained how to hide under their desks to survive a nuclear attack and there was a nonzero probability that Soviet agents would infiltrate our society and government, any hint of unpatriotic sentiment set off alarm bells. The ability to detect Communism in what was merely (or ostensibly, as you will) liberal dissent was akin to the ability to hear a dog whistle.

A man I need no dog whistle to dislike, Hillary Clinton advisor James Carville, compared former Presidential candidate Bill Richardson to Judas for endorsing Obama over Clinton. To his credit, Carville did not back down, despite the hypersensitive reaction in some quarters that invoking Judas was improper - sacrilege, perhaps.

And so the hypersensitivity is on full display today with charges of racism. It seems that any mention of race, no matter how innocuous the context, invites a charge of racism, bigotry, or intolerance, depending on the pitch of the whistle.

We are in a race for President, that quadrennial mania in which the slightest misstep can turn the body politic from admiration to antipathy in the space of a single news cycle. The presumptive nominee of one party is running as a black man, while claiming not to run as a black man. Any suggestion that he is running as a black man is met with the charges of racism, forever impugning the character of its target no less effectively than Senator McCarthy could achieve with an all-day hearing.

That Senator Obama is relying on the color of his skin, and not the content of his character alone, is apparent. There is scant different between Obama and his rival Hillary Clinton, and yet the racial disparity in their support is striking: most blacks support Obama, while Clinton is favored by most white (among their party).

Who will stand up to the charges of racism, as people should have met McCarthy's empty charges of communism? We must be able to explore the issues surrounding race without being clubbed down with ad hominem attacks, or the racial divide will only deepen.

Do you want to unite, Senator Obama? Put down your club.

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