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Time to Talk Race, the GOP Elephant in Campaign 2012
I ‘m sure I’m not the first one to say this, but the headline story of the 2012 campaign long ago stopped being about the self-immolation of Mitt Romney and the Republican Party. That, as they say, is old news. We all have been watching the Republicans feed on themselves as a source of perverse entertainment for some time now. As for the momentum behind the polls showing President Obama pulling away in all the swing states like a train pulling out of the station, that one has been developing for awhile as well. Granted, anything can happen in politics, and 40-plus days is an eternity, and Mitt could find a phone booth somewhere and change into his Superman costume just in time for the debates, and (the most plausible reason to worry) voter suppression efforts are still a serious factor.
But overall? These discussions have all been pretty much put on loop. The one discussion that has not, however, been receiving quite as much focused attention is the race – and racism – factor in this campaign. Not that race hasn’t been brought up or acknowledged, because it certainly has on various shows and by various pundits at various times. But as a consistent drumbeat, a consistent theme, there is still a fear even among the more liberal-leaning media outlets and pundits to focus too heavily on this issue because, well, it’s race, right? And in this country, we haven’t had a real decent, open and honest dialogue about race since Lyndon Johnson was President. Not on a national scale from the top down where all Americans were asked to examine the situation and acknowledge its potency. Ever since that time it seems like the country has worked hard to convince itself that the civil rights battle was a success (thus the term ‘civil rights era’, implying that this is a time that has passed), and therefore we need to move on. As if all the poison injected into our national veins throughout the several hundred years of legalized racism and oppression could actually be settled in a few decades.
Atlantic Magazine’s senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates touches on much of this in his excellent Atlantic Magazine piece that, although critical of Obama’s hesitancy to be more open about race issues and confrontational in addressing them, is done in a fair and very analytical way. In short, Coates didn’t just shoot from the hip like some of Obama’s critics who claim he hasn’t been black enough, he did his homework. Although I don’t necessarily agree with all of Coates’ conclusions, it is hard to argue that the issue of race is still being shoved into the background, and not just by Obama, regardless of the reasons for this avoidance.
Which brings me to Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and his challenger, Elizabeth Warren, an extremely charismatic Harvard professor who currently appears to be threatening Brown’s hold on his seat. So what does Brown do? He challenges Brown’s ethnic heritage by claiming that she couldn’t possibly be part Native American because she’s just too white and doesn’t look Native American enough for Brown. Guess she needs a few more feathers in her hair to go along with those moccasins she keeps hidden in the closet. But here’s the thing, as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow pointed out earlier this week when discussing this incident on her show, how is it that this story isn’t getting significantly more attention in the national press?
On Monday night’s The Rachel Maddow Show, host Rachel Maddow, over the course of two segments, excoriated Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) for his attacks on opponent Elizabeth Warren‘s family heritage, saying “I don’t understand why this is not a national scandal.”
Rachel and guest Melissa Harris Perry also drew a canny parallel between Brown’s attacks and Republican policies like voter I.D. and “papers, please” immigration laws. If the media is missing the boat on Brown’s ugly attacks, however, they’re also missing an entire navy in former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney‘s participation in them.
In the first segment, Rachel set the table, explaining Sen. Brown’s somewhat dire reelection prospects, and detailing his attacks on Warren at their first debate last week. “She checked the box claiming she was a Native American. and clearly, she’s not,” Brown said at that debate, to which Rachel added “Clearly, just look at her.”
She then blasted Sen. Brown for “declaring himself the authority on Warren’s heritage based on how white she looks to him. Brown is confident just asserting that Warren is not Native American. He can tell. Can he smell it?”