There has been a lot of chatter about the recent dustup between Chris Matthews and RNC Chairman/human anagram Reince Preibus. Matthews is right–Romney is using racial code in his campaign ads. What I find puzzling is that Matthews, along with many other ‘centrist’ pundits, seem to be genuinely appalled by the racial appeals. I’m glad they think so, but, when I first read or watch all of the condemnations, I thought to myself, “How is this any different than what the Republicans have been doing for the last thirty years?”
Then I realized this time it is different, in that the target is not the following Acceptable Stereotype:
She (and it’s usually a woman, unless crime is directly invoked, in which case it’s an angry young man) is loud. She is poorly educated, uses words like “ax” instead of “ask.” She has several kids, even though she’s unmarried. She has a ‘weird’ and ‘mispelled’ name. Probably overweight. Doesn’t work. If she has tattoos, they’re not edgy or cute, they are, well, trashy (no doubt designed around the name of a criminal baby daddy). She is simply put, the unlovely poor. And importantly, irresponsible and undeserving.
Admittedly, Obama has a weird name (worse, there’s a Hussein in it. AAAIIEEE!!!). But he is clean cut, urbane, and articulate; Michelle Obama too. As to education, he made Harvard Law Review. He is the epitome of the American success story: rising from what used to be called a “broken home” to being elected the president of the U.S. In style, he is the ultimate meritocrat. Obama is not The Other. Even for the credulous political press corps, this is just too much bullshit. It’s one thing to target the Accepted Stereotype (when push comes to shove, many of these Very Serious People would join in). As long as it’s the stereotype, the essential racism can be glossed over with code. But none of the code possibly could apply to Obama, a successful, accomplished professional. It’s so naked, even they, as Ezra Klein’s recent pathetic soul-searching suggests, they are forced to realize the underlying message for what it is. Worse, some of them probably know they were complicit in the success of the Southern Strategy for so long.
The Republicans switched their target from the usual suspects, and it might have backfired on them. One hopes so, anyway.