The "Race Card," Conveniently Defined.

Lately, I've been fascinated by Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson's blog. Although most of his posts are boilerplate wingnuttia -- health-care reform is tyranny, diplomacy is weakness, etc. -- there are a few gems here and there, most notably with his ongoing attempt to document liberal use of "the race card" which he defines as "the use of false accusations of racism to shape the political debate and stifle political opposition." Jacobson is nearly 60 posts deep into this series, and after reading all of them, I am forced to conclude that he has no idea what he's talking about.

For example, Jacobson attacks this mostly factual observation by Matthew Yglesias as a set of "gross generalizations and stereotypes of the politically acceptable kind":

The diversity issues that you see at the elite level of most of American life are, in my opinion, particularly egregious in the punditry world. People whose job is largely to express a point of view really ought to come from a variety of points of view, and it’s a huge problem in politics since demographics are so closely linked to political opinion ...

About 50 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s job performance, but he’s overwhelmingly liked among non-white Americans and quite widely disliked by white Americans. Our punditry, however, is done almost exclusively by white people and pretty overwhelmingly by a demographic of older white men that’s pretty much the most right-wing cohort you can construct.

I'm going to have to assume that Jacobson doesn't understand what a "generalization" or "stereotype" is, since there isn't a single one in Yglesias' post. There are serious diversity issues in the world of punditry -- as Jacobson himself points out, even MSNBC is mostly white and male -- and this does shape the bounds of acceptable/mainstream political discourse. That is, there is a reason for why there has been shockingly little discussion of the racial dimensions of the "tea party" movement, or for why pundits don't seem to get that angry old white people aren't an accurate barometer for the nation's political mood.

To be fair, it might be that Jacobson is taking issue with Yglesias' racial take on public opinion. Even then, the problem is with Jacobson, not Yglesias. As Yglesias pointed out, Gallup released a poll last week showing that Obama's approval rating among white voters has since Feburary fallen roughly 20 percentage points to 39 percent. By contrast, Obama's approval rating among non-white voters has fallen slightly from around 80 percent to 73 percent. If "widely disliked by white Americans" isn't an accurate description of those results, I don't know what is.

The simple fact is that Jacobson has a skewed and self-serving definition of "racism." Like most conservatives, Jacobson believes that any examination of white racial privilege or white racial resentment is beyond the pale, and that liberals are "the real racists" for acknowledging and studying the racial dimensions of our politics. In Jacobson's apparently error-filled dictionary, commenting on Sarah Palin's exclusive appeal to white voters is "playing the race card," but railing against interracial relationships is worthy of defense.

--Jamelle Bouie

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