I've been holding off on writing something about the bizarre spectacle of the Derrick Bell "exposé" that has consumed the nuttier corners of the right in the last couple of days, simply because it's so weird and pathetic that I wasn't sure exactly how to talk about it beyond simple ridicule. In case you missed it, here's the story, briefly: Just before he died, conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart said his web enterprises would soon release an explosive video that would transform the 2012 election by revealing Barack Obama's radical ties. The video turned out to be of something that was not only utterly unremarkable, but had been reported before. In 1991, when Obama was a student at Harvard Law School, the school was embroiled in a controversy over the under-representation of minorities on the faculty. Derrick Bell, the first black tenured professor at the school and a widely admired figure in legal circles, announced that he would take a leave until the school made efforts to hire more minority faculty. Obama spoke at a rally in support of Bell, and in support of more minorities on the faculty. And that's the shocking revelation. Oh, and one more thing that conservatives are up in arms about—they hugged. Really.
Over at Breitbart's web site, I count eight separate pieces on Derrick Bell (who died last year), trying to make the case that he was some kind of insane radical pushing radical theories of radicalism, all with the intention of oppressing white people, which is obviously what Barack Obama is up to as well. Just to get a flavor, here's an excerpt from one of the articles:
Racialism is so woven into the thinking of Bell, and many believe Barack Obama, any white individual, regardless of ideology or personal attribute lacks the ability to understand and relate racism in America. Consequently, the notion of racial quotas is not simply based upon some idea of equality of opportunity, they must be imposed as white's [sic] are inferior to blacks in an area Bell and Obama see as critical. While we like to think of equality as color blind, that is not the view Bell shared as a "truth" Obama embraced and encouraged others to do, as well.
You'll notice the chain of logic, though I use that term loosely: Here's an exaggeration of something Derrick Bell once said, "many believe" Obama thinks in the same way, here's a leap to a parody of policies Obama doesn't actually support, here's a conclusion about how Obama hates white people and wants to screw them.
From the beginning of Breitbart's enterprise, race-baiting was a key element of his attack on Barack Obama, one that continues even after his death. And he always had plenty of company, from Glenn Beck saying Obama "has a deep-seated hatred of white people," to Rush Limbaugh's repeated insistence to his white listeners that Obama was motivated by racial hatred in everything he did. "Obama's entire economic program is reparations," Limbaugh proclaimed. "The days of [minorities] not having any power are over, and they are angry," he said. "And they want to use their power as a means of retribution. That's what Obama's about, gang." When in 2009 he found a story about a white kid getting beaten up by a black kid on a school bus, Limbaugh said, "In Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, 'Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on.'" And yes, he did that last part in an exaggerated "black" accent.
The message is always the same: Obama and the blacks are mad, and they're coming for you. Yet people like the Breitbart folks and Limbaugh have two problems. First, they're running out of material. There aren't any more shocking revelations to be had. The best they can do is try to make mountains of racial resentment out of the most innocuous molehills, like the fact that Obama supported Derrick Bell's effort to diversify the faculty when he was a law student. And second, by now anyone who can be convinced that Obama is a secret Black Panther never thought otherwise. The guy has been president for three years. Americans are pretty familiar with him. He hasn't actually started herding white people into concentration camps, and it's an awfully tough sell to tell people that he might any day now.
This is a version of the larger problem conservatives have as we get into the 2012 election. The argument many of them will be making, in various forms, is this: Forget about what Obama has actually done. That doesn't tell you anything. Let me tell you a story about his secret desires, his wicked thoughts, his venomous heart. That's what your decision should be based on. You hear it from media bloviators, you hear it from interest groups, like the NRA screeching that if he's re-elected Obama will outlaw guns, and you hear it from Mitt Romney, who is forever claiming that deep down Obama doesn't much love America and wants to turn it into a European-style social-welfare state. Who are you going to believe, them, me, or or your own eyes?
Watching this stuff is immensely dispiriting, I'll grant you. But it should be some consolation that it doesn't seem to be working.