There's been a great deal of speculation yesterday about how much of the right's opposition to Obama has to do with race, but yesterday right-wing media figures simply tore the mask right off. Responding to a video of a fight on a school bus in Belleville St. Louis, Michelle Malkin cried "racial thuggery in St. Louis" -- pivoting off a police comment that the fight may have been racially motivated -- and demanded the president turn this into another "teachable moment."
The police later backed off the claim that the fight was racially motivated, but Malkin was having none of it: "Given the explosive consequences of candor about such matters," she wrote, "this is not surprising." I don't know if there was a racial motive in the fight or not -- but I know that Malkin doesn't know either. But all that Malkin needed to know to believe that the incident was racially motivated was that a black kid had beaten up a white kid. No amount of obvious racial animus directed toward a black person could possibly provoke this kind of visceral, tribal reaction from Malkin. And in fact, when she's not explicitly arguing in favor of denying people rights based on race, she's dismissing the very idea that racism against people of color exists. Unless that person happens to be on the right (like, you know, her), in which case the flimsiest pretext will do.
Malkin didn't know all the facts, but she was happy to whip her readers into a racialized frenzy, with her approvingly quoting Gateway Pundit, who wondered "where Al Sharpton is." Michelle, in this case, you ARE Al Sharpton. You are the "race hustler" you've been waiting for.
Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, used the incident to give a little context to all those cries of "I want my country back." Responding to the tape, which shows the teenage observers getting excited about the altercation, "[I]n Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering." I've been in my share of schoolyard fights -- and the reaction of the teenagers in the video, from what I can see, is pretty boilerplate. They saw a fight, they egged it on. That's what kids do. But Limbaugh's formulation is telling -- he perceives an explicit reversal of the way things are supposed to be. In Limbaugh's America, the black kids know their place, and that place isn't in the White House. "Don't you see," Limbaugh is saying, "This is what happens when you let them run things."
Yesterday, the right's reaction to the fight in St. Louis exposed an ugly truth: that some on the right have embraced Pat Buchanan's view that America is in a zero-sum competition for resources between the white and nonwhite, that the elevation of people like Barack Obama or Sonia Sotomayor is an explicit threat to the well-being of white Americans, and that anything on Obama's legislative agenda is, by definition, an attempt to redistribute the resources that rightfully belong to the deserving white majority to villainous nonwhites. At this point, Limbaugh's rhetoric is only a shade away from the optimistic white supremacists who hoped Obama's election would usher in some kind of "awakening" about the danger posed by a fairer and more integrated America. Limbaugh -- and presumably some of his listeners -- actually believe they are living in a country where white people are an oppressed group -- like black people living under Jim Crow.
Meanwhile I leave you with the last paragraph from that same report in the St. Louis Dispatch:
Belleville has had a long history of racial turmoil, with a past that includes police harassment of black motorists, cross burnings and discrimination in city hiring.
Malkin, Limbaugh, and all their cohorts on the right didn't mention that. For Limbaugh certainly, that's the way things ought to be.
-- A. Serwer