In the now seemingly-distant halcyon days of the 2008 presidential campaign, the election of the first African-American president carried with it the promise of exorcizing the phantoms that have haunted America’s race relations. Many political observers surmised that with Barack Obama election, self-anointed and often polarizing black leader Reverend Jesse Jackson would retreat into obscurity.
But like the antagonist in a horror flick who refuses to die or reaches out from the beyond the grave as soon as the credits begin rolling, Rev. Jackson clawed back into the spotlight on Wednesday, directing offensive remarks toward a black congressman who had the temerity to vote against health care reform.
At a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation dinner commemorating the 25th anniversary of his campaign for the White House, Rev. Jackson directed pointed criticism at Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) by saying “You can’t vote against health care and call yourself a black man.” Davis, who was the only CBC member to vote against the bill, is also running for governor in his solidly-conservative state, where the legislation is viewed as unpopular.
With those impolitic remarks, Rev. Jackson set a new low in the already controversial debate over President Obama’s signature domestic initiative. Because some of the president’s most ardent defenders continue to conflate legitimate opposition to his policies – as well as animated grassroots activism such as the Tea Party movement – with racism, it’s not a leap of logic to view Rev. Jackson’s comments as an extension of a very cynical ploy to use race to intimidate President Obama’s critics. It is also consistent with a disturbing pattern of black public figures attacking other blacks who express reservations about President Obama’s agenda, or even slightly agree with his critics.
In October, a heated on-air debate between radio talk show host Warren Ballentine and columnist Juan Williams led to Mr. Ballentine directing racial slurs at Williams for his defense of conservative firebrand Rush Limbaugh. Ballentine told Williams to ‘go back to the porch.’
In a September interview with conservative talk radio personality Mark Levin, sports commentator Stephen A. Smith – a black man and an Obama supporter – expressed his discomfort with the president’s agenda. For the transgression of straying from liberal orthodoxy, Mr. Smith took incoming fire from other blacks that questioned both the motives for his criticism – and his blackness.
The behavior exhibited by Rev Jackson – and those like Ballentine – is consistent with the relentlessly hostile treatment, which black liberals normally reserve for black conservatives. Since President Obama’s ascendance, anything less than complete fealty to the president is perceived as traitorous to the black community. Rev. Jackson’s remarks not only have a chilling effect on public discourse, they also undermine the concept of African-American political maturity, one that doesn’t require all blacks to think and vote monolithically.
Alas, race-baiting is proving a stubborn beast to slay, despite the initial promise of racial comity when the president was inaugurated last January. Little wonder that a recent Gallup poll showed only marginal movement in America’s attitudes toward race relations after a spurt higher in the wake of President Obama’s historic election.
The demonstrations of racial essentialism shown by Rev. Jackson, Warren Ballentine and their ilk do the president no favors with the general public. By refracting every disagreement through the prism of race, the president’s supporters are setting brother against brother, while subverting what should be the beneficial impact of having a non-white commander-in-chief. Incidents that continue to showcase the left’s obsession with race only serve to delay reconciliation between the races.