What’s racist code for “racist code word?” UPDATE: She’s back! (Or is she?)

I’m a few days behind the news curve with this post, so forgive me.  I wasn’t going to post on this subject, but it’s been nagging at me, and it’s just too important to let go this far.  (And I did say at the beginning that I’d be posting on language, didn’t I?  Warts and all, I suppose.)

The McCain campaign released an advertisement recently in response to the Obama-Biden campaign’s reaction to the naming of Sarah Palin to the GOP ticket, focusing on nastiness funneled in her direction since the announcement that she was joining the ticket:

David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo wasted no time posting down his nose at the ad, but his “rebuttal” had nothing to do with Palin.  Instead, what had drawn Kurtz’s sneering disdain was the ad’s use of the word disrespectful to describe the Obama campaign’s behavior toward the Alaska governor.  Kurtz seethed about the “contempt” inherent in the word “disrespectful.”  Now, he’s probably got a point, as far as it goes; I doubt the ad was meant to lionize Sen. Obama.  But then Kurtz takes it a step (or two, or ten, or twenty…) further:  characterizing the use of the word “disrespectful” as:

“The sort of old-fashioned contempt that whites often held blacks in (and obviously still do).”

According to David Kurtz of TPM, “disrespectful” is the latest addition to that infamous glossary known in the grievance trade as racist code words.

Gory details of the most recent incarnations and perversions of this phenomenon below the break.

The rate of new additions to this Fiend’s Vocabulary has gone through the roof in the last year, increasing as Obama draws closer to his brass ring (and, perversely enough, rising just as fast now that the ring may be slipping away from him).  Newly minted entries include:

  • Unqualified: Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius was at an Obama rally in June for a speech-cum-vice-presidential audition when she nominated this one, declaring Obama’s thin résumé off-limits under pain of racism charges.  (The theme for the entire day was one long warning of the inevitable GOP racial attacks to come in the event of Obama’s nomination.)
  • Liberal: Another Sebelius brainchild, same speech.  Gov. Sebelius should be congratulated for outing National Journal as the closet Klan pamphlet it obviously is, and not the nonpartisan political bible everybody else in American politics and political journalism says it is.
  • Inexperienced: The governor clearly got Sen. Obama’s blood pumping, because after she introduced him, he announced that this also lurked in the GOP’s “How Not to Say ‘Black'” manual.
  • Young: This was another item on Obama’s list that day.  (How you go from “young” to “black” is a question you’d need him to answer, because I can’t.)

The hilarious irony is that (with the obvious exception of “liberal,” though I’m sure they’d use it if they could) the Obama campaign wasted no time throwing all of these at Sarah Palin the moment her name was announced as the number-two candidate on the Republican ticket.  Has anyone asked the folks who keep track of these things whether the above catalog of racial code words and phrases also apply for charges of sexism?  If so, the victimization industry must be salivating at the prospect of going after the Democrats.

With the new addition of disrespectful to the lexicon of racial cudgel-words, political discourse has just grown another few degrees chillier.  Political debate and progress depend on communication.  The David Kurtzes of the political yakkosphere do us no favors by turning our primary mode of communication — our language — against us with fake taboos and slanderous innuendo, all for the sake of ideological jockeying.  All we can do is refuse to give in to strategic censors like David Kurtz, and prevent petty attempts to slap down legitimate exchanges of views…or calls to keep them respectful.

UPDATE: (Via Hot Air.)  Despite the fact that only she and her fellow Democrats have ever brought up, even obliquely, the issue of Barack Obama’s race in this campaign (see past articles by the Washington Post and ABC News saying as much), Kathleen Sebelius has returned with a new round of utterly baseless charges of race-baiting leveled against the McCain-Palin campaign and Republicans in general.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius accused Republicans on Tuesday of injecting race into the presidential campaign, arguing that they are using “code language” to convince Midwesterners that Democrat Barack Obama is different from them.

“Have any of you noticed that Barack Obama is part African-American?” Sebelius asked with sarcasm. “(Republicans) are not going to go lightly into the darkness.”

Sebelius was responding to a question from the audience at the Iowa City Public Library about the tenacity of Democrats and whether they would fight for victory as hard as Republicans in the closing weeks of the election.

She did not elaborate on her comment.

Not much to elaborate on, since there’s nothing there.  If anybody reading can cite anything from McCain-Palin that Sebelius could point to in elaboration, I’m all ears.  (And I’m sorry, but secret messages in McCain’s tie pattern don’t count.)

By the way, you may have noticed that the above-linked Miami Herald article from AP about Sebelius is a cached version on Hot Air’s server.  That’s because what’s up there now on the Herald’s server is a sanitized version of the above quote (which has otherwise gone down the memory hole).  The Herald’s AP dispatch now quotes Gov. Sebelius as follows:

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday that a belief among some voters that Democrat Barack Obama is different from them is hindering his campaign for president.

Asked at a brown-bag lunch at the local library why the campaign is neck-and-neck, Sebelius said “code language” raising doubts about Obama is invalid because his life experience “has a lot more to do with me and my family.”

“I think that the notion that, ‘By the way, have any of you noticed that Barack Obama is part African American?’ I think that is for a number of people difficult,” Sebelius said. “I think we need to talk about the fact that that is a real issue.”

No trace anymore of her speculation about Republicans “not [going] lightly into the darkness.”  Why?  Perhaps Gov. Sebelius’s use of the word “darkness” in a sense that could easily be construed as a racial pun was a little too ridiculous in a story about a woman who has made a cottage industry out of fake accusations of racial code word usage by Republicans.

You’d think that after Obama’s surreal two-day exercise in damage control after his “lipstick on a pig” flap (which even the sympathetic audience at the time took as a veiled slap at Gov. Palin through the “lipstick” metaphor), he might be a little more sensitive to the prospect of throwing out accusations of invidious coded messages, whether personally or through surrogates.

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3 thoughts on “What’s racist code for “racist code word?” UPDATE: She’s back! (Or is she?)

  1. Pingback: DNC member endorses McCain « WitSnapper | The Blog

  2. Pingback: So much for “code words” « WitSnapper | The Blog

  3. Pingback: Swimming against the rapids « WitSnapper | The Blog

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