Bickering Over Race Baiting

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is an interesting character. Sure, his name is Reince Priebus, which is original enough, but he also possesses a unique talent for criticizing the media for being in the pocket of the Democratic Party in a way that angers the media and the Democratic Party.
You might remember Priebus’s “war on caterpillars” quip.

If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars, and mainstream media outlets talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we have problems with caterpillars.

The line, meant to demonstrate the absurdity of the widely purported war on women, ignited a firestorm in the lefty blogosphere. Look how out of touch the Republicans are. The response went. By minimizing / not recognizing the war on women, Priebus is fighting the war on women!
It turned out in that case that Democrats with more sense than DNC Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz—who helped pioneer the phrase— eventually tamped down the “war on women” stuff, and it died.
But now Reince is at it again, this time with race instead of sex.
The spark here was the recent revelation from the New York Times that a conservative Super PAC planned to roll out the old Obama-Reverend Wright-radical racial politics-cabal line of attack in negative ads, and the subsequent media -obsession with the story.
Priebus, obviously annoyed that Republicans were being held accountable for the hypothetical actions of an independent Super PAC, took umbrage at being questioned on the matter on CNN.

I know how it works. It’s the Democrats and Barack Obama that want the story out there. He wants the story to play out in the media, because for every day that [Obama adviser] David Axelrod and this President don’t have to talk about their broken promises when it comes to jobs, the debt, and the deficit — the more time they can talk about hypotheticals that may or may not come true — is a day they want to win on. So, look, this president’s got a bigger problem and his problem is no matter what he puts out there, no matter what distractions he puts out there, he can’t change the truth and escape the reality of where we are in this American economy. And it’s no good.

The implication, either lost or intentionally unacknowledged in the subsequent media analysis, is that the media does what the president wants them to, the president wants this non-story to be a story, and so the media reports on it ad-nauseum.
I happen to think that Preibus, who was vindicated on the war on caterpillars comment, is mostly right here as well, but I admit it’s hard to say. He probably should have begun his comment by condemning any attempt to make the president’s race a factor in this election, and then launched into his legitimate critique of the media. Where you land on this is really dependent on whether or not you think a politician / party can be held responsible for the actions of sympathetic Super PACs. I’m not totally decided on that question, but I think it’s reasonable to say that they are partially but not entirely responsible. The whole thing is reminiscent of the firestorm over Hilary Rosen’s comments on Ann Romney. Somebody tangentially related to a campaign does something stupid, and the other campaign jumps on it and beats it to death in an effort to gain a political edge.
Regardless of whether or not Priebus was right, the left certainly wasn’t happy with the comments.
I happen to be a big fan of Professor Skip Gates’s online magazine The Root, and they usually produce some of the best content on race and politics around, but last week they posted a disappointingly partisan and misleading article by Edward Wyckoff Williams on the Priebus comment.
The article begins by announcing (rather obviously falsely) that Priebus “recently blamed President Barack Obama for GOP operatives’ race-baiting methods.” Wyckoff Williams goes on to quote Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.): “I guess this year Republicans are going to blame President Obama for being black.”
It’s possible that Rep. Cleaver genuinely misunderstood Priebus’s statement—which blames the media for helping the president by over-reporting on a non-story—as blaming Obama for being black. I find this unlikely.
Priebus’s base assumption, and the reason he is upset about the coverage the situation has garnered, deserves explication. Put simply, it is bad for the GOP if Reverend Wright is trotted back into the spotlight. Never mind that a closer inspection of the infamous “God Damn America” speech reveals that it actually makes a more-or-less legitimate theological point (something that is further established by recently released interviews with Wright). The whole thing makes race more salient to the 2012 election. Maybe, maybe, that results in a few more racists coming to the polls and voting against Obama. But mostly it makes the President more sympathetic to everyone else, and it makes the Republicans look alarmist and racist. Priebus also emphasized that it distracts from the economy.
It’s still early. Mostly the campaigns are filling space with this nonsense until they roll out their real platforms come convention time. It is possible that this type of finger-pointing will give way to substantive finger-pointing. In the meantime, get used to hearing the two sides intentionally mishear each other.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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