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It’s Not the Color, Stupid

March 22nd, 2007

I usually don’t comment on the stupidity that gushes from the mouths of shock pundits like Limbaugh and Coulter, but one chestnut that Limbaugh spouted recently touches on a strange obsession by conservatives: that Barack Obama is only considered special because he’s black. Even the mainstream media has picked up on this and gone to weird places, claiming that Obama “isn’t black enough” and putting way too much focus on color and ethnicity. The conservative slant is, Obama is running and Democrats like him because he’s black; that somehow, this is what everybody’s excited about.

Which is just plain stupid. I’m sure it’s what people like Limbaugh would love people to believe, that color is all there is to Obama, or that Democrats are so dumb and shallow that they’ll go wild whenever a black person declares their candidacy for president. The finer point is that Obama is close enough to white that he’s comfortable enough to white voters–in essence, so they can vote for a black man without having to actually vote for a black man. Which is just as stupid. As great as it would be to have the color boundary broken in the presidency, it’s far from being a reason to go nuts over a candidate like people are going nuts over Obama. Anyone who believes that color plays more than a tiny part in his widespread appeal is blind to everything but color.

Obama’s a big thing simply because he’s appealing. Color has nothing to do with it. This does. Watch his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, and you’ll get a clear idea why he’s so popular. He has the charisma and likability that make for a powerful candidate. He appeals to a broad range of people, and comes across as the fresh, new type of candidate that people have been yearning for. He could be white, and the reaction would be the same.

Simply put, Obama is the new Bill Clinton, without the extramarital affairs and all the other baggage. He’s a very good communicator, able to stir people and get them excited. The Republican equivalent would be the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan–a great communicator who appeals to a broad range of people. Clinton was popular in part because he could appeal to anyone no matter what their color, which spurred some to call him the “first black president.” Not because of his color, but despite it. Obama has the same universal appeal, despite his color (and his name, for that matter). The fact that he’s black is irrelevant–it is only being played up by the media, and even more so by the far right wing. Which brings us to Limbaugh’s latest attempt to stir the racial pot.

So how did the whole Limbaugh-racist epithet thing begin? An L.A. Times Hollywood-and-politics columnist, David Ehrenstein, wrote a column which compared Obama to a Hollywood archetype sometimes referred to as the “Magic Negro,” a black character who serves the white establishment or helps the white protagonist, often providing a kind of affirmation of the white protagonist’s racial credentials. Ehrenstein explains the archetype with several movie examples (not all of which I find valid–I mean, Morgan Freeman in “Se7en”? Please) and then puts forth the claim that many white voters see Obama as their validation–that people like him because he’s not really black, but is “black enough” to let them believe they aren’t racists. Frankly, I’m amazed that this theory has gotten as much attention as it has; it is, to be blunt, the need for some to create a rationalization for an effect that isn’t there. It’s made up by people who cannot accept the idea that a man of color could get to be so popular without some convoluted white-guilt thing being in play. Heaven forbid that Obama is popular because he’s a great speaker with charisma. The assumption that it has to be because of his color is in itself racist, and that his followers only like Obama because they crave validation is demeaning.

In any case, Limbaugh read this article and apparently figured that since someone else used the term “Magic Negro,” he could then go to town with it. So, during his radio show, it was “Magic Negro” this, and “Magic Negro” that–Limbaugh used the term 27 times, and then even started singing a “Magic Negro” song to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon.” He also went to town on the whole idea that liberals are all flaming racists and Obama is their non-black black guy. But Limbaugh’s use of the term came across as more of a racist rant than a literary analogy, and Limbaugh himself wasn’t too coy about it; at one point, he crowed, “I’m going to keep referring to him as that because I want to make a bet that by the end of this week I will own that term.” Limbaugh is happy as a clam since he thinks he now has free license to use racist epithets without being called out for it.

Well, let Limbaugh babble away like a Tourette’s sufferer, so long as it’s understood that Limbaugh’s corner of right-wing fantasy is the only real place for that kind of pap.

While I’m on Limbaugh for the moment: he accused Arnold Schwarzenegger of “selling out” because the California governor, chastised by voters for trying to push a right-wing and Republican-based agenda, started working on a more bipartisan course, one example being his support for raising the minimum wage. With Schwarzenegger as a guest on the show, Limbaugh chastised him, saying, “Why are you selling out instead of being the true conservative you are?”

This is rather interesting considering that Schwarzenegger sold himself from the very beginning as someone who had relatively liberal views on social issues, and besides, would serve the people instead of the party. So, one can only suppose that Limbaugh is now pissed that Arnold is, if belatedly, living up to his word and doing what the people want, what they elected him as, instead of trying to smash unions and rig the district lines and other stuff coming straight out of GOP Central. Limbaugh is fine if a Republican sells himself as bipartisan, but if he actually acts that way once elected, then he’s “selling out.”


And, on a tangential note–what is with Republicans and “Puff the Magic Dragon”? Why do they seem to hate it so much? Remember during the Reagan-Bush years, they named a nuclear missile system “Puff” after the song? And when people protested a beloved children’s song used for a nuke program, conservatives tried to claim that the song about friendship, innocence, and loss was actually some conspiracy by hippies to indoctrinate kids into marijuana usage? (“Puff the Magic Drag-On,” they claimed.)


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  1. Tim Kane
    March 23rd, 2007 at 12:45 | #1

    That was a pretty good post,Luis. I especially like this line: “Anyone who believes that color plays more than a tiny part in his widespread appeal is blind to everything but color.” That says a lot.

    Republican’s worst nightmere is a charismatic liberal or democrat. To stress my point: JFK, RFK, MLK, all charismatic liberal or democrat, all assasinated. If Obama is successful, he better be careful because low level conserivatives have no trouble digging up some skin head flunky that knows how to use a rifle.

    The next biggest fear is an effective Democrat or liberal: such as Clinton or Walter Reuther (spell?). Reuther died in a plane crash which left some questions open. Clinton was assinated politically. We know its an assassination, because the assassin was Gingrich who was guilty of much greater infedelity and indiscretion than Clinton.

    Obama is a natural talent. And that talent supercedes his race or name or sex. He knows how to right powerful speeches, and he has a booming voice, much like the late great Senator Eagleton.

    If I were Obama, I’d were a lot of kevalar.

  2. Luis
    March 23rd, 2007 at 12:55 | #2

    Tim: Thanks, and I hadn’t considered the assassination angle. It won’t happen soon if it does, but it is something to worry about, especially if Obama’s opponents fail to find anything to hit him with that would actually stick. And plane crashes do seem to be the new loner-with-a-rifle. Two recent congressional elections gave Senate control to Republicans only because of Democratic candidates dying in plane crashes. Kind of begins to eat away too much at the laws of probability…

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