Thursday, April 02, 2009


In his Wall Street Journal column today, Karl Rove marshals evidence that the Obama White House and various groups inside and outside the Democratic party are (gasp!) working to put pressure on wavering Dem moderates to support the president's policies, while (double gasp!) criticizing administration critics. Rove sees something thuggish in all this:

"Don't think we're not keeping score, brother." That's what President Barack Obama said to Rep. Peter DeFazio in a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus last week, according to the Associated Press.

A few weeks ago, Mr. DeFazio voted against the administration's stimulus bill....

Members of Congress should ... worry about how Mr. Obama is "keeping score." He is steeped in the ways of Chicago politics and has not forgotten his training in the methods once used by Saul Alinsky, the radical Chicago community organizer....

Wow -- "steeped in the ways of Chicago politics." There's that again.

A commenter at Steve Benen's blog says:

Oh Steve, fercryinoutloud, you know perfectly well what Rove is saying: "Chicago" = "scary nigger".

Nahhh -- I don't think so. In fact, I think race is part of the reason Rove (and others who like the "Chicago"/thug imagery) will never get it to stick.

The problem for these guys is that, when they insinuate something sinister about "Chicago," the average person pictures a white person -- probably a stereotypical dese-dems-and-doze guy with a propensity for violence or at least strong-arm tactics.

This poses a few problems for the Republicans. First, the president is black and upscale -- and it's awfully hard for the party that's worked so hard to paint him as an arugula-eating preppy and a guy with (horrors!) Jay-Z on his iPod and Jeremiah Wright in his past to turn around and portray him as Big Vinnie from Da Neighbuhhood. Right-wingers since Wallace and Nixon have spent the last half-century cultivating white ethnics and proclaiming that they have absolutely no interests in common with African-Americans. Now they want us to believe, on a reptile-brain level, that a black guy is a white ethnic?

Whoops -- am I conflating white-ethnic thumb-breakers and honest white ethnics? Well, yeah, a bit -- but I don't mean to offend, because the culture at large likes white-ethnic thugs. White tough guys are "colorful." They're folk heroes -- not like those superpredators in the ghetto (at least as far as the pre-hip-hop generations are concerned). We name pizza chains after white mobsters and watch the family struggles of white mobsters' relatives on reality TV. (I'm saying this as an East Coast Italian-American who saw a lot of "Mafia Staff Car" bumper stickers in Italian neighborhoods growing up.) So even if you could succeed in associating Obama with this kind of behavior, would it even make him look bad?

And then you throw Alinsky into the pot? On a reptile-brain level, that confuses everything. A lefty theorist? In the public consciousness, that's the antithesis of a tough guy.

Of course, to the Limbaughbots who make up Rove's core audience, all this is additive: Obama is an arugula-eating effete wuss and a dangerous radical cell organizer and Vinnie Da Thumb-Breakuh.

But it's not going to work for anyone else -- Obama just seems too reasonable and too upmarket, and, well, too black.

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