news flash: The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans.
And now that some Democrats are daring to point that out, in ads and interviews, the media is grabbing its smelling salts.
Mercy me! they’re crying—it’s unseemly for Southern candidates to mention that black people face discrimination, voter suppression and even violence in the Old Confederacy.
In an interview yesterday, Chuck Todd asked Senator Mary Landrieu, now locked in a tight race in Louisiana, “Why does President Obama have a hard time in Louisiana?” Fossil-fuel hawk Landrieu first cited Obama’s moratorium on off-shore drilling after the BP disaster, which she said put a lot of people out of business. Then, she ventured:
I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.
“Why is she talking like this?” Fox News host Bill Hemmer asked incredulously this morning. A guest came on to explain, “She is excusing her poor performance by blaming voters.”
It can’t be because it’s true.
Even the host of an Al Jazeera news show today, while not doubting the veracity of Landrieu’s comment, treated it like a gaffe, a bad one, and had an expert on to decide if Landrieu’s campaign was now doomed. (The verdict: maybe.)
More predictably, Republicans are shocked, shocked at Landrieu’s audacity. Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal called the remarks “remarkably divisive” and “a major insult” to Louisianans. “She appears to be living in a different century,” he said in a statement.
“Louisiana deserves better than a senator who denigrates her own people by questioning and projecting insidious motives on the very people she claims to represent,” State Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere said in a statement. “Senator Landrieu and President Obama are unpopular for no other reason than the fact the policies they advance are wrong for Louisiana and wrong for America.” And of course there’ve been demands that Landrieu apologize. (Do not do this, Mary.)
It’s not that people, left or right, shouldn’t object to Obama’s policies. But the claim that whites in the South, or elsewhere, hate Obama’s policies (many of which are Republican-bred) and are color-blind to his race is ludicrous. But they can get away with it in part because of the persistent myth that this is a post-racial America, the one the Supreme Court decided was so enlightened that it gutted the civil rights voting law and has allowed the voter ID laws in Texas to stand.
Right after making her “inflammatory” remarks about African-Americans, Landrieu went out on another limb and said of the South, “It’s not always been a good place for women to present ourselves. It’s more of a conservative place.” But even if Landrieu were pandering to blacks and women to get them to the polls, so what? Her statements are true and obvious. And this is an election.
The media have been similarly timid in accepting what’s true and obvious when it comes to covering the get-out-the-black-vote ad campaigns that cite Trayvon Martin, Ferguson and GOP hopes to impeach Obama. A front-page story in Wednesday’s New York Times described the various flyers and radio ads targeting African-Americans, especially in the South:
The images and words they are using are striking for how overtly they play on fears of intimidation and repression….
In North Carolina, the “super PAC” started by Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, ran an ad on black radio that accused the Republican candidate, Thom Tillis, of leading an effort to pass the kind of gun law that “caused the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.”
In Georgia, Democrats are circulating a flier warning that voting is the only way “to prevent another Ferguson.” It shows two black children holding cardboard signs that say “Don’t shoot.”….
In Arkansas, voters are opening mailboxes to find leaflets with images of the Ferguson protests and the words: “Enough! Republicans are targeting our kids, silencing our voices and even trying to impeach our president.” The group distributing them is Color of Change, a grass-roots civil rights organization.
In Georgia, the state Democratic Party is mixing themes of racial discrimination with appeals to rally behind the only black man elected president. “It’s up to us to vote to protect the legacy of the first African-American president,” one flier reads.
It’s not that the Times story necessarily agrees with conservatives that these ads are “race-baiting”—it’s the tone of strained, he-said/she-said “balance”:
That has led Republicans to accuse Democrats of turning to race-baiting in a desperate bid to win at the polls next Tuesday.
“They have been playing on this nerve in the black community that if you even so much as look at a Republican, churches will start to burn, your civil rights will be taken away and young black men like Trayvon Martin will die,” said Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican Party….
Democrats say Republicans need to own their record of passing laws hostile to African-American interests on issues like voting rights.
But the story doesn’t cut through the journalistic niceties until the very end.
For many African-Americans, feelings of persecution—from voter ID laws, aggressive police forces and a host of other social problems— are hard to overstate. And they see no hyperbole in the attacks.
“It’s not race-baiting; it’s actually happening,” said Jaymes Powell Jr., an official in the North Carolina Democratic Party’s African-American Caucus. “I can’t catch a fish unless there’s a worm on the hook.”
UPDATE: Good for her: In a statement issued late Friday, Landrieu refused to apologize and defended her remarks. On Saturday’s Fox & Friends, a chryon at the bottom of the screen read that Landrieu “stands by racist, sexist remarks.” Sure, they were referring to her remarks about racism and sexism, but somehow it didn’t come out that way.