As an observer on the national scene lo these many years, I have noted time and again that in a discussion of politics, the first person to inject the topic of race into the discussion is often the racist. Though that person almost always affects to be without bigotry, in fact, he invariably is a racist and hopes to emerge from the fracas as the moral colossus. Those who have followed the careers of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Holiness Al Sharpton will get my drift. These frauds would have to be debating George Wallace to be the lesser racists and, frankly, I think the contests would be too close to call.
Last week, we observed the phenomenon once again. This time it was in a discussion of politics on MSNBC led by Lawrence O'Donnell, who interviewed Herman Cain, the surprising "nonpolitician" who is fast becoming a powerful contender for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. O'Donnell is a white liberal. Mr. Cain is a black conservative. Mr. O'Donnell clearly was the racist as he led the discussion with a series of questions that most civilized people would find bizarre. Mr. O'Donnell also was a bully and a creep. The way his eyes rarely moved while he was directing a clearly offensive line of questioning to Mr. Cain suggests that he probably was not aware that his behavior was offensive. Sociopaths can be TV interviewers, too.
Since Mr. Cain came in second in a straw poll in Florida, his star has been in the ascendency. Now he is polling ahead of Mitt Romney in South Carolina. He has pulled even in Virginia and is on the march almost everywhere. I say another appearance with the racist Mr. O'Donnell and he will be preparing to move into the White House.
Mr. O'Donnell's line in interviewing Mr. Cain is typical of how liberals treat conservative blacks, and white America does not like it. I doubt black America does, either. Mr. O'Donnell might actually be a unifier, uniting all America once and for all against those who try to divide us along the lines of race. His lines of attack were breathtaking in their hypocrisy. First he attacked Mr. Cain for dodging the draft when Mr. Cain was working for the Navy in field ballistics and was asked by the Navy to continue his work as a civilian. He did. Mr. O'Donnell, for his part, never wore a uniform and never served in any branch of the armed forces. He got a deferment. Then he accused Mr. Cain of not supporting the civil rights movement by obeying his father and finishing high school and college. Mr. O'Donnell never aided the civil rights movement and did not perform particularly well in college. Still he accused Mr. Cain of standing on the sidelines during the civil rights movement. Mr. O'Donnell was in the bleachers.
In his interview he accused Mr. Cain of "insulting the intelligence of all blacks" for using the word "brainwashed" to refer to automatically voting liberal. With the utmost calm, Mr. Cain replied, "I did not insult the intelligence of all black Americans. I insulted the attitude of those who will not consider an alternate idea." Mr. Cain went on to say that black people "did not consider my statements insulting because a lot of them are thinking for themselves." Then Mr. Cain did what a clever politician does. He turned around and focused not on himself defensively but on the president aggressively.
"Now, if they want to talk about insulting," Mr. Cain said, "they need to look at the president when he talks to the Congressional Black Caucus and insulted black people, in my opinion, by telling them to take off their slippers and put on their marching boots, when he has had nothing but failed policies."
The other night in the debate, he did the same, defending his "9-9-9" policy confidently. He does this with a cheerful demeanor that no one else in the race can muster. Mr. Cain is perfectly comfortable in debate and on the campaign trail. His secret is that he is a superior gent. He has the best analytical mind of anyone in the race and the best disposition. That is a pretty good definition of character. Mr. O'Donnell is the opposite.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. He is author of "After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery" (Thomas Nelson, 2010).
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