- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Democrats are settling on one major election strategy: Portray opposition to President Obama as a form of racism. In a nutshell, the liberal argument is that conservative dissent from Mr. Obama’s social democratic agenda - Obamacare, the nearly $1 trillion stimulus and Dodd-Frank - is driven not by the color of the president’s politics, but the color of his skin.

This line of attack first began several years ago. It was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who compared critics of Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul to the defenders of “slavery” and “Jim Crow.” In other words, dislike for socialized medicine is akin to nostalgia for white supremacy. According to liberal Democrats, it can’t possibly be for legitimate reasons. The fact that government-run health care causes rationing, inevitably leads to higher taxes and lower quality care, imposes a multitrillion-dollar entitlement the nation cannot afford, and dangerously expands the power of the state to make life-and-death decisions regarding the health of citizens and their families - all of this, for the left, is merely an intellectual cover for racial hostility against a black president. That the same arguments were rightly leveled against President Bill Clinton - who is white - during the 1993 debate over Hillarycare is irrelevant; nothing can stand in the way of the Democrats’ conservatives-are-racist narrative.

The latest assaults, however, go one step further: Any criticism of the president’s big-government policies is a sign of subtle bigotry. During Monday’s GOP presidential TV debate in South Carolina, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was scolded by liberal moderator Juan Williams for referring to Mr. Obama as the “food stamp president.” To his credit, Mr. Gingrich did not back down. He rightly pointed out that record numbers of Americans are now on food stamps due to the president’s welfare liberalism. Moreover, Mr. Gingrich also argued that the culture of government dependency - and the endemic poverty it breeds - has disproportionately affected minorities. Instead of charging that such claims “belittle the African-American community,” as Mr. Williams said, Mr. Gingrich retorted that free-market capitalism - the stress on self-reliance, hard work and entrepreneurship - offers the only true path to prosperity for all Americans, especially impoverished blacks. The problem is not a racist America - it’s a statist America. The Republican crowd roared, giving Mr. Gingrich a standing ovation. For the left, it was an angry expression of the lingering desire to restore the old Confederacy and politically lynch a black man.

“Well, we know what is going on. And the people that don’t hear it don’t want to hear it,” said MSNBC host Chris Matthews. “You cannot argue a person into it. You cannot tell a person that is code, because the people that don’t want to hear that it’s code will say it’s not and the people that clearly hear that it’s code will. It’s not something that you can argue with a person.”

And what was this supposed code? Mr. Matthews said that the Republican primary represents a “receding white culture of the past trying to reclaim something.” Former President Jimmy Carter agreed. He condemned Mr. Gingrich for using phrases like “food stamp president” and his calls for a stronger work ethic among the poor, saying such statements are deliberately “appealing to the wrong element in South Carolina.”

Hurling the racism charge has been used by liberals for years as an ideological stick to bludgeon conservative critics. In our time, it is the equivalent of previously being called a witch or heretic: a libelous smear that, if it sticks, results in social ostracism. Yet, the fact that liberals are now repeatedly - and blindly - resorting to it is a sign of desperation. It shows they are unable to defend Mr. Obama’s abysmal record. His presidency has been an utter failure.

This presidency has been totally inept, especially for blacks. The black unemployment rate is at its highest in more than 30 years. Unemployment for black males hovers near 20 percent - approaching Great Depression levels. For black male teenagers, it is more than an astounding 40 percent. Instead of restoring economic recovery and focusing on urban blight and the loss of manufacturing and blue-collar jobs, the Obama administration has been obsessed with other priorities: Obamacare, cap-and-trade legislation, amnesty for illegal immigrants and spending billions on the green economy. This may resonate with trendy academic liberals, but it has done nothing for the besieged black community.

Hence, progressives have only one option left: Play the race card. They are also using it against his likely Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. In a recent Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, liberal writer Lee Siegel argues that Mr. Romney has a secret weapon in a general election campaign: his race. According to Mr. Siegel, “The simple, impolitely stated fact is that Mitt Romney is the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory.” That’s right: Mr. Romney embodies white Anglo-Saxon culture and - through his business experience, large and seemingly idyllic family, and defense of bourgeois values - represents the “cultural alternative to America’s first black president.” In short, Mr. Siegel is essentially saying a vote for Mr. Romney is a manifestation of racism - a desire by white America to reassert itself.

For decades, the postmodern left has embraced identity politics. They view America as an irredeemably evil nation, an aggregation of oppressed groups victimized by the white power structure. Mr. Obama’s presidency represents the logical culmination of identity politics. It is a kind of liberal fascism - everything is viewed through the lens of race. People are not distinct individuals; rather, they are members of an ethnic or racial tribe. The irony is as leftists run around screaming bigotry at every conservative in sight, they are revealing their own perverse obsession with race. The only racism they are exposing is their own.

Yet, Mr. Obama is a socialist bent on transforming America. This is why he has lost Middle America. By charging racism, the left is only further polarizing our nation along ideological and racial lines.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.