Two incidents last week suggest once more that our confused, hypocritical, and politicized notions of race and relations will play a huge role in the presidential election. In the first, Virginia state senator L. Louise Lucas, part of Obama’s “Truth Team” campaigning for the president in Virginia, told a radio interviewer, “Mitt Romney, he’s speaking to … a segment of the population who does not like to see people other than a white man in the White House or in any other elective position. Let’s be real clear about it — Mitt Romney is speaking to a group of people out there who don’t like folks like President Barack Obama in any elective or leadership position. We know what’s going on here. And some people may be afraid to say it, but I’m not. … He’s speaking to that fringe out there who do not want to see anybody but a white person in a leadership position.” Given that over 45% of voters support Governor Romney, Lucas’ “fringe” is quite sizable. And just in case anyone missed the smear of these voters behind these words, Lucas went on, “I absolutely believe it’s all about race, and for the first time in my life I’ve been able to convince my children, finally, that racism is alive and well.”
The mainstream media, of course, ignored this crude racism. Not so with the next incident, which took place while Mitt Romney was in England. The Guardian quoted an anonymous Romney “adviser” as saying, “We [England and the U.S.] are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special.” In contrast to the lack of a response to Lucas’ comments, the Obama administration, via its dyslexic attack dog Joe Biden, called the comment “beneath a presidential campaign”––unlike, I suppose, calling your opponents racists, as Lucas did. Charles Blow, columnist and blogger for the New York Times, designated the comment a “poisonous idea” on the paper’s Campaign Stops blog. Blow went on, “Not all Republicans are intolerant, but the intolerant seem to have found a home under their tent. And instead of chasing the intolerant out, the party turns a blind eye — or worse, gives a full embrace — and counts up their votes.”
The lack of condemnation of Lucas’ remarks on the part of an administration that promised a new post-partisan, post-racial political world, and the lack of interest on the part of a media usually meticulous about documenting and decrying racism, show just how intellectually and morally corrupt is our national public discourse about race. On the other hand, the mainstream media’s hysteria over an unnamed advisor’s historically accurate, even banal, remark––one Romney immediately disavowed–– is equally revealing. Whether through historical ignorance or convenient historical amnesia, the interpretation of the phrase “Anglo-Saxon heritage” as somehow referring to race or DNA, as Blow does or as blogger Joan Walsh did on Salon, illustrates how thoroughly ideological race-consciousness has become the reflexive explanation for everything.
The idea that “heritage,” however, means “race” lives on only on the fringes of American political discourse. Most people understand our Anglo-Saxon heritage to refer to cultural and political ideas shared by England and America, the same ones that lie behind much of the political order enshrined in the Constitution, and that influenced founders like Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was an “Anglo-Saxonist” who venerated the semi-mythical Saxon leaders Hengist and Horsa, and whose political thought was influenced by Obadiah Hulme’s Historical Essay on the English Constitution, which credited the Anglo-Saxon government with linking popular rule to limited government, and making both the guarantor of political freedom.
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