This is how the whole thing started. David Ehrenstein, a writer who happens to be black and liberal, wrote an opinion piece in March 2007 in the Los Angeles Times called "Obama the 'Magic Negro.'"
He argued that whites, according to sociologists, stereotype blacks as "dangerous." But whites consider Obama accessible, likeable and "benign." This, according to Ehrenstein, explains Obama's "crossover" appeal.
The article insults a) Obama, by virtually ignoring his effectiveness as a candidate, b) whites, by accusing them of voting for Obama merely to assuage their own guilt and c) Sidney Poitier, the brilliant, groundbreaking actor, for ascribing his success to whites who find him safe and nonthreatening.
The article produced virtually no outcry.
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh then aired a song parody â€“ set to the music of "Puff the Magic Dragon" â€“ called "Barack the Magic Negro." Referring to the Times article, an Al Sharpton-like "singer" called Obama inauthentically black. Why, complained the singer, should white folks vote for Obama rather than a true black man "from the hood" like â€“ me.
Chip Saltsman, a candidate for chairman of the Republican National Committee, sent the song on a CD with 40 other songs, in a Christmas mailer to committee members. Doesn't the mailer, asked several cable news programs, expose the Republicans â€“ yet again â€“ for their tone deafness on the issue of race? CNN host Anderson Cooper asked about the term "Negro." Isn't it pejorative?
Never mind the parody actually satirized Al Sharpton. The song implies that Sharpton hoped against an Obama victory, for it crushes Sharpton's argument about America's alleged institutional racism, a force so potent in a country so racist that Obama could not win. An Obama win threatens to reduce the significance of Sharpton-like black leaders. And never mind a black liberal â€“ who started the whole thing â€“ called Obama a "negro."
When will the GOP â€“ on the issue of race â€“ go on the offense?
After all, for 100 years, the Democratic Party showed its tone deafness to the rights of blacks. Democrats opposed the 13th Amendment (freeing the slaves), the 14th Amendment (making ex-slaves citizens) and the 15th Amendment (that, on paper at least, gave blacks the right to vote). Democrats founded the Ku Klux Klan â€“ some even call it the "terrorist wing of the Democratic Party." And a greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Alabama Gov. George "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" Wallace was a Democrat. Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox, who as a restaurateur, left pick handles hanging on the walls to provide customers recourse in the event an uppity black tried to enter his restaurant. He was a Democrat. Arkansas Gov. Orville Faubus attempted, in 1957, to prevent the integration of Little Rock High School. He was a Democrat. Bull Connor, the commissioner of public safety for Birmingham, Ala., turned water hoses and dogs on civil rights activists. He was a Democrat.
But what about the infamous Republican Southern strategy?
The co-author of the strategy, Pat Buchanan, wrote in 2002: "Richard Nixon kicked off his historic comeback in 1966 with a column on the South (by this writer) that declared we would build our Republican Party on a foundation of states rights, human rights, small government and a strong national defense, and leave it to the [Democratic] 'party of Maddox â€¦ and Wallace to squeeze the last ounces of political juice out of the rotting fruit of racial injustice.'"
Today it's Democrats who blatantly use the race card to malign Republicans as a collection of bigots. Yet it's Republicans who support school choice and private Social Security savings accounts â€“ both of which disproportionately help blacks.
Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Democrat Charlie Rangel, said of Republicans, "It's not 'sp-c' or 'ni--er' anymore. They say 'let's cut taxes.'" Rangel, in an attack on Bush, called him "our Bull Connor." Donna Brazile, then Al Gore's campaign manager, called Republicans "white boys," and said, "A white-boy attitude is 'I must exclude, denigrate and leave behind.'"
Hillary Clinton, before a group of blacks, condemned the then-Republican-controlled Congress: "When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about." Then-candidate and now Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said of George Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina, "George Bush let people die on rooftops in New Orleans because they were poor and because they were black." In a Katrina hearing, Democrat Barney Frank accused Bush of intentionally responding sluggishly. Why? Katrina would induce blacks to leave Louisiana, making it a more solidly Republican red state â€“ a Bush scheme that Frank called "ethnic cleansing by inaction."
Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean recently referred to the Republican Party as the "white party." The 35 percent of Asians and 31 percent of Hispanics who voted Republican apparently don't count.
So who should apologize to whom?