How To Decry The Victim Card While Simultaneously Playing It

by Jonathan Chait | August 23, 2011

Last week, Rick Perry described the national debt as a "big black cloud that hangs over America." MSNBC host Ed Schultz bizarrely characterized this as a racist metaphor for President Obama. Jon Stewart lampooned Schultz (who subsequently apologized.) See beginning at 2:14:

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The Washington Examiner's Tim Carney rightly object to this dealing of "the race card." But then, later in the same column, Carney writes:

And this theme of baseless insinuations of racism is emanating from Team Obama and the White House. Obama's press secretary Jay Carney referred to unnamed opponents "who wanted to secede from the union." The words "secede from the union" clearly invoke the Southern states' effort to preserve slavery in 1861.
Politifact has rated Carney's statement as "False," pointing out that Perry once jokingly referred to a supposed right of Texas to secede. He's repeatedly denied actually believing this. That didn't stop Carney. Facts rarely interfere with the Left's effort to tar conservatives as racist.

Now, Politifact is a pretty shaky outfit, as conservatives usually like to point out, prone to confusing the distinction between questions of fact and questions of interpretation. Here are the relevant facts:

Perry, who had just spoken at an April 15, 2009, Austin tea party rally, suggested Texans might at some point get so fed up with Democratic-led actions in Washington that they would want to secede.
PolitiFact Texas later transcribed the exchange:
Reporter Kelley Shannon: "Some have associated you with the idea of secession or sovereignty for your state..."
Perry: "Oh, I think there’s a lot of different scenarios. Texas is a unique place. When we came in the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that. ...
Perry also touched on secession before the rally. He’s heard in audio accompanied by still photographs posted on YouTube in March 2009 telling tech bloggers visiting him in his Capitol office that from its beginnings as a state, "one of the deals was" that Texas could leave the union "any time we want." Perry continues on the recording: "So we’re kind of thinking about that again." His guests laughed.

Obviously this is a matter of interpretation. But when you muse that your state might do X if somebody does Y, that can easily be taken as a threat.

But what's really comic is Carney's insinuation that the White House describing Perry's advocacy of secession was an attempt to smear him as a racist. The last people to secede from the country were white racists, therefore to describe someone who spoke in positive terms about secession as advocating secessionist is racist. As if advocating secession itself is not a serious enough charge -- it must be cover for an accusation of racism! The right's mania for playing the victim over imagined charges of racism is the perfect parallel for the left's mania for charging racism.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/94056/how-decry-the-victim-card-while-simultaneously-playing-it