Gloria Steinem took Hillary Rodham Clinton's "I am woman, vote for me" approach to the limit in a New York Times op-ed by suggesting that it would be better to elect a white woman than a black man because women got the franchise 50 years later and have "no masculinity to prove."
"All the habits of verbal thuggery that have long been used against critics of affirmative action [and of] radical feminism," David Brooks observed in his New York Times column, "are now being turned inward by the Democratic front-runners."
Is it too much to hope that this embarrassing identity-politics brawl proves to be a learning experience for liberals about the dangers of reflexively attributing racist, sexist, and other bigoted motives to people who disagree with or displease them?
Happily, a lively new book by a man whose policy prescriptions are generally liberal offers a wealth of perceptive insights about the harms done by promiscuously crying racism -- and sexism, and homophobia -- when the real problem is not (or not necessarily) contemporary bigotry but the tragic legacy of our history of oppression. The book is The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse, by Richard Thompson Ford, a Stanford law professor.
Ford stipulates that plenty of racists still walk the earth. But he stresses a reality from which most Democratic politicians and liberal activists avert their eyes: "Many of today's racial injustices are not caused by simple prejudice; instead, they are legacies of the racial caste system of our recent past, entrenched by the inertia of class hierarchy and reinforced by the unforgiving competition of capitalist markets. As a result, many people have legitimate grievances but no racist to blame for them." Ford calls this "racism without racists."
Among Ford's other insights are these. (And he lists a few good ones--Darren)
Ford demonstrates brilliantly how the Supreme Court's insistence that racial preferences in education are illegal unless designed to promote "diversity" has forced liberals "to embrace what had once been the fringe position of black nationalists (and white supremacists): The races are fundamentally -- perhaps intrinsically -- different." This has helped to entrench in the academic world an obsession with multiculturalism and self-segregation -- all but displacing the ideal of integration that was the original and the best justification for racial preferences.
Democrats will be a healthier party when they start listening to thinkers such as Ford and tuning out demagogues such as Sharpton. Obama seems to get that, most of the time. Does Team Clinton?
It's clear that the answer to his last question is a resounding no.
Update, 1/30/08: Today's major Sacramento newspaper has the following quote:
Sen. Barack Obama says he has built a diverse coalition to win the presidency, blind to differences of race, gender or age.
If a white guy said that, he'd be accused by the multiculturalists of being a racist or a liar. Maybe if Obama can say it, mean it, and get away with it, it will someday become accepted that the very colorblind society that Dr. King spoke of is truly that to which we should aspire.