WASHINGTON - The advance PR flacks for HarperCollins knew exactly what they were doing when they calculatedly leaked a provocative passage from Sara Palin’s newest ego stroke book, America by Heart. The passage incited race. This time the target is not President Obama, at least not directly. It is First Lady Michelle Obama. Palin dredged up the worn, tired, and patently false charge claiming that Michelle sullied America when she allegedly said at a stop during the 2008 campaign she was not proud of America until Obama became a viable presidential candidate.
The quote was deliberately hacked up out of context. The oft, well-documented cite of the full quote, its context, and Michelle’s expansive clarification mean nothing to Palin. In her twist and bend of Michelle’s words, it becomes a statement of fact to show that Obama, as she put it, learned to hate white folks listening to the racial “rants” of their former pastor Jeremiah Wright. Palin’s silly, and ignorant distortion makes perfectly good sense when you consider her and the political calculus she’s using.
First there’s her. Palin’s track record in acknowledging, let alone promoting diversity during her short tenure as Alaska governor was abominable. She’s on record with only a terse utterance on hate crimes legislation and on cultural diversity. According to the 2000 Census figures, blacks made up officially about 4 percent of the state population. But those who self-identify as at least part African-American bump up the percentage much higher. When American Indians, Aleuts, Eskimos, and Asians are taken together, minorities make up about one quarter of Alaska’s population. This makes the state one of the most ethnically diverse in the nation. Palin didn’t even bother to pay the customary lip service to hiring and promoting a diverse staff. She had no problem making that clear in a heated and contentious meeting with black leaders in Alaska, including prominent ministers, NAACP officials, and community activists. They met with Palin to voice their complaint over minority hiring and job opportunities. During the meeting she allegedly said that she didn’t have to hire any blacks. Even more damning, she purportedly said that she didn’t intend to hire any. Her press secretary disputed the charge, but revealingly added that Palin did not hire staff persons based on color, but solely on talent and skill.
But even if Palin had taken a stab at diversity it wouldn’t alter her political calculus one bit. Race is and has been the sometimes sneaky and coded, and other times open hammer that packs of bloggers, websites, talk radio jocks, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and gaffe prone GOP operatives have used to fan their institutionalized Obama hatred. They know that a racial tweak here and there will always touch a raw among many bigots who have made it amply plain that they loathe Obama’s policies and by extension him and will stop at nothing to get him out of the White House.
Michelle fits into the Palin plan to use her as a racial foil to smear the president. Michelle is gracious, charming, photogenic, smart, and, most importantly from a political view, popular. That makes her a ripe target to go after. By playing race and trying to discredit her, Palin does two things in addition to taking a backdoor swipe at the president. She tears down someone who can actually pose as a counterweight to the ugliness and mountainous negatives that polls show that Palin has piles of. Her other devious motive in going after the First Lady for her mythical sin is that is it serves as a convenient reminder that Michelle and Obama, ala Bill and Hillary Clinton, are a tandem team and that the alleged failing or missteps of the president can just as easily be attributed to Michelle as well. That’s why Palin picked on Wright to remind her cheerleading crowd that Obama ad Michelle, as she put it, “spent two decades in the pews of Wright.”
Palin double downed on the race beat by rapping Attorney General Eric Holder for his quip that Americans are cowards for not talking about race. Palin, of course, conveniently neglects to mention that Obama quickly disassociated himself from the Holder knock, and nothing more was heard about that from Holder or Obama. It was the same tough tactic as with Michelle; dredge up and distort an old off the cuff quote on race and stand it on its head to make a grand case that Obama, his wife, and his administration are closet bigots and America loathers.
Race, as always, is the tried and true vehicle that the GOP hit team repeatedly uses to make that dumb case. Palin in her crude, ignorant, but calculating way, has jumped on that too. Considering the source, surely, that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.