The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart Calls Rick Perry Racist
Rick Perry recently claimed that Barack Obama grew up privileged. Jonathan Capehart, appearing on MSNBC, responded that it was racist of Perry to say that.
My great aunt, during the last years of her life, suffered from a mild case of dementia. As a consequence, she would sometimes discuss one topic, then suddenly switch to a seemingly unrelated topic.
For instance, she might be talking about Johnny Carson, then ask, “And do people really believe that someone’s really going to show up at their door and give them a million dollars?”
It used to drive my cousin nuts. But I saw it as a puzzle. When my aunt would do this, there was always an intermediate topic that would relate the two seemingly unrelated topics. The challenge was to think of the intermediate topic.
For instance, for the above example, it turns out that Johnny Carson made her think of Ed McMahon, who was the spokesperson for Publishers’ Clearinghouse, which would occasionally show up at a person’s house and give away a million dollars.
Here, I believe, are the intermediate topics that explain Capehart’s thinking—how, in his mind, Perry is a racist.
First, the left over the past few years has discovered a new tactic for discussing race and affirmative action. I call it the new-new racism. If a conservative notes that a liberal is granting affirmative action—say giving special preferences to blacks or Latinos because of their race—then the liberal calls the conservative a racist. Nevermind that it’s the liberal who is judging people by race. The conservative is merely pointing out the (reverse) racism of the liberal.
This contrasts with simple new racism, which merely said that if you oppose affirmative action, you must be a racist. New-new racism goes one step further. It’s now not enough simply to favor affirmative action. You must favor it, while simultaneously refusing to admit that it exists. If you have a king-has-no-clothes moment and point out that people are practicing affirmative action, even when they really are, that is now deemed racist.
The tactic—pretending that the new-new racism is genuine racism—is very effective, and unthinking people are often fooled by it.
For instance, recall Rush Limbaugh and his controversial statements about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb:
I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. They're interested in black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well. I think there's a little hope invested in McNabb and he got a lot of credit for the performance of his team that he really didn't deserve. The defense carried this team.
Limbaugh’s claim was controversial, and perhaps it was false. But note that it contained zero animus related to McNabb’s skin color. Limbaugh was only pointing out the reverse racism that he believed sports writers were exercising. For doing this, Limbaugh was accused, falsely, of being a racist, and he was forced to resign as an analyst for ESPN.
Let us now connect the dots in Capehart’s thinking. Perry’s point was that Obama has been fortunate to attend some very prestigious schools—including Columbia and Harvard Universities and a private high school in Hawaii. Although scholarships allowed Obama to do this, the schools are nevertheless prestigious and surely contributed to Obama’s success in life. Meanwhile, Perry went to Texas A&M and a rural public high school.
Capehart believes that Perry is implicitly accusing Obama of benefitting from affirmative action when he was admitted to those schools. He says that Perry’s claim is a “dog whistle” to conservatives, that conservatives will understand that when he says “privilege” he means “affirmative action.”
Now add to this my suspicion that Capehart has been duped into the above type of thinking—that new-new racism really is racism.
Capehart’s accusation is silly. But once you understand the concept of the new-new racism, you can at least understand his thinking.