Palin insanity: Barack Obama’s support, when he taught at Harvard Law School in the early 1990s, for law professor Derrick Bell’s efforts to make the law school’s faculty more diverse, means he wants to take Americans back to pre-Civil War days “when we were in different classes based on income, based on color of skin.” Atlantic’s David Graham deconstructs:
The most immediate problem here is the basic one of the entire Bell “controversy”: Bell wasn’t a violent revolutionary but an academic theorist and campaigner for equality; there’s no evidence that Obama was a zealous apostle of Bell’s critical legal theory; and Obama’s term in office, whatever other criticisms one may make of it, hasn’t been characterized by radical black nationalism.
What makes Palin’s take different and more problematic is the idea that Barack Obama wants to take the nation back to the days before the Civil War. Just think about that for a second. Palin claims that the president, a man who would most likely have been a slave had he lived in antebellum America — or, had he been lucky enough to be one of the small percentage of blacks who was a freeman, would have been at constant risk of kidnapping and enslavement — wants to return the country to those days.
She claims that Derrick Bell, who served in the Justice Department in the years immediately following Brown v. Board of Education, as the federal government dragged southern states kicking and screaming toward abolishing Jim Crow laws, wanted the nation to return to the pre-Civil War era.
She suggests that by taking part in a protest of the near-total lack of senior faculty of color at Harvard Law School in the 1990s, both Obama and Bell wanted to restore apartheid in the United States. Keep in mind, they weren’t black nationalists calling for blacks to separate themselves, which might give some credence to her charge: they were advocating greater assimilation.
Incredibly, Palin seems incapable of uttering the word “slavery” when discussing the Civil War. Thankfully, she’s not even flirting with the neo-Confederate belief that the war was about states’ rights rather than slavery. But she doesn’t mention slavery because it would clearly undermine her case: even the most hardcore Son of the Confederacy would see the absurdity of arguing that the first black president would like to return to the days of slavery.
At The American Prospect, Paul Waldman has a really good essay about the Breitbart crowd’s “race-baiting“:
Over at Breitbart’s web site, I count eight separate pieces on Derrick Bell (who died last year), trying to make the case that he was some kind of insane radical pushing radical theories of radicalism, all with the intention of oppressing white people, which is obviously what Barack Obama is up to as well. Just to get a flavor, here’s an excerpt from one of the articles:
Racialism is so woven into the thinking of Bell, and many believe Barack Obama, any white individual, regardless of ideology or personal attribute lacks the ability to understand and relate racism in America. Consequently, the notion of racial quotas is not simply based upon some idea of equality of opportunity, they must be imposed as white’s [sic] are inferior to blacks in an area Bell and Obama see as critical. While we like to think of equality as color blind, that is not the view Bell shared as a “truth” Obama embraced and encouraged others to do, as well.
You’ll notice the chain of logic, though I use that term loosely: Here’s an exaggeration of something Derrick Bell once said, “many believe” Obama thinks in the same way, here’s a leap to a parody of policies Obama doesn’t actually support, here’s a conclusion about how Obama hates white people and wants to screw them.
From the beginning of Breitbart’s enterprise, race-baiting was a key element of his attack on Barack Obama, one that continues even after his death. And he always had plenty of company, from Glenn Beck saying Obama “has a deep-seated hatred of white people,” to Rush Limbaugh’s repeated insistence to his white listeners that Obama was motivated by racial hatred in everything he did. “Obama’s entire economic program is reparations,” Limbaugh proclaimed. “The days of [minorities] not having any power are over, and they are angry,” he said. “And they want to use their power as a means of retribution. That’s what Obama’s about, gang.” When in 2009 he found a story about a white kid getting beaten up by a black kid on a school bus, Limbaugh said, “In Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, ‘Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on.’” And yes, he did that last part in an exaggerated “black” accent.
The message is always the same: Obama and the blacks are mad, and they’re coming for you. Yet people like the Breitbart folks and Limbaugh have two problems. First, they’re running out of material. There aren’t any more shocking revelations to be had. The best they can do is try to make mountains of racial resentment out of the most innocuous molehills, like the fact that Obama supported Derrick Bell’s effort to diversify the faculty when he was a law student. And second, by now anyone who can be convinced that Obama is a secret Black Panther never thought otherwise. The guy has been president for three years. Americans are pretty familiar with him. He hasn’t actually started herding white people into concentration camps, and it’s an awfully tough sell to tell people that he might any day now.
Jake Tapper debunks the “Derrick Bell visited Pres. Obama at the White House” story:
The conservative Heritage Foundation shows some pluck by searching for the late law school professor Derrick A. Bell in the White House visitor’s logs, and finds that ”œVisitor logs show that Derrick A. Bell visited the White House twice since President Obama took office. The logs show two visits by an individual of that name on January 29 and 31, 2010.”
Why would this matter? Bell has recently splashed into the conservative media world after Breitbart.com and Fox News showed some video of then-Harvard Law School student Barack Obama speaking at a rally on campus in 1990 in support of Bell’s efforts to improve the diversity of the school’s faculty. The video had been previously shown on Frontline in 2008, including a scene of Obama hugging the professor,* which some falsely claim was not in the original PBS documentary. Bell without question held some controversial views (read this 1993 New Republic piece for more on that) and some conservatives seek to portray this as yet another close Obama associate with radical views ”“ with a lapdog media covering it up.
There are two problems with the Heritage post. One: it excludes some details from the visitors’ logs. There are 28 columns on the publicly released records, the Heritage blog lists seven. The data they omit includes a description of what the visit was for: in this case, for both visits: TOURS. A White House tour ”“ not MEETING or APPOINTMENT. Another data point: TOTAL PEOPLE. This is a reference to how many people were present for the tour, meeting or appointment ”“ in this case 304 people and 282 people.
But Bell surely could have taken a tour or two and then met with President Obama, right? Sure, it’s possible ”“ and I asked the White House about it. The answer from a White House official: this was not the same Derrick A. Bell. He had a different birthday than the late law professor, whose birthday was November 6, 1930. That would seem to undermine the significance of this visit.