Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What ISN'T a "code word"?

A group of Republican lawmakers in the House signed off on a letter--penned by Representative Jeff Duncan--that takes issue with the potential nomination of Susan Rice as Secretary of State. From the letter:
Ambassador Rice is widely viewed as having either willfully or incompetently misled the American public in the Benghazi matter. Her actions plausibly give U.S. allies (and rivals) abroad reason to question U.S. commitment and credibility when needed. Thus, we believe that making her the face of U.S. foreign policy in your second term would greatly undermine your desire to improve U.S. relations with the world and continue to build trust with the American people... 
In light of this troubling situation and the continued unanswered questions, we strongly oppose any efforts to nominate Ambassador Susan Rice for the position of Secretary of State.
So far, there are 97 signatures from Representatives who agree with the gist of the letter. And needless to say, the letter has provoked a response from Democrats in Congress who have already been busy actively defending Susan Rice from other criticisms offered by other Republicans--like John McCain--and conservative pundits. A few days ago, Representative Marsha Fudge--at a press conference held specifically to defend Susan Rice--very clearly suggests racism and sexism are behind the criticisms:
How do you say a person like Susan Rice is not qualified? You may not like her, you may not like the administration, but don’t say she’s not qualified. She is the most qualified person I’m sure that any of you know, that these senators know. . . . It is a shame that any time anything goes wrong, they pick on women and minorities. I have a real issue with that.
Fudge actually allows--no doubt accidentally--that something went wrong here, that there were problems, failings in relation to Benghazi. She then suggests that Rice was singled out for scapegoating because she is black and is a woman. But it's an odd argument to make, because Republicans are really holding the entire administration to blame; Rice is getting singled out because the Administration decided to use her and she allowed herself to be used. So if Fudge has an issue with Rice being "picked on," she should probably be telling it to Obama, since he's the one responsible for setting up Rice for this fall (which no doubt explains Obama's childish bravado in defending Rice: he has a guilty conscience).

Following "the letter" being put out there, however, Representative James Clyburn has upped the outrage ante considerably. He argues that the very language used in the letter is racist as a matter of course because it uses racist "code words." Remember back during the Campaign when MSNBC personality Touré claimed that "angry" was "racial coding"? In his narrow, racially-conceived world view--accepted by much of the left--it was and is racist to use "anger" or "angry" in reference to a person of color, though the spectre of ageism doesn't faze such people in the least. Indeed, the latter is knee-slapping funny stuff! But back to Clyburn, who has now added a new term into the lexicon of racial code words: incompetent. Here he is with Soledad O'Brien:


His comments:
You know, these are code words. These kinds of terms that those of us--especially those of us who were grown and raised in the South--we've been hearing these little words and phrases all of our lives and we get insulted by them. 
Susan Rice is as competent as anybody you will find. And just to paste that word on her causes problems with people like Marcia Fudge, and certainly causes a big problem with me. I don't like those words. Say she was wrong for doing it, but don't call her incompetent. That is something totally different. A lot of very competent people sometimes make errors. And to say that she erroneously did it, I don't have a problem with it. 
And Sen. McCain called her incompetent, as well, but he told us that Sarah Palin was very competent to be vice president of the United States -- that should tell you a little about his judgment.
So according to Clyburn, calling a black person "incompetent" is evidence of racism. There are two issues with this: first the actual words used in the letter, and second the actual history of calling people "incompetent."

As to the first, what the letter actually says, with reference to the term incompetent: "Ambassador Rice is widely viewed as having either willfully or incompetently misled the American public in the Benghazi matter." Note that Rice is not being called incompetent. The letter is saying that there are those who view her specific actions as a product of incompetence to some degree, while others view those same actions as a product of willful deception. The letter--and therefore its signatories--are noting a public perception with regard to her actions, a perception that does indeed exist.

The letter is not actually making the argument that Rice is incompetent or even that she was being deceitful.  Instead, it is arguing that because of this perception by a portion of the public, she would be an unwise choice for Secretary of State. The criticism of Race is very much limited, as it were, to not be read as the particular opinions of the letter's signatories (though it no doubt is the opinion of some of them). Thus, someone who thinks Rice is actually qualified for the job of Secretary of State could still easily sign the letter. To put this another way, Clyburn is simply wrong: the letter does not actually call Rice incompetent.

Now on to the second issue, that of the past usage of incompetent (or any of its variations) as a criticism of a political figure. If it's over the line to call a sitting Ambassador incompetent (even though that's not what the letter does), what is it to call a sitting President the same? Nancy Pelosi, from May of 2004:
I believe that the president's leadership in the actions taken in Iraq demonstrate an incompetence in terms of knowledge, judgment and experience in making the decisions that would have been necessary to truly accomplish the mission without the deaths to our troops and the cost to our taxpayers.
Bush is incompetent "in terms of knowledge, judgment, and experience." What else is left? She's not mincing words at all, is she? And---as opposed to the letter--she's not talking about perception, she's giving her unvarnished opinion (one that did draw sharp criticism and calls for an apology from Republicans at the time). Of course, Bush is not a person of color. So maybe it's okay to go after him, maybe it's allowable to call him incompetent because he's white.

Certainly, Democrats would never use such a code word in reference to a person of color, though. Right? Sorry, no. They--Democrats--have no problem using the term, no matter the skin color of a person, if that person is a Republican or a conservative. Proof, you say? Well how about a previous Secretary of State--and a "Rice," as well--such as Condoleezza. She was labeled as incompetent by Democrats quite frequently. Here's Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. on the matter from July of 2006 (my boldface):
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) tomorrow afternoon. At that meeting I will challenge the incompetence of the Bush Administration's State Department and its Secretary in getting 25,000 Americans out of Lebanon in an orderly and timely fashion. The performance of the Bush Administration in Lebanon is matched only by the Bush Administration's incompetence in rescuing the victims of Katrina.
All other governments in the world seem to have thought about and put in place a rescue plan for their citizens. Only the United States has shown such incompetence.
The Bush Administration is incompetent, the United States is incompetent, the State Department and its Secretary--that would be Condoleezza Rice--is incompetent. So...racist code words from Jackson, or not? Of course one might say Jackson is, himself, a black American so he can't be racist. But then the letter to President Obama was signed by Representative Allen West, who also happens to be a black American, so that excuse won't fly. And note that once again, the Democrat in question here--Jackson--is absolutely calling Rice incompetent, not just noting a perception.

What we have here is yet another case of Democrats using race as a means of deflecting legitimate criticisms. Unable to survive by arguing the facts, they appeal to raw emotion by inserting race into a discussion that has nothing to do with race, whatsoever. It's a sickening habit, in my opinion. But one that continues to work, mostly because there are far too many people on the left more than happy to accept such twisted thinking, even as they seemingly pine for racial equality, for the elimination of race as an issue. The truth is, race will always be an issue because they are too many people who use it as a defense mechanism and as a weapon. And most of those people--like Clyburn and Fudge--are Democrats.

Cheers, all.

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