Holder and race [Editorial]

For those not attuned to such things, the right-wing media has spent much of the week jumping up and down about Attorney General Eric Holder's appearance on ABC-TV last Sunday morning. His offense? He dared suggest that there was a "racial component" from "some people" who have criticized him and President Barack Obama.

Now, keep in mind that this was in the context of questions regarding the call to impeach President Obama by one-time Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and House Speaker John Boehner's insistence that his chamber sue Mr. Obama over executive authority in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. And Mr. Holder also made clear that race wasn't necessarily the "main driver" but "for some there's a racial animus."


Yet you would think from the backlash that the attorney general had likened all Republicans to Simon Legree from Uncle Tom's Cabin. Rush Limbaugh denounced Mr. Holder's remarks as an effort to make himself and Mr. Obama appear to be victims while also calling them "the most lawless president and attorney general ever." Talk show host Mark Levin (popular among those who find Ann Coulter too liberal) called it "Democrats race baiting" and suggested Congress ought to be looking further into impeachment. And this isn't cherry picking. Google "Eric Holder" and "race" and discover the torrent of conservatives outraged by any suggestion that some judge people of color more harshly than they would anyone else.

As Hamlet might observe, me thinks Republicans doth protest too much. The notion that there's a component of racial animus in the extremist views of some who have variously labeled the president as a socialist, Marxist, Muslim and Kenyan is hardly news. We live in an age when it's considered not only civil but patriotic to have a Fourth of July parade in Nebraska where an outhouse is identified as the "Obama Presidential Library."


It's not that there isn't room to criticize; there's plenty of that from Mr. Obama's handling of health care, the economy, foreign policy or whatever you please. Mr. Holder hasn't exactly been an uncontroversial figure either. But the attacks on them have simply not been in proportion to the alleged offenses. Jimmy Carter was in the White House when interest rates were astronomical, gasoline was in short supply, hostages were taken in Iran, the Russians invaded Afghanistan and there was talk of "malaise" across America, yet you didn't hear calls for impeachment. Surely former Vice President Dick Cheney had not forgotten that administration (or another with which he was closely familiar) when he recently declared on CNN that Mr. Obama was "the worst president in my lifetime."

That the GOP has simultaneously been on a crusade to restrict access by minorities, seniors and others to voting in this country hasn't exactly given them the appearance of racial neutrality either. If Mr. Holder's remarks are to be faulted, it ought to be because they were so obvious that they hardly needed to be said out loud.

Right-wing pundits say this administration is quick to play the "race card," but the reality is that the president and his advisers are exceedingly reluctant to engage voters on this topic. Mr. Obama didn't campaign on being the first African-American president; he chose to be more inclusive than that. And it's not hard to see why as he and his attorney general get pilloried for daring to observe that there's something a little fishy going on.

The fact is this country needs more conversations about race and racial inequality, not fewer. As Mr. Holder observed this week at a Howard University celebration of the 50-year-old Civil Rights Act, there are still wide gaps that divide the races and "we must be willing to acknowledge the problems we face, to talk frankly about inequality, and to examine its causes and its impacts and, most importantly, to act to eradicate it." That doesn't strike us as an unreasonable goal, but you can be assured that some will find it so.

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