With Extreme Prejudice By JAMES TARANTO March 21, 2008
Remember John Kerry? He was the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, lauded by his supporters for his intellect and his nuance, as compared with the simpleminded George W. Bush. Having lost the election, he decided to sit out the 2008 contest. He recently endorsed Barack Obama, and earlier this week he sat down with the editorial board of the Standard-Times (New Bedford, Mass.) to make the case for his candidate. It’s a real jaw-dropper.
ABC News’s Jake Tapper sums it up: Kerry said that a President Obama would help the US, in relations with Muslim countries, “in some cases go around their dictator leaders to the people and inspire the people in ways that we can’t otherwise.” “He has the ability to help us bridge the divide of religious extremism,” Kerry said. “To maybe even give power to moderate Islam to be able to stand up against this radical misinterpretation of a legitimate religion.” Kerry was asked what gives Obama that credibility. “Because he’s African-American. Because he’s a black man. Who has come from a place of oppression and repression through the years in our own country.” An African-American president would be “a symbol of empowerment” for those who have been disenfranchised around the world, Kerry said, “an important lesson for America to show Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, other places in the world where disenfranchised people don’t get anything.”
One obvious question: What do the events of this week, involving Obama’s own church, tell us about his ability to “stand up against” a “radical misinterpretation of a legitimate religion”? Nothing very encouraging in this columnist’s view, but many observers view Obama much more charitably in this regard than we do. What is really striking about Kerry’s case for Obama, though, is that it rests on what may be the crudest stereotyping we have ever observed.
Commentary’s Abe Greenwald has a chuckle over Kerry’s racial stereotyping of Obama: Where is this “place of oppression and repression” in which Obama has suffered “through the years”? Hawaii? Harvard? The Senate? We should find out immediately and do something about this horrific crisis.
But Kerry isn’t just stereotyping blacks. He is stereotyping Muslims too. And he is drawing an equivalence between American blacks, a racial minority in one country, and Middle Eastern Muslims, a religious majority in a whole region. Never mind that, as Greenwald points out, “Arab Muslims [are] none too happy with their black countrymen in northern Africa.” Never mind that in some African countries, notably Sudan and Mauritania, Arab Muslims still enslave blacks. To Kerry, it seems, all “oppressed peoples” look alike. The man has all the intellectual subtlety of a third-rate ethnic studies professor.