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Is this a high-tech lynching? Hardly

It took conservative pundit and Media Research Center founder L. Brent Bozell about 10 minutes to hang up the phone on me, spurred by his inability to answer a single, simple question.

How is the sexual harassment scandal currently enveloping the Herman Cain campaign in any way connected to race?

Bozell made such a connection plain in a syndicated column published last Monday headlined "Stop the High-Tech Lynching of Herman Cain" — a comparison he repeated on CNN last week during a debate with in-your-face commentator Roland Martin.

"I use it for the same reason Clarence Thomas used it and Herman Cain used it," said Bozell, who is white. "There's a special opprobrium that the left has for black conservatives that exceeds any distaste for anything else."

Many other conservatives have said the same things in defending Cain, who has offered so many explanations for the POLITICO story reporting settlements with two women who alleged sexual harassment issues with him years ago, even the candidate's backers have a tough time remembering what he has said.

For supporters such as Bozell, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, the very fact that a popular black conservative faces a damaging story is proof enough of racism. In other words, when journalists or political opponents raise issues which hurt black conservatives, racism must be at fault.

Coulter herself used the "high-tech lynching" line last Sunday; a clumsy rhetorical attempt to link Cain's fate with Supreme Court Justice Thomas, whose own sexual harassment allegations remain a sore spot for conservatives convinced Thomas was railroaded.

But how does that square with Coulter's contention that Democrats unfairly cry racism in reaction to criticism of Barack Obama?

In her new book Demonic, she noted: "Just as fire seeks oxygen, Democrats seek power, which is why they will always be found championing the mob whether the mob consists of Democrats lynching blacks or Democrats slandering the critics of Obamacare as racists."

Bozell has made the same comparison, writing in 2009, "When Reagan, Bush I and Bush II were in office, nasty demonstrators — even rioters — were celebrated by the left. But when Democrats take control (Clinton, Obama), any criticism becomes angry, hateful, and now racist."

In our interview, Bozell insisted such presumptions were fair because the liberally biased media doesn't cover the sexual dalliances of Democratic politicians with the same fervor.

In my mind, I thought that would be news to Anthony Weiner, the Democratic congressman who found insistent press questions about his tweeting of an explicit photo of himself to an unsuspecting woman eventually ended his political career.

"I think it's political lynching," Bozell insisted. "When you have far more serious accusations against Bill Clinton with sources coming forward and no coverage."

So I asked: "Are you seriously saying the press didn't cover Bill Clinton's affairs, from Gennifer Flowers to Monica Lewinsky?"

CLICK! Bozell had ended the call.

Still, I think something deeper is afoot besides hysterical conservative pundits deploying race to distract from Cain's increasingly inadequate responses.

For a while now, I've become convinced some conservatives like Cain because he sees race the way they do, and talks about it as they do.

This may explain why some conservatives accuse liberals of "playing the race card" when talk turns to race issues. Because such hyperbolic language and overreaching assumptions may be the only way they know how to talk about issues of difference.

And it's not just about what Cain says, but what his actions give them license to do.

So what if some extreme conservatives still refuse to believe President Obama is a citizen or are convinced he is a secret Muslim with no evidence? By supporting Cain, they have proof that their anti-Obama conspiracies can't be rooted in racism.

In the post-Cain era, refusing to believe racism is a continuing problem for people of color no longer carries the hint of willful prejudice it once did.

After all, Cain himself told CNN, "(Black people) weren't held back because of racism, no. People sometimes hold themselves back because they want to use racism as an excuse for them not being able to achieve what they want to achieve."

And all this "high-tech lynching" talk was made easier for white conservatives because Cain himself used the term back in May. "I'm ready for the same high-tech lynching he went through," the candidate told the Washington Examiner then.

In the wake of the sexual harassment scandal, Cain's super PAC released an ad centered on the same "high-tech lynching" language, with footage of Thomas using the term (one poll shows 7 of 10 Republicans say the allegations against Cain don't matter). When Charles Krauthammer on Fox News asked the candidate if race was behind the current scandal, Cain replied: "I believe the answer is yes, but we do not have any evidence to support it."

No evidence? Would Krauthammer accept that kind of reasoning from a liberal guest accusing the tea party movement of racism?

It remains a sad irony that a black man raised in Jim Crow-era Georgia would throw around the term lynching; a horrifying act in which black people were hung, shot, stabbed, beaten and maimed by white mobs, their body parts taken as souvenirs and their deaths made an ugly, brutal carnival.

Even former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — a conservative who still justifies the Iraq war initiated by her ex-boss, George W. Bush — cautioned Cain about blaming race too much for his electoral woes.

"I actually am someone who doesn't believe in playing the race card on either side," she told CBS News correspondent Norah O'Donnell last week. "Everybody goes through their — their time in the barrel, if you will, if you choose to put yourself forward. And so, I'm not much for the race card."

The great Holy Grail for some conservatives is the high ground on race.

As a black journalist who has tangled a bit with the O'Reillys, Hannitys and Limbaughs of the world on such issues, I can attest that nothing drives these guys crazier than the credibility civil rights leaders and organizations enjoy on discussions of prejudice against people of color in America.

Consider Andrew Breitbart, the conservative activist who got USDA official Shirley Sherrod ousted from her job last year by posting deceptively edited videos of a speech she gave.

Though her talk centered on a story of how she overcame her own prejudices to help a white man save his fame, Breitbart and his sources made it seem as if this black woman was celebrating discriminating against him at a speech before an NAACP chapter.

In the blog post he wrote about Sherrod's speech before the truth was known, Breitbart attacked the NAACP and Congressional Black Caucus as unfairly pro-Democrat.

"The NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus do not want racial harmony," wrote the blogger, who criticized both groups for accusing the tea party movement of harboring racism without proof. "They want political victory, and the race card is their Stradivarius."

But the Cain scandal has given some conservatives their own race card to play.

And it's happening at a time when, according to a study released in September by the Brookings Institution, 70 percent of those who say they most trust right-leaning Fox News Channel also believe discrimination against white people is as big a problem as discrimination against racial minorities.

The term "race card" is troubling enough; a dismissive phrase used to shut down discussion by implying a discussion about difference is hollow and opportunistic.

I contend the problem isn't a so-called card played, but a serious ignorance of how to talk about these issues, compounded by a candidate who often makes the biggest mistake of all — assuming his skin color and personal experiences somehow confer instant expertise about racial issues to which he has clearly given little, if any, serious thought.

Which brings us to this cultural moment: Where some conservatives seem to say the public should look past press accounts of four people who say they saw Cain exhibit questionable behavior, because that reality makes a promising black conservative candidate look bad close to an election.

Perhaps this is the surest sign we should stop playing cards altogether, and learn how have a constructive dialogue about race before it shreds our political system. Again.

Is this a high-tech lynching? Hardly 11/05/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 4, 2011 7:37pm]
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