Jonah Goldberg and Glenn Reynolds warn of "social unraveling" if Obama loses

The emerging race-tinged attacks on Obama are but a small preview of what would be unleashed if he were the nominee.

Published January 5, 2008 11:27AM (EST)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

Over at National Review, Jonah Goldberg has a "theory" about what might help Obama win in the general election. After noting that Obama will be "the first serious mainstream black contender for the White House," Goldberg warns (emphasis added):

I think it's worth imagining a certain scenario. Imagine the Democrats do rally around Obama. Imagine the media invests as heavily in him as I think we all know they will if he's the nominee -- and then imagine he loses. I seriously think certain segments of American political life will become completely unhinged. I can imagine the fear of this social unraveling actually aiding Obama enormously in 2008.

I wonder: in Jonah Goldberg's "imagination," which (ahem) "certain segments" of the American population exactly will "become completely unhinged" if Obama loses and thereby spawn "social unraveling"? And who are the people who are going so deeply to fear this "social unraveling" that they vote for Obama just in order to keep those "certain segments" in line and well-behaved?

Goldberg, of course, doesn't have the courage to say explicitly who he means -- he just implies it with ugly innuendo -- but Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds helpfully fills in the gap, approvingly quoting and praising Goldberg's warning ("He's right"), and then adding that if Hillary "outmaneuvers" Obama to win, "that'll probably alienate a lot of people and cause them to stay home in November." Just to make sure the meaning is clear, he then links to one of his own prior posts warning that a Hillary win might anger "black voters" and cause them to abandon the Democrats.

The last time I can recall a "certain segment of American political life" becoming "completely unhinged" and causing "social unraveling" in connection with a national election was this episode in Miami, during the 2000 recount:

The "bourgeois riot" celebrated by Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot helped stop the announced manual recount of the 10,750 undervote in Miami-Dade County. Instigated by an order from New York congressman John Sweeney to "shut it down," dozens of screaming GOP demonstrators pounded on doors and a picture window at elections headquarters. The canvassing board, which had already found a net Al Gore gain of 168 votes, reversed a decision it had made a couple of hours earlier to begin a tally of the undervote.

The mob gang-rushed a local Democrat carrying a blank sample ballot. They threatened that a thousand Cubans were on their way to the headquarters to stop the count. Several people were "trampled, punched or kicked," according to The New York Times. The canvassing board chair at first conceded that mob pressures played a role in the shutdown -- which cost Gore the 168 votes as well -- but later reversed his position. . . . .

Instead of condemning the Dade tactics, W. himself called the victory party that night to praise them, and Republicans invoked the specter of Jesse Jackson, who'd merely led peaceful protests outside election offices.

The "certain segment" creating "social unraveling" and blocking vote-counting in 2000 with their thug tactics wasn't quite the same as the "certain segment" which Goldberg and Reynolds are ominously warning will riot in the event of an Obama loss:

Most of those fist-waiving, threatening protesters were actually aides to GOP establishment figures, including Fred Thompson, Tom DeLay, Jim DeMint, and the NRCC, shipped to Miami to create a climate of intimidation and thus prevent pro-Gore votes from being counted.

By stark contrast, those "certain segments" of pro-Obama supporters about whom Goldberg and Reynolds are warning had their own Florida protests over actual voter suppression in the 2000 election, and those were peaceful and lawful. It seems that Goldberg and Reynolds missed the Bill O'Reilly Show where O'Reilly educated his viewers that, shockingly enough, African-Americans actually behave like human beings, waiting for their food, using silverware and napkins and everything.

There's a prevailing sense that Obama is not as offensive to the right-wing GOP faction as other Democratic and liberal candidates in the past have been, or that he's less "divisive" among them than Hillary. And that's true: for now, while he tries to take down the individual who has long provoked the most intense hatred -- literally -- among the Right. But anyone who doesn't think that that's all going to change instantaneously if Obama is the nominee hasn't been watching how this faction operates over the last 20 years. Hatred is their fuel. Just look at the bottomless personal animus they managed to generate over an anemic, mundane, inoffensive figure like John Kerry. At their Convention, they waved signs with band-aids mocking his purple hearts while cheering on two combat-avoiders.

There will be more than enough of that intense hatred to go around if Obama is the nominee. For now, most of the racial commentary about Obama's candidacy on the Right is confined to the sort of cringe-inducing, painfully condescending self-congratulations of the type Bill Bennett spat out on CNN Thursday night:

Barack Hussein Obama, a black man, wins this for the Democrats.

I have been watching him. I watched him on "Meet the Press," I've watched him on [Anderson Cooper's] show, watched him on all the CNN shows -- he never brings race into it. He never plays the race card.

Talk about the black community -- he has taught the black community you don't have to act like Jesse Jackson, you don't have to act like Al Sharpton. You can talk about the issues. Great dignity. And this is a breakthrough. And good for the people of Iowa.

But if Obama is really the nominee, and is the one standing in the way between the Right and ongoing control of the Government, the idea that there's going to be civility and respect is pure delusion. Rush Limbaugh's continuous race-based mockery of Obama and the types of "warnings" issued here by Goldberg and Reynolds of the social unrest "Obama supporters" will cause is but the tip of the rancid iceberg [just the other day, Reynolds promoted a post warning that an Obama win (like a Huckabee win) will mean "the jihadis will not have done too badly"]. From a Free Republic posting after Obama's Iowa victory:

Is Hussein Obama the weakest Dem for the General election?

By sending forth Hussein Osama out of Iowa, Democrats have unwittingly weakened their general election prospects.

Hussein's exotic mixture of radical liberalism, Kwanzaa Socialism, antipathy towards the unborn, and weakness against his jihadi brethren will all come back to destroy him against almost any Republican opponent, even the snake-grope from Hope. . . .

As defenders of this great Republic, and of the pinnacle of Western civilization that it represents, we should all come together tonight and agree on a common strategy that will keep the White House from becoming a madrassa.

As Andrew White, who also posted that Free Republic piece, wrote: "If Obama continues and becomes the presumptive Democratic nominee (and his chances got a lot better last night) it is going to get ugly. Real ugly." It would be just as ugly with Clinton or Edwards as the nominee, but that's the point. Scare tactics and fear-mongering are all the Right knows, and their whole electoral strategy since Richard Nixon has been grounded in culturally tribalistic and racial appeals. The kind of subtle bile pouring forth from Limbaugh, and from Goldberg and Reynolds last night, is just a tiny preview of what is to come.

UPDATE: Jon Swift has an incisive and darkly amusing post about the punditocracy's collective analysis of the Iowa results, including this summary of self-praising commentary about Obama from that night:

The other big winners were white voters and white members of the party establishment. By voting for Barack Obama, they were able to prove that they are not racist. The fact that Obama is young, charismatic, inspiring, a mesmerizing speaker, has fresh ideas and appeals across the partisan divide will make no difference in the general election where it is a well-known fact that the American people will be afraid to vote for a black man with a funny name who is inexperienced and might secretly be a Muslim. By letting him win this one, and giving us a historic moment that we can tell our grandchildren about, we can all feel better about ourselves.

That was pretty much what Bill Bennett and so many others said exactly.

UPDATE II: Perhaps some of Giuliani's support is motivated by a fear that "certain segments" might become "completely unhinged" in the event of a Giuliani loss and cause "social unraveling," sort of like this:

In September 1992, [Giuliani] spoke to a rally of police officers protesting Mr. Dinkins's proposal for a civilian board to review police misconduct.

It was a rowdy, often threatening, crowd. Hundreds of white off-duty officers drank heavily, and a few waved signs like "Dump the Washroom Attendant," a reference to Mr. Dinkins. A block away from City Hall, Mr. Giuliani gave a fiery address, twice calling Mr. Dinkins's proposal "bullshit." The crowd cheered. Mr. Giuliani was jubilant.

"If you're acculturated to like cops, you don't necessarily see 10,000 white guys who don't vote in the city, don't write political checks and love you for the wrong reason," an aide said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is working with the Giuliani presidential campaign.

Mr. Dinkins has not forgotten that sea of angry cops. "Rudy was out there inciting white cops to riot," Mr. Dinkins said in a recent interview.

"I can imagine the fear of this social unraveling actually aiding Giuliani enormously in 2008."

UPDATE III: Michelle Malkin's Hot Air also promoted Jonah's "they're-going-to-riot" post and, judging by several of her first few commenters, they're hearing the dog whistle message loud and clear:

Individual comments reflects only the views of the individual commenters, but clearly, many in the intended audience understand exactly the message being peddled by Goldberg, Reynolds, Malkin and friends.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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