Mark Halperin defends Rush Limbaugh's Powell/race theory

Why isn't this race-based analysis being applied to white political figures who are endorsing this year outside of their party?

Published October 21, 2008 4:15PM (EDT)

(updated below)

Time's Mark Halperin was on some right-wing talk radio show this morning -- where he spends much of his time -- and agreed with Rush Limbaugh that race motivated Colin Powell to endorse Barack Obama:

Q:  Is race part of that?

Halperin: Powell himself said race was part of it, but it's not all of it.  In fact, Powell had a laundry list of problems with his own party that he said supporting Obama would help address, but he also acknowledged that race is a part of it.  Rush Limbaugh correctly points out that he hasn't seen Powell up until now endorse a lot of liberal Democrats for anything, so from Limbaugh's point of view, race is the tipping point for Powell, but I think there were a lot of other things in play beyond race.

The Right has spent years insisting that their one and only position on race is that race is completely irrelevant to everything, that the only proper thing to say about race is that everyone is color-blind and race plays no real role in anything.  For that reason, it was amazing to watch -- the minute Powell stepped out of line -- how quickly and overtly they dismissed the endorsement by saying, in essence:  "that's just because Powell and Obama are both black."  

But here's Halperin now endorsing that theory, at least in part, and doing so in ways that are highly suspect.  Contrary to Halperin's claim, Powell most certainly did not "acknowledge" that race was a factor in his endorsement of Obama.  What Powell said was that he "can't deny that it will be a historic event for an African-American to become president" -- which is hardly tantamount to saying that race was a factor in his decision to endorse Obama.  And as ABC News' John Cochran put it on Sunday night:

Rush Limbaugh suggested today that Obama's race may have played a part in Powell's endorsement. Powell denied race had any connection, but did say Obama's election would be historic.

Moreover, Powell spent several minutes articulating his reasons -- all race-neutral reasons -- for why he decided to endorse Obama, and explicitly rejected the suggestion, when raised by Tom Brokaw, that race was the reason.  For Halperin to declare that Rush Limbaugh was right because "Powell himself said race was part of it" is inaccurate at best.

But beyond that narrow point, why isn't this race-based analysis being applied to others who are endorsing outside of their party?  I don't recall Joe Lieberman endorsing any hard-core conservative national politicians before this year, when he has spent much of his time cheering for and appearing with the McCain/Palin ticket.  Using the Limbaugh/Buchanan/Halperin logic, isn't it fair to assume that at least a significant part of Lieberman's motive in endorsing McCain -- if not his entire motive -- is that he and McCain are both white, whereas Obama isn't?  What's the difference between making that race-based assumption about Lieberman's endorsement and making it about Powell?

And what of the scores of white conservatives and Republicans endorsing Obama this year or declaring themselves open to doing so, the first time many of them have ever endorsed a Democrat -- from Ken Adelman, Peggy Noonan, Christopher Buckley, Michael Smerconish, and Douglas Kmiec to The Chicago Tribune, The Recordand College Station, Texas' The Eagle?  Clearly there are ample reasons many white conservatives have for abandoning McCain and endorsing Obama, such that attributing Powell's endorsement to their shared race is as overtly racist an argument as has been unveiled for quite some time in the mainstream.

It's one thing for Pat Buchanan on Hardball, Matt Drudge, and Rush Limbaugh (via email, very appropriately, to his Politico friends) to claim, with zero evidence, that race is what motivated Powell to endorse Obama.  But it's another thing entirely to watch establishment journalists -- even ones, like Halperin, whose mission in life is to ingratiate themselves to the Right -- embrace that same perverse and fact-free race-based claim.

* * * * * 

Unrelatedly, Halperin went on to recite prevailing conventional wisdom (as always) by opining that, even though there will be "a lot of liberals in positions of authority" after the election, moderate Democrats in Congress such as Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer will prevent Obama, if he wins, from -- as Halperin put it -- "going crazy liberal" because "they see the key to Obama's success as not being captive to liberals" and moderate Democrats in Congress "appreciate that America is a centrist country, maybe even center-right, and aren't going to go crazy liberal, because they'll see that as a mistake for building what they want to build, which is an enduring Democratic majority."  

That's the standard theme being mouthed by establishment media figures everywhere -- almost never with specifics or evidentiary support.  I would love for one of these pundits expressing that view to say specifically -- exactly -- what "crazy liberal" things they think Obama would inclined to do which a majority of Americans would find objectionable.


UPDATE:  Here is a photographic essay that makes a similar point.

Also:  I don't recall the Mark Halperins and Jon Meachams of the world warning, when the GOP took over both houses of Congress in 2002, about the dangers of Bush being able to "go crazy conservative."  In fact, for the last couple of decades -- and certainly in the Bush era -- the term "crazy conservative" has, in essence, been an oxymoron in our dominant political culture, as there is really no such thing as going so far to the right that one falls off the mainstream cliff (hence: the influence and popularity of people like Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and Ann Coulter within that venue).   But the potential exists that a centrist Democratic President will exert control in conjunction with what has been, by all measures, a cautious and centrist Congress, and media gasbags everywhere join together to warn of the imminent reign of "crazy liberals."

By Glenn Greenwald

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