Orlando Patterson's reply is as unpersuasive as his original op-ed essay. His op-ed--a fanciful interpretation of Hillary Clinton's 3 A.M. campaign ad as racist--provides no facts to back up its assertions, thereby making refutation literally impossible. Now, in his reply, Patterson offers more groundless speculation. He also fails to concede that his original essay contained a gross falsehood that is now a matter of record--a falsehood that, once revealed, demolishes his basic argument. And his account of my writing about Obama's charges of racism creates a straw man that has absolutely nothing to do with what I have actually written.
Patterson evades the real subject of
Patterson takes as gospel the Obama campaign’s allegations
about Bill Clinton’s supposed race-baiting during the
Patterson goes on to state flatly, without a shred of
evidence, that most older, less educated white Democratic voters of
In his op-ed and his reply, Patterson’s entire argument
rests on his assertion that the
Patterson writes that I have claimed that Obama raised race as an issue:
"Introducing race into this campaign is completely against the interest of Senator Obama: It is simply impossible for a black person to win an election where the electorate is over 74 percent white by raising race as an issue, especially in this country with its racially charged past."
But this has never been my point. (Elsewhere at TNR,
Introducing the charge of racism in this campaign is a
dangerous tactic--but it certainly suits the interest of Senator Obama. Nothing
could be calculated to offend black voters more than the idea that one campaign
is appealing to white racism. And nothing, perhaps, is more likely to offend
young liberal voters, especially in college and university towns. That is
precisely what the Obama campaign has been doing, tentatively since before the
primaries began, and with a vengeance since
As my original essay shows, the Obama campaign (most conspicuously national co-chair, Jesse Jackson Jr.) has not been above charging purely and simply that Hillary Clinton is a racist. But more often, as my essay also shows, Obama’s strategists and followers have played what I call the “race-baiter” card--ginning up false claims that Hillary Clinton and her campaign (as well as Bill Clinton) have devilishly tried to turn Obama’s color against him and appeal to white prejudice.
That the press has been unable to see through this ruse--a brand new deployment of racial paranoia in our national politics--is not surprising, given that it is so new. But it is surprising that a distinguished scholar such as Orlando Patterson should so badly misread what I wrote. In any event, his account completely misrepresents what I have said--and thereby mocks the really important issues.
Sean Wilentz is a contributing
editor at The
By Sean Wilentz