Wednesday, January 18, 2006


MLK-ing Plantation Politics

OK. Enough is enough. Let's bury the "plantation" metaphor in politics.


Hillary Clinton used it on Martin Luther King Day at
an appearance in Harlem. She was talking about how Republicans ran the House of Representatives, but made sure she threw in a "and you know what I'm talking about," in case her primarily African-American audience didn't catch the subtelty of her words.

The GOP's response to Hillary caused others to note that erstwhile liberal bete noire (as it were) Newt Gingrich (full disclosure: my former boss) also used "plantation" language
in describing how the House was run -- in 1994, under Democrats.

Then, various liberals noted how various conservatives
have bandied the phrase around over the years -- specifically in discussing racial politics.

Then, the White House
chimed in on Tuesday.

Oh please.

The time for "plantation" rhetoric -- of an explicitly racial nature -- is over. Completely over. End of story.

First, as a quick aside, the left is really stretching in claiming that Gingrich's comments are the same as Hillary's. Not to defend a former boss, but the context here matters: He said those words in the course of a Washington Post profile of the man identified as the likely next Speaker of the House. If the context is about the majority abusing its powers when running a legislative body, then the partisan analogy holds.

But -- important difference. He was not speaking to a black audience -- or even obliquely referring to one; there was not an implicit racial connotation to his words. Yes, talking about plantations usually conjures up images of American slavery, but referring to oneself as the "leader of the slave rebellion," one could be referencing Spartacus as much as anything.

Hillary, on the other hand, made a clear -- "and you know what I'm talking about" line to a black audience. I'm actually a little surprised that those on the left whose eyes were raised when Ross Perot made reference in 1992 to "you people" when speaking to a Southern black audience, didn't find Hillary's implied "you people" just a little it pandering.

But conservatives don't get a free pass on this. I don't know who started it -- though
this was an early entry -- but too many on the right have adopted the "plantation" language as a favorite trope in trying to dislodge minority (particularly African American) allegiance to the Democratic Party. It matters little whether those comments have come from black conservatives or white conservatives (or Latino conservatives), it is inherently insulting and counterproductive to the very principle that the writer is advocating.

It's very difficult to convince someone of the validity of your argument by suggesting that continuing to vote for the other party is evidence of a slave-like mentality. Invite individuals over with the power of your positive arguments, not by trashing the "family" that they have been part of for large segments of their lives. In short, suggesting that blacks have a plantation mentality for continuing to support Democrats -- and then expecting them to support Republicans -- makes about as much sense as trying to convince a Republican to switch parties because, well, "the GOP are Nazis."

It's actually worse really.

The plantation rhetoric is the manipulation and exploitation of American racial tropes that are better of dead and buried. Yes, the left-wing will often use it against black conservatives. (We've been down that road before; no need to dredge all THAT fun stuff up again.) But that is hardly an excuse. This country will never move beyond its history until it decides to leave noxious racial references dead and buried -- especially on King's birthday.

Hillary Clinton is pandering shamelessly, yes. But, those on the right stamping their feet at her comments are deluding themselves if they think she is going to pay a price for it. She was speaking in front of a friendly (black, liberal, New York) audience and that audience had no problem accepting her use of language against a group (House Republicans) that they hold in fairly high contempt. She was preaching to the choir.

In praying for an audience who will be as offended as they are at Clinton's comments, conservatives are likely only to be heard by a choir of their own.

UPDATE: Sullivan, Malkin, RCP and other visitors -- welcome!! More on Hillary's pander and '08 challenges can be found here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Technorati search
Search Now:
Amazon Logo
  •  RSS
  • Add to My AOL
  • Powered by FeedBurner
  • Add to Google Reader or Homepage
  • Subscribe in Bloglines
  • Share on Facebook