Eric Boehlert: I Wish the GOP Noise Machine Would Make Up its Mind About Identity Politics

This post is by Eric Boehlert from Media on

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Currently it's quite confusing because depending on the week, and depending on the actors involved, the Noise Machine is either adamantly opposed to identity politics (Judge Sonia Sotomayor), and any discussion of racism in America (Prof. Louis Gates/Barack Obama), or the Noise Machine loves identity politics and wishes more people (like Harry Alford) would call out white politicians as racists.

Like I said, it's become quite confusing to watch. But what I have been able to determine from watching the Noise Machine ping-pong back and forth is that when Democrats or liberals raise the uncomfortable issue of race it's bad, bad, bad. But when conservatives or Republicans raise the issue of race against a Democrat, it's a very, very good thing.

For those trying to keep score at home, when Sotomayor was being confirmed, conservative pundits were universal in their claim that identity politics, especially when practiced by African-Americans and Hispanics, was abhorrent and should be avoided at all costs. That it was a divisive crutch Democrats used for political gain. And during the confirmation hearings, lots of conservative voices didn't even try to hide ugly racial stereotypes.

But then hold on! Just days later during a House hearing, pro-business conservative flak Harry Alford appeared before Congress on behalf of the GOP to argue against pending energy legislation. When he didn't like innocuous questions being asked by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA.), Alford cried racism (he claimed Boxer was getting all "racial), and guess what? Right-wingers loved it. The Noise Machine rallied around Alford and unveiled its previously invisible concern from racial equality in American politics.

And then when Alford made the rounds on right-wing radio and embellished his encounter with Boxer -- when Alford suggested the senator had called him a "little jiggaboo" and "little Negro" -- the Noise Machine loved him even more. Finally!, they cheered, somebody who would stand up to the racist ways of American politics!

But apparently that we-shall-overcome feeling evaporated this week in the wake of the news regarding the arrest of Gates, the African-American Harvard professor who claimed he was mistreated by Cambridge, Mass. police; a story Obama discussed at a White House briefing.

Instead of cheering Gates and Obama for raising the uncomfortable question of race (the way the right-wing had cheered pro-business flak Alford and his attack on Boxer), the Noise Machine retreated to its previous Sotomayor stance and lashed out any anyone (except Alford, of course) who dared cry racism. They hated the way Obama (aka "Racist-in-chief") joined Gates' "knee-jerk" protest about inequality in America.

So, just to sum up the right-wing stance, and to help folks keep score moving forward, let's review:

  • Sotomayor identity politics = bad
  • Alford identity politics = very good
  • Gates/Obama identity politics = the worst

Crossposted at County Fair, the Media Matters blog.

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