Fairness not in the cards for Obama, Mandela


No doubt you have heard about the “race card.” Today let us discuss another card in the pack of rhetorical tricks, the “Marx card.” (Not Groucho Marx, although he had a better sense of absurdity).

The race card and the Marx card have something in common: They are both used to cut off conversations for political advantage.

The race card is used whenever a reprobate liberal person like myself dares suggest that some of the wildest claims made about President Barack Obama — he was born in Kenya, he’s a Muslim, fill in the dubious dots — are maybe, just maybe, rooted in a dislike of his skin color.

In my experience with the hatred community, those who think race is just a game of cards are often racists themselves. They are betting that the mere utterance of the words “race card” will foreclose all further debate.

Certainly, race can be used as a frivolous and overworked excuse for bad behavior by people of color and their defenders. In the case of President Obama, he has his faults, and liberals and conservatives alike should judge these strictly by the content of his character.

Some people manage this trick better than others — that’s a fact. My own view is that race shouldn’t be brought into any discussion unless the criticism being leveled is so crazy that only racial animosity can reasonably explain it.

Which brings us to the Marx card. The death of Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest figures of the last 100 years, got me thinking about it. He was a man who transcended race and in so doing, rose above hatred to embrace forgiveness in a way that was almost Christ-like.

It seems he was also a communist, at least for a time, which certain people can’t get over.

After Mandela died, Bill O'Reilly interviewed former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. This was the occasion when Santorum compared the South African leader’s struggle against apartheid to those in America who seek to overturn the Affordable Care Act — one more brain and that fellah would be dangerous, as they say in the old country. For his part, O'Reilly couldn’t get over the fact that he respected Mandela but he was a communist — a communist!

Well, not really. In the fight for freedom, Mandela sought allies where he could, but freedom-loving America, thanks to the right wing of the day, wasn’t interested. But as president, he wasn’t a communist, a Marxist or a socialist. Instead, he was the friend of free enterprise and continued prosperity.

Yet some people didn’t think Obama should have gone to the expense of flying over for the memorial service of a communist, a black one to boot. It was a reminder of how destructive the right-wing obsession with communism has been for more than 60 years. It persists even as communism has one foot in the trash bin of history — and good riddance.

In 1970, I served in South Vietnam, one of the tragic mistakes of that Cold War obsession. While I was no hero, I did serve willingly. Then, as now, I saw communism as hostile to true liberal principles. Yet I am routinely called a Marxist, socialist, etc. for defending those same principles.

Obama has it much worse. His critics have invented a narrative about how he was indoctrinated into communism by a family friend at an early age. Yes, we have all had those moments when an uncle sits us down and says, “Son, let me talk to you about dialectical materialism and the international commune.” Ridiculous.

Obama made a great speech this month about economic inequality. Here was his chance to champion socialistic precepts, but there was nothing like that. He made the case not for equal outcomes but for equal opportunity.

His was a vision of putting Americans back to work. He quoted Abraham Lincoln, the greatest Republican of them all. He quoted Pope Francis, who himself had the Marx card pulled on him by America’s oaf-in-chief, Rush Limbaugh. He even quoted Adam Smith, prophet of free markets.

The president also defended what his critics call Obamacare, the health care plan hatched in a right-wing think tank but now denounced as Marxist. None of this was unusual. None of it was Marxist.

Obama has made plenty of mistakes, but being a Marxist isn’t one of them. So next time someone cites the race card to try to shut you up, raise them with the Marx card. Groucho would approve.

Reg Henry is deputy editorial-page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

© 2013, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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