Is it okay to vote against a candidate because of his race? The answer to the question is no. It is, in fact, the only acceptable answer. But I ask the question because it raises an important point about the media, the Democrats, and Barack Obama himself.
We are, each year, treated to national media reports on race relations in this country and they invariably discuss white America coming to terms with other races in this country. Very, very rarely does the media ever report on other races coming to terms with white America.
It is not really relevant, frankly, to point out that most black voters are going to vote in droves for Barack Obama. Regardless of his race, black voters would vote for the Democrat. But when you read about Congressman Steve Cohen's race in Tennessee's Ninth Congressional District, you really are confronted by both racism and anti-Semitism in a way we rarely think about in this country. And the media is silent. Barack Obama is silent.
Steve Cohen just might lose his re-election not because he has been ineffective in representing his district, but because he is white. And a number of black members of Congress are happy about that.
The media's attention to this race is in direct contrast to Harold Ford, Jr. in 2006. The Republican Party ran an ad in Tennessee in which a white blonde lady ends the ad saying she met Harold at the Playboy mansion. The Ford camp immediately decried the ad as racist and the media nodded their head, likewise decrying the ad as racist. In fact, the hyperbolic scream of "racism" against the ad probably helped Corker more than the ad itself by hacking off voters who saw no racism in the ad. The voters, in fact, knew it was slamming Ford for his bachelor ways, hanging out with Playboy bunnies instead of representing his district.
What is happening to Steve Cohen is real racism and there are no prominent national media stories about it. Let me be clear here: Steve Cohen and I disagree on probably 99% of all issues. The point, though, is that the national media is all too willing to run stories of racism involving Republicans and then run as fast as they can in the other direction when the racism involves not just Democrats, but reverse racism.
In 2006, Steve Cohen won Harold Ford's seat in Memphis in a bitter contested race. Cohen beat Nikki Tinker barely. During the race, Cohen hacked off black ministers for supporting gay rights legislation and opposing school prayer. But what angered people in the district more was that a black congressman could potentially be replaced by not just a white man, but a Jew too. The anti-Semitism has resurfaced this year. Black ministers (started by one who is not even in district) have passed out fliers that say "Steve Cohen and the JEWS HATE Jesus." Nikki Tinker has refused to denounce the fliers.
Last year, some black ministers caused a stir against Cohen because he supported federal hate crimes legislation that included gay rights. Robert Poindexter, one of the angered ministers, gave away the game saying, "He's not black and he can't represent me, that's just the bottom line."
In fact, Nikki Tinker's campaign is openly courting the race issue by saying the Tennessee delegation, which is all white, needs "diversity." She is finding support with black members of Congress who denied Steve Cohen membership in the Congressional Black Caucus after his 2006 victory. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), according to Congressman Cohen, is actively helping Nikki Tinker because they are both black and female. Tubbs Jones coyly claims it is because Tinker is a sorority sister in Delta Sigma Theta, a black sorority.
But it's not just Tubbs Jones. As Chris Bodenner points out, of the 42 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, only Charlie Rangel, John Conyers, and Jesse Jackson, Jr. have been willing to support Congressman Cohen. All 42, however, signed on to Congressman Cohen's successfully passed resolution apologizing for slavery and Jim Crow laws.
And where is Barack Obama? Steve Cohen got on board early with Obama's campaign. Nikki Tinker only did after Hillary was toast. Neither campaign thinks Obama will weigh in, but why not?
In Georgia, Obama gladly taped a radio commercial for Congressman John Barrow in the 12th Congressional District. Barrow looks conservative next to Cohen. In fact, Barrow, a Blue Dog Democrat, was opposed by most left-wing organization in his primary challenge by Regina Thomas, a prominent black state senator for Savannah. Seventy percent of the ballots in the Democratic primary in Georgia-12 are generally cast by black voters; yet, Barack Obama was willing to weigh in for the white guy.
In Tennessee-9, Barack Obama has remained silent. He could, of course, practice what he preaches. He could transcend race and help the healing. Barack Obama could weigh in publicly for Steve Cohen. Barack Obama could denounce the anti-semitism and racism (and blatant sexism) being hurled toward a sitting congressman.
Barack Obama cannot say this is a matter for the voters of Tennessee. He established a precedent in Georgia in a race that had no strong racist attacks against the white incumbent Congressman.
So why be silent now? And why is the media silent? The only major national media organization to look into this issue has been the Washington Post, and then only via an online blog.
Either the media and Barack Obama really care about this issue, or they use it just as a political weapon against Republicans. The silence is deafening.