Matt Bai: Another White Guy Who Thinks Calling Republicans Out on Race is Bad Idea

After several weeks of stepping on racial rakes, New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait finally hit the “eject” button on his crusade to get liberals to stop terrifying racists by calling them that, explaining to Melissa Harris-Perry that she’s just a big meanie, and his haters just aren’t smart enough to know what he was even writing about.

But just in time for Spring, former New York Times Magazine and current Yahoo! News columnist Matt Bai has come parachuting into the fray to tell Democrats not to call out Republicans on race. This is beginning to seem like a strategy.

Actually, that’s what Bai said about Democrats saying completely true things that Bai doesn’t even dispute are true, but definitely thinks are a bad idea to say:

So now it’s out there. After five years of studied reticence (unless they were talking privately to one another or their supporters), Democratic leaders in Washington finally went public last week with what they really think is motivating Republican opposition to Barack Obama. As Steve Israel, one of the top Democrats in Congress, told CNN’s Candy Crowley, the Republican base, “to a significant extent,” is “animated by racism.”

Just to make himself clear, Israel did allow that not all Republicans were the ideological descendants of Bull Connor. To which I’m sure his colleagues across the aisle responded, “Oh, OK. Cool then.”

But it’s not the reaction of Republicans that Democrats should probably have some concern about. It’s the way American voters, and a lot of younger voters in particular, may view a return to the polarizing racial debate that existed before Obama was ever elected.

Coming in an election year, and in the wake of sporadic campaigns to solidify support among women and gay voters, the sudden Democratic focus on race felt like an orchestrated talking point. Israel’s comments came just a few days after Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, suggested that racism was keeping Republicans from voting on an immigration bill. And Pelosi was reacting to a speech by the attorney general, Eric Holder, who complained to a civil rights gathering in Washington of “ugly and divisive” attacks against the administration.

It’s a long piece, full of the same derp you’ll find in any of these “both sides do it” dissections of race and politics, including your standard carton full of false equivalencies, like how being racist is the same thing as sending mean emails about… the South? Yeah, I don’t get it either. But look, racism is a hard subject for anyone to write about, especially if you’re white. It’s like asking a fish to write about air.

Bai’s political analysis, though, is just as flawed, because the “strategy” he’s identifying isn’t the Democrats’, it is the media’s. Both of the quotes that Bai finds so strategic and calculated were prompted by questions about the same Eric Holder speech. Here’s how CNN’s Candy Crowley put it to Rep. Israel: “Attorney General Holder went off script at an event this week where he said that he believes that the treatment he has been — he has received in the House, particularly during a hearing this week would not have happened if he were not African-American. That he believes it’s racism. He believes the opposition to the president has been based on racism.”

That’s not exactly even close to what Attorney General Holder actually said, and in fact, he later said his comment had nothing at all to do with race. This is a narrative that Matt Bai is building, on the foundation that Chait laid: liberals and Democrats should not talk about Republicans and race, even if what they’re saying might be true. It’s also a narrative that Crowley was building when she asked Rep. Israel about Holder’s imaginary comments. Following Israel’s answer, she said “between the war on women and the Republicans are racist or blanketing — all of them — if this were Irish, they would have passed immigration by now. Looked very much like election year strategy, trying to get your base out.”

Now, I don’t necessarily believe that AG Holder wasn’t referring to race when he pointed out the mistreatment that he and President Obama have endured, but it’s a hell of a lot more plausible than Rep. Paul Ryan’s assertion that his “inner city” remarks had nothing to do with race.

Oh, yeah, remember that? Matt Bai doesn’t seem to, nor does he remember anything that happened longer than a week ago, like AG Holder’s dustup with Rep. Louie Gohmert, or the Republican Congressman who called migrant workers “wetbacks,” or the explicitly racial reasons given by Republicans for everything from voter suppression to opposing food stamps and immigration. Nope, Nancy Pelosi and Steve Israel just emerged from the womb last week and cried “racism!”

Chait found accusations of racism “terrifying,” while Bai seems to see them simply as retrograde, but calling Republicans out on race definitely makes them both very uncomfortable. If only the actual racism did the same.

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