by Jeremy Young | 1/16/2008 12:10:00 AM
You probably didn't know this, but once upon a time ProgressiveHistorians actually endorsed a candidate for political office. That candidate was Allan J. Lichtman, a professor of history at American University. Generally known for his controversial system of "Keys to the Presidency," Lichtman also made a passionate, though ultimately unsuccessful, run for the U.S. Senate from Maryland in 2006. (You can read my September 2006 endorsement post here.)

Professor Lichtman has been blogging recently at Britannica Blog, one of the smartest of the academic publisher weblogs. Unfortunately, his latest post, accusing Barack Obama of "playing the race card," is both deeply flawed and bordering on racially insensitive:



I have great respect for Barack Obama as a presidential candidate. Despite widespread agreement with Hillary Clinton on most issues he has proven to be the one candidate capable of inspiring people to think beyond the compass of their daily lives.

But now that Obama has played the race card in the Democratic presidential campaign my respect for him has diminished. By playing the race card I mean inappropriately exploiting race in the hope of personal or political gain. ...

The controversy over Clinton’s remarks [on MLK and LBJ] is bad for Obama. It diminishes his standing as a leader of all Americans, not the representative of a particular group. It is bad for the Democratic Party. It suggests that the party is immersed in petty, identity politics. It is bad for the American people. It detracts from the major issues of the campaign and gives the impression that we are still obsessed with every nuance of race in America.

Let’s hope that we’ve seen the last of racial politics in the Democratic campaign and that if Obama is nominated, the Republican Party will not reprise its infamous “swift boat” style campaign of 2004 on the issue of race.


I don't have time to offer a detailed comment on Lichtman's post, but let's just look at that last sentence. Who is Allan Lichtman to "hope that we've seen the last of racial politics"? When African-American women, men, and children are suffering the nefarious results of historical American racism, where does Lichtan get off dismissing "racial politics"? Even Senator Clinton talked in the debate tonight about "black-brown politics," which, though highly disingenuous coming from her, at least paid lip-service to the fact of engrained inequality. If Hillary Clinton, of all people, can understand that race is a problem that needs to be talked about, why can't an old liberal lion like Lichtman?

Don't get me wrong -- I'm with Lichtman 100% on the notion that petty race conflicts shouldn't become the focus of the campaign. But Lichtman draws an alarming parallel between political spats over race and the discussion of race at all in a political setting. The former is, as Lichtman would have it, regrettable. The latter is absolutely essential to the future progress of our nation, and it's disheartening to see Lichtman glossing over it so readily.

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