Right-wing radio host and Fox contributor Laura Ingraham makes a living from race-baiting when it comes to the president. Like many of her conservative cohorts, Ingraham often insists that much of Obama’s success is solely derived from the fact that he is African-American. Yesterday on her radio show, Ingraham offered Obama’s rise to the presidency as a perfect example of “the problem with affirmative action.” This is “what happens when individuals get pushed into positions, or elevated to positions for which they’re not qualified,” she said. “People get pushed, pushed, pushed farther than their abilities can match the position, and then they just keep failing.” All “because we had such a yearning for history,” she added.
That notion, however, spurred Ingraham to contemplate the GOP’s African-American presidential candidate Herman Cain. In comparing the “blackness” of the two African American politicians, Ingraham wondered whether Cain would actually be “the first black president” because he doesn’t “have a white mother, white father.” Therefore, isn’t he the real black candidate?:
INGRAHAM: And what happened with Obama is that he gets this job that he’s not qualified for… OK, so [Obama is] Constitutionally qualified for but he’s not really qualified for. And guess who pays the price? All of us. Because we had such a yearning for history.
Well I have a question. Herman Cain, if he became president, he would be the first black president, when you measure it by — because he doesn’t — does he have a white mother, white father, grandparents, no, right? So Herman Cain, he could say that he’s — he’s — he’s the first, uh — he could make the claim to be the first — yeah, the first Main Street black Republican to be the president of the United States. Right? He’s historic too.
As Media Matter notes, this was clearly an unguarded moment for Ingraham. She quickly realized her train of thought was revealing a racist thesis that one’s “blackness” should be measured by the amount of white blood in your lineage. Instead, she pivoted — while giggling — to declaring Cain the first “Main Street black Republican to be the president of the United States.”
But Ingraham’s rant also exemplifies how the right-wing often contorts Obama’s black identity to fit the needs of their attack. If Obama’s identity might hurt him with American voters, it serves to blast him as a black man playing the black card. If Obama’s identity might help him, it serves to vilify or even question that identity, like Fox News contributor Monica Crowley did in 2008. According to “genealogy,” “Barack Obama is not black African, he is Arab African,” she said. “And yet, this guy is campaigning as black and painting anybody who dares to criticize him as racist. I mean, it is the biggest con I think I’ve ever seen.”
What’s more, the emergence of Cain only seems to solidify this strategy. Serving as a shield against racism allegations, conservatives often point to Cain’s popularity as proof that the GOP or the Tea Party is not racist. Indeed, fellow presidential candidate Newt Gingrich flatly stated, “You can’t attack our team [GOP] as being racist with Herman Cain running a campaign.” Right-wing kingpin Rush Limbaugh dubbed Cain more “authentically black” than Obama.
But, as Mother Jones’ Adam Serwer notes, should Cain even hint at an element of racism in the GOP as he did with Rick Perry’s racist camp name, he — not the offender — is blasted alongside Obama as “just another black race-card playing politician.”