Off the Plantation


Last night on Fox News' "Hannity & Colmes," amidst fulminations against Hillary Clinton's "the House is run like a plantation" remark, the hapless Alan Colmes repeatedly asked how it was different from Newt Gingrich's rather similar 1994 comment ("Since they [the Democrats] think it is their job to run the plantation, it shocks them that I'm actually willing to lead the slave rebellion"). Dick Morris brushed him off with a dismissive accusation of reciting talking points off Hillary's faxes (which really seemed to get under Colmes' skin, and I don't blame him). Larry Elder at least took the question seriously, and stressed that the big difference was Hillary's line, "And you know what I'm talking about!" which, addressed to a black audience, clearly had an implication of "The Republicans who run the House are racist bigots."

At first I thought that Elder was reaching for excuses; now I think that he has a point, but he should have made it better. And he should have been much tougher on his comrades-in-arms on the right who have used plantation metaphors to score political points.

Robert George comments:

First, as a quick aside, the left is really stretching in claiming that Gingrich's comments are the same as Hillary's. Not to defend a former boss, but the context here matters: He said those words in the course of a Washington Post profile of the man identified as the likely next Speaker of the House. If the context is about the majority abusing its powers when running a legislative body, then the partisan analogy holds.

But—important difference. He was not speaking to a black audience—or even obliquely referring to one; there was not an implicit racial connotation to his words. Yes, talking about plantations usually conjures up images of American slavery, but referring to oneself as the "leader of the slave rebellion," one could be referencing Spartacus as much as anything.

Hillary, on the other hand, made a clear—"and you know what I'm talking about" line to a black audience. I'm actually a little surprised that those on the left whose eyes were raised when Ross Perot made reference in 1992 to "you people" when speaking to a Southern black audience, didn't find Hillary's implied "you people" just a little it pandering.

But conservatives don't get a free pass on this. I don't know who started it—though this was an early entry—but too many on the right have adopted the "plantation" language as a favorite trope in trying to dislodge minority (particularly African American) allegiance to the Democratic Party. It matters little whether those comments have come from black conservatives or white conservatives (or Latino conservatives), it is inherently insulting and counterproductive to the very principle that the writer is advocating.

It's very difficult to convince someone of the validity of your argument by suggesting that continuing to vote for the other party is evidence of a slave-like mentality. Invite individuals over with the power of your positive arguments, not by trashing the "family" that they have been part of for large segments of their lives. In short, suggesting that blacks have a plantation mentality for continuing to support Democrats—and then expecting them to support Republicans—makes about as much sense as trying to convince a Republican to switch parties because, well, "the GOP are Nazis."

It's actually worse really.

The plantation rhetoric is the manipulation and exploitation of American racial tropes that are better of dead and buried. Yes, the left-wing will often use it against black conservatives. (We've been down that road before; no need to dredge all THAT fun stuff up again.) But that is hardly an excuse. This country will never move beyond its history until it decides to leave noxious racial references dead and buried—especially on King's birthday.

I think Robert's a leetle too easy on Newt; when you're talking about plantations and slave rebellions, in an American context, it's pretty clear you're not talking about Spartacus. But other than that, I think Robert's comments are right on the money, and I don't have much to add to this except to say, "Right on!" I will add, though, that the demagoguery of HRC's speech is amplified by the fact that she made it not only to an African-American audience in Harlem, but also on Martin Luther King Day. In this sense, the analogy to Newt's comment in the Washington Post interview is a bit thin.

(Cross-posted at The Y-Files.)