By Rich Lowry
— Silly season is over. Racist season is here.
Silly season is when nothing is going on in the presidential campaign and the debate focuses on trivialities. Racist season is when the campaign begins in earnest and President Barack Obama looks vulnerable. Then, liberal commentators pull out all the stops to deem practically any criticism of the president racist.
Chris Matthews of MSNBC led the charge with an on-set rant against Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. Criticizing the gutting of welfare reform? Racist. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's joke about no one ever asking for his birth certificate? Racist, too. Saying the president is inspired by a European welfare-state model? Obviously racist.
Priebus looked like he'd been buttonholed by a persistent drunk at a bar and didn't know how to get away.
It's only late August, and the campaign is tied. Wait until October, especially if Obama is trailing. In the imaginations of the president's devotees, an America where he is behind by 2 or 3 points will be indistinguishable from an America where blacks are set on by dogs during civil-rights marches.
When Romney joked in Michigan that no one ever had to ask for his birth certificate, it was a banner day in the racist season. Michael Eric Dyson, who apparently earned an advanced degree in finding obscure ways to accuse people of bigotry, detected the telltale signs of "othering."
"Other" used to be a perfectly fine word, then became jargon fit for use only by people with regular MSNBC gigs or endowed chairs in nonsense.
It's not clear why the former Massachusetts governor would insist that Obama is an American during the Republican primaries only to lurch toward birtherism in the general election, with an unscripted joke he will never, ever repeat.
Even Dyson lacks the creativity of Thomas Edsall, a Columbia Journalism School professor. Edsall wrote a blog post for The New York Times contending that, by attacking Obama for cutting Medicare to pay for "Obamacare," the Romney campaign is engaged in a politics of "racially freighted resource competition."
Why? Because Medicare beneficiaries are "largely white," and "Obamacare" beneficiaries will be "disproportionately minority." Edsall calls this supposed strategy "subtle." Subtle, indeed.
According to this logic, the Obama ads hitting Romney for wanting to end Medicare as we know it must be a naked racial appeal, the "othering" of Romney's reform plan.
There is a consensus among Democrats and the media that Romney's attacks on Obama for "gutting" welfare reform are out-of-bounds and racially charged.
This, too, is wrong. Obama has altered the welfare-reform law fundamentally. The section of the law imposing the work requirements was written to be unwaivable. The Obama administration unlawfully claims authority to waive it.
Imagine that a Republican administration claimed authority to waive the entitlement status of Medicare and Medicaid. Wouldn't Democrats accuse that administration of "gutting" those entitlements?
A Romney ad goes too far in suggesting that the work requirements will disappear immediately. It will probably be a slow unraveling. Any loosening comes in the context of work requirements that already don't have much force. Only about 40 percent of adult welfare recipients in any state are required to undertake "work activities," according to Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation. (Roughly a third of the welfare caseload is black.)
Work is not some racist code. It's a core American value. Ninety-seven percent of conservatives thought able-bodied welfare recipients should be required to work or prepare for work, according to a 2009 Heritage Foundation poll. Ninety-two percent of liberals agreed.
The usual suspects probably consider this universal sentiment a form of prejudice. What a dim view they take of their countrymen. They believe the American public is keenly attuned to racist dog whistles and - though they elected Obama with 53 percent and still like him personally - is ready to reject him partly because he's an African-American.
The silly season can occasionally be fun. The racist season is rancid.
(c) 2012 by King Features Syndicate