Recently, Rush Limbaugh created yet another minor flap by laughing when a caller reported that her daughter said Barrack Obama looked like Curious George. Afterwards, Limbaugh defended himself by claiming that he had no idea that Curious George was a monkey and that he had merely laughed to be polite. Not surprisingly, people have accused him of lying about that.
Perhaps he did not know about Curious George. In my own experience, I’ve met people who have been ignorant of cartoon characters I took to be cultural icons. So, this is not an impossibility. Then again, perhaps he made the claim and an apology to illustrate his claim that the upcoming election will, if Obama is the Democrats’ candidate, involve the most apologies from Republicans ever. Presumably he means that the Republicans will have to apologize constantly to Obama if their (allegedly) innocent claims are misconstrued.
Not surprisingly, it has been claimed that by laughing at the comparison, Limbaugh is showing racist tendencies (or at least approving of a racist comparison). Perhaps the comparison is racist-perhaps the intent was to compare Obama to a monkey to insult his ethnicity.
But perhaps not. After all monkey comparisons of George W. Bush are quite common. There is even a Curious George video of George W. Bush. Obviously, a comparison to a monkey is not flattering. But, as the George Bush examples show, it need not be a racist insult. Just because a person is insulted, it does not entail that that person has been the victim of a racial insult. What would be need to be shown is that the insult was, obviously enough, based on some factor of the person’s ethnicity.
While Limbaugh does so in a sarcastic manner, he does raise an interesting concern about Obama and criticism.
Since Obama is black, it is easy to regard criticisms and attacks on him as being racist. However, to assume that those who criticize him must be doing so from racist motivations is also racist. They might, as is probably the case with Limbaugh, be critical of him because they disagree with some of his views and beliefs. To hold back on criticism simply because Obama is black would itself be a form of racism. This would be because it would not be treating Obama like a white candidate-that is to say, subject to attack and criticism.
Obviously, this does not mean that any attack on or criticism of Obama cannot be racist. Obviously there can (and will) be such attacks and criticism. But it is important to distinguish between the attacks and criticisms that are racist and those that are not. The applies regardless of the candidate and not just to Obama, of course.
In the case of female candidates, such as Hillary Clinton, the distinction would be drawn between attacks and criticism that are based on sexism and those that are not.
In the case of a candidate’s age, similar comments apply. Some might argue that in the case of age, it is a relevant matter for criticism and attack. However, it is not the age that matters, but the relevant qualities. To be clearer, if one candidate is attacked because he is young, his youth is not really relevant. What would be relevant would be if he lacked the needed qualities of leadership because he has not had enough time to develop them.
There are also other attacks and criticisms that would be unacceptable-lest anyone think I’m just concerned about race, gender and age. But, going into those would stray beyond the focus of this blog.