White House Press Secretary Jay Carney Thursday commendably refused to play the race card, declining to agree that Republican opposition to two African Americans President Obama wanted for senior posts was about race and saying it was politics instead.
Carney, who spoke during the White House briefing, indicated that neither current opposition to Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency nor opposition earlier this year to Obama’s potential nomination of Susan Rice to be Secretary of State was based on race.
Republicans Thursday blocked Watt’s nomination to head the agency, which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The suggestion that opposition to Obama and his policies and appointments is racist has been one of the most egregious tactics of Democrats – including no less than Vice President Biden, who said Republicans wanted to put blacks back in “chains.”
There’s no doubt some who dislike the president are animated by racism. But there’s no evidence that the principled and political opposition to Obama in Congress has a serious racist component to it.
Conservatives vigorously oppose Obama’s policies, and would similarly try to block a white president. In fact, they impeached one a few years ago.
And notably, there has been fervent support within the GOP base for conservative black leaders like former Rep. Alan West (R-Fla.), 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain, and conservative physician and activist Ben Carson.
Veteran White House reporter April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks asked Carney whether opposition to Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency was based on race as, according to her, civil rights leaders believe.
Q Does this White House agree with civil rights leaders who have cited prior examples to include this President that many people thought was not qualified for this position? He had the pedigree like anyone else except his race. Then you had Susan Rice — that she was held up, she was qualified. Many thought that she was qualified for Secretary of State. That didn’t go through. Do you think this is another issue along those same lines where race is a factor?
MR. CARNEY: April, I think that this is about politics, and the situation that you described in the aftermath of Benghazi was most definitely about politics.
Q So am I correct in saying that the White House is saying to these civil rights leaders, look, it’s about politics, it’s not necessarily the race?
MR. CARNEY: April, I think it is about politics, and I think we’ve seen this kind of obstruction far too often. For individual motivations, you need to ask the individuals. But this is an enormously qualified candidate, and we certainly are disappointed by today’s vote.
In fact, numerous justifications for rejecting Watt have been cited, including that Republicans prefer the current director, who has at times been a thorn in the side of the administration.
A Wall Street Journal editorial Thursday argued that Watt had been associated himself the lax underwriting standards that got Fannie and Freddie in trouble in the first place. The column questioned his readiness for the job, noting his own admission as recently as December 2011 that he didn’t know much if anything about derivatives.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Obama’s election as president is that it demonstrated how far the nation has come on racial issues. What other majority white nation has elected a person of color its leader? What a crushing shame, then, that the awful charge of racism is used against Obama’s opponents, without evidence.
Carney should have directly rebutted the argument by explicitly saying the opposition was not about race. But at least he indicated clearly the White House disagrees, and he deserves credit for not making a race issue out of policy and political differences.