Joe Klein on Trayvon Martin: Democrats Are Bad Too

Time columnist Joe Klein has harsh words for the right. His new column uses the Trayvon Martin tragedy to talk broadly about the right and racism. Klein points out that some of the Republican presidential candidates

are desperate men playing on the ignorance and racist bigotry of their audiences. Those of us who cover campaigns and watched the Tea Party grow have notebooks full of hateful quotes from that distinct minority of militants who believe that nonwhites are “taking over” the country and that Shari’a looms and that the President is somehow egging this on. This is a relatively tiny minority but a rather dangerous one. Many are armed, and they have ridiculously permissive gun laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute on their side. The Republican Party has been more than complicit–it has been zealous–in the passage of these laws.

Someone should share all those notebooks full of Tea Party racism.

Indeed, Klein’s column begins with one remarkable anecdote about Rick Santorum campaign stop at a shooting range in Louisiana:

As he was firing two clips from a semiautomatic pistol into a target, a woman called out, “Pretend it’s Obama.”

But often times a column like this must apparently shift its focus to the other side’s culpability too–a familiar kind of pox-on-both-houses media “false balance.”

Klein writes:

Which is not to say that the Democrats have been completely blameless. The past 20 years have seen great racial progress in this country. The killing of Martin by a vigilante crime-watch stalker was an exception to the norm; the vast majority of African-Americans who are shot suffer at the hands of other African-Americans.

The paragraph goes on, but stop here for a second and ponder the idea that “racial progress” is marked in part by black people mostly being killed by other black people.

Back to Klein’s paragraph:

But here’s Al Sharpton, with the imprimatur of MSNBC, acting as racial ringmaster for another media circus, and here’s Jesse Jackson back looking for some camera time too. (I’m sure that the Limbaugh/Drudge wing of the Republican Party is thrilled that the Democrats are drifting back into racialist politics after a 20-year hiatus.)

Klein manages to hit all the usual notes: Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson (who is seeking “camera time,” of course) and Democrats endangered by an embrace of “racialist” politics. It’s part of the corporate media’s general distaste for activism, as well as the fear that Democrats might go too far to the left. But it’s especially strange for pundits like Klein to seem outraged by the fact that civil rights activists are doing civil rights activism.

For pundits like Klein, Obama’s election was important because it held out the possibility of a post-racial society where people like Jackson and Sharpton would be totally unnecessary. As Peter Beinart wrote, “For many white Americans, it’s a twofer. Elect Obama, and you not only dethrone George W. Bush, you dethrone Sharpton, too.” Sometimes you get the sense that Trayvon Martin’s killing is a reminder that thing didn’t work out that way–and the pundits are mad at Sharpton about it.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.