Loving And Hating The “Race Card”

If you've sat down and watched a few episodes of Fox News' The Five, then you know that the nightly four-against-one conservatives-versus-Bob Beckel shout-fest has some real difficulty discussing race and politics. And that's unfortunate because they love talking about race and politics.

Last night, comedian and The Five regular Greg Gutfeld (who does for political analysis what Stu Rothenberg does for comedy) attributed the stark polarization of the American electorate to the unwelcome presence of the race card:

GUTFELD: All right. I want to say, I want to say -- what is really polarizing, the most polarizing thing we've ever come into contact with in politics is the race card. And that's why you are seeing polarization now. Nobody likes to be called a racist. And that angers a lot of people. So, there's no surprise. But you know what? When you tie the race card with class warfare, you've got a very angry electorate.

There is indeed an argument to be made that the unnecessary injection of racial issues can be toxic to reasoned discourse, and Gutfeld himself demonstrated exactly how toxic just a few minutes later.

The ensuing segment centered on Rep. Allen West's comments from this past weekend that President Obama and other top Democrats should “get the hell out of the United States.” Beckel laid into the Florida Republican, saying: “I've never heard anything more disgraceful in my life. I think Allen West owes an apology to a lot of people.” Gutfeld's response to Beckel was to read off a list he'd made of “outspoken black liberals,” to include Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, the Black Panthers, and Public Enemy. His point? “In our culture, we celebrate outspoken black leftists. So now, you have one provocative American black conservative and you liberals whine. I want to see more Allen West.”

Up to that point, no one had mentioned West's race. It was about as far from the discussion as Farrakhan is from your average liberal. But Gutfeld just tossed it in there to paint liberal objections to West's inflammatory comments as being rooted in race. He rather indelicately played the race card.

And guess what? The conversation went straight downhill. The four conservatives on the panel turned on Beckel as he fended off accusations that he was disrespecting West's military service, and Gutfeld once again dragged the discussion back to race, asking: “Is anything that he [West] said worse than the Black Panthers standing in front of the Philadelphia ... holding, in front of the voting booth, with a nightstick? I didn't see the left go crazy over that.”

What relevance do the New Black Panthers have to any of this? None. There is no utility in comparing West's comments to the manufactured and over-hyped “scandal” surrounding the New Black Panthers, unless you're trying to tar “the left” as intolerant. Personally, I'd like to think that we hold our elected officials to a higher standard than “no worse than a fringe hate group.”

But Gutfeld proved his point: by needlessly and ignorantly raising inflammatory racial issues, he sent the discussion into a fatal tailspin. As he'd said just minutes earlier: “Nobody likes to be called a racist. And that angers a lot of people.”