Upcoming JLF Headliner urges conservatives to avoid one of the Democrats’ ugliest strategies

Timothy Carney‘s John Locke Foundation Headliner appearance is little more than a month away. In the meantime, you can read his thoughts today in the Washington Examiner about conservatives’ use of the “race card.”

Now that a conservative black Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain, is taking the type of fire that any serious White House contender should expect, some conservatives are reaching for their own race card.

Barack Obama dabbled in this four years ago, asserting in his stump speech that attacks on him would come down to “did I mention he’s black?” Since the long presidential campaign began for real this summer, liberal MNSBC host Ed Schultz has found racism in any imaginable conservative critique of Obama, including a Rick Perry reference to a “black cloud” of national debt.

The point of playing the race card is to get your opponent to shut up. It’s to create a high cost for anyone staking out the opposing position. It’s cynical. It poisons public discourse. And it actually fosters real racism in two ways: by stoking racial hostility and by making it harder for the public to distinguish between actual racism and everything falsely called racism.

Last week, after Politico reported that two women had filed sexual harassment complaints against Cain in the 1990s, Rush Limbaugh called it a “racially charged attack.” Limbaugh said: “What is known as the mainstream media goes for the ugliest racial stereotypes they can to attack a black conservative.”

Americans for Herman Cain, an independent SuperPAC not affiliated with the campaign, used Limbaugh’s quote in a TV ad that also twice recalled Clarence Thomas’s charge that those trying to sink his Supreme Court nomination in 1991 were attempting “a high-tech lynching.”

The truth about the sexual harassment charges against Cain is still murky. But even if Cain never sexually harassed anyone, and even if he is the victim of a dirty attack, there are no grounds for calling this “racially charged.” The simplest explanation, even if this is a “smear,” is that it’s a political smear.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...