Sarah Palin made headlines Wednesday with an inflammatory Facebook post entitled, “Obama’s Shuck and Jive Ends with Benghazi Lies.”
The former governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate used an argument floating around the pool of conservative punditry: that the White House and State Department knew of al-Qaida ties to the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and deliberately covered up that information for days afterward.
The accusation that the Obama administration set out to intentionally deceive the American public is nothing new. What is unique about the Palin post is her phrasing.
Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page examined the origin of the saying “shuck and jive” on Wednesday night’s Hardball.
“For knowledgeable people, it has roots back in the plantation days, actually, when slaves doing the shucking of the corn would jive each other around just to pass the time,” he explained.
Despite what could be considered a racial slur in Palin’s headline, Page seemed more focused on the content of her post, regarding it as a paranoid style of politics that ignores the possibility of human error and instead pegs any political misstep as a grand conspiracy.
MSNBC political analyst and Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Alter, however, charged Palin with racism.
“I actually think my old friend Clarence is being a little bit polite. I think this is rank racism,” Alter said on Hardball. “These are racist tropes, and we need to call them what they are.”
Later on The Ed Show, Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson explained further: “Back in the days of slavery when slaves were shucking corn, they were also engaging in certain forms of hilarity, frivolity, lying, exaggeration and teasing to keep their attitudes good and to keep them from killing the people oppressing them. This is unmistakable racial reference.”
Hardball host Chris Matthews jumped on the trend, declaring that race-based attacks on the president happen too often to be considered merely a matter of “seeing things.”
“Anybody out there, by the way, who thinks we’re seeing things, it’s over and over again,” said Matthews. “And if you say we’re seeing things, you’re dead wrong and you’re dangerous.”
Palin’s words came just prior to another social media post, this one from real estate mogul Donald Trump. Trump, who has pushed the theory of birtherism, pledged $5 million to the charity of President Obama’s choosing in exchange for his college and passport records. Trump’s self-professed “major announcement” may have come off as an innocuous ploy for media attention, but to Alter, the demand for the president’s records has deeper, more insidious roots.
“At least implicitly, Trump was playing on racism with his ridiculous stunt demanding Obama’s college transcripts,” said Alter. “He’s basically saying Barack Obama was too stupid to be at Columbia because he was an affirmative action student.”
Trump and Palin’s race-related remarks happened to fall on the same day, but dog-whistle attacks aren’t unusual among conservatives who are trying to brand the president as something of an “other.”
Back in July, Romney surrogate John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor and chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush, declared that the president had, “absolutely no idea how the American economy functions” and that he “wished this president would learn how to be an American,” during a Romney campaign conference call.
And just this month, Jason Thompson, son of Wisconsin Senate candidate Tommy Thompson, joked that voters now have the opportunity to send Obama back to Kenya.
Palin has since defended her comments.
“I would have used the exact same expression if I had been writing about President Carter, whose foreign policy rivaled Obama’s in its ineptitude, or about the Nixon administration, which was also famously rocked by a cover-up,” she responded on her Facebook page.