It made its first appearance in the 2008 election cycle on January 31, 2007… and served as an unmistakable warning to all. At the time, the Democratic presidential field was just taking shape. John Edwards entered the race early, followed within weeks by Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Others would throw their hats in the ring, but it took the entry of Senator Joseph Biden to awaken the social weapon. Once it was unleashed, the nature of the coming election was fully revealed.
What triggered the weapon was an unscripted, and in normal circumstances, complimentary statement by the Delaware lawmaker at his campaign launch. During a recorded interview with a NY Observer journalist, Biden was asked about the Obama candidacy… and the publishing of his response lit the fuse. “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” If Washington D.C. opened a national gaffe museum, Biden would require a dedicated wing.
The quote was published shortly after, and the media reaction was almost instantaneous. By later that morning, the Observer was responding to audio requests to verify the context. Looking for an elaboration on the words “clean” and “articulate,” the media quickly tracked down Biden. “Call Senator Obama. He knew what I meant by it,” implored Biden. “The idea was very straightforward and simple. This guy is something brand new that nobody has seen before.”
Reporters turned to Obama – and he initially sounded unfazed. But as the day wore on, Obama’s official released statement appeared artfully crafted to give the story further life. “I didn’t take Senator Biden’s comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate. African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate.” The social weapon of racism had just entered its beta phase in the 2008 election, and the media would play its part in testing its efficacy.
Journalists that cut their chops on racial politics were first to comment. “It was coded language,” claimed Clarence Page. “It’s being used to describe a black person around whom white people can be comfortable,” offered writer Eugene Robinson. “It’s insulting because it implies that it’s a remarkable trait for an African-American to be articulate,” added then-radio host Rachel Maddow. Al Sharpton took particular umbrage with the word “clean.” Asked about his response when Biden called to apologize, Sharpton responded, “I told him I take a bath every day.”
In an attempt to squelch the media frenzy, Biden made the TV appearance that most liberal politicians made when caught with foot-in-mouth disease – he visited the Jon Stewart Show. But it did nothing to dampen the story.
In the days that followed, Biden’s inarticulate “articulate gaffe” had been covered by every blog, newspaper, talk radio, and cable and TV news shows that even remotely touched on politics. A few came out to defend Joe, but the cat was out of the bag and few were looking to put it back in. The racial implications of an Obama presidency was the elephant in the room the media was dying to discuss – they just needed the proper cue. Biden was shackled with the “gaffe heard ‘round the world” for the better part of his entire campaign, until it finally was quieted by Obama himself during an Iowa debate…almost a year later. “I just wanted to make the comment. I’ve worked with Joe Biden. I’ve seen his leadership. I have absolutely no doubt about what is in his heart and the commitment that he’s made with respect to racial equality in this country.”
The heat was taken off Biden, but it was the reaction to the gaffe that revealed the seriousness of Obama’s candidacy and the potency of the weapon his supporters would have in their arsenal.
Whether you see it or not, we live in a constant state of war. Those that understand this fact welcome those that do not. The world is a battlefield occupied by many powerful groups – and some grassroots upstarts – whose success depends on their ability to craft social weapons to survive, and thrive. A social weapon is a cultural artifact used by a group or individual to strike at adversaries, shield from attack, and rally the public to their cause. It is designed to resonate with the perceptions and preferences of a target audience. And if the social weapon loses its strength over time, it is either modified to extend its life, or discarded for another tool. But due in large part to the difficulty in crafting effective social weapons, its users will go to extraordinary lengths to salvage its utility.
In the game of politics, a claim of racism has been one of the most effective social weapons in the arsenal of liberals of all ilks to ensure the near default vote of Black Americans. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney have all been hit with this weapon. And its use has only increased since the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – a time that should have marked a steady decline in its deployment. This is due in no small part to its potency. An accusation of racism has been so undeniably damaging, that Republicans avoid it with as much vigor as a Hollywood starlet avoids carbs.
Then along comes Donald Trump – a new breed of Republican that has embraced, been celebrated by, and played a positive role within and among the black community…for decades. With this undeniable public record, it should come as no surprise how fiercely the social weapon of racism has been used against him. For the Democrats to win, Donald Trump’s stature within the black community would need to be targeted for destruction early in the 2016 cycle. And that’s just what his opposition has been busy trying to do. This crowd has so effectively employed this social weapon on Trump that it has even been used to justify the hunting down and beating of young, female, and elderly attendees at Trump rallies. The Democrats and the media, with CNN leading the way, have randomly swung this weapon with such belligerence, that it has even caused riots and race related attacks in cities like Milwaukee.
As we will see in the coming months, the media will bloviate excessively about a new and growing racist group. It is a distraction – designed specifically to silence the supporters and damage the character of Donald Trump, while diverting attention away from Hillary Clinton’s explosive Foundation scandal. Don’t fall for it. The ruling class has a vested interest in dividing us according to a pantone so that they can reliably predict and control our behavior…and they use the media to execute this deplorable practice. Racism does exist, but the effect of the media’s indiscriminate use of the term has been that actual acts of racism get lost in the noise.
If you begin to succumb to the inevitable racial onslaught entering our airwaves, think back to how quickly the media labeled Joe Biden a closeted racist…but just as swiftly helped legitimize him as the perfectly acceptable running mate of our first Black president. A bigot one day…a partner in civil rights history the next. The media will do anything to keep alive their most precious political tool.
Patrick Courrielche is a cultural commentator and co-founder of Inform Ventures — a marketing communications agency specializing in arts-based initiatives. A former aerospace engineer with a Masters of Science from UCLA, Courrielche lives in Los Angeles with his gorgeous wife and gifted daughter. Follow him on Twitter at @Courrielche.