The Axelrod Test
The saga of the painted-over rock on the Perry family hunting grounds will roll on a few more days before it's displaced by some other invented scandal -- but give this one its just due. The to-do over the rock -- with its racial epithet visible or not visible, turned over fully or halfway, soon enough or not soon enough and who knows where or when -- has spawned solemn reflections on Texas Gov. Rick Perry's character and so much other mind-boggling discourse that the whole affair may set a standard hard to equal in the election season to come. No small achievement. You can't get blood from a stone, true, but you can, it's now clear, get plenty of political -- and other -- pathology.
And entertainment, too, however grim. There were the panelists on ABC's "The View" this week holding forth on the rock, on GOP presidential candidate Perry and, with haunting consequences, on the unspeakable word itself. The N word, that is, whose prohibition -- even in a quote or description of its utterance -- has, instead of ridding it from language, of course, only imbued it with special status.
In a broadcast of exchanges regularly interrupted by bleeps, Whoopi Goldberg allowed that she had no trouble using the word, but the show's creator and host Barbara Walters learned immediately she could not do the same. Her co-host Sherri Shepherd duly informed her that while she could listen to Ms. Goldberg say the word, she couldn't bear hearing it from Ms. Walters -- it was, explained Ms. Shepherd, something about "the way you say it." That something about the way Ms. Walters said the word, it soon turned out, was Ms. Walters' race. That's just the way it was, Ms. Shepherd explained.
Things would go downhill fast from there. No one on that panel of practiced chatterers could do or say anything to diminish the paralysis in the air. Not to mention the obvious raw anger in Ms. Walters, who had apparently never before understood that even a long life spent as one of the most liberal, progressive and avowedly anti-racist sensibilities in the entertainment world was not enough to claim any special dispensation. To her co-host, she was in the end just a white skin. This came as a bad shock to Ms. Walters -- one that she did not conceal.
Meanwhile, word of the rock epic had not eluded political consultant David Axelrod, who is currently busy planning strategy for President Obama's re-election campaign. Interviewed about the Perry story, he explained in a New York Times report carried yesterday that "campaigns are like an MRI for the soul -- whoever you are, eventually people find out." Having introduced the clear insinuation that the rock affair signaled dark secrets, like racism, yet to be discovered in Mr. Perry, Mr. Axelrod proceeded to add that time would tell whether "this [the rock] comes to reflect him or not."
It's too bad, if not altogether surprising, that Mr. Axelrod didn't make his views on campaigns as an MRI for the soul known to the world when news came of candidate Barack Obama's 20 years contentedly spent imbibing the America-hatred and assorted racist preachments of his mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. This was no ignored, painted over rock. This was a live, steady connection.
What did 20 years under the spell of the Rev. Wright's "goddamn America" sermons -- until an election run and Rev. Wright's own unwillingness to grasp the necessity of disappearing, caused Mr. Obama to sever ties with his old mentor -- reveal about candidate Obama? Now there was an MRI whose reading we'd have enjoyed hearing from Mr. Axelrod.
-- Dorothy Rabinowitz
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE / POLITICAL DIARY
Wednesday, 05 October 2011