Ethics Alarms recently proposed the Knight Scale, a way to rank attempts to play the race card or otherwise accuse politicians, satirists, writers, pundits and others of racism in order to silence them, ruin their credibility, or score cheap political points in the media. The Knight Scale was made possible by blogger Christopher Knight, who somehow managed to find a cartoonist’s substitution of Michelle Obama for Marie Antoinette ( as a commentary on the First Lady’s ill-timed–some say—taste for lavish parties and social activities) in a famous painting. Despite the fact that the French queen was not, to my knowledge, black, Knight somehow found this to be blatant racism, thereby establishing the tippity-top of the Knight Scale: you just can’t come up with a more far-fetched, unfair, factually indefensible accusation of racism than that. With that outrageous complaint as a 10, the most outrageous, where would other, necessarily lesser bogus racism claims rank?
Let’s look at last week. From here on, we can count on an ever-increasing number of Knight Scale candidates, since an African-American President presents such an irresistible temptation for unscrupulous race-baiters, and the entire Obama Administration is seemingly conditioned to cry race bias whenever criticism get hot, so consider this a trial run:
Candidate A: Michelle Obama’s complaint that she didn’t deserve to be portrayed as “an angry black woman” in “The Obamas” by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor.
This is a hard one. Nobody is quite sure why the book, which generally portrays the First Lady in a positive light, prompted this response. Kantor’s tales of White House quarrels are not different in kind, and indeed less sensational, than the back-stage accounts of Hillary’s rages at Bill, for example. Obviously searching for a way to justify Michelle using the term “angry black woman” to describe her image when almost nobody else has, columnist Kathleen Parker engaged in a peculiar and futile quest for proof that anyone actually called her that, finally citing anonymous blog posts, and validating Michelle’s lament on the grounds that “those calling her angry happen to be white.” Most of the people who called Hillary names were also white. That’s the best you’ve got, Kathleen? Well, Parker also says that Michelle is smarting because her ill-advised statement in 2008 that she had never been proud of her country until her husband was nominated for President is still being re-played as proof that she is bitter and unpatriotic. OK, but that’s public life—talk to Al Gore, Howard Dean, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John Kerry, Newt Gingrich and about a thousand other politicians, not to mention the Dixie Chicks, Michael Richards, Mel Gibson and Rosie O’Donnell about how what Parker dismisses as “ill-chosen words uttered in an emotional moment” can haunt a speaker for a long time.
The fact is that there is nothing here. On the other hand, Michelle Obama was not necessarily playing the race card either. She’s black, she was being portrayed as angry, so she said she was tired of being portrayed as “an angry black woman.”
I’ll give it a lowly 1 on the Knight Scale. Nothing to get upset over.
Candidate B: Michael Moore’s (be still, my rising gorge–down, boy!) statement to the audience at a forum last week hosted by PBS host Tavis Smiley and Princeton University Professor Cornel West that only one white demographic group supported president Obama in the last election, “…and that’s younger people — because they’re not as racist as the previous generations…Really, I mean, can I just throw out one statistic? The only white age group that President Obama won was 18- to 29-year-olds. He lost every other white age group. So, I know that may sound depressing, but the hopeful part of it is our young people, they’re going to fix this. You know this, those of you my age, our kids, they’re not bigots, they’re not homophobes. They don’t look at it the way the grandparents and the great-grandparents did. This is going to get better with this next generation.”
That’s right, a completely non-racist American public would have voted 100% for Barak Obama, because the only conceivable reason not to vote for him was racism—not that he had even less relevant experience for the job than Sarah Palin, who was being attacked around the clock as unqualified, not that he had zero foreign policy experience, not that he had been largely a no-show as an Illinois legislator, not his position on abortion, not the fact that he sat happy and quiet for years in a church while his spiritual mentor damned America and whites, not because the news media was shilling for him outrageously, not because the man running against him had admirable qualities too, but only because he is black. Meanwhile, the fact that over 95% percent of African-Americans voted for Obama had nothing to do with race at all.
Michael Moore, ladies and gentlemen!
And, of course, by extension, Moore means to suggest that anyone who doesn’t vote for the President in 2012 is also a racist.
There are many words that should never be used in the same sentence with “Michael Moore.” Among them are fairness, respect, honesty, good will, character and ethics. Still, this obnoxious example of race-baiting doesn’t reach the top of the Knight scale, because the act Moore is talking about, not voting for Obama, could, in any particular circumstance, genuinely be explained by racism…just as it could be explained by a sophisticated understanding of what makes an effective President.
For that reason, much as I would like to hit him with the worst the Knight Scale has to offer, not to mention a brick, Moore’s offensive idiocy only ranks a 7 on the Knight Scale.