Give it up for Ellen DeGeneres.
Her well-timed joke at last Sunday’s 86th Academy Awards show shouted out the need for more honest public discourse in America.
In her opening monologue, with Hollywood’s liberal elite gathered front and center, Ellen delivered a delicious zinger.
The Oscars can only end two ways, she said: “Possibility No. 1: ‘12 Years a Slave’ wins best picture. Possibility No. 2: You’re all racists.”
The crowd murmured. Then, to its credit, it gave the joke an escalating laugh.
Here’s the backstory.
“12 Years a Slave” re-tells the powerful story of Solomon Northup, a citizen who was born free, then kidnapped in New York in 1841 and sold into slavery in the South. In its bid to woo Academy voters, the distributor of “12 Years a Slave” campaigned with the slogan “It’s time.”
It was, without doubt, a straight-up plea rooted in race.
The “12 Years a Slave” lobby escalated the campaign by not only talking up their movie, but also talking down other contenders. It’s not only time for “12 Years” to win Best Picture, they whispered, but it is also time to put aside the special effects of Hollywood, as executed in “Gravity,” and the entertainment of “American Hustle” to finally reward a painful and gritty part of American history.
As Dana Stevens of Slate pointed out, “The ‘12 Years’ Oscar campaign slogan, ‘It’s time’ … struck me as implicitly suggesting the movie didn’t deserve to be awarded on its own merits.”
It did deserve it on its own, Stevens says, but the dubious tactic of the “It’s time” campaign left the Hollywood elite in a most uncomfortable position.
Welcome to the 24/7 world of conservative Americans.
Albeit briefly, Obama liberals tasted the self-righteous racial medicine liberals have been spooning out to foes for years.
Remember South Carolina in 2008? Then-Sen. Barack Obama was on a roll going into the primary there. Hillary and Bill Clinton took off the gloves and landed some punches. Obama supporters cried racism.
Obama campaigner Edith Childs warned both Clintons to stop saying things black voters would consider racist.
Hillary “insulted” black voters, Childs said, because she downplayed the role of Martin Luther King Jr. in the passage of civil rights legislation. And Bill exhibited racist tendencies when he said Obama’s candidacy was a “fairy tale.”
The race card was played again when Obama faced Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the 2008 general election. Said Obama: “And so the only way they figure they’re going to win this election is if they make you scared of me. So what they’re saying is, ‘Well, we know we’re not very good, but you can’t risk electing Obama. You know, he’s new, he … doesn’t look like the other presidents on the currency, you know, he’s got a, he’s got a funny name.’”
The McCain camp said that was dealing the race card “from the bottom of the deck.”
The point is, it worked. Bill and Hillary got the message, shut up, and lost the primary. The hapless McCain campaign never stood a chance.
Over the past six years, liberals have used perceived racial animus to blunt criticism of the Democrat agenda — from global warming to immigration reform to the economy.
Crying racism is not an argument, and I, for one, ache for a time in which we can engage in civil discourse without getting the “12 Years” treatment for taking a different view on the policies of an administration that has been so demonstrably unsuccessful as Obama’s.
Employment is in the tank. Period. The poor are getting poorer and more dependent upon government under Obama policies. Public education languishes. Developments in Syria, Iran and the Ukraine embarrass the White House daily and endanger the world.
Maybe the “12 Years” experience is a teachable moment for the left. We need an unblinking, civil and honest discussion on the mess this administration has created. Race-baiting must end.
And for that possibility, I thank Ellen DeGeneres.
(P.S.: If you don’t completely agree with me, you are, of course, a reverse double-secret probation racist.)
Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/sherman-frederick.