Rorschach or racism?

Yesterday, Glenn Reynold posted a White House Flickr photo that he thought showed Obama looking detached and full of himself. Reynolds complains about this administration’s incompetent PR. Sure … except that a stock Republican complaint about Obama has been that’s he’s all PR.

Of course, Reynolds was projecting, since Obama’s expression toward Joe Biden in the photo could mean more than a dozen others things, including, “Joe is making real sense on this point.”

In turn, Sullivan projects on Reynolds and a reader, arguing (if that’s the right word) that although they think they see arrogance, what they really see is black-on-white arrogance:

I tried to puzzle this one out and can just about see how an elusive photo of a tired Obama reacting to something unknowable might make him look tired or arrogant or something.

And then I realized why this photo immediately strikes some people are damning. Obama is a black man who looks as if he is condescending to a white man. That’s political gold. As one of his readers notes:

“If I really wanted to set my dad off, all I’d have to do is send him this photo. The amazing thing is, that it is found on the WH’s flickr page. Proving that they don’t see what we see.”

So it’s incontrovertible that Reynolds, the reader and the reader’s father are all being racist. Hmm … It doesn’t look that way when we consider the prospect of … John Kerry, the Republicans’ white bugbear, appearing similarly in a photo.

If John Kerry was making a similar expression during his presidential campaign, talking to Chuck Hegel or Charlie Rangel, I can hear Reynolds saying the same thing. I can imagine him getting a comment like the one his reader made. And I can imagine someone’s father bitching about Kerry’s arrogant face in the photo during a Hannity commercial break.

Sullivan’s passion for critical thinking seems to have lapsed in front of this photo, and isn’t galvanized by a reader’s good question in the Dissent of the Day:

Can you guess my degree of racism based on my positive opinion of the photo?

No, I can’t. And I agree that it is tiresome that any criticism of Obama is considered racist. But what I was drawing attention to was a specific instance in which, it seems to me, racism is pretty obviously at work.

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