Apparently a painting depicting the cold, hard facts of segregation and racial antagonism in the South in the middle of the twentieth century is a profound move with major political implications. Or so some would have us believe:
President Barack Obama has taken a decidedly low-key approach to racial issues since he became America’s first black president two years ago. But in a hallway outside the Oval Office, he has placed a head-turning painting depicting one of the ugliest racial episodes in U.S. history.
Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With,” installed in the White House last month, shows U.S. marshals escorting Ruby Bridges, a 6-year-old African-American girl, into a New Orleans elementary school in 1960 as court-ordered integration met with an angry and defiant response from the white community.
The thrust of the painting is not subtle. America’s vilest racial epithet appears in letters several inches high at the top of the canvas. To the left side, the letters “KKK” are plainly visible. The crowds, mostly women who gathered daily to taunt Bridges as she went to a largely empty school, are not shown in the picture. But the racist graffiti and a splattered tomato convey the hostile atmosphere.
Digby gets this right: Our political discourse has become so finely tuned to the desires and wishes of white, working-class swing voters — a shrinking portion of the electorate the pundit class is obsessed with — that anything that could theoretically upset them (even if factual) should be kept quiet.