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Is Eric Holder contempt vote over Fast and Furious about race?


The following ran in the June 28, 2012, edition of the Christian Science Monitor. Political Scientist Cal Jillson provided expertise for this story.

July 3, 2012

By Patrik Jonsson

Eric Holder on Thursday became the first US attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress. The story of how race became entwined in the debate over the Fast and Furious gun-running scandal is a parable of the Obama presidency.


As Eric Holder became on Thursday the first US attorney general ever to be cited for contempt of Congress, House members faced the possibility that their investigation of a botched federal gun-trafficking sting could become a racial flashpoint.

Black leaders have rallied around Attorney General Holder, and the Congressional Black Caucus walked out Thursday when the entire House voted 255 to 67 to pass a recommendation by the Oversight Committee to hold Holder in contempt, which could lay the groundwork for a criminal investigation.

Already, Holder had brought race into the debate over the Fast and Furious gun-running scandal. The House Oversight Committee's investigation was a way for Republicans to get at the president in part because "we're both African-American," he told The New York Times last year.

And Holder has pushed the envelope on race before, for example calling America “essentially a nation of cowards” for failing to debate race openly.

Now, the moves in Congress Thursday raise the specter of charges of a racial conspiracy by white Republicans against a black administration.

Some leaders, like the Rev. Al Sharpton, suggested that Republicans had “stopped and frisked” Holder to make an “example” out of a black man. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi opined the contempt vote is retribution for Holder’s opposition to new voter ID laws that are seen as targeting minority voters in former Confederate states. MSNBC host Chris Matthews questioned whether the rancor of the contempt vote has an “ethnic” root.

The political showdown showcases a pattern that has emerged during the Obama presidency: supporters claim the opposition is racist, and critics dismiss the reaction as a knee-jerk casting of the “race card.” But its real root, say some political analysts, is more in politics than race. 

“The issue of how Obama and secondarily Eric Holder have been treated, and whether race plays into it, is not crazy in the sense that a lot of the early public demonstrations had racial tinges to them, and the fact that 15 percent of whites in Mississippi voted for Obama,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “But even though the Republicans have stated that their chief goal is to see that Obama is a one-term president, what we’re seeing [with Fast and Furious] is not racial politics, it’s partisan politics.”...