CBS's Bob Schieffer made some headlines Wednesday when he said Donald Trump was a racist for wanting to see President Obama's college grades.
The "Face the Nation" host pushed this matter further Sunday when he asked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), "Do you think [Trump's] trying to play a race card here, suggesting we ought to check Barack Obama’s college grades, that maybe he got into Harvard because he was black?" (video follows with transcript and commentary):
BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST: Let me ask you about the thing that all of Washington is buzzing about, especially since last night. (LAUGHTER)
And that is, do you somehow sense that the president may be trying to make Donald Trump the face of your party, the Republican Party? And what would be the result of that?
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-ARIZONA): I think he may try to, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think Mr. Trump is having a lot of fun and it’s pretty clear he enjoys the limelight. We have very serious candidates. And I think that, if Mr. Trump wants to run, he’s welcome to run.
SCHIEFFER: Do you think he’s trying to play a race card here, suggesting we ought to check Barack Obama’s college grades, that maybe he got into Harvard because he was black?
MCCAIN: I wouldn’t accuse him of that. But all of this is so unnecessary. With unemployment where it is, with the challenges we face, let’s not have a national conversation about that.
In the ensuing segment, likely imagining he'd get a more satisfactory answer, Schieffer pressed this issue further with Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson:
SCHIEFFER: I want to talk to the -- to the more serious side of this because, after this whole birther thing, the president put out his birth certificate this week. Then Donald Trump held this news conference up in New Hampshire and brings up the question of President Obama’s grades when he was going to college. Let’s listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: The word is -- you know, you’d think he’d want to release it, actually, because the word is he wasn’t a good student and he ended up getting into Columbia and Harvard. And I’d like to know...
TRUMP: I’d like to know -- well, this is what I read written by some of the people in this room. I’d like to know how does he get into Harvard; how does he get into Columbia if he isn’t a good student? It’s an interesting thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIEFFER: Michael Eric Dyson, what -- what was Donald Trump saying there?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, this is racism by inference. The implication is that Obama is not up to snuff. You know, skepticism about black intelligence and suspicion about black humanity have gone hand in hand, Bob, throughout the history of this country in feeding the perception that black people don’t quite measure up.
Thomas Jefferson, in "Notes on Virginia," was skeptical about the rational capacity of black people. I’m not equating Thomas Jefferson and Donald Trump.
We don’t have to fear that Donald Trump is the face of the Republican party. Maybe another part of the anatomy might be more correct.
The problem is that this -- this invidious bigotry -- he’s part of a bigotocracy -- this bigotocrat out there promoting conspiracy theories, half-hearted truths, factual errors. Barack Obama is a magna cum laude graduate of the Harvard Law School. Here he is the editor of the Law Review, unimpeachable intellectual credentials. Now we have a retroactive bigotry that tries to question his very bonafides.
I think this is just shameful and it’s sad. And unfortunately, Donald Trump has commandeered the bully pulpit. If he is indeed the voice of Republicans, they ought to say so. But if not, they ought to distance themselves from him and suggest that this obsession with the birth of Barack Obama has to be put aside to deal with more serious and sustained issues. But make no mistake; this is part of a racist trajectory.
Having gotten the answer he surely was looking for, Schieffer should have rested his case. Instead, he mistakenly took this issue up with former George W. Bush speechwriter and current Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson who gave a far more reasonable response:
MICHAEL GERSON, WASHINGTON POST: I do think that’s the sub-context here because race is the sub-context of American history. But I would only add to that that the last three presidents have these kinds of conspiracy theories used against them. Bill Clinton was accused of complicity in murder. You know, up to 50% of the Democratic Party, you know, members believed that George Bush was complicit in 9/11.
There is a percentage of the population out there that is so highly polarized that they will believe anything about a president that they disagree with. That’s deeply dangerous. It’s a questioning the legitimacy, not policies. And we’ve seen more and more of this in the last few decades not just in this circumstance.
Indeed, but that's not going to stop Schieffer and his ilk from doing everything in their power to position this as prejudice rather than differing political views thereby making it they that are playing the race card.