For many, the Obama era promised to break down the racial barriers and bugaboos of old and herald in a new age of understanding in which Americans could finally discuss and debate issues based on nothing but honorable intentions.

Apparently Congressman Jim Clyburn did not receive the memo.

When Gov. Mark Sanford compared President Barack Obama’s massive stimulus spending to the nation of Zimbabwe’s disastrous example, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said, “For him to compare the president of this country to [President Robert] Mugabe … It’s just beyond the pale.”

When asked if Sanford’s example had racist implications, Clyburn replied, “I’m sure he would not say that, but how did he get to Zimbabwe? What took the man to Zimbabwe? Someone should ask him if that’s really the best comparison … How can he compare this country’s situation to Zimbabwe?”

Appearing on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, the MSNBC host blustered that Sanford was playing the “race card” and was comparing Obama to Mugabe, the notorious Zimbabwe dictator. Clyburn did not disagree.

Last month, when a number of Southern Republican governors, including Sanford, spoke out against Obama’s stimulus, Clyburn said that the actions of these four governors was “a slap in the face of African-Americans.”

Speaking of Sanford specifically, Clyburn added “He may not need help for the plantation his family owns, but the people whose grandparents and great-grandparents worked those plantations need the help.”

The ridiculous extent to which the word “racist” has been used and abused has now rendered the term completely meaningless. Individual and institutional racism prevalent during slavery and segregation was glaring and obvious. Today, genuine racism is less obvious, yet it undoubtedly still exists. And a word to label such instances might be useful. But the word “racism” itself has been thoroughly discredited because of men like Clyburn.

Take Clyburn’s Sanford example. When a black Southern man like Clyburn calls a white Southern man like Sanford “racist,” the accusation alone might be all the proof needed for a goofy, white liberal like Olbermann. But it doesn’t stand up to logic. Consider this Associated Press story from October:

“A new South Carolina law requiring DNA samples from people arrested on felony charges is overly intrusive and harkens to ‘totalitarian regimes,’ the governor said today as he joined with the NAACP to call for the rule to be changed. Law enforcement officials argue the new law will be more efficient than having to seek court orders to collect samples. By that reasoning, Sanford said police could do their jobs even more efficiently if they didn’t have to obey the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment against unlawful search and seizure.

“‘With all due respect, efficiency — supposed efficiency — is the mark of totalitarian regimes,’ Sanford said at a news conference today with Lonnie Randolph, president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.”

Although Sanford found himself aligned with the NAACP on the issue of collecting DNA samples for law enforcement purposes, few believed his position had anything to do with race, as the governor has had a career-long record of always coming down on the side of protecting civil liberties.

Sanford also has a long record of opposing wasteful government spending. For Rep. Clyburn to accuse Sanford of racism at this late juncture, it either means that the Congressman is completely ignorant of the governor’s record or is intentionally slandering him. And whether Cylburn may be dumb or simply just devious, neither of these are qualities befitting a statesman.

Perhaps Clyburn is smarter than I give him credit for, or as Philip Klein of The American Spectator writes, “Liberals always attempt to paint conservative Republicans as stupid and racist, and as Sanford’s profile rises, they evidently want to make a preemptive strike to cement that impression in people’s minds. But in the process of doing so, they’ve done nothing but reveal their own ignorance.”

Klein is right. When Clyburn calls someone “racist,” it’s the same as when Sean Hannity calls people “anti-American” — it may or may not be true, or even make any sense, but it’s just what they do.

Such mindless political attacks have gotten so ridiculous that when I now hear the word “racism,” I automatically assume the accused must be doing something right. Sanford’s a prime example. And if men like Jim Clyburn haven’t already ruined the term “racist,” they may have instead become its truest example.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.

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