DROPPING THE PRETENSE…. Among some of President Obama’s more despicable right-wing detractors, there has long been a racial element to their attacks. Generally, however, there’s at least some subtlety to the race-baiting. Even the most depraved conservatives realize that unvarnished racism will generate a backlash, so they tend to be cautious.

Yesterday, however, the right came about as close to “straight-up George Wallace-style race-baiting” as we’ve seen from high-profile conservatives all year. It apparently started with a blaring headline on Drudge: “White Student Beaten on School Bus; Crowd Cheers.” In 2009, a fist fight among teenagers on a school bus is now important national news, because the kid throwing the punch was black, and the kid taking the punch was white.

Rush Limbaugh decided President Obama is somehow responsible for this.

“It’s Obama’s America, is it not? Obama’s America, white kids getting beat up on school buses now. You put your kids on a school bus, you expect safety, but in Obama’s America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, ‘Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on,’ and, of course, everybody says the white kid deserved it, he was born a racist, he’s white.”

Publius added, “[I]t’s not not just Limbaugh. It’s also Malkin, and Gateway Pundit, and Drudge, and Tom Maguire.”

For those who believe reality matters, the school-bus fight reportedly had nothing to do with race, but rather, a couple of bullies who like to dictate who sits where on the bus. Conservatives who consider the fight of great national importance didn’t even get the basics right. (Of course, even if the scuffle had been racially motivated, it takes a truly deranged political observer to hold the president responsible.)

But this isn’t about reality. This is about right-wing activists who desperately want to stir up racial hatred of the president. It’s vile and disgusting, and continues to tear at our social fabric in dangerous ways. There’s no place for these transparently racist tactics in our discourse, but the likelihood of consequences for Limbaugh and his cohorts remains small.

Andrew Sullivan’s take rang especially true.

The story was a classic schoolbus bully incident; it could happen anywhere any time and has happened everywhere at all times with kids of all races, backgrounds and religions. To infer both that it was racially motivated and that this is somehow connected to having a black president is repulsive. I know that is almost de trop with Limbaugh, but sometimes you have to regain a little shock. This man is spewing incendiary racial hatred. He is conjuring up images of lonely whites being besieged by angry violent blacks … based on an incident that had nothing to do with race at all. And why, by the way, does someone immediately go to the racial angle when looking at such a tape?

These people are going off the deep end entirely: open panic at a black president is morphing into the conscious fanning of racial polarization, via Gates or ACORN or Van Jones or a schoolbus in St. Louis. What we’re seeing is the Jeremiah Wright moment repeated and repeated. The far right is seizing any racial story to fan white fears of black power in order to destroy Obama. And the far right now controls the entire right.

Do they understand how irresponsible this is? How recklessly dangerous to a society’s cohesion and calm?

I think they understand it all too well. Indeed, it’s their driving motivation.

To their credit, there were a handful of conservatives who stepped up on this. Rod Dreher said Limbaugh is “up to something wicked.” He added that Limbaugh and his ilk “are quite simply tearing the country apart.”

If more conservatives were equally willing to criticize these attempts to stoke racial tensions, we’d all be better off.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.