Those Who Do Not Remember History Are Condemned to Say That "Taking Our Country Back" is a Code Word For Racial Animus


Yesterday on C-SPAN's Washington Journal, University of Pennsylvania sociologist author Michael Eric Dyson appeared, talking about racial animus against President Barack Obama. Dyson is smart, prolific, and … possessed of an extremely weak memory when it comes to the cliches of the American political scene. At one point, in response to a self-identified black conservative who claimed that criticism of Obama stemmed from policy differences rather than prejudice, Dyson responded

…even though you can look out [at the Taxpayer March on Washington and various Tea Party demonstrations] and say, "Hey, I didn't see anyone say an epithet or hurl a nasty remark against Mr. Obama," you know, some of those posters that had him decked out in what they perceived to be African gear were offensive. The vitriol directed against him—"We want our country back"—I mean, there are code words that are being distributed and we can't be ignorant and pretend that we don't get the code words…

At the September 12 march, I did not personally see any signs such as the ones described by Dyson, though there were a few birther references and posters about how Obama should be president of Kenya (as pathetic and misguided as it gets, for sure). The vast, overwhelming sentiment was precisely as advertised and didn't stray from a very basic and unified message: Voter and taxpayer revulsion at bailouts and government spending that started under Bush and has gotten worse and worse under Obama.

The whole section with Dyson is here and is well worth watching, though I disagree strongly with him about the role of race in contemporary policy discussions, especially about health care (as does the Obama White House, which has gone to pains to dissociate itself from Jimmy Carter's recent proclamation on the matter). However, the idea that saying we're going to take "our country" back is anything other than a transpartisan cliche is ridiculous to the nth degree. Indeed, here's a quote by none other than Barack Obama, circa June 2007, telling an audience:

"It's going to be because of you that we take our country back."

The setting for that comment? The 2007 "Take Back America" conference, a confab of leftys. Read more here.

Or there's this:

Folk, Labor Musicians Unite for Third Anti-Bush CD Hail to the Thieves, Volume III: Songs to Take Our Country Back! is a rousing call to action from the likes of Billy Bragg, Anne Feeney, Utah Phillips and folk musicians across the country. This new CD lays out the case against George Bush and his cronies with 20 songs, poems and stories in the best of the traveling, storytelling folk tradition.

I raise this because the selective amnesia of virtually all participants in traditional right-left, liberal-conservative, Democratic-Republican politicking is not only frustrating as hell, but completely self-serving. It's one of the reasons why people are turned off by politics (not such a bad thing, perhaps). You know you're not going to have a serious discussion, but rather one that is completely relativistic and revisionist, typically designed to score points in the here and now at the expense of anything approaching history. Republicans were pissed when the Dems dissed George Bush as retarded draft dodger, and now Dems are outraged by all slagging of Obama & Co. Conservatives who spent eight years of accusing Bill Clinton of sodomizing interns in zeppelin hangars at the Mena, Arkansas airstrip thought civility had ended when the first Bushitler poster hit the streets sometime around January 2001. And on and on.

A little historical perspective goes a long way toward alleviating anxiety about the current debased state of U.S. political discourse, which is never as bad today as it will be tomorrow. And never as great as when Rachel Jackson was being attacked as a bigamist, Grover Cleveland as an absentee father, and Dwight Eisenhower as a "conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist conspiracy."

Because it was only a week ago but already seems like ancient history, here's Reason.tv's take on the DC Tea Party: