Politics

Race and the Opposition to Obama

Hating presidents is an irrepressible American tradition

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A new president, pursuing policies well within the political mainstream, evokes weirdly angry and intense denunciations from opponents—a reaction hard to explain in terms of anything he has actually done. Does that suggest, as Jimmy Carter insists, that their true motivation lies in racism?

No, it doesn't, because I'm not talking about Barack Obama. I'm talking about George W. Bush and Bill Clinton—both of whom, from the day they took office, managed to convince a minority of Americans that they were not just wrong but illegitimate, dangerous, and thoroughly evil. Obama's troubles are not exactly unprecedented.

It's generally forgotten that on Inauguration Day in 2001, Bush was greeted by thousands of protesters who threw eggs and bottles, made obscene gestures, and carried signs jeering, "Hail to the thief"—a reference to the legal fight needed to settle the outcome of the election. To the protesters, he was a corrupt enemy of democracy.

Clinton fared no better. He was reviled as a skirt-chasing, America-hating draft dodger. Eventually, he handed his antagonists the opportunity to impeach him, in one of the bitterest episodes in American political history.

What Obama may not have recognized before he arrived in the White House is that hating presidents is an irrepressible American tradition. The haters hung George Washington in effigy. They called Abraham Lincoln a dictator. They said Franklin Roosevelt was a Bolshevik.

Dwight Eisenhower's enemies suggested he was a "conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist conspiracy." Shortly before John Kennedy arrived in Dallas in November 1963, where he was assassinated, an ad ran in the local newspaper with his picture over the legend, "Wanted for Treason."

Looking back, all these claims seem bizarre and unwarranted. But that didn't count for much at the time. The furious denunciations against Obama are simply the latest installment in a custom that seems to have gotten more extreme as methods of instant communication have spread.

So you don't need to turn to race to explain the virulent animosity against Obama. What all the presidents who previously endured irresponsible slander had in common, after all, is that they were white.

Clinton's experience suggests that merely being a Democrat is enough to evoke hysteria in some quarters. In matters of policy, he was about as congenial as any conservative could have hoped—cooperating with Republicans to balance the budget, advancing free trade, rejecting an international treaty banning land mines, signing welfare reform, and threatening to bomb North Korea over its nuclear program. Yet even today, many on the right regard him as an extreme liberal.

Obama has yet to do anything comparable to what Clinton did in appropriating conservative themes, thus confirming fears that he is more liberal than he let on last year. To the contrary, he has championed a huge fiscal stimulus, taken over General Motors, pushed a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases, and proposed that the federal government run a new health insurance program to compete with the private sector.

So it doesn't require wholesale fabrications to find evidence that he is a committed socialist. It just takes a little imagination and a little paranoia, which have never been scarce on either end of the American political spectrum.

The context also matters a lot. Obama took office during a recession that was the scariest economic crisis in decades—which under his predecessor had induced some of the most drastic and expansive government initiatives in our history. He took over in the middle of two wars. And he represented a shift on cultural issues like gay rights and affirmative action.

He is president, in short, at a highly consequential moment. And consequential moments inflame the political climate, because so much is at stake.

Does that mean the ferocious criticism has nothing to do with race? Of course not. Obama may be a "post-racial" figure, but there is still a significant slice of the electorate that has never gotten past his skin color.

For anyone who regards blacks as irredeemably alien or inferior, Obama is a nightmare, not just because he is black but because he so thoroughly confounds racist stereotypes.

But that's a minor factor, not a decisive one. It is Obama's party and policies that are the real source of the opposition. If you think otherwise, consider how calmly and congenially the right would have responded if a different Democrat had been inaugurated on Jan. 20: Al Gore.

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  1. fuck obama

  2. I am constantly amazed at the selective amnesia of my friends on both ends of the political spectrum. A number of my friends are firmly convinced that the only reason to oppose Obama is covert racism and that the Tea Party folks are only doing it because it’s a black Democrat in office.

    I’ve had one friend who, when I pointed to Democrat opposition to Bush to try to contextualize the tea parties, accuse me of using a “straw man argument” and tell me that there is absolutely no moral equivalency between the two sorts of protest. He then said he can’t figure out why conservatives keep using that straw man. I didn’t think it was so hard to figure out: it’s only a straw man if you assume his outcome from the beginning…

    All the time I get the “I’d believe them a lot more if they’d protested against Bush’s expansion of government” line. Fair enough, but it ignores the massive, but as yet unorganized, protests that greeted TARP I. My new line of response to that comment is that I’d believe the anti-war protestors a lot more if they would protest Obama’s expansions of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That never goes over too well.

    On a similar vein, see Nick Gillespie’s bit on “take our country back”. In the end the argument becomes something like “we can say it, but you can’t, because we know what you really mean and that phrase can only be used by virtuous people like ourselves, not by mouth-breathing crypto-racists like you.”

  3. See, the self proclaimed liberals don’t look at it like this.

    They see Clinton attacked in the first day of his Presidency, they see Obama attacked on the first day of his Presidency, but they ignore their own actions under Bush.

    I had a liberal tell me just two days ago that Bush “didn’t begin to get critisism until after it was found that the WMDs in Iraq were a lie!” And then he had the audacity to claim that “nothing said about Bush was as bad as what is being said about Obama”.

    HA! I haven’t seen too many pictures of Obama’s face next to a monkey’s face, have any of you? The internet was wallpapered with pictures of Bush’s head next to a chimps, but nothing such as that for Obama. No one out there trying to portray him as “less than human”.

  4. I feel petty even mentioning it, but when referring to a human being, it’s correct to say ‘hanged’ rather than ‘hung.’

  5. Unless you’re William Hung.

  6. but when referring to a human being, it’s correct to say ‘hanged’ rather than ‘hung.’

    Yeah, but what if it’s just an effigy?

  7. We’ve attacked mere presidents before, but never The Chosen One, making this a crime worse than all in human history.

  8. My new line of response to that comment is that I’d believe the anti-war protestors a lot more if they would protest Obama’s expansions of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

    +1. That it doesn’t go over well is a good sign, IMO. My liberal friends are gong to hear this if they have the audacity to hope to feed me the “anti Obama = racist” crap.

    …when referring to a human being, it’s correct to say ‘hanged’ rather than ‘hung.’

    Yeah, try telling some girl that you’re well hanged, and see where it gets you.

  9. It’s selective memory. Both sides attack the opposition presidents. And, frankly, sometimes they should attack the opposition presidents. It’s just hysterical to me how it’s not un-American to oppose “progressive” actions of the government according to some groups…but a few years ago, it was only un-American to oppose “conservative” actions of the government.

    Fuck both sides.

  10. Yeah, try telling some girl that you’re well hanged, and see where it gets you.

    If you say that with a heavy Eastern European accent, the ladies’ll love you for it!

  11. She Bung!

  12. Obama wants me to say that kittens are tasty.

    I don’t know why he wants me to say that, but he does.

  13. On more than one occasion i’ve had formerly Bush-hating lefties tell me that it’s a sign of extremism and paranoia to even hint at comparing Obama to Hitler, only to change the subject when i bring up all the “Bushitler” crap from the protesters of the previous administration. It really is nothing more than Red vs. Blue, and both sides get amnesia when their guy is in office. Fuck both their houses, yo.

  14. What all the presidents who previously endured irresponsible slander had in common, after all, is that they were white.

    Therefore, attacking Obama is racist.

    Why is this so hard to understand?

  15. In Soviet Russia, effigy hangs you!

  16. They said Franklin Roosevelt was a Bolshevik.

    But that was true!

  17. On the big scale of freedom (anarchy at one end and oppression at the other), vitriolic hyperbole is an entertaining and effective speed bump on the way to the latter.

    As always, it’s all in my newsletter.

  18. For anyone who regards blacks as irredeemably alien or inferior, Obama is a nightmare, not just because he is black but because he so thoroughly confounds racist stereotypes.

    For truly prejudiced people, he thoroughly *corroborates* stereotypes.

  19. “For truly prejudiced people, he thoroughly *corroborates* stereotypes.”

    Yeah, but for truly prejudiced people everything corroborates their stereotypes. They just reframe things to fit their stereotype.

  20. “I am constantly amazed at the selective amnesia of my friends on both ends of the political spectrum.”

    Indeed, I can remember when the right responded to the anti-Bush stuff with “these critics hate America!” That was just their version of “these critics are racist!”

    Administrations hate criticism and their defenders look to whatever meme is at hand to club them. Nothing new here.

  21. “Fuck both their houses, yo.”

    Fuck their houses X?

    Where is your, er, point of entry, the water spigot?

  22. “All the time I get the “I’d believe them a lot more if they’d protested against Bush’s expansion of government” line. Fair enough, but it ignores the massive, but as yet unorganized, protests that greeted TARP I. My new line of response to that comment is that I’d believe the anti-war protestors a lot more if they would protest Obama’s expansions of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That never goes over too well.”

    You might also point out that conservatives and small government supporters and independents stayed home or voted against the Republicans in 2006 and 2008. Yes, people objected to Bush and the Republican Congress’s deficit spending and showed this by voting them out of office. What else were they supposed to do? If no one cared about the deficit and TARP, Obama wouldn’t be President.

  23. I’ve given Obama plenty of criticism, but I’ve yet to call him a murderer, like I did the last white Democratic president.

  24. “Indeed, I can remember when the right responded to the anti-Bush stuff with “these critics hate America!” That was just their version of “these critics are racist!”

    Of course the Left said things like “not my President” and threatened to move to Canada if Bush won the election. The anti-war movement also maid common cause with radical Islamist organizations that really do hate America. Granted, the anti-war protests are no more responsible for the odd nut than the tea party protestors are. But, there were people who at anti-war protests who really did hate America. There were also collumns in major newspapers where lefties said that they hoped the US got crushed in Iraq to teach us a lesson. And let’s not forget Michael Moore calling the Iraqi insurgents “minutemen” and hoping for a 1000 Mogadeshus in Iraq. Moore actively rooted for the otherside and was celbrated for it. It is the equivelent of Andrew Beitbart saying that he hopes Obama fails so that the country never elects a black man for it and then getting an honored seat at the 2012 RNC. The crazy stuff that came out of the left was a lot worse than anything being said about Obama right now.

  25. I don’t hate. I only love. And I especially love Warty.

  26. Where is your, er, point of entry, the water spigot?

    You give him too much credit. The keyhole, yo.

    Troy: I get ready to type out a nice “Shut the fuck up, Tony” every time I see one of your posts, all for naught. I loathe you.

  27. Mr. Obama is very articulate.

  28. I like this article. It reminds me to scream obscenities at the news when a president does anything. We’re not supposed to LIKE the government, we’re supposed to constantly diss it for anything it could be doing better. Working in the Capital is a duty, not a job. And, therefore, I can tell them to FUCKING GET SOMETHING DONE!

    “FUCK THE GOVERNMENT!!!”

  29. The lack of perspective, and ridiculous selective memory of some, should be shocking. However I fully expected it. I have people in my office that gleefully called for failure in Iraq, celebrated the supposed lack of UMD’s, and called Bush a wide variety of demeaning names, that say if they didn’t know me better, they’d be certain that I’m racist for daring to criticize Obama. I’m glad they know I’m not racist, but the selective memory thing gets seriously frustrating.

    As for the un-patriotic/un-American claims, there were a large number of high visibility people that earned that in the last few years. It wasn’t just idiots on the extreme left either. It included comments by prominent democrat senators.

  30. Steve Chapman has lavished upon the criticism-of-Obama-is-racist theory far more intelligent attention than it deserves.

  31. “In matters of policy, [Clinton] was about as congenial as any conservative could have hoped-cooperating with Republicans to balance the budget, advancing free trade, rejecting an international treaty banning land mines, signing welfare reform, and threatening to bomb North Korea over its nuclear program.”

    Not at first. Clinton was quite liberal in his first two years, and (except for NAFTA) didn’t show much willingness to reach out to the GOP. Clinton only went centrist as a survival tool after the 1994 GOP rout.

  32. “but there is still a significant slice of the electorate that has never gotten past his skin color.”

    Significant? You must be using a definition of the word significant that I was not previously aware of.

  33. Where is your, er, point of entry, the water spigot?

    For you, maybe, as long as we’re taking my imprecation literally. I require the garage door. Warty, shut the fuck up.

  34. “There is still a significant slice of the electorate that has never gotten past his skin color.”

    I presume you’re referring to every leftist who can’t see Obama the president only Obama the Black Man ?. Repressed racists maybe?

  35. “For you, maybe, as long as we’re taking my imprecation literally. I require the garage door.”

    Open or shut?

  36. MNG, 8:56:
    Yeah, but for truly prejudiced people everything corroborates their stereotypes. They just reframe things to fit their stereotype.

    Which is a pretty good summary of why dissent is always evil when it’s something you disagree with and always patriotic when you agree with it.

  37. “when referring to a human being, it’s correct to say ‘hanged’ rather than ‘hung.'”

    That really all depends on what you are trying to say about that human being, doesn’t it?

  38. You really tried to compare the anger about starting a war and dubious supreme court decision about an election recount (i.e. basic democracy) to Obama’s mainstream policies on healthcare? Please. But having said that, the race card really isn’t very useful for Dems. It’s been said. Nothing else to say. Time to move on. Tea Baggers, Rush and Beck are just radicalizing the Republican Party. Radical parties never last, they always just fade away. American history is littered with radical parties. Obama & Dems popularity and party ID are WAY above the GOP. Dems just need to keep governing using reason and common sense and ignore the side show.

  39. The Tea Parties started BEFORE TARP I. They just didn’t get reported on. It wasn’t until ‘tards like Beck began claiming the mantle for the movement that the media started to take notice.

  40. The Tea Parties started BEFORE TARP I. They just didn’t get reported on. It wasn’t until ‘tards like Beck began claiming the mantle for the movement that the media started to take notice.

    ______________________-

    Sad but true

  41. The haters hung George Washington in effigy. They called Abraham Lincoln a dictator. They said Franklin Roosevelt was a Bolshevik

    But now the President is black, so any criticism is both racist and intended to incite his assassination.

  42. Dems just need to keep governing using reason and common sense and ignore the side show.

    So when do they start?

  43. Only in America can you openly hate and/or criticize an office bearer elected for public office (or for that matter, America itself) without getting chastised, marginalized, ostracized, penalized or victimized for it.

  44. Recent statements by Brzezinski, Clinton, and Carter reflect their alignment with regard to elitist factions. Furthremore, their policies and statements are completely in keeping with the stated and proven policy objectives of the Brzezinski/Soros/Trilateral Commission faction and opposition from Fox News owned by Ruppert Murdoch reflects Murdoch’s loyalty to China. According to Webster Griffin Tarpley, Obama is a Brzezinski/Soros proteg? or puppet. Tarpley states that he may have been groomed for this position by this faction since 1981. Brzezinski is a founder of the trilateral commission of which Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are members.

    Carter has recently stated that most of the people who oppose Obama’s policies do so because of racism. Bill Clinton said that most of the people who oppose Obama’s policies are racist but that they would oppose these policies anyway. Therefore what is the point? If they would oppose the policies anyway, their motivation is that they dislike the policies, such as socialized medicine. Not to say that his statements have any credence, they don’t. The point is that this Trilateral commission faction of elitist power brokers wants to discredit the very valid arguments of their opponents by attacking the character of the opponents.

    Brzezinski is known to be hostile to Russia and China. He laid out a plan for encircling and enfeebling Russia and China in his book, The Grand Chessboard. Brzezinski would like to concentrate all efforts in this area. Hence he recently made the statement that the U.S. should not allow Israeli fighters to cross Iraqi airspace to attack Iran. He is not in the Iran war faction, he is in the Russia/China war faction. Of course this seems overly ambitious at the moment but the elitists are known for their hubris.

    Ruppert Murdoch married the daughter of Deng Xiaoping, paramount leader of the People’s Republic of China from 1978 to the early 1990s. Murdoch probably does not want to see any conflict with China. Ruppert Murdoch owns Fox News, the only major news network that opposes Obama’s policies in any way. Indeed, one is hard pressed to find the most feeble criticism of Obama on any network except Fox News. This is most likely due to Murdoch’s opposition to the plans of the Brzezinski/Soros/Obama/Trilateral faction and the plans put forth in The Grand Chessboard.

    In short, Carter and Clinton are engaging in dishonest character assassinations of the majority of Americans as a cheap shot to silence the opposition to the policies of their Trilateral Commission faction. Furthermore, Brzezinski has spoken out about preventing Israel from attacking Iran because he and his faction want to concentrate U.S. efforts on Russia and China. Fox News opposes this group because of the loyalties and interests of its owner, Ruppert Murdoch.

  45. Is calling Bush “corrupt enemy of democracy” really “bizarre and unwarranted”? That sounds like a pretty accurate description to me.

    There’s a tendency to dismiss all displays of inspired dissent as crazy and extreme. Nobody seems to stop and ask which are accurate and which are not.

  46. The one think this article doesn’t take into account is the Hillary supporters who all of a sudden jumped on the Obama hating bandwagon. Some of those people are the most prominenet figures in the birther movement. Surely these people are being driven by something other than dislike for liberal policies and a natural hatred for Democrats.

    This article is completely worthless as it’s utter ignorance of this fact means the writer is unworty of publication.

  47. Bill is 100% right, even though his spelling is atrocious. The author of the article is an idiot and the article is completely without merit.

    The whole ‘PUMA’ phenomenon must be based on racism, as supporters of Hillary would surely support Obama on most if not all issues.

    You tell me the difference between Obama and Hillary apart from skin color (and gender, obviously.)

    Hating Obama for many people IS about racism, and there are racist people out there, no need to lie about that, Mr. Chapman, we can just accept that it exists, and be happy that obviously it’s isolated to a minority of imbeciles. No need to go pretending it isn’t out there when it clearly is, you just make yourself look stupid.

  48. Good points. I agreed with the similarity between the attacks on Bush, CLinton and Obama, but yes, the author must be blind, stupid or incredibly biased to have left out the former Hillary supporters who have become ‘conservatives.’

    Shockingly bad journalism, come to think of it.

  49. I am from the UK, and I don’t recall any Hillary supporters, changing to McCain, but I’m willing to be corrected.

    I’m sure Mr. Chapman or his editors would have picked up on such a blatantly stupid mistake. Reason is an intelligent magazine and rarely are facts like this overlooked, so I’m going to trust Mr. Chapman and not you.

  50. I don’t like Obama much, but I agree with the people who think that the author of this piece is an ignoramus.

  51. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…in order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it’s literally a labyrinth, that’s no joke

  52. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp.

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