September 21, 2009
What’s Race Got To Do With It?
Collectively, all Americans – despite ideological stances of various kinds – inherently know that the perceived stigma of skin color is not what it used to be. Yet, we now find ourselves immersed in claims that resurgent racism lies behind opposition to the Obama presidency.
When Joe Wilson, a Republican Congressman from South Carolina, shouted “You lie” at president Obama, most Americans agreed that it was a break in long-held decorum to have done so. Wilson agreed, and quickly apologized, while maintaining his belief that Obama had been loose with the truth about his healthcare plan. However, it didn’t take long for charges to surface that his outburst was racially-motivated.
Liberal blogs and pundits alleged that white resentment was behind it all. Columnist Maureen Dowd wrote “Some people just can’t believe that a black man is president and will never accept it …” Then Jimmy Carter decided to add his opinion to the mix, saying Wilson’s comment was “based on racism.” Carter added the weight of an ex-president to suggestions of racism that had been hinted at by Congress members Charlie Rangel and Diane Watson, and New York Governor David Paterson.
Carter – a man many now view as a discredited anti-Semite - made his argument with an air of certainty. “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Obama is based on the fact that he’s a black man …” He added that he thinks there is a belief among “many white people … that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great nation.”
This is an interesting premise - since 43 percent of the nation’s white voting population voted for Obama. Is he assuming that those white voters who supported John McCain did so because they were racists?
So-called white resentment became the prism for many who observed the hundreds of thousands who gathered in Washington D.C. on September 12th. The gathering was indeed often raucous, sometimes rude, and occasionally just flat out angry - similar to countless leftist organized anti-war protests and other such events I’d been present at over the years. However, Earl Ofari Hutchinson chose to characterize the event, from afar, in the following way in an article he wrote for the Huffington Post. “Racism was on full display on the Capitol Mall.”
Why has race played such a prominent role in the assessment of so many? Even music critics have piled on, with one claiming there was some racial meaning to rapper Kanye West’s drunken, obnoxious behavior at the recent MTV Video Music Awards. President Obama, nailed it, however, when he assessed the hip-hop performer as simply a spoiled “jackass.”
This re-birth of the obsession with race seemingly has no end. Newsweek magazine gave exposure to a research project at the University of Texas in a lengthy article “Is Your Baby Racist?” It concludes that white children (they only studied Caucasian children) develop racial consciousness early in life. What’s the antidote for this? The article argues that to create healthy attitudes, parents need to talk to their children about racial differences as early as … the age of three? Some might challenge all of this as some sort of soft-headed academic nonsense, and argue that what we really need is far less talk about race.
Nonetheless, few serious observers would disagree that some undoubtedly strange characters have appeared at town hall meeting, and some of these types were enthusiastically displayed by the media during the recent Washington D.C. rally. But gatherings of this sort, no matter if organized by the left or right, always have a gravitational pull for weird and whacky gadflies. And yes, some of the weirdness on the right is related to paranoia that surrounds “birthers” - a group of folks who refuse to recognize Barack Obama is an American-born citizen. Then there is the related view that Obama is a closet Muslim, or that he is some sort of Manchurian candidate under the control of shadowy, communist controllers.
However, to claim a racial basis for the gathering of hundreds of thousands of Americans is simply slanderous. The fact is, having little to do with race, many Americans do oppose Obama’s healthcare plan, think his meddling in the Henry Louis Gates arrest was, at best, hardly presidential, and believe his economic bail-out of Detroit automakers and Wall Street financial firms was off-base – just as many others in the past have disagreed with various president’s policy initiatives.
In fact, there is a flip-side to the fringe lunatics on the right, something that’s largely been ignored by the media. For the last eight years a rag-tag collection of leftists and ultra-liberals followed nearly every move made by former President Bush, pathologically depicting him as a contemporary version of Adolf Hitler. This was snickered at by late–night comics, but is now seen as a deadly serious affair, now that the attacks are directed at President Obama. In fact, the equivalent of the right’s “birthers” is the so-called “truther” movement which argues that the Bush administration planned and/or orchestrated 9/11, the worst terrorist attack on American soil in our history.
Congressman Barney Frank had the right response when he was confronted by a woman at a town hall meeting who argued that Obama’s healthcare plan was “Nazi-like.” To be sure, she was no political conservative, but instead was a follower of Lyndon LaRouche, a convicted felon with a loopy, cult-like following. Frank calmly asked the LaRouche minion, “On what planet do you spend most of your time?”
This might also be asked of those who improperly inject race into the national debate.