Thursday, September 24, 2009

Not Racist So Much As. . .

Professional Chatterers and bloggers have been going on for a couple of weeks now about whether attacks on President Obama are motivated by race. Pretty much every news1 story about opposition to Obama includes the question now, though the answer varies. Obama in a show of sportsmanship says it's not about race. Liberals are unmollified. Etc.

I submit that the venom directed at Obama is related to race in the same way that the full political contact directed at Hillary Clinton in the primary and the derision of Sarah Palin in the general are related to sexism. Which is to say that, all other things being equal, a whole lot of that negativity would have been directed against its subjects regardless of group identification, BUT that the passions involved allow various unpretty isms to come to the surface as well.

If, for example, Bill Clinton had an accomplished, RFK-type brother who ran as the establishment favorite against Obama, the Obama faithful would have pushed back. Hard. If John McCain had picked a half-term governor from a small western state who exhibited a Palinesqe difficulty with putting together a diagrammable sentence, that running mate would have been fodder for lefty bloggers and late night comics. In both cases the pushback/sport occaisionally crossed the line into sexist ugliness, but it wasn't initially caused by sexism.

That sound you hear is your False Moral Equivalency alarm going off, and rightly so. I don't mean to suggest that the opposition to Obama is the same as that of opposition to Sec. Clinton and it certainly is nothing like the criticism of Palin.2. The flaying of Obama by the right wing is far more venomous, delusional and histrionic than anything that happened in the campaign. My point, rather, is that a white President as liberal as Obama who made the same policy choices as Obama would face a nearly identically venomous, delusional and histrionic flaying. Obama's race didn't drive the far right crazy. They have been that crazy for a while and Obama just walked into it.

A couple of weeks ago during the usual All Things Considered Friday tete-a-tete between David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, Brooks implored Dionne to distinguish between "the responsible right and the Death Panel Right." Sadly, Dionne let him get away with it, failing point out that the Death Panel Right has all but entirely subsumed the right wing in American politics. Serial nut job Glennnn Beccckk hosts the highest-rated show on Fox. Conservative talk radio and conservative media are overrun with birthers, deathers and adherents to every other wack job paranoia. As far as I can tell, the Responsible Right currently consists of Brooks, Joe Scarborough and a nice kid in my Judicial Process class.

I can't claim to have predicted all of this, but none of it has surprised me. Recall that long before he was impeached, conservative mainstays were pushing the most outrageous fictions about Bill Clinton. In the age of Limbaugh, it's not enough to win and argument; a political foe must be destroyed utterly. The Limbaugh construct is that Liberals are not merely wrong, they are corrupt, disloyal, conniving, and evil. They want to take your guns, tax you into poverty, convert your son to Islam and send your daughter's rapist to midnight basketball.

That rising strain of right wing thought took over entirely during the Bush Administrations. Writers and talkers like Michael Savage and Ann Coulter trafficked in such bile with nary of rebuke from anyone on the increasingly marginalized Responsible Right. While many factors account for the re-emergence of a Democratic majority -- scandals, fatigue and the sheer incompetence of George W. Bush among them -- the fact that so many self-proclaimed standard bearers for the political right are patently wet-hen, March-hare, batshit crazy.

While the bulk of the electorate has turned away from it all, decades-long loyal consumers have been primed to lose their minds if ever a Democrat won the Presidency again. In a way it's a little silly to imagine racism as a dominant factor in all of this. The Limbaugh Nation has been eating double helpings of CrazyFlakes for breakfast every day for decades now, and we're brought up short that they seem a tad unbalanced? Really? And think it's because of race? Really?

Raising race as a prime motivator offers an implied false sense of hope; if only we can get past this race thing, we will smooth out some of these harsh divisions. In fact, what we are seeing is the inevitable result of a generation of conservatives brought up on the belief that politics is a death sport and political power is their divine right. It's bad for the country, and it's not going away any time soon.

1I'm not including Fox here; an unnecessary clarification unless you are one of those misbegotten souls who mistakes things on Fox for "news." In which case you may have wandered into the wrong blog by mistake.

2I expect this view would be shared by all but the most rabid Palinistas. If this describes you, please see note 1 infra.


Jason Haas said...

I have been less compelled by the racism as a root cause argument and more in line with your thinking. I didn't, however, articulate such as well as you have. Well done.