Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Racism 101?

Rev Wooden at Aside From The Obvious , in a post entitled "Racism 101", says, "OK, at the risk of offending some of you who get this, but with the sincere hope that this will be news to others, let me tell you a simple fact: Racism is not about bigotry. I say this because the intense hostility to our president, yes ours and I do mean all Americans, is profoundly racist."

This makes no more sense to me after the election than it did before. If you recall, before the election many UU bloggers were saying that racism was the issue because then-Senator Obama wasn't poling as well as they thought he should have. The fact that he was poling better than President Clinton had been during either of his campaigns didn't impress them; any opposition to Obama showed institutional racism. And now people seem shocked that there is intense hostility to the President... as if there hasn't been intense hostility to the President- any President- for decades now.

Let's take Rev. Wooden's points in order: "Would we ever question the natural citizenship of a white person running for president?" Yes, we would. We have. Surely some others out there are old enough to remember that some people claimed that JFK couldn't count as a citizen for the purposes of running for President because he was Catholic, and his obedience to the Pope would run afoul of the "...abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject..." portion of citizenship? The same accusations were leveled at Republican candidate Mitt Romney, though for a different church. Politics is politics... President Obama is susceptible to the citizenship thing because he was a complete unknown before the primary season, a distressingly high percentage of Americans weren't even aware that Hawaii is a state, and many of those who did know didn't know when it became a state.

"Did we ever call Richard Nixon socialist (when it meant something) when he imposed wage and price controls or even tried to reform health care?" Yes, many did. Nixon may have been popular among Republicans, but not among conservatives. Here is an article calling Nixon a socialist in 1971- before he imposed wage and price controls or tried to reform health care! After those things, libertarians and conservatives left the Republican party in droves- Nixon was a great recruiter for the Libertarian party. Even those who stayed were disaffected; that's how Reagan almost knocked off Ford in the primaries.

"Did we question the integrity of Bush 1 when he addressed the nation's schoolchildren and asked them to write him telling how they would help him?" Yes, we did. In fact, the Democrats held Congressional hearings about it. There was plenty of uproar about it. If you don't remember, read When Bush spoke to students, Democrats investigated, held hearings from Beltway Confidential. "The day after Bush spoke, the Washington Post published a front-page story suggesting the speech was carefully staged for the president's political benefit. "The White House turned a Northwest Washington junior high classroom into a television studio and its students into props," the Post reported. With the Post article in hand, Democrats pounced. "The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students," said Richard Gephardt, then the House Majority Leader. "And the president should be doing more about education than saying, 'Lights, camera, action.'" Democrats did not stop with words. Rep. William Ford, then chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate the cost and legality of Bush's appearance. On October 17, 1991, Ford summoned then-Education Secretary Lamar Alexander and other top Bush administration officials to testify at a hearing devoted to the speech."

Come on now, people, it's hard enough to fight racism without having the word stripped of all meaning by claiming that anyone who disagrees with you is racist, or that any speech or essay you don't like is full of "code words", or that perfectly ordinary partisanship is racist.


Chalicechick said...

You make a whole lot of good points, but I have to say that Bush 1's address to kids was called a waste of money, which is true.

If Obama's address were being called a waste of money, I wouldn't care, but the whole "socialist indoctrination" thing is an extra layer of crazytown that does speak to a level of hatred that I don't really understand.

Similarly, the "would a faithful catholic be able to make all the decisions a president has to independently of the Pope's opinion?" is not a nice question, but it is not a completely unreasonable one. "I don't care if Hawaii no longer keeps paper copies of birth certificates but Obama's is in the computer and decades ago his parents announced his birth in Honolulu newspapers, I refuse to accept any proof that Obama is a citizen" again seems to have an extra layer of irrationality to it that your example did not even beyond its legitimacy as a question*.

Do I think it's racism? I don't know what it is. But I can understand why people would call it racism. These are strange arguments people make about Obama, full of irrationality, and they seem to be motivated by something deeper than mere partisanship.

who, to be fair, always thought the "Bush ordered 9-11" people were crazy, too and got a similar vibe from them. This is why she's not willing to call it racism, because that wasn't racism, but it was another deep, weird, irrational hatred.

*By which I mean taking orders from the pope would have effected Kennedy's ability to lead and Obama's location of birth really doesn't unless someone actually has proof he wasn't born here which nobody does. Kennedy's ability to make decisions independently of the pope's opinion could be debated reasonably by both sides well into his presidency. The birther argument really can't as it doesn't rely on evidence or really anything other that the birthers' blind faith in the truth of their opinion.

Tom said...

Joel, You could have picked a lot nastier stuff from history. Remember the Birchers' charge that Eisenhower was a Communist. Remember when the Chicago Tribune was owned by a Pearl Harbor "truther". The nineteenth century was even worse.

The lunatic fringe has always been around. Richard Hofsater's _The Paranoid Style in American Politics_ is as true today as it was in 1964. It is just that between about 1940 and 1990 the fringe had trouble getting mainstream press. The truthers and birthers were out there. The NYT just wouldn't cover them. It still doesn't, but thanks to the internet it doesn't matter.

WFW said...

Hey Joel,

Nicely written and good for you, which means I did a poor job of choosing examples not that I believe I am mistaken. But thanks for the insight and the detail and the correction to my argument.

What I do note, in the same vein as Chalicechick, is that you cited actions with decidely political intent. Deplorable they may have been, but not irrational. It is the irrational, or to be more impartial, fervent belief of individuals not apparently working for an organization, who all but say that facts will not deter their decision, that I was trying to call attention to.

My fault for not being better at saying that. And as CC notes, the same wierdness can attend any leader, and has. But this case reveals the peristence of racial thinking, as I see it.

In our collective unconscious heart America is a white, straight, Protestant, place (I could add more but why pile on?) Only one Roman Catholic succeeded in violating that norm and he was murdered.

Volly said...

As I posted about a year ago, in the midst of all the "Barack Hussein Obama" madness,

Saddam was BORN in 1937, but cannot be said to have assumed any sort of power or fame until about 1968 at the very earliest.

He became president of Iraq 11 years after that. It wasn't until the early 1980s that the general public ever heard his name. For the average American, this didn't happen until the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

So WHY are so many induhviduals convinced that Barack Hussein Obama (born in 1961) was named after a Muslim dictator?

Can we get some reality here?

I fear, though, that the answer is maybe/someday at best.

Joel Monka said...

WFW- To me, seeing racism everywhere is much like seeing conspiracy everywhere. My aphorism is "Never ascribe to conspiracy anything that can be explained by simple incompetence." The same can be said of any other accusation of unworthy motives.

I can't understand how anybody who lived through the last 16 years can say that irrational hyper-partisanship is greater now than before, or that anybody is saying worse things about President Obama than they did about the previous two Presidents. Set aside the things said about Bush for the moment; what about Clinton? Are the birthers really worse than the people who talked about Clinton's body count ? Ok, maybe that, too, was racism- Clinton was, after all, our first black President. But what about Hillary? She tries to reform healthcare, and people call her a socialist. That's politics. Obama tries to reform healthcare, and people call him a socialist. That's racism? Honestly, search your memory, search the web- even the extremists are being nicer to President Obama than they were to Clinton or Bush.

Or Van Jones- he's on record, in his own words, on paper and on tape to be replayed, describing himself as a Marxist and a Communist, and discussing tactics for the revolution. But calling him a Communist is racism. Can't you see what has come of this sort of nonsense?

The charge of racism was once something that people feared- but it has been used so often as a transparent ploy that it has lost all impact. Seriously, many on the right feel that being called a racist is a concession of victory, that the opposition has been unable to refute your arguments. Listen to this essay on the subject. If you really want to fight racism, fight real racism; don't use it as a generic attack on anything you oppose.