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Sep. 17 2009 - 12:36 pm | 65 views | 1 recommendation | 25 comments

Are those who criticize President Obama racists?

As opposition to Obama’s health care and big government initiatives has hardened among the electorate, there has been a chorus of caterwauling on the left to the effect that criticism of President Obama is tantamount to racism.

Liberal columnist David Sirota recently characterized those who oppose Obama (and that would be a large swath of the electorate in terms of his health care plan) as a “racist lynch mob.”

Democratic Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia proclaimed that rebuking Joe Wilson sufficiently was necessary so as to avoid a resurgence of Ku Klux Klan activity in the deep South.

And now the execrable Jimmy Carter, “Mr. Malaise”, has weighed in, by bastardizing a large segment of the population, with his sweeping indictment that, “an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.”

Indicative of the faulty reasoning that underlies these pernicious accusations is Maureen Dowd’s recent NYT column on the significance of Representative Joe Wilson’s indecorous outburst during President Obama’s recent speech to a joint session of Congress on our Health care “crisis.” Dowd writes:

“I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer … had much to do with race,” she wrote. “But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted ‘liar’ at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.”

Dowd then bootstrapped her argument for racism with the following statement: “But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy! The fact that Wilson said no such thing is merely an inconvenient fact to be ignored in order to buttress her contention that what he actually said was simply “code” for something entirely different. Dowd merely helped us with the necessary deciphering.

But shouldn’t Dowd reserve her considerable ire for Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, who at one time actually belonged to the Ku Klux Klan? Dowd’s ahistorical thesis ignores the painful fact that the staunchest opposition to the Civil Rights Legislation of 1964 came not from Republicans, but from Southern Democrats. But, if all is forgiven in terms of Byrd’ shameful legacy, shouldn’t Wilson, with no ties to any racist organizations, be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Dowd’s crass and unfounded accusations of racism?

It is instructive to note that the only notable incident of racism emanating from the South within the past few years was the scandalous accusation against white members of the Duke Lacrosse team who were falsely accused of raping a young black woman. It should be noted as well, that the paper for which Dowd writes, led the libelous charge in attempting to smear those athletes, and, when the irrefutable facts exposed the allegations as a sham, the Times continued in its quest to find a racist element to the episode, long after other news outlets had thoroughly discredited the story.

It is perplexing that those who are quick to play the race card against opponents of Obama’s left wing agenda never address this fundamental and vexing question: Exactly how did some of the same white voters (particularly independents) who were instrumental in helping to elect Obama president, suddenly — and mysteriously — become racists? That is to say, is it conceivable that those who criticize President Obama, do so because they are steadfastly opposed to his liberal agenda? Because, they may be feeling buyer’s remorse over a politician who campaigned, more or less as a centrist, and is now governing as a committed leftist?

One thing is certain, whether during the presidential campaign, or now that he is president, every time Obama is in political trouble, his supporters are always ready with their race-based explanations for his misfortunes. Attempts by Hillary to capitalize on blue-collar opposition to Obama’s candidacy was characterized by some as blowing the “race” dog-whistle. Slate’s Jacob Weisberg, proclaimed at one point during the campaign, that an Obama loss would signal to the rest of the world that we were incapable of surmounting our racist past.

The recent accusations of racism made by many on the left is merely a sign of their desperation. A recent Rasmussen poll indicates that only 12% of voters accept as true the proposition that opposition to Obama’s health care plan is race-based. In short, reflexive cries or accusations of racism now have a certain “boy who cried wolf” quality about them. The anticipated stigma no longer attaches to such baseless charges.

In their blind fury, the left fails to appreciate that the once odious and evocative epithet of racism has been leveled with such reckless abandon and with such frequency, that the word has now been robbed of its true meaning and significance.

Yet the question remains unanswered: can anyone criticize President Obama without being accused of being a racist?


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  1. collapse expand

    I believe you’re leaving out the intensely racial allegations that have been hurled against President Obama all year long (and since he became a presidential candidate in 2007).

    The birthers, the people who say he is a secret Muslim, the people who say he isn’t a real American. There are a lot of them. And you can’t just say it is fringe elements who are engaging in racial tropes to argue against the president and his policy agenda.

    McCain’s campaign admitted that it investigated the birthers’ claims. Glenn Beck said that President Obama hates white people. Rush Limbaugh insists that in Obama’s America, white children will be assaulted by black children and that will be OK. Rep. Jean Schmidt was caught on tape telling a constituent that President Obama is foreign born but that the courts don’t agree. None of these things are true. They are all intensely racial.

    Are elected Republican leaders disavowing these statements and distancing themselves from the people who make them? Not at all. As I argued, the left and right in this country both have very toxic fringes. But the GOP does not get blamed for the craziest people on the right the way that Democratic leaders get tarnished by left wing elements like the truthers or the New Black Panthers.

    So I agree: many Americans who voted for Obama are not happy with his performance to date. But Republican leaders undeniably continue to rely on a base that includes millions of people who did not vote for our president and engage in racist arguments as a means of opposing his fairly elected administration.

    • collapse expand

      What explicit, i.e., assertions not embellished with projections of “code words”, racial allegations are you referring to? I referenced Jimmy Carters castigation of a large swath of the electorate with his unfounded claim that an overwhelming portion of the opposition (what he, falsely in my opinion, characterizes as “animosity) to Obama is due to the fact that he is a black man. Such a statement is preposterous on its face.

      I also disagree with your contention that, “…the GOP does not get blamed for the craziest people on the right the way that Democratic leaders get tarnished by left wing elements like the truthers or the New Black Panthers.” Barack Obama hung out in a church for twenty years listening to his preacher’s wacky sermonizing, which included claims like the AIDS virus was created by whites to kill off black people, yet he was elected president nonetheless. How was he tarnished by his association with left wing luminaries like Wright and Bill Ayers?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    Wow. This piece is so studded with straw men I hardly know where to start… How about here: Anybody who claims in a blanket way that “those who criticize Obama are racists” is being deliberately provocative. But I’m not hearing that opinion widely espoused. I’d say this: Guys like Joe Wilson and Saxby Chambliss have made a political calculation that it’s advantageous to treat the president with patent disrespect because of an undercurrent of animosity toward him, and that animosity feels in part race-based. (Nobody gets as overheated as we’ve seen out there this summer over something as essentially arcane as health care.) Also, how did the doddering Robert Byrd end up in this calculus? You lost me at the wholly irrelevant assertion that Dowd should somehow tee off on Byrd because he was once associated with the Klan. Let’s try to stick to stuff that happened in more or less this century, okay? Finally, to the rhetorical meatball “Can anyone criticize President Obama without being accused of being a racist?”… Sure they can. Just as soon as they stop trying to delegitimize him and start putting forward some substantive ideas in opposition.

    • collapse expand

      Straw men? Yeah, like the dormant Klansmen who were poised to don their white robes if Wilson was not sufficiently rebuked. You also seem to cast aside the rigors of inductive reasoning with the assertion that the “undercurrent of animosity” towards Obama feels race-based. Huh? Is opposition to Obamacare synonymous with with an “undercurrent of animosity”?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    Mr. Kinsellagh,

    Mr. Obama has been repeatedly criticized by many people, including from the left, even on True/Slant, without anyone accusing them of being racist. Even the columnists you mention do not say that everyone who opposes Mr. Obama’s health care reform efforts are all racists. What they do say is that there is an undercurrent racism, it is one of many factors driving the emotionally intense response that is seen among the “birthers” and others who oppose Mr. Obama’s plans. It is no coincidence that Mr. Wilson (R-SC) was, as a state legislator, one of the last hold-outs opposing the removal of the confederate flag from the South Carolina state house. Many, of course not all, of these very vocal opponents of health care reform are equally vocal that Mr. Obama is a crypto-Muslim / Communist / foreigner. The racism of these views is self-evident.

    So of course people can criticize Mr. Obama and not be called racists, so long as they are not actually racists.

  4. collapse expand

    Hold on a second. You think Joe Wilson has “no ties to any racist organizations?” In fact, Wilson has praised the Confederacy repeatedly, and taken stands to continue flying the Confederate flag in South Carolina. That sounds like a tie to me. And the Confederacy was pretty goddamn racist.

  5. collapse expand

    I think its not so much about the number of people who oppose Obama on a racial basis – it is more about who is out there attempting to stoke the fires of racism in the effort to undermine the president’s efforts.

    I agree that the percentage of people who have ‘gone south’ in supporting Obama after voting for him, or approving his job performance following the vote, are not suddenly ditching him because someone got around to telling them that the president is African-American. And there are, no doubt, a percentage of those who voted against him who did so based on race. But I don’t think that this is big news either.

    I believe there may be a strong element of racism involved in the ‘birther’ movement seeking to make Obama an illegitimate president- and yes, I think Jimmy Carter overstated the case.

    What worries me are the comments made by people like Rush Limbaugh who appear to be purposefully attempting to stoke the racial fires. That just can’t be good for anyone.

    Anyone who believed that the election of Barack Obama spelled the end of racism in America was kidding themselves. Are those racial voices getting louder as Obama faces difficulties? Of course. What did anyone expect?

    But to lay off the president’s current problems to racism is going too far.

  6. collapse expand

    John, I offered up 7 examples of things that are racist. I am open to explanations of how these ideas are not founded in racist animosity. I argue that they are racist because they all play on the president’s differences from the majority of people in America who are of European origin in order to oppose his legitimately elected administration. Do you have an argument for why these 7 things are not racist?

    I agree with you: President Carter is wrong that most opposition to President Obama is racist. That doesn’t deny that a lot of opposition to the President is being expressed in a racist manner. There are plenty of good reasons to oppose his health care agenda on policy grounds. ‘Death panels’ is a policy argument. ‘Obamacare will be costly to small American businesses’ is a policy argument. ‘President Obama hates white people’ is a racist argument.

    President Obama attended Rev. Wright’s church, and had a relationship with Bill Ayres early in his political career. Some significant amount of the 48% of the electorate that pulled the lever for Senator McCain agreed that those were good reasons not to vote for President Obama. They were not persuaded by President Obama’s disavowal of Rev. Wright (after saying he wouldn’t) in a major speech in which he stated that Wright’s views “profoundly distorted” what’s great about America.

    Have any GOP leaders, elected or otherwise, given a major address stating that the birthers, the people who say Obama hates white people, etc., ‘profoundly distort’ what’s great about the Republican Party?

  7. collapse expand

    It’s also worth noting that Byrd has apologized for being a member of the KKK thousands of times, whereas Wilson has made no attempt to apologize for his strong defense of the Confederacy, a racist and treasonous enterprise.

  8. collapse expand

    “It is instructive to note that the only notable incident of racism emanating from the South within the past few years was the scandalous accusation against white members of the Duke Lacrosse team who were falsely accused of raping a young black woman”

    Have you forgotten about the Jena 6? How about Hurricane Katrina? Do you really believe that the response to Katrina would have been the same if it was an white upper class city?

  9. collapse expand

    LOL You keep throwing Byrd at us as an example of somebody who was in the Klan? Yes, his bad, but THIS is from wiki, showing that he had completely changed many years ago. It is something that everybody knows, and that is why liberal journalists don’t waste their time writing about him.

    “Byrd has since explicitly renounced his earlier views on racial segregation.[47][48] Byrd said that he regrets filibustering and voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964[18] and would change it if he had the opportunity. He has stated that joining the KKK was “the greatest mistake I ever made”.[47] Byrd has also said that his views changed dramatically after his teenage grandson was killed in a 1982 traffic accident, which put him in a deep emotional valley. “The death of my grandson caused me to stop and think,” said Byrd, adding he came to realize that black people love their children as much as he does his.[49]”

    I’ve heard more than once, the myth that conservatives were mostly responsible for passing the civil rights act,then the liberals. I lived in those days. It was the blacks, and a number of liberal whites, who did all of the public protesting, with marches etc. If it wasn’t for that, the idea of it never would have been presented in Congress. Republicans, and Conservatives would had absolutely nothing to do with that aspect of it.

    When you look at the signs presented by the friends of the blathering nutcase Glenn Beck, the only conclusion one can draw is in fact racism. they show Obama as a witchdoctor, with huge, extended lips, and cornrows. I would be LOL right now if it wasn’t so sad that people actually follow Mr. Beck. Further, I think he knows that he is setting up a climate that will have Obama RIPE for assassination. Never before have I seen people show up with guns to a presidential speech. It is now almost commonplace with Obama. That is because of the right wing loons, and a Republican radio host who started it.

    The secret service has the right to extend a perimeter, as far back as they want to keep the armed loonies away fro him. They can make it a mile if they want. As one who lived through the nightmare of the Kennedy assassination, it is totally beyond me why they don’t do that now.

    • collapse expand

      You’re putting words in my mouth. I didn’t say that conservative Republicans were solely responsible for getting the Civil Rights legislation passed. What i did say was that “the staunchest opposition to the Civil Rights Legislation of 1964 came not from Republicans, but from Southern Democrats”, which is historically accurate.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        The term “Southern Democrats” doesn’t illustrate all of the truth here. A more historically accurate term would be, “Dixiecrats.” They were next generation, conservative, racist, people, running under the guise of being Democrat. It would be like somebody in New England running as a Republican, but his true agenda would be to pass everything that Obama wants.

        As I was trying to illustrate, the people doing the street protests, which brought it to the attention of our government in the first place, were liberal Democrats.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        You are right about that. Of course, the constitution of our political parties today are much different than they were in 1964. In those days, we had moderate Republicans, particularly in the Northeast. Today, the closest we have are Sen. Snowe and Collins from Maine. Yesterday, Sen. Snowe, in an interview, said that she feels the Republican party has left her.

        Michael summed up what this is really all about when he says,

        “Have any GOP leaders, elected or otherwise, given a major address stating that the birthers, the people who say Obama hates white people, etc., ‘profoundly distort’ what’s great about the Republican Party?”

        Not only have we had no such speech, it just seems like Reoub. voices like limbaugh’s want to make it worse, using racism to whip up the troops.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  10. collapse expand

    In 2005 the chairman of the Republican Party Ken Melhman apologized for the racially charged Southern Strategy. I don’t know if everyone got the message, seems to me a small portion of the party is bent on reviving it.

  11. collapse expand

    Michael- You said you offered 7 examples of racism, and you were open to explantion, how these aren’t racist. I found 6, I’m not sure what the 7th is, but here goes on the 6.

    1. Birthers-people who say he’s a secret Muslim. Obama says he has nothing to hide, but hides everything anyway. There is a lot of unknowns about Obama’s past, yet the easiest way to clean all that up is to disclose it, but he doesn’t. People are very suspect and don’t understand all the secrecy about his past. Some are very suspect (birthers), but what is really the driving force is their intense disagreement with Obama policies.

    2. Not a real American- Again, Obama says there is nothing to hide, but hides it anyway. His actions and words do not make it appear to a lot of people that he likes America, in fact, just the opposite. It’s not about race, they question his devotion to American values and principles.

    3. McCain investigated birthers claim. Of course they did, every opposing side looks for “secrets” or “skeletons” for use in their campaign, this is standard operating procedure. What did the other side do to Palin? Racist, no…that’s politics.

    4. Beck saying Obama hates white people. This is not racist behavior, it is saying someone else is behaving in a racist manner. This was in response to Obama siding with Professor Gates, who called the white cop a racist, even though Obama didn’t have all the facts. How can you say the person making the observation about racism is a racist?

    5. Limbaugh- Statement taken out of context (as usual). Limbaugh was being sarcastic relative to the Newsweek story that white babies are born to be racist by the time they are six months old. Sarcasim, you will have to read the entire text of Limbaugh’s talk to get the point of the sarcasim about racism.

    6. Schmidt saying Obama foreign born, but courts don’t agree. Saying someone is foreign born does not contain a preference to race. It’s a question of citizenship, not of race.

    I do not see the racial allegations that you say have been made in these examples. I do see that you have projected race into most of these. The one that does contain race (Beck) comment is observational by Beck, and Beck also has actual behavior by Obama from which he makes that observation. Twenty years in Rev. Wrights church, and the Gates statement as an example. You may not agree with Beck, but he does have specific examples to back up his claim. You say Beck is a racist for saying Obama has a racial preference, and that is what you say qualifies as racism? If that is true, you have lowered the bar to the point that you make Becks assertions about Obama completely true.

  12. collapse expand

    This question has been answered already.

    Many people have criticized President Obama without being racist. It’s good for democracy.

    Other people have laced their criticism of President Obama with racially-tinged terminology, references, etc. Such people should not be surprised when their criticisms are not taken seriously.

  13. collapse expand

    The problem with this whole thing is that some Republicans are making it worse by using racism to get a point through about Obama. While people on the Left are beginning to shoot down criticism from white people about Obama by saying it is racist. I don’t support Healthcare, hate the idea; however, I have never been racist. Always hated that idea to, one race being more empowered than the other. I’ve just learned to deal with racism. As a white American living in Memphis, TN I see racism everyday. From whites to blacks and also (what people tend to forget happens) blacks to whites. A number of black people said distasteful things about George Bush(I did not support him either), yet no one yelled racist, even though some of those claims were due to prejudices.

    And by the way Ethan, I could do something completely out of line, and apologize so many times. It doesn’t mean that I mean that apology. And the way politics are today, I highly doubt he meant those apology.

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    About Me

    I have primarily been practicing law in one capacity or another for the past twenty years. I have been blogging at beaconstreetjournal.com since 2006.

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