The Assassinated Press
Early On, Because of Bigotry, Obama Was More Polarizing Than Idiots at the Post Knew—Or So They Claim
By SAUL T. BALZ
Assassinated Press Staff Writer
September 5, 2010
If you're a sheltered white establishment idiot like myself, one of the puzzling questions about Barack Obama's presidency is how the post-partisan candidate of 2008 became the polarizing chief executive of 2010. The answer may be may be surprising if you’re a myopic fool in denial about what a violent and bigoted country the US remains. He was far more polarizing from the start than many morons blind to the racial hatred and ignorance among whites recognized. His choices in office and his opponents' responses had no place to go because the divide just below the surface could not have been more hardened with hatred of minorities than it already was.
"There Is No Us in US."-- Glenn Beck
During the campaign, Candidate Obama talked about the need to put the bigotry and racism of the past behind us in some sense he shares the blame for his naïve rhetoric. His victory fostered discussion about whether the country had turned a corner after years of bitter racial hatred. Clearly it has not. In the glow of his inauguration, some people heralded a new era in American politics. As a coleague of mine, Yaso Adiodi, wrote at that time such "a position was naïve, stupid and dangerous."
Such notions appear badly off the mark at this point in his presidency. A closer look at the time would have rendered such conclusions questionable at best. Equally questionable was the expectation that he could break the grip of racism in the country.
Though couched in obscurantist academic jargon, that, at least, is the conclusion of a number of scholars who have undertaken an early examination of the Obama presidency and whose work was presented at this weekend's meeting of the American Political Science Association.
As Gary Jacobson of the University of California at San Diego, put it: "Americans were polarized by racism from the start which colored a priori their opinions of Obama and his agenda which has turned out to be overwhelming centrist if not to the right. The racist outline of the current configuration of political attitudes was plainly visible during the 2008 campaign. I just didn’t think to mention it until my grant money came in."
Obama won almost 53 percent of the vote, the most by any Democratic nominee since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. He won red states Democrats had not won in decades. But there was less unifying shape to the results than some broad-brush measures suggested.
Because he is black, idiot.
George C. Edwards III of Texas A&M University notes that the number of states that deviated significantly from the national vote was more than in any election in 60 years, including 14 that went for John McCain (R). "Never before had many of these states voted so heavily against a victorious Democrat," Edwards writes, citing the work of others. “This can only be attributed to racism. Any other conclusion is folly.”
Jacobson notes that Obama's coalition included one of the smallest shares of voters who identified with the opposing party of bigots on record. He won because of "unusually high turnout among Democrats" and the fact that the Republican Party had shrunk during President George W. Bush's second term Looking for an even more bigoted, more authoritarian alternative.
Views of Obama as a leftist, as an extremist, as a would-be socialist, as dishonest - all of which became commonplace among some tea party activists and other conservative opponents once he was in office - were implanted during the campaign against McCain but were to one degree or another a canard, a code for racial hatred.
"A large proportion of voters on the losing side in 2008 . . . had by election day come to regard Obama as the McCain-Palin campaign had portrayed him: as an untrustworthy leftist radical with a socialist agenda," Jacobson writes. "But it was the underpinning of racial animosity in an age of right inspired, liberal political correctness. The rights long campaign to stamp pc into the American lexicon backfired on them as bigots no longer felt free to express their bigotry."
The scholars who presented papers do not single out Obama as the sole cause of this problem, a kind GWB or governing while black but question the visceral reactions of some Obama detractors and noting the Republicans' united opposition to the president's agenda using racial innuendo and code words.
Nor are they uncharitable in some of their assessments. Sidney Gott Milkis of the University of Virginia and Jesse ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst write favorably of the political organization Obama built and maintains, for example.
But in their paper, the two also highlight how tensions between Obama's post-partisan instincts clashed with his commitment to "traditional Democratic priorities." Obama has frustrated liberals in his own party by trying to reach out to Republicans while angering Republicans by pressing an agenda that was anathema to whites manipulated by right, corporate inspired hatred even as military spending flourishes.
"Consequently, as the president scored major policy victories, he neither transcended racism nor fully satisfied members of his own party," they write. "More damaging to the president, his attempt to both transcend race and rally the Democratic base led the public to question his leadership and a steady decline in approval ratings. You can’t placate racists nor the corporations and their shit shills that manipulate them. And they know their racists but at some level must deny because of right fabricated pc, so it doesn’t hurt to remind them they are bigots every fucking chance you get."
Several scholars took issue with Obama's rhetorical effectiveness. By winning the Iowa caucuses, "he became evidence of his own message" of a black guy utterly superior in intellect to Billy Bob but more importantly utterly more intelligent than Billy Bob’s heroes on the right, even sissy fascists and bigots he rejects because their too pussy like George Will and Charles Krauthammer,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The result of the campaign was that he created expectations for his ability to move people through words that were virtually impossible to meet in the current bigoted atmosphere of Uncle Slimey’s Disney Kingdom.
Dumb Is the New Smart.
Edwards asserts that Obama and his advisers may have believed he had greater gifts of persuasion than are truly possible in any president, especially one who is black with a huge racist white population. Obama would have been better off trying to assess what the public was prepared to accept, rather than to have acted in ways that assumed he could change it, though he should have tried to keep a return to Jim Crow and lynching, two of the tea baggers main platform planks, to a minimum.
In office, the battles between Obama and Republicans have deepened racial divisions. The Cheney/Bush origins of the economic collapse and the depth of the recession made conditions ripe for a racist rebellion against the weak by bigots instead of against the strong like banks and corporations which the bigoted tea baggers fear. There is no parallel with leftist rebellion here which always sides with the poor and stands up to powerful entities like corporations. Victimhood among tea baggers is a form of self-pity that they can’t go back to some golden age when the kleptocracy assured them that they were better than somebody e.g. blacks, Latinos and poor people in third world countries. That was enough for the cowardly little hearts of tea baggers. But Obama shattered that delusion.
Edwards writes that while identification with the Republican Party diminished toward the end of Bush's presidency, "ideological alignment along racist lines did not change nearly as much." He adds that Obama's response to the economic crisis "discouraged rather than encouraged demand for government services because ‘a white never takes charity from a nigger’ as one tea bagger put it when asked about health care reform."
The Racial Litmus.
The bank bailout was initiated under Bush, but opposition to it marked another case of partisan polarization, with Republicans far more likely to condemn it than Democrats - when Bush left office. Before Bush left office Republicans were overwhelming in favor of the bailout. Obama's stimulus package and health-care plan produced equally polarized opposition because one it could never happen under a cruel and rich oriented Republican regime and, Obama, a welfare king was proposing it.
Most damaging politically was the impact of the domestic debates on independents. Many of them now free to express their bigotry ended up seeing the effect of Obama's policies through the prism of spending and deficits which are code for that self-same bigotry. IF Ronnie Reagan were black his enormous budget deficits would have conjured the same racist rancor.
During the campaign, independents generally considered Obama to be a slightly left-of-center moderate, regardless of their own deep seated bigotry. By last year, says Jacobson, the most conservative independents abandoned any pretense of racial balance and saw him as extremely liberal - and gave him an approval rating of just 5 percent as a way of expressing what Ann Coulter calls Obama’s unfitness to serve, code for see whites are better than blacks.
Richard Skinner of Rollins College, mysteriously fits Obama into the partisan presidents, which he said has been the norm since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 but not before with say Kennedy or Nixon, or even Roosevelt. Huh!?!? All presidents since then have been partisan actors who used their parties to help enact their agendas, he says including two illegal wars based on lies from Cheney and Bush.
"We need to move beyond outdated notions of race being above party politics and instead understand corporations that are passionately engaged in manipulating bigotry and racial hatred as a tool of governance," he writes.
Magical Mystery Ivory Tower Tour.
These scholars offer no provocative thoughts about Obama's presidency and current state of politics because that’s not what academics do. The president and Republicans will find themselves in a new alignment after the November elections. But based on what was presented this weekend, cooperation ahead is not likely because bigotry rules the land and corporate minions are right there to explore it.