Racism, Obama and Change

The race issue in America is often bizarre.   President Carter and a few others insinuate that racism may be a reason for the style of opposition Obama is getting from the right.   Interestingly, these comments got much less play in the mainstream media or by Democrats than they did from the right.   The right loves to play the race card against the Democrats.  It’s an odd card though — it’s a “they are calling us racists just for opposing the President” card.

Obviously, opposition exists for every President, and any claim that all or much of the opposition to Obama is based on racism is absurd on its face.  To the extent the right can make it seem like that’s what is being done, they have an effective bit of rhetoric.   It’s no wonder they will trumpet, repeat, and comment on these statements over and over.  Drudge makes it a headline, talk radio is all over it, you’d think that this was a major argument from the left.  Of course, most on the left don’t mention race, and Obama and Biden have both dismissed it as a primary cause for opposition.

So what does it mean?  Is race a factor?

Obama was elected by a large margin of victory, and has enjoyed high levels of popularity.   He still has approval ratings over 50%, even as he governs in a recession with efforts to make substantive changes in major policy areas.   To me, this suggests that race is actually receding in importance in the US.   Presidents Clinton and Reagan, governing in economic downturns experienced steep drops in popularity in their first two years in office.  In 1982 many Democrats thought Reagan would be easy to defeat in 1984 — he was inexperienced and couldn’t lead.   In 1994 President Clinton lost his Democratic majority after spending all his political capital on a debate over health care.   When nothing passed, he looked ineffectual and weak.   Obama has also taken on the health care issue and while faring better than Clinton so far (he at least has a real chance to pass something), he has also been hard.

Does that mean that Joe Wilson of South Carolina, the guy who heckled Obama during his Congressional address, doesn’t look at Obama differently because of race?   I don’t know.  There are individuals who are still rather racist.   Maybe it did play a part in his outburst.   But he and others would oppose anyone trying to pass the policies Obama is pursuing.

So what about the level of anger and rage amongst the opposition — surely that might be because Obama is black?   Perhaps a bit, but I think the major cause is because Obama wants to bring real change in a context where the world itself is going through a transformation — a world in motion.

On the radio today I caught five minutes of Glenn Beck arguing that global warming was a conspiracy designed to de-develop the US and render it impotent, creating a global transfer of wealth to the third world.   The claim was positively Goebbelsesque, a wild conspiracy theory stated with conviction and a sense of certitude.   That kind of appeal to emotion is becoming more common on the right, as suddenly it looks like the country is moving in a direction opposite to what they expected, making it seem they are losing their country to “socialism.”

Now, global warming is a complex issue, both in terms of its cause and how to respond.  But I know scientists, including some here at UMF, whose views are shaped by the science, not politics, and who are very concerned about their children and the future of humanity in a world going through climate change.   Maybe the plans putting forth to combat it are misguided — that can and should be debated — but an emotional charge that it’s some kind of cultural treason, a conspiracy to destroy the US and prop up the poor…I mean, come on!

To the extent that kind of thing gets taken seriously, people will get angry and ready to brush aside the civility and sense of common purpose that has united Americans in the past.  And given the changes taking place, more people than ever are drawn to the likes of Beck and Limbaugh who are saying what so many people feel in their gut, expressing fear that the America they knew is becoming something strange:  too many Mexicans, an “un-American” President (witness the ‘birthers’), the spread of gay marriage, and now plans for “socialized” medicine.   Many are truly angry, and that anger comes from fear — fear that they are losing control, that the country is becoming something different than the America they thought they knew.

The country is in an economic crisis, and there are demographic, political and economic changes taking place.  There are military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan that seem to be going poorly, and there are still threats of terrorism.  The country is going through a real trial, with no clear answer of what to do.    America is in transition to something, and right now Obama represents what many see as a change in a wrong and threatening direction.   Anger is a common reaction to fear.

So what to do?   It’s almost less a political question than a social-psychological one.   How can the country accept that some kind of change is necessary, and forge a path based on mutual compromise and some shared principles?    Is our choice that of either dashing the hopes of Obama’s supporters, or feeding the anger of his critics?   Or is there a middle ground?

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  1. #1 by Josh on September 23, 2009 - 01:00

    Both the left and the right seem to play the race card in their own way. I agree Republicans may cry about race too much, however, I don’t think it’s absurd to say that some folks have been suggestive about Republicans being somewhat “racist”.

    Overall, both sides just need to chill.

    Also, Democrats and Republicans both use fear to advance their agendas. While global warming may be real, folks like Al Gore (and other Democrats) have exaggerated things to scare the population.

    Until both parties smarten up, things won’t change for the better. Oh, I hate politics! Hate it! Grr. Okay, I’m getting worked up over nothing…

    Oh, and sorry if I keep repeating myself in my comments. I don’t know much about politics, I just report what I observe.

  2. #2 by Henitsirk on September 24, 2009 - 01:45

    I think part of the fear is the fear of loss of self — the need for self-preservation. We wouldn’t be afraid of change if we weren’t afraid it would hurt us.

    And the US is a very self-oriented culture, hence the fears of “socialism”, immigrants, wealth redistribution, etc. I suppose cultural issues such as gay marriage challenge some people’s self-definition as well.

    On another of your recent posts, we were discussing how making concessions can be considered as a sign of weakness or of strength. I think that’s related to self-definition and self-preservation as well. If you feel confident and secure, then you can make concessions, and you can accept change with grace.

  3. #4 by renaissanceguy on October 4, 2009 - 11:42

    “Interestingly, these comments got much less play in the mainstream media or by Democrats than they did from the right.”

    Maybe because the people accused of it are the ones most interested in it.

    “The right loves to play the race card against the Democrats.”

    Sure. It’s politics. Of course, from the right’s hand it is the race-card card. Unless you can show that the accusations of racism by those on the left are imaginary, you cannot fault people on the right for bringing them up.

    “Drudge makes it a headline, talk radio is all over it, you’d think that this was a major argument from the left.”

    Name a major figure on the left who repudiated the accusations by Carter, Dowd, and Cosby. I know that the President did, but he has to, politically speaking.

    “To me, this suggests that race is actually receding in importance in the US.”

    I think so, and I hope so.

    “Does that mean that Joe Wilson. . .doesn’t look at Obama differently because of race?”

    There is evidence that he was or is a racist. But saying You lie does not make a person a racist. I think you agree.

    “But he and others would oppose anyone trying to pass the policies Obama is pursuing.”

    Exactly.

    “Perhaps a bit, but I think the major cause is because Obama wants to bring real change in a context where the world itself is going through a transformation — a world in motion.”

    Yes. Why, after all, are conservatives called conservatives. Change is scary, especially when people espouse change for the sake of change itself. If your house burned down, that would be a change, but you would not welcome it.

    “The claim was positively Goebbelsesque, a wild conspiracy theory stated with conviction and a sense of certitude.”

    What did you think of Van Jones’s contention that white people pollute black communities in order to kill black people?

    “To the extent that kind of thing gets taken seriously, people will get angry and ready to brush aside the civility and sense of common purpose that has united Americans in the past.”

    Are you referring to the civility that was common from 2001-2008? I did not have a love affair with Bush, but it seems odd that everybody forgets the harsh rheoric that was expressed during his adminstration. Or they say, “But that was different!”

    “. . .too many Mexicans. . .”

    If you mean Mexican-Americans, none of my conservative friends have any problem. If you mean foreign nationals who live here illegally, it makes perfect sense to object. We need a way to either make their residence legal or send them home.

    “. . .an “un-American” President (witness the ‘birthers’). . .”

    Obama fueled that fire by not simply and unceremoniously making his birth certificate public.

    He is also the one who has touted his descent from an African father, his connection with Islam through his step-father, and his childhood in Indonesia.

    I think that Obama is American enough, but some of the hysteria can be traced to facts, even though the conclusions are absurd.

    “. . .fear that they are losing control, that the country is becoming something different than the America they thought they knew.”

    I’ll give you credit for understanding. I think you completely get it. I am sure that many people appreciate that you listen instread of react emotionally.

    “. . .with no clear answer of what to do.”

    Although lots of people claim to have the answer, including me. Including you. How to move forward, that is the question. As you say,

    “How can the country accept that some kind of change is necessary, and forge a path based on mutual compromise and some shared principles?”

    Other than the Constitutional process we already have, I don’t think there is a way to decide what to do next. By the way, I challenge your contention that change is necessary, except for a change back to principles that used to work. That’s not completely honest of me. I think we do need a change–to a free market economy. Since we won’t get it, I would at least like to revert to less government control and lower taxes.

  4. #5 by Scott Erb on October 4, 2009 - 13:51

    To the big issue at the end: if you read the “subtitle” of my blog, you see I am of the belief (and I admit it’s just a belief) that we are in an historical process of change and transformation. I think this era is one that historians of the future will study with immense interest. I think oil is going to start running low, the debt levels of the West are becoming unsustainable, environmental problems are growing and will force major change, and globalization is making sovereignty and the way of doing politics in the past obsolete. This process started perhaps a century ago, but is reaching a crisis point.

    If I’m wrong, then we can continue as we have been. If I’m right change will force itself on us, the question is only to what extent we can guide it.

    Otherwise: a) Obama has made his birth certificate public, it’s satisfied US officials and Hawaiian officials. To do more would be to respond to people making charges with no basis in truth, and which would not have been made against any other President; b) I am not acquainted with Van Jones’ claims, but if they are as you say then yes — the left makes similar outlandish statements; c) I think that Bush got a lot of cooperation and support from the Democrats, especially in this first term — the right has been on Obama right away. The ‘extremes’ will always make wild charges (and for awhile there were the claims Bush stole the election), but I think Democrats tried to work with Bush and weren’t as rigid as the GOP is now; and d) Mexicans were lured here by jobs and a government policy designed to wink and look the other way. Don’t blame them, blame those in business and politics that wanted them here and made it easy for them to get here. Now we should recognize that we lured them here, we made it easy and justified to them breaking the law, and thus they should not be punished. Give them a path to citizenship.

    Ultimately I agree completely the constitutional process is the way to decide — there are no clear cut solutions, so we have to have the exchange of ideas and perspectives. That’s what makes democracy strong, after all — the crucible of debate and argumentation forces people to defend their beliefs, and consider others.

    The US currently has probably the least government intervention in the economy and the lowest taxes in the industrial world (and would be even lower if we had a more libertarian style foreign policy). States with less control tend towards anarchy and lack of rule of law. My own theory is that size matters. Large polities (tens of millions) require more government involvement to assure stability and rule of law. To get more free market, you need smaller polities. I always thought it would be cool if the US subdivided into a confederacy and the states could experiment as they wished (some libertarian, some more socialist) and we could see what worked best and why. That would, at least, be fascinating from a political science perspective!

  5. #6 by blq on January 24, 2010 - 16:55

    this is horrible. it was nothing i was looking for this is the dummest website ever!!

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