Tempering the Clash Within

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The various images of Barack Obama cast as a Nazi that have emerged over the last year are, without question, reprehensible; but understanding the pictures, and speaking to the part of this nation that--if not directly printing the banners--gets a hearty chuckle out of them, is crucial to ending the political stalemate at hand.

The images are perhaps less about Obama than his supporters and the fervent groundswell that he inspired. Hitler was a particularly diminutive figure; it was the masses he inspired, and the intensity of their blind faith in him, that allowed for the horrors of the Holocaust. Rightly or wrongly, the banners are a rejection of the uninformed, evangelist-style following the bearers believe lifted a candidate with thin credentials and few policy prescriptions to the presidency. "We just don't know anything about him," was the most oft heard phrase in the movement's nascent stage.

It is, then, with a great deal of laughter and a good sense of irony, that we, the self-ordained, righteous liberals, watch clips like those Max Blumenthal has produced, showing members of the movement's unintelligible responses to basic questions when confronted about their positions.

But the joke is likely on us. To begin with, people lacking on-camera training nearly always balk when lenses and microphones are jammed in their faces, regardless of their politics. Unless you live in D.C., studying talking points each morning before coffee is considered rather unusual.

More importantly, the joke is on us because the "crazies" have proved capable of wielding substantial influence. Their ferocity rattled representatives and senators to perhaps an unprecedented degree last summer as Congress broke for recess amid the health care debate. They've given Republican Senate leaders the political cover to stall nearly the entirety of the president's legislative agenda, to prevent him from making even basic appointments.   

But those in question are not just tea partiers; these are not simply birthers. These are sane, educated individuals, many of whom disapproved of Bush era policies, but who voted en masse against Obama's vision of change nonetheless. These are people who see a good deal right with America, who are wary of the grand ambitions to "fundamentally" change a nation that has, to their eyes, performed quite well.

This is a section of the country that is, perhaps, even offended by the idea of radical change, and the implicit, condemnatory undertone that America, and thus those who worked tirelessly to build it, somehow fell short.

To what extent Obama's race has played into the vitriol is obviously a point of contention. Many hold that charges of "arrogance," and irritation with the way the president, at moments, holds his head back with his chin held high, are really examples of veiled xenophobia. Search results for Obama + arrogant on Google exemplify this. 

Presented by

Brian Till is a Research Fellow with the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., and the author of Conversations With Power. More

Brian Till is a Research Fellow with the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. He writes on foreign policy, the strengths and shortcomings of the millennial generation, and the perils of the digital age. Previously a nationally syndicated columnist, he is the author of a book of interviews with former global leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Fernando Henrique Cardosso, Bill Clinton, F.W. de Klerk, and Pervez Musharraf: Conversations With Power.

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