Race Is A Factor But...

Glenn Greenwald argues that Obama-hatred is largely unprecedented--if you don't consider the last Democrat to occupy the White House:

To see that, just look at what that movement's leading figures said and did during the Clinton years.  In 1994, Jesse Helms, then-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, claimed that "just about every military man" believes Clinton is unqualified to be Commander-in-Chief and then warned/threatened him not to venture onto military bases in the South:  "Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He better have a bodyguard."  The Wall St. Journal called for a Special Prosecutor to investigate the possible "murder" of Vince Foster.  Clinton was relentlessly accused by leading right-wing voices of being a murderer, a serial rapist, and a drug trafficker.  Tens of millions of dollars and barrels of media ink were expended investigating "Whitewater," a "scandal" which, to this day, virtually nobody can even define.  When Clinton tried to kill Osama bin Laden, they accused him of "wagging the dog" -- trying to distract the country from the truly important matters at hand (his sex scandal).  And, of course, the GOP ultimately impeached him over that sex scandal -- in the process issuing a lengthy legal brief with footnotes detailing his sex acts (cigars and sex talk), publicly speculating about (and demanding examinations of) the unique "distinguishing" spots on his penis, and using leading right-wing organs to disseminate innuendo that he had an abandoned, out-of-wedlock child.  More intense and constant attacks on a President's "legitimacy" are difficult to imagine...

Other than the fact that Obama's race intensifies the hatred in some precincts, nothing that the Right is doing now is new.  This is who they are and what they do -- and that's been true for many years, for decades.  Even the allegedly "unprecedented" behavior at Obama's speech isn't really unprecedented; although nobody yelled "you lie," Republicans routinely booed and heckled Clinton when he spoke to Congress because they didn't think he was legitimately the President (only for Ted Koppel to claim that it was something "no one at this table has ever heard before" when Democrats, in 2005, booed Bush's Social Security privatization proposal during a speech to Congress). 

For the most part, this is my view. As I've said, I'm not convinced that Joe Wilson wouldn't have yelled "You lie!" at President Hillary Clinton, or President John Edwards. I'm also not sure that "Birther-ism" is more sinister than alleging that Clinton murdered Vince Foster. For the most part, think that Obama is facing what any Democrat would face at this point in history--which if you're black, is the problem.

It's worth noting that a lot of Clinton's troubles, and a lot of any generic national Democratic troubles post-1968, are inextricably tied to race. Clinton was a Southerner, and as such, there was some hope that could help reclaim white Southern votes that had left the Democrats after 1968. Why did these white Southerners leave, in the first place? What was the exact nature of the shoals Clinton had to navigate?  It's worth thinking about the efficacy of the Sista Souljah move, and who that tactic was targeting. It's worth thinking about Ricky Ray Rector. It's worth thinking about the growth of the militia movement during Clinton's presidency, and exactly what sort of person these groups were enlisting. It's worth remembering Randy Weaver, and exactly what he stood for.

Let me not be reductive--Clinton stood at the center of a cultural conflict stretching back to the 60s and involving everything from gay rights to the nature of the military. I don't have any means of apportioning how much of that hostility had to do with race, and how much of it had to do with all the issues brought forth by the 60s. But much of what looks to just be vanilla issues (crime, welfare, taxes etc.) were suffused with the politics of race. I think Obama benefited by the passage of time, and the fact that crime and welfare, aren't national issues, at the moment. But as Glenn notes, the standard craziness has been intensified by Obama's race.

There's a danger in making that last point too casually--"Yes race is a factor, but..." The crazy-tax is intensified by Obama's blackness--that his blackness didn't invent the crazy-tax doesn't mitigate the point. We all have to visit the dentist every six months, not because of racial discrimination, but because we're human. But if the dentist charges black people five dollars more per-visit, pointing out that twenty years ago I couldn't even go to the dentist, or that "Racism doesn't cause tooth decay," won't make me feel much better. And it shouldn't--I'm still getting ripped off.

If we concede, as most reasonable people do, that racism is a factor--not the factor but a factor--in resistance to Obama, then in fact, what we've seen this year is, by the very nature of an Obama presidency, nprecedented. Put simply, we've seen the crazy-tax, of which race is a portion, before. But we've never seen the crazy-tax intensified by race. We have not seen it accompanied by watermelon jokes, by Congressmen referring to him as boy, by clucking heads claiming that the president "has exposed himself as someone with a deep-seated hated of white people." We've never seen the whitey tape, before.

There's a tendency to lump anti-black racism in with all the serious problems presented when you try to make a democracy work. There is always a danger of becoming single-minded, of bringing to bear a myopic analysis which sees one thing in everything. Moreover, watermelon jokes are a long way from red-lining, and in seeing how far we've come, the temptation is to dismiss how far we have to go.But from a black perspective, it's a temptation you can ill-afford. Racism cost us dollars a half-century ago. Today it costs us quarters--but it still costs.

Don't let the grinding familiarity of Obama blind you to the profound times we live in, and the work that's still left to do. We've never had a black president before. This is without precedent. We've also never had anti-Semitic white supremacists shooting up the Holocaust Museum. This, too, is unprecedented.