Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Post Racial America: Greenwald vs. Carter vs. Limbaugh

The always oh-so-helpful former President Jimmy Carter has added some gasoline to the fire sparked by Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie" last week, declaring that Wilson's outburst had racial animus at its heart:
"There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African American should not be president," Carter said last night, discussing the verbal attacks on Obama that have included last week's outburst by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
In doing so, Carter became the most prominent member of the bandwagon being ridden by Maureen Dowd last weekend:

I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer — the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids — had much to do with race.

I tended to agree with some Obama advisers that Democratic presidents typically have provoked a frothing response from paranoids — from Father Coughlin against F.D.R. to Joe McCarthy against Truman to the John Birchers against J.F.K. and the vast right-wing conspiracy against Bill Clinton.

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.

Politico also identified other Democrats adopting the growing belief that the intense hostility toward Obama is driven by race.

Ironically, the strongest pushback to this growing meme comes from someone on the left. Salon's Glenn Greenwald produces a rather compelling reminder that Bill Clinton arguably had far stronger criticisms -- fair and unfair -- launched against him than Obama has to date:
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.
Obviously, this list comes from a left-wing writer, so it comes with its own bias on what might be considered legitimate criticisms of Clinton. But the overall point is valid: There was a venom directed toward the Clintons that was somewhat unprecedented. And it had nothing to do with race.

(Now, yeah, Clinton was, pace Toni Morrison, "the first black president" but still...All jokes aside, most of the above-mentioned attacks occurred well before Morrison's famous New Yorker piece. Indeed, Morrison partly looked to the ferocity of those attacks to create the foundation for her "black president" construct.)
All that said, Rush Limbaugh does nothing to help conservative critique of the Obama administration with bits like this -- blaming two black kids beating up a white kid on "Obama's America." Obviously, if a liberal blamed a school shooting in the early part of the decade on "Bush's Wild Wild West" attitude in favor of Second Amendment rights, it would be grossly unfair and conservatives would howl. But, even so, such a charge would not carry with it the racial aspect that Limbaugh is intentionally injecting into the mix. It's outrageous and offensive -- and gives fuel to the Carter liberal charge that conservatives are trying to mine racial animus as much as possible out of anything having to do with Barack Obama.

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