Part 5—Soaked in tribal certainty: To what extent is Obama disrespected on the basis of race?
It’s an interesting question, although, of course, it can’t be answered in anything resembling a precise way.
Charles Blow discussed this question last weekend, responding to what Oprah Winfrey had said. Early in his column, he offered a potentially helpful framework:
BLOW (11/16/13): To what extent does this president’s race animate those loyal to him and those opposed? Is race a primary motivator or a subordinate, more elusive one, tainting motivations but not driving them?Much of that passage is hard to parse. But at the end of that passage, Blow offers a framework which could have been useful, especially to his many “liberal” readers.
To some degree, the answers lie with the questioners. There are different perceptions of racial realities. What some see as slights, others see as innocent opposition. But there are some objective truths here. Racism is a virus that is growing clever at avoiding detection. Race consciousness is real. Racial assumptions and prejudices are real. And racism is real. But these realities can operate without articulation and beneath awareness. For those reasons, some can see racism where it is absent, and others can willfully ignore any possibility that it could ever be present.
People can err in different ways, Blow says in that passage. Regarding racism, some people can ignore the possibility that racism even exists. But uh-oh:
Other people can see racism where it is (or may be) absent!
That formulation could have served as a useful warning to Blow’s liberal readers. It could have warned us that we can err in our perceptions too.
But Blow went on to offer two examples of alleged misperception concerning race. In his first example, he savaged Rush Limbaugh for a comment which wasn’t especially stupid. And each example catered to prevailing “liberal” preferences.
Wouldn’t you know it? Blow failed to provide an example of someone “seeing racism where it is absent!” As a result, we’d have to say he got the comments he bargained for.
In the very first comment, a regular commenter dreamed of the day when “those people” will all be dead. Out of Blow’s 598 comments, that comment received the third highest number of recommendations from Blow’s readers.
Let’s consider the two comments which were enjoyed even more.
By far, the following comment was recommended by the most readers. (To see rankings, click on READER PICKS.) It offered a basic answer to the basic question Blow posed:
COMMENTER FROM SOBE: No President of the United States has EVER had to put up with what President Obama has had to endure. From "you lie" to congressmen who are birthers, every effort has been made to delegitimize the Obama presidency.Earlier that week, name-calling historian Rick Perlstein had said that Presidents Kennedy and Clinton received the same amount of vituperation as that now aimed at Obama. In this, the day’s most recommended comment, Blow’s reader rejected that view.
Meanwhile Congress is bent on being destructive. First they were obsessed with denying the President a second term. Now they want to deny the President a legacy. They don't care if the country falls apart as long as Obama gets the blame. The deliberate message to the electorate is obvious. "Don't ever elect one again."
This is not a "poor Obama;" It is a "poor us." Because of obvious racial resentment, our country has been in a stalemate for five years and we, the good citizens, have permitted the lunatic fringe to control the House of Representatives.
I am hoping that Hillary gets elected. She has the skills to wear out these miscreants.
No one has ever been attacked like Obama, this commenter said. And it’s all because of “racial resentment”—obvious racial resentment.
That was the most recommended comment. In this, the second highest-rated comment, a reader offered a sweeping assessment of what Those People think and feel:
COMMENTER FROM RHODE ISLAND: While George W. Bush was president, I reflexively pushed the mute button if he turned up on TV; couldn't stand the man and everything he stood for, and this distaste extended to his voice. It was visceral. I felt the same way about Ronald Reagan. I still make a noise of disgust when I see a photo of him. So I understand how political views can become very personal and intense. Reagan and Bush, to me, symbolized the ascendency of the plutocracy, the end of the middle class, the end of democracy as we understood it. I was angry and frightened by that. Barack Obama's opposition is no less angry and frightened about their world changing, and he is the embodiment of their fear: that people who aren't like them are achieving some political power, and it will be at their expense. I felt Bush and Reagan governed only for the rich; they feel Obama governs only for blacks. Barack Obama, despite his consistent, maddening tendency to favor Wall Street, is first and foremost a black man to those who hate him most. I don't for a minute believe that his opposition is not motivated by race, since they vilify him for things that he hasn't actually done, like make life appreciably better for blacks and the poor. It's not about "spending”—presidents always spend, Republicans even more than Democrats; it's on whose behalf the spending is done that gets people so upset–if it's a black man doing the spending, it must be for blacks. Even if it's not remotely true.This reader “still makes a noise of disgust” when she sees a photo of Reagan. Because she was “angry and frightened,” she knows that everyone is.
Given 598 comments to choose from, we liberals liked this second best.
The key word is that comment is “they.” Without a hint of self-consciousness, this reader assumes that everyone who opposes Obama does so for the same reason, with the same consciousness:
“Barack Obama is first and foremost a black man to those who hate him most. I don't for a minute believe that his opposition is not motivated by race.”
In this sweeping assessment, is it possible that this reader is “seeing racism where it is absent?” If Blow had offered an example of this type of error, this reader might have taken useful instruction. But alas! As it stands, Blow’s denunciations of Rush Limbaugh and Richard Cohen fueled the familiar fury which animates the modern, poorly-instructed pseudo-liberal world.
No president has ever been so disrespected! The disrespect is motivated by race! These sweeping assessments reflect the modern pseudo-liberal consensus.
This meal sells well on MSNBC and over at Salon.
The suits can make a lot of money throwing this feed to the herd. We cattle run along the wagons, waiting for our latest feeding. And make no mistake:
This gruel is the stuff of divide and conquer, the world the plutocrats love. The 99 percent has always been easy to beat when it makes war on itself.
We humans have always been easy to play; the plutocrats have always known this. It’s easy to pander to the tribes, “to children ardent for some desperate glory.”
For ourselves, we’d recommend the cool, clear reason of the seasoned charioteers, like noble Nestor of old. In Homer’s account, “He always gave the best advice.” For one example, see below.
In the current instance, who has given good sound advice? Consider the way Kevin Drum reacted to Perlstein’s piece about the various vituperations.
“It’s crucial to realize that the vituperation directed at Obama is little different from that aimed at John F. Kennedy, who was so hated by the right that his assassination was initially assumed by most observers to have been done by a conservative; or Bill Clinton,” Perlstein wrote.
Below, you see a chunk of Drum’s reaction, with which we don’t fully agree:
DRUM (11/13/13): I don't doubt for a second that the racial component of the latest right-wing fluorescence is stronger because Obama is black. But it's only modestly stronger, and you hardly need to go back to JFK to see this. It's easy to think of Bill Clinton today as a cuddly, beloved elder statesman, but anyone over the age of 40 knows that Clinton lived through an eruption of right-wing rage that was every bit as bad as what Obama has gone through. Even the specific obsessions of the wingers weren't even very different. Health care socialism? Check. Economy-killing taxes? Check. Gay rights destroying America as we know it? Check. Supposed juvenile drug use? Check. Endless faux scandals and corruption? Check. Government shutdown? Check. Deficit hysteria? Check. Ball-busting wife? Check. The similarities, frankly, are pretty stunning.“The similarities, frankly, are pretty stunning. The differences are on the margin.”
The differences are on the margin. There were no birthers in the 90s, but there were all the black babies Clinton supposedly fathered. There was no Benghazi, but there was Black Hawk Down. There was no Solyndra or Fast & Furious, but there was Mena airfield and Monica's blue dress. You work with what you have, so the details are always going to be different. But the melody is pretty much the same.
Tea partiers don't hate Obama because he's black, they hate him because he's a Democrat, and Democrats are forever taking away their money and giving it to the indolent. And while being black probably hurts Obama a bit with this crowd in a way that Clinton avoided, being a philanderer hurt Clinton in a way that Obama has avoided. In the end, I suspect it's mostly a wash. Perlstein is right: Obama was destined to be hated by the reactionary right no matter what.
We’d be inclined to agree with that. And by the way, however moronic some assaults on Obama have been, the assaults on Clinton were also amazingly stupid—unless you believe that he and his wife were involved in a succession of murders, even as he was running drugs through the Mena Airport.
(As late as August 1999, Chris Matthews let Gennifer Flowers lounge about for a full half-hour recalling the Clintons’ various murders. Back then, he was being paid millions to do that. Today, Matthews is paid to shovel the shit which pleases those in our tribe. Astoundingly, embarrassingly, we in the “liberal” world happily tolerate this.)
Serial murders, in the mist of drug-running! If those claims were made about Obama, the hustlers would say that such things would only be said about a black man. They would shout this truth from the rooftops, stuffing money into their pants as they so proclaimed.
Drum downplayed one part of Perlstein’s assessment—the part in which Perlstein seemed to say that the assaults on Kennedy and Clinton were “racism-soaked,” just like the assault on Obama. In that way, Perlstein—whose brilliant name-calling suffused his piece—continued to let us enjoy the claim that Those People are defined by their racism.
That said, Drum advanced a rather obvious point—the vituperation aimed at Obama is amazingly similar to that which was aimed at Bill Clinton. But Blow’s top commenter quickly said that no president has ever been treated like this, and liberal readers stampeded in pleasure.
We made that comment our number-one pick, out of some 600 choices. In this way, we show how little we know. We show how little we paid attention during the 1990s.
We show how little we actually cared, back when the previous bullshit transpired. We show how little we care to remember or learn.
We show how happily we will stampede as the hustlers earn their clicks and achieve their ratings.
To our taste, even Drum offers an overly sweeping assessment of the motives of the tea party, a poorly-defined collection of tens of millions of people who happen to be fellow citizens. (Do no tea partiers “hate Obama because he's black?”) But as our nation is driven apart by the hustlers on the two cable channels, we liberals have established a point which we ourselves find surprising:
We are just dumb as They are! We love to soak ourselves in our tribal purity too!
Those top three comments just weren’t very sharp. Let’s be more frank—they tilted toward dumb.
The comments we love aren’t all that sharp. And yet, to borrow from the poet:
No! there is nothing! In the whole and all,Nestor gives good sound advice: In Book 9 of The Iliad, headstrong Diomedes stands in council and hotly opposes Agamemnon.
Nothing that's quite [our] own.
Yet this is [Us.]
“You lie,” he more or less says. Plainly, a racial statement.
Instantly, Nestor rose to speak. Homer records his advice:
And all the Achaeans shouted their assent,“Come, gather us all and we will heed that man who gives the best advice,” Nestor says, moments later. “That’s what they need, I tell you—all the Achaeans—good sound advice...”
stirred by the stallion-breaking Diomedes’ challenge.
But Nestor the old driver rose and spoke at once:
"Few can match your power in battle, Diomedes,
and in council you excel all men your age.
So no one could make light of your proposals,
not the whole army—who could contradict you?
But you don't press on and reach a useful end.
How young you are—why, you could be my son,
my youngest-born at that, though you urge our kings
with cool clear sense: what you've said is right.
But it's my turn now, Diomedes.
I think I can claim to have some years on you.
So I must speak up and drive the matter home.
And no one will heap contempt on what I say,
not even mighty Agamemnon. Lost to the clan,
Lost to the hearth, lost to the old ways, that one
who lusts for all the horrors of war with his own people.
But now, I say, let us give way to the dark night,
set out the evening meal...
What did Nestor mean when he warned against “all the horrors of war with his own people?” You’re asking a very good question!
Oprah Winfrey has often been judged to give her followers good sound advice. Could it be time for her to make The Iliad one of her books?