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Why conservative vitriol against Obama goes over the top

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
The vitriol being waged against President Barack Obama is making history as well – because much of it is beyond the pale, and even unprecedented in its viciousness.

Politics in America can be mean, crude, nasty, and in many ways irrational. This is historical, going back at least to the 1804 Burr/Hamilton duel, which did in poor Alexander.

But in many ways, the vitriol being waged against President Barack Obama is making history as well – because much of it is beyond the pale, and even unprecedented in its viciousness. This is especially incongruous since Obama is a lame duck, has expressed no political ambitions, has not really involved himself in the 2016 presidential election, and has not inserted himself into the 2014 midterm elections. So attacking him would appear to be an action without any useful return on the effort.

Yet it is virtually unrelenting. Conservatives have made a concerted effort to trace any and all negative events in the country back to the White House. Fox News still raises the Benghazi tragedy, the IRS fiasco, more recently Obama’s actions regarding Syria (although the critics have no coherent or consensus alternatives to the way this complex issue should have been handled). Even the “birthers” won’t concede defeat, although their voices are now muted. Then there is their constant raving about the evils of the Affordable Care Act, deridingly called “Obamacare,” and recent spurious attempts to scuttle it.

While his politics, policies, performance and race appear to be the apparent reasons for the excessive hostility to our first black president, there are other more subtle forces in play and worthy of exploring. Topping the “apparent” list would be the contention that he is a radical liberal, a tax-and-spend left-wing Democrat, or something on the edge of a socialist. While this charge is easy to make, it really is not supported by the facts. Indeed, progressive Democrats criticize him for just the opposite.

In fact he has mostly conceded the Bush tax cuts; he opted out of single payer and/or even a public option in the Affordable Care Act debate; he kept Guantanamo open; he commenced offshore drilling; and the stock market has tacitly approved of his handling of the economy. In short, his entire administration has been more centrist than left, but that has not stopped the supposed portrayal of his liberal ways. At any rate, criticism of his politics is mostly cover for other reasons to vilify him.

Color is only related to the real reason

If not his policies, what of his color? That, too, would be an apparent reason, but while sheer bigotry may play a role, I do not believe that is the ultimate reason; and it would be too blatant to gain favor. But it is related to the real reason. And what would that be?

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In my opinion it is the xenophobic fear many (mostly white) Americans have as our country changes from a largely white/European nation to one of color. Barack Obama is a metaphor, a symbol, a foreshadowing of that change. And to many white Americans that is unsettling, unpleasant, and frankly scary! It is a reprise of the events that created Reconstruction. They hope and believe that damaging Obama will somehow stem that trend, and as they say “take back our country!” These are telling words. Take back our country. To whom, from whom?

Moreover, Obama is not just our first black president; he has that funny name. American presidents of the historic past have had “solid European names” like Jefferson, Jackson, and more recently Johnson, Carter, Clinton and Bush. Not “Obama or Hussein.” That’s not the way it should be, according to many conservative Americans. Additionally, Michelle Obama does not “look” like an American first lady should. They were staid, “knew their place” — and white!

Changes over the last half century

Fueling the change in American society was the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished the national-origin quotas and opened the way for a surge in non-European immigration. Non-Hispanic whites made up 85 percent of the population in 1960. Non-Hispanic whites are projected to no longer make up the majority of the population by 2042, according to the Census Bureau. In 2050 they will compose just 46.3 percent of the population. Already U.S. population growth between 2000 and 2010 was driven almost exclusively by racial and ethnic minorities. And even worse news for those who fear this change, it is projected that 82 percent of the increase in population from 2005 to 2050 will be due to immigration.

No, the animus, the hostility, the enmity many now have against Obama is not legitimately based on his policies, politics, or agenda. It is based on something far deeper — a gut-wrenching fear of change in our nation – especially change in the color and ethnicity of American society.  

Myles Spicer, formerly of Minnetonka, lives in Palm Desert, Calif. He has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.


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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 09/30/2013 - 07:13 am.

    Once More Into The Breach

    Thanks for the insightful opinion piece. Although I’m aware of all the elements detailed here I had never pieced them together into a cohesive picture and looked at it from the 30,000 foot level. The conservative’s vitriol makes a lot more sense now with the pieces of the puzzle put together.

    Our hope lies with the next generation and the younger folk, who by and large don’t care what the color of your skin is or how your name is spelled. Also with the advancement of DNA resting we’re finding out that racial dividing lines aren’t as pure as people once thought. Most of us have elements from several different regions of the world flowing through our veins and cells, including a little neanderthal in many cases.

    Viva la différence, I say!

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 09/30/2013 - 07:20 am.

    Another issue that recent politicians did not have to face–there is no longer assurance that your children’s lives will be “better” than your life–in very many arenas. Despite the monumental goosing given the economy in the housing bubble build-up during the Bush administration, wages were stagnant, the number of employed people did not rise, and many people were working more to same in the same place. The issues of coming scarcity, fewer jobs and permanently high costs and environmental effects all work to shadow the formerly bright future of “ever upward”.

    No one likes toppling from the exceptional pinnacle.

    And that is another reason to dislike Obama.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/30/2013 - 10:06 am.

    Exceptional isn’t sustainable

    A good piece.

    I’m inclined to disagree somewhat with Spicer’s point about race, and in fact, I think much of his argument undercuts his first paragraph, but in some ways, that’s nit-picking. Spicer seems on-target to me about “xenophobic fear” as a contributor, especially — and this bears repeating over and over and over during coming election seasons filled with right-wing horsefeathers — the line about “taking back our country.” Spicer’s rhetorical questions are absolutely on the mark: To whom? from whom? Answering those questions reveals a lot about a candidate who calls him or herself “conservative.”

    The name and first lady business likewise points in what seems to me to be the same direction as the “…take back our country” line, and while color/race many not be the *only* reason, it certainly seems to me to be a primary one.

    And that, of course, feeds into Spicer’s second topic of demographic changes due to immigration. The irony of this almost certainly being true of a society made up largely of immigrants should not be lost on any of a legion of commentators. Some of the fears expressed are literally no different from the fears (and prejudices) expressed by our ancestors in the late 19th century. I doubt the intensity of those fears and prejudices is any greater now than it was in the 1890s. What’s changed is the media, which can now put images, in living color, in everyone’s living room and on every computer screen, of whatever it is we happen to fear the most.

    Todd Hintz and Neal Rovick make salient points, I think. No one who’s grown accustomed to admiration as being exceptional or special is likely to be enthused about becoming “ordinary.” It’s also useful to keep in mind that, according to all the scientific evidence collected so far, we’re all African to some degree.

  4. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/30/2013 - 12:51 pm.

    Todd’s comment…

    gives us hope. But even more importantly, we have seen this phenomenum arise before in our history from the Chinese immigration of thee 1800’s to that of the Eastern European immigrants of the early 1900’s — and those gave us some of the richest cultural and social values of our country. Yes, this too shall pass, and America will still be a great and diverse nation in the future regardless of color and ethnicity.

  5. Submitted by Michele Olson on 09/30/2013 - 02:12 pm.

    Why the attacks?

    I think the President’s greatest sin was that he didn’t meet their expectations: he didn’t fail. That would have made it easy for them, because then they could say, you know, we went along with this, and look what happened.

    I do think it’s human nature to fear change, not just on the part of our white population. Witness the resistance immigrants of every nationality demonstrate, letting go of old customs and norms.

    As to how America views new immigrants, I am often bewildered by the collective forgetfulness about the history of immigrant groups in this country. There wasn’t a one that came peaceably, because, well, we’re all people. Even white cultures viewed one another with suspicion and dislike. My mother of German descent, for example, was determined to never marry one of “those Irish.” Well, of course, she did, and while the jokes flew during the marriage, by the end of his life, those old prejudices just didn’t matter. This is, in essence, what America is.

    There will come a day when our grandchildren will be as impressed by Mr. Obama being the first black President as children are now by Kennedy being the first Catholic President. In other words, they won’t get the importance. And that will be a lovely day, indeed.

  6. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 09/30/2013 - 03:47 pm.

    For me the biggest irony

    is that the Affordable Care Act was based on an idea originated by the Heritage Foundation in the 1980s and implemented in real life for the first time under Governor Mitt ROMNEY of Massachusetts.

    This leads me to hypothesize that if Romney had been elected and proposed exactly the same insurance plan, Republicans would be proclaiming it the greatest political event since the Constitution itself.

    I’m not even a fan of Obama (my own politics are farther left), but from what I see in online comments and overhear people saying, the racial element is definitely present. During the last campaign, a Facebook commentator (not a friend, thank goodness) said that if Romney won, it would be great to have a respectable grandmother as First Lady instead of “that ugly ape.” One hears and see continual reference to “that Kenyan Muslim,” and I suspect even the most prejudiced American knows that going on record as using crude racial epithets is not socially acceptable, so they resort to ridiculous labels that are code words for the same thing.

    The whole birther controversy seems racist, too. Would it have even arisen if Obama’s father had been an exchange student from Denmark? The same people who are insisting that Obama is not qualified to be president because he was supposedly born in Kenya (although there is no evidence that his mother ever went there) are equally insistent that Ted Cruz, whose birth in Canada is well documented and widely known, IS qualified.

  7. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/30/2013 - 05:25 pm.


    What is more important is that those who are literally beating on Obama are not only (probably) misguided, they have no perspective of judgement. Indeed, judging a president is usually best done well after he has left office, with some historical perspective. My best example is Truman, roundly criticized while president, yet is highly regarded now for his integrity and adminstration.

    This will be true of Obama. IN fact, re his foreign policy — he took us out of Iraq…he is removing us from Afghanistan…he will likely be successful (to the releif of the international community) in getting chemical weapons out of the hands of a brutal dictator…and if some accomodaton with Iran should happen during his tenure, he will have had many signficant successes on his resume.

    Further, if the ACA works as well as we might hope, that will be a huge accomplishment as well, close to Medicare.

    Given that, if this all comes to pass, in future years there will be many many less complainers about his presidency. All that wil be left will be the “birthers” (they will never quit).

  8. Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/30/2013 - 05:47 pm.

    Another in the Spicer Vitriol/Villified Series

    An oldy but a goody:

    Today’s column strikes me as a bit race card; a weak attempt to gin-up some outrage, as you failed to build a case. Is a President a lame duck in his fifth year? I seem to recall anti-Bush sentiment in his second term.

    My sons were learning to read during the first term of George W. Bush. While traveling about town in the car, they would read bumper stickers. “What does #@%K Bush mean, Dad?” I have not seen vulgar and profane bumper stickers regarding our sitting President.

    I appreciate your reference to the Burr v. Hamilton duel. Aaron Burr was the sitting Vice President at the time that he shot and killed Hamilton.

    A couple other examples of less than fair and friendly play. Three years following the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, Harry Truman made an analogy between the Republicans and the Nazis. During the 1860 political cycle, opponents of Abraham Lincoln referred to him as an “ape” and “stupid”. Back in 1828, opponents of Andrew Jackson charged that he was a cannibal, a murderer, and that his wife was a prostitute.

    If we could only return to such civility.

    Some words from our current POTUS, to an audience in Philadelphia in June, 2008, regarding Republicans, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” Such vitriol and so wrong on so many levels.

  9. Submitted by Zed Kurzmann on 10/01/2013 - 07:20 pm.

    myopic prospective

    Dear Mr. Spicer,

    I’m quite certain that anyone “literally beating on Obama” would be in prison. To attempt such a thing would indeed indicate a lack of judgment. Is it possible that you actually meant “figuratively?”

    As for the Obama legacy, that remains to be seen. The president still has to get through three more years of governance without a major catastrophe. The US dollar will be essentially worthless if the Fed keeps pumping currency into the market over the next three years. Yet, a market crash is likely if they stop pumping without organic sustainable growth in the economy. The next Fed Chairman has to pull off a miracle or history will associate President Obama with the beginning of the second great depression.

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