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?
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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