Yes, the opposition to Obama is fierce and often ugly — but no, racism is not the primary factor behind it

October 16, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 16, 2013

As the latest Washington imbroglio, Congress’ wrangling over the debt ceiling, rolls toward what will almost certainly be a messy last-minute resolution, I wanted to comment on one corner of America’s not-so-civil discourse.

Specifically, I wanted to examine a fairly widely held contention on the left: That much of the animus toward President Obama is rooted in racism.

Now, I have no doubt that a not-insignificant tranche of opposition to the former senator from Kenya — er, I mean Illinois — is motivated by bigotry. (Search Twitter for the president’s last name and the extremely offensive slur nigger if you feel the need to prove that point, or to shake your faith in the character of the American people.) But there are many conservatives who gainsay Obama based on a panoply of other far less objectionable motivations.

The best way to demonstrate that much of the fervent conservative hatred of Barack Hussein Obama has no basis in racism is to look at the rhetoric toward prominent white Democrats.

Take some of the things that have been said about Vice President Hair Plug. (In case you’re not familiar with this not-so-loving moniker, some on the right enjoy referring to Joe Biden this way.) Here’s conservative pundit extraordinaire Rush Limbaugh discussing the veep, whom he sometimes calls “Bite-Me,” in May 2012:

When you see Biden’s face, when you see his eyes, when you see the facial expressions… well, I wouldn’t call it demonic. I’d call it deranged. I mean it’s astounding….

[Biden] literally lost it. Just lost control, and it sounds that way…. He looks off balance, out of kilter, not all there in the eyes. It is the strangest, strangest thing.

Later in that show, Limbaugh said of Biden, “This is psychotic.” (The host then demurred, “See, it’s difficult to describe this without using inflammatory language.”)

One month earlier, in April 2012, conservative radio host Mark Levin suggested that Biden might be suffering from dementia.

Joe Biden is out there cheerleading the president like no vice president has ever supported a president before. In other words, like an idiot. I want to say something serious to you. I think the guy has dementia, or the onset of dementia, and I don’t mean that as a cheap shot, because I just cannot believe that a man who’s been in politics for 412 years can say so many absurd things. They’re just, they don’t connect.

Has he released his medical report lately? I doubt it. But he really does need a scan, because something’s not right with this guy. I’m saying this in all seriousness.

Levin (who yes, said Biden had been in politics for more than four centuries) then played a clip of a rather mealy-mouthed Biden speaking at New York University in which the vice president quoted Obama citing Theodore Roosevelt’s famous maxim, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Appended Biden: “I promise you, the president has a big stick. I promise you.”

Levin chuckled as he repeated the vice president’s comment. “I promise you, the vice president has a pea for a brain,” Levin said.

The radio host continued his commentary thusly:

OK, he promises us — I got the giggles! — that the president has a big stick. He’s a schmuck. ….

You know, they used to make fun of Dan Quayle. Dan Quayle has never ever done this over and over and over again. And if Biden doesn’t have — and I am concerned for him, seriously — the onset of dementia, [then] he’s just purely an idiot.

Another Democrat whom conservatives have demonized is Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco congresswoman and former Speaker of the House. In June 2012, Limbaugh played a clip of U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. The Republican congressman was reacting to Pelosi’s suggestion that a GOP-led initiative to cite Eric Holder for contempt was motivated by the U.S. attorney general’s effort to fight voter ID laws, which liberals believe to be part and parcel with voter suppression.

Here’s Gowdy, who was speaking with Fox’s Greta Van Susteren:

I don’t know what was wrong with her yesterday or today or whenever she said that, but I would schedule an appointment with my doctor if she thinks that we’re doing this to suppress votes this fall. That is mind-numbingly stupid.

Limbaugh had this reaction to Gowdy’s remark:

We go back and forth: Does she really believe it? The jury’s still out… “Is she really this stupid?” It’s entirely possible.

It could be a combination: “Yes, she’s that stupid. Plus it’s a political ploy.”

The transcript containing those remarks, incidentally, features a banner labeled “Planet Stupider.” On one side, it shows Pelosi wearing a crown (apparently PhotoShopped); on the other, the Golden Gate Bridge.

Limbaugh revisited the question of Pelosi’s intelligence in March 2013, during a monologue that includes a significant amount of repetition, possibly because the radio host was reacting to off-microphone remarks by his producers.

Now, we can debate whether she’s an idiot, but she really believes this. She’s not just saying it. She really thinks that the government paying you unemployment benefits is the equivalent of a giant economic stimulus. It’s money in the economy that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Their economists tell them that unemployment benefits are maybe one of the best ways to stimulate economic growth that there’s ever been. She went on to say that unemployment compensation is one of the greatest job creators that the government has at its disposal.

Now, we can debate whether she’s an idiot, but she really believes this. She does believe it. Well, we can discuss later whether she’s an idiot. Maybe it doesn’t require debate. You may be right. We could discuss later whether she’s an idiot, but why should anybody work? Let’s just pay everybody unemployment benefits and get out of the way for all the economic activity that’s gonna happen.

I also went looking for web pages featuring conservatives making derogatory remarks about Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida congresswoman who heads the Democratic National Committee.

A piece Moe Lane, a contributor for Red State, wrote in December 2011 caught my eye. He was criticizing Wasserman Schultz for taking issue with Gretchen Carlson after the Fox host said joblessness “has gone up precipitously” since Obama took office.

Where you stand on Carlson’s remark depends on where you sit. In January 2009, when Obama took office, the national unemployment rate was 7.8 percent. It hit 9 percent in April and peaked at 10 percent in October; for the next two years, the rate fluctuated between 8.9 percent and 9.9 percent. Shortly before Carlson interviewed Wasserman Schultz, the mark had dropped to 8.6 percent.

Lane jumped all over the Democrat for her dispute with Carlson, writing:

[T]he DNC Chair really and truly did deny on national television that unemployment has gone up precipitously since Barack Obama took office in January of 2009. Possibly it’s the word ‘precipitously’ itself? That’s a pretty hard word: it has five syllables, and Wasserman Schultz is fairly notorious for her inability to reliably grasp any word that has more than four. For that matter, the definition has polysyllabic words in it, too – no more than three for any given word, but sometimes even three’s too much for a Democratic duckspeaker. So let’s just go with ‘precipitously’ meaning ‘a lot.’

Later in his post, Lane added:

[S]peaking as an American, I hope that unemployment goes down… and speaking as a Republican, I’m expecting that it won’t. And I suspect that so does Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I mean, she’s as dumb as a sackful of hammers — but surely she can’t be that out and out stupid, right?

(For the record, the unemployment rate dipped to 8.3 percent in early 2012 and has been under 8 percent since September 2012.)

In April 2012, Lane opened a post this way:

Hey, who wants to hear Debbie Wasserman Schultz do the rhetorical equivalent of stepping on a Bouncing Betty? Well, we all do, of course. The video below is theoretically 3 minutes, 26 seconds long — but you’ll have to stop it at least twice so that you can recover from your laughing fit.

A Bouncing Betty, incidentally, is a type of mine used by Nazi Germany. The video Lane embedded in his post conveyed part of an interview of Wasserman Schultz by Doug McIntyre. The Los Angeles radio host blasted L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and by implication his guest; prior to the conversation, the California politician had been named chairman of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Lane said that Wasserman Schultz rebutted McIntyre “via the use of foul-smelling ink… no, wait, that’s octopuses. Well, same difference, really…”

He concluded his post by writing that Democrats would avoid McIntyre in the future, “if only because any Democratic staffer who gets within fifty feet of him will probably now spontaneously burst into flames.”

Look at the comments that conservative commentators made in August 2013 about U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader from Nevada. After Reid noted the strong Republican congressional opposition to Obama, Reid said, “I hope that it’s based on substance, not the fact that he’s African-American.”

Reid’s statement was discussed by Fox host Sean Hannity, who dismissed it as “ridiculous.” One of Hannity’s guests, Michelle Malkin, said Reid was “basically suggesting that you’re a traitor if you get off of his plantation.” (In case you missed it, Malkin was metaphorically calling Reid a slave owner. When challenged by a left-leaning guest, Malkin defended her use of the word plantation.)

Malkin continued:

I can tell you from my own personal experience after 20 years plus in public life that progressives of power and passive-aggressive punks like Harry Reid are among the most racist people on this planet.

Hannity’s guest drew out the word “racist” for emphasis; it has to be seen to be believed. Later during the segment, Malkin also called Reid an “encrusted Beltway barnacle who deliberately tried to use the race card against Republicans to deflect from his own legislative failures.”

There are any number of other examples I could give, but I think the point has been made. Yes, conservatives have demonstrated a visceral hatred for Obama. But does it really stem from bigotry?

Given the vitriol that those on the right have directed at prominent Caucasian Democrats, I have to conclude that racism is, at best, a secondary factor in shaping the often nasty rhetoric aimed at Obama.

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