Sunday, August 9, 2009

Schaeffer And Krugman On Racial Anxiety In The Obama Era

Two commentators recently offered insights about the hatred directed toward Obama by mobs disrupting town hall meetings on healthcare and by the birther movement. Both point toward an attempt to delegitimize an African-American president, to cast him as an alien. 

Frank Schaeffer (left), who has turned away from the religious right, writes that Dick Armey, whose FreedomWorks organizes against healthcare reform, along with other conservatives are reacting against a country that doesn't seem to be "theirs" any more:

I think I know what happened to him, Gingrich and the rest: They can't compute that their white man-led conservative revolution is dead. They can't reconcile their idea of themselves with the fact that white men like them don't run the country any more -- and never will again. To them the black president is leading a column of the "other" into their promised land. Gays, immigrants, blacks, progressives, even a female Hispanic appointed to the Supreme Court... for them this is the Apocalypse.

The last presidential election (to paraphrase Bart Simpson) "broke their brains." What else could explain their embrace of intimidation -- rather than discourse -- over the health care debate and such unsavory moments of madness as the Republicans accusing Obama and Judge Sonia Sotomayor of racism, knowing full well that they'd just destroyed their chances with the Hispanic community forever?

Paul Krugman recalls the cynical use of race by Republican strategists over the past few decades and states that such politics are still part of the national landscape:

...the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.

And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.

Does this sound familiar? It should: it’s a strategy that has played a central role in American politics ever since Richard Nixon realized that he could advance Republican fortunes by appealing to the racial fears of working-class whites.

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