Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why the Visceral Hatred?

Why do so many (presumably mostly on the right) have such a visceral hatred for President Obama? It is one thing to disagree with his policies ("I don't like his healthcare proposal because..." or "I don't think that the government should have bailed out the automakers"). I understand those sentiments; they lend themselves to discussion of the issues which is, of course, how the democratic process is supposed to work. But in the case of President Obama, there seems to be something else going on, something dangerous.

During my morning commute, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that read "Is Hussein Obama the Antichrist?" Never mind the use of President Obama's middle name (was President Bush ever referred to as Walker Bush or President Clinton as Jefferson Clinton?); what would possibly make someone wonder whether President Obama was the Antichrist? What has he done or said that could lead someone to ask this question in the first place? Don't forget the "tea parties" and the signs comparing President Obama to Hitler, suggesting that President Obama plans to enslave whites, calling him a terrorist, and other charming slogans. These are not the statements of people who simply have a good faith difference of opinion on policy; these are statements of hate.

Just recently, I was party to a conversation where the speakers were going on and on about how much more they were paying in taxes because of President Obama. I asked them to direct me to a specific tax increase and I was told that "everybody knows he raised our taxes." Everybody knows this? One finally admitted that he wasn't sure that his taxes had gone up yet, but he was sure that they would because he was in the middle class. He also objected to paying taxes to subsidize healthcare for others because those were "socialist" policies; I asked him if he would be willing to sacrifice medicare or social security. He told me that I just didn't understand. Apparently, I didn't and I still don't.

Plus, you have media whackjobs like Glenn Beck claiming that President Obama is a racist who hates white people.

Last, but certainly not least, is the whole "Birther" movement of people who do not think that President Obama is entitled to be President because, they claim, he is not a natural born citizen. They continue to advance these claims to whomever will listen and completely ignore all of the facts that demonstrate that they are wrong (not to mention silly little things like the law; it is amazing how inconventient law and facts can be to a good conpsiracy theory). The Birthers ignore documents that have been produced, analyzed, and authenticated by independent, non-partisan analysts (but they're willing to believe crude forgeries that purport to be from Kenya or elsewhere), ignore official pronouncements from the State of Hawaii (including from Hawaii's Republican governor), and shout down Republican members of Congress who refuse to subscribe to their crazy conspiracy theories. These nutcases cheered when a member of the National Guard refused to report for duty claiming that President Obama was not authorized to issue orders (can you imagine the fire and brimstone had a member of the National Guard refused to follow President Bush's orders to invade Iraq on the grounds that Al Gore was the lawful President?). And the media continues to give these people airtime without really showing just how out of touch with reality they are.

Add to all of this the degree to which policy debate seems to have become distorted and perverted by out and out lies. My personal "favorite" is the talking point going around that is warning the elderly that President Obama's healthcare plan would require elderly people to decide how and when to die in order to lower the cost of government subsidized healthcare. People who spread this kind of deceitful information, solely to create fear of a policy proposal, pervert the democratic process. Can you imagine the outrage if African-Americans or Latinos were told that a particular Republican-backed bill would require the sterilization of minorities convicted of a crime, even if no such requirement existed? Obviously people can disagree on policy and should voice their ideas and opinions; buy lying to scare people has no place in the political process.

So what is really going on? Why has the election of President Obama engendered this kind of visceral hate? It seems unlikely that much of it is actually related to his policies. President Clinton tried to get healthcare reform. He failed. Many people didn't like him, but the degree of animosity toward President Clinton pales in comparison to the what we're seeing directed at President Obama. I personally detested President Bush. I thought that he showed little respect for the Constitution (imprisonment without access to counsel, wiretapping without warrant, torture), but I would have never thought to ask if he was the Antichrist or compared him to Hitler (though I might have compared some of his policies to those imposed by fascist regimes). Many previous presidents have raised taxes, supported reproductive rights, changed direction or tactics on foreign policy initiatives, or engaged in other seemingly necessary actions to resolve crisis or perceived crisis (we invaded Grenada?) or failed to do so. Yet none of those actions, so far as I can recall, led to the kind of open seething hatred that we're seeing directed against President Obama and certainly not after barely six months in office. So, as I asked at the beginning of this paragraph, what is really going on?

When giving thought to that question, don't forget that when he took office President Obama was confronted by: a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, a war against terror, an economy on the verge of a great depression, a massive budget defecit, enormous unemployment, bank failures, the potential failure of the nation's auto industry, a nuclear North Korea and a near-nuclear Iran, piracy at sea, "enemy combatants" being held at Guantanamo, Swine Flu, and who knows what else. If he could be blamed for causing all that, the Antichrist query might be worth looking into (the preceding clause was a joke; it was only a joke; in the event I should evere be accused of believing that anybody is the Antichrist ... just shoot me and put me out of everyone's misery), but to heap scorn upon him for trying to solve those problems simply makes no sense. So what is really going on?

I think that the answer really can be found in that little nugget that I decided to ignore when I began this post. Those who hate President Obama never seem to fail to use his middle name. Why is that so important to them? I wonder how many of them can even tell you the middle names of the last handfull of Presidents, including what the "Dubya" stands for (in reverse order going back to the year of my birth: Walker, Jefferson, Herbert Walker, Wilson, Earl, Rudolph, Milhous, Baines, plus Fitzgerald as the bonus name; the only one that I didn't remember was Gerald Rudolph Ford and I didn't know how to spell "Milhous"). I think that the name "Hussein" reminds people that President Obama is "different" and maybe, just maybe, too much a name used by "the enemy" (I doubt that Richard Nixon would have been elected has his middle name been Stalin or Kruschev, but who knows). Add to that the obvious fact that President Obama is different (remember that whole, "first African-American elected to the Presidency" thing?) and I think you've found the real reason that many people hate him. Who he is, what he looks like, and where he comes from is the proverbial elephant in the room.

I think that many people who may claim not be racist are, in fact, racist, and whether they'll admit it to themselves or not, cannot stand the idea of a "black" in the White House (never mind that he's half-white); nor can they stand the idea that a man whose father was not an African-American, but rather an actual African, and who has a "funny" name that includes a common Arabic or Muslim name associated with a principal US adversary of the past 18 years (remember Saddam Hussein...?).

The real problem is that if more of us don't stand up and support the man and the office (separating who the man may be or what is policies may be), then we will be helping to destroy the fabric of our nation. By all means, stand up and disagree with his policies (but put forward your own ideas and be sure that you're basing your opposition on facts not lies), but don't hate the man on the basis of who his father was, the color of his skin, or the fact that his young mother, in 1961, agreed to give her newborn a funny name (come one, we've elected guys named Grover, Ulysses, Rutherford, and Millard; what's wrong with Barack Hussein Obama?).

We should also let the media know that we want to hear discussion about policies and issues and that such discussion should not add to the split that appears to be growing ever wider in our country. While people like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Lou Dobbs (not to mention Rush Limbaugh...) are allowed to pollute the airwaves with their brands of hate speech we are all worse because the unity that has made our country strong is threatened.

So next time you hear someone take aim at President Obama for a reason other than a policy, call them on it. And the next time that you hear someone take aim at any politician on the basis of a policy, ask that person to offer an idea of their own and to offer some basis in fact for their opposition. Let's try to remember that hate doesn't make our nation or our political process work better. Hate won't make our children safer or our planet more livable. Hate won't solve our problems.

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