Racism in the age of Obama

Racism in the age of Obama
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I don’t know if this is just because I’m a Canadian, and thus fairly insulated from America’s emotionally-charged balancing act of Latino-Black-White relations, but I continue to find the the role of race to be the most remarkable — if least remarked upon — dimension of the 2012 presidential race.

CNN released a fascinating article the other day noting that all available evidence suggests that 2012 will be the most racially polarized election in decades, with minorities breaking 80% for President Obama and whites 60% for Mitt Romney. Or, to flip it in less upbeat terms, the President has a pitiful 40% rate of support among American whites, while Romney’s backing among minorities is a truly abhorrent 20%.

What’s really jarring, however, is that none of these figures are actually that bad, strategically speaking. As we all know from reading the latest horse race headlines, the Romney-Obama contest itself remains statistically tied, meaning the next president of the United States will almost certainly be elected in open spite of the fact that his appeal is extraordinarily race-exclusive.

Now, the standard liberal-Democratic explanation for their guy’s waning appeal among the country’s biggest demographic has relied mostly on that bluntest of weapons — the race card. Conservatives, they say, have never warmed to the idea of a black president, and continue to judge him irrationally and hysterically because of his skin tone. An African-American in the White House has thus heralded the political equivalent of post-desegregation “white flight” — with the Democratic Party as the newly condemned neighbourhood.

Such accusations only get more intense (and self-fulfilling) as the Democrat Party itself becomes more dominated by minority voices, who rightly or wrongly, are obviously more prone and comfortable in viewing the world of politics through race-colored glasses. Listening to Slate‘s The Root podcast the other day, I found it quite striking how the liberal, African-American guest — a scholar of black history — could find all sorts of anti-black subtexts in what I had previously interpreted as being fairly racially-neutral kooky right-wing conspiracy theories against Obama’s political legitimacy.

No matter how many times it’s brought up, for instance, I simply don’t understand how birtherism is racist. Stupid and ignorant and paranoid and all the rest of it, sure, but the constant demand to see the President’s “real” birth certificate also strikes as boringly consistent with the longer-running, Dale Gribble-style conspiratorial American fear of foreign subversives and Manchurian Candidate-style sleeper agents — as well as the broader cottage industry of lunatic interpretations of the Constitution — rather than something rooted in a hatred for blacks in particular. Of all the real hardships African-Americans continue to face, can anyone seriously claim suspicions of an elaborately concealed African birthplace are one of the more common?

The same is true of the perennial progressive fretting over Tea Party signs depicting the President as some grotesque ape-like caricature, or a Communist tyrant, or whatever. Independent of any larger historical context, sure, it all seems pretty crass, but once you step back a bit, it’s hard to imagine any other president feeling much sympathy for Obama’s not-so-unique plight of unjustified slurs at the hands of breathless haters.

George W. Bush, after all, was endlessly mocked for his own physicality, and certainly raised the standard of presidential monkey analogies to stratospheric heights. He was called stupid to the point of retardation, cruel to the point of animalistic. Had he been black, all of this would have seemed monstrously bigoted, but he wasn’t so it didn’t (though is not “inbred Texas redneck” a racial stereotype, too?). At some point a hated politician is just dumb or ugly or goofy or evil independent of his or her racial identity, though there seems to be a concerted liberal effort to deny this is ever so with the current commander-in-chief.

‘Course, in the end it doesn’t matter much what I think (and for what it’s worth, I think the true roots of America’s politico-racial cleavage probably have more to do with a Mitt Romney-style economic divide of recipients vs. benefactors, with minorities more in the former camp — and determined to vote for open-handed politicians — and increasingly stingy whites in the unhappy latter). Politics is all about perceived reality blurring beyond the dignity of facts, and if a highly defensive, disproportionately suffering chunk of the electorate believes that the Republican Party’s status as the white party is synonymous with it being the racist party, then it will be hard to ever persuade them otherwise. With a black guy at the top of a Democratic ticket aggressively despised by the right, those who lazily want to find causation in correlation will probably never have an easier case, and their empty narrative will only get stronger regardless of what happens on November 6. (Will the President lose “because” of racism or succeed “despite” it?)

It’s interesting, and more than a little troubling to think that one of the great legacies of Barack Obama, the man supposedly in possession of such impressive powers of racial bridging, will be an electorate more crudely divided along racial lines than possibly ever before in modern American history. In a nation where wealth unfortunately still syncs quite sharply with ethnicity, and where the party system’s ideological divide has become so humourlessly polarized around the issue of government generosity, the trend was perhaps inevitable.

But that doesn’t make it any more pleasant.


  1. Cicero

    The Birther thing IS racist-conservative. John McCain actually had a far mor tenuous claim to birth on US soil than Obama: he was born in the Panama Canal Zone. But did anyone, ANYONE, even mention that in the media! No, of course not! Who could be more American than John McCain?

  2. Dan

    No one seriously mentioned Barack Obama's birth certificate until after his election. If McCain had won, you can be sure we'd still have birthers; they just would be White people with dreadlocks and Volvos.

    Birtherism is incredibly stupid, but it's much more rooted in the President being the son of an immigrant than the President being Black.

  3. @undefined

    I'm not sure that's true. I was definitely hearing about it by September of 2008–and I live in another country.

  4. SES

    It started around June of 2008. It wasn't very big at the time, but it was enough to cause Obama to release his birth certificate at that time (which arguably fanned the flames even more).

  5. Kento

    The thing is, how many McCain birthers would there be? Obama being half-black certainly makes the conspiracy more believable to many people.

    I think it is has a strong racial element, but that Obama is the son of an immigrant, rather than the descendent of American slaves, and not being connected to the black American experience in that way, certainly is part of it too. He's a black person that a lot of people don't have context for.

    Maybe you will disagree, but I think in America we have more imagination for what a white person can be, and what kind of family history a white person can have, than we do other racial groups. I don't think when white people answer the question "where are you from," they are asked "I mean, where are you really from originally" if they answer "California" nearly as often as Asians (and the first question is probably asked less often as well).

  6. J.J. McCullough

    I think if there was a white presidential candidate who had a Russian parent or a French parent or spent a somewhat ambiguous phase of his childhood in a less well-known part of the white world there would be birtherism. I really think it has more to do with a sort of sheltered paranoia about the exoticness of foreign countries and an ignorance of just how nativist the constitution actually is, rather than racism per se.

  7. Kento

    For me, the question isn't whether there would be birtherism or not, but how popular it would be. Certainly having a Russian father (I'm unsure if having a Russian mother would have the same impact) would make some people paranoid, especially if they had an exotic name, but I wonder how many people who believe Obama is either foreign born or a muslim actually know very much about the "official story" of Barack Obama's parentage? The percentage of Americans who know that Bill Clinton's biological father's surname was Blythe is very high, but his appearance and name don't really cause a demand for an answer to his origins. Obama's appearance and exotic name make accusations stick with a lot of people who might otherwise forget them.

    Here's how I wish to frame the issue: There's policy opposition and political opposition. One can, as an individual, be opposed to Obama's policies without considering his race. The problem is that in politics, strength comes from numbers, and Obama's political opposition gets a lot of its strength from racism, and things close enough to racism that racism isn't a completely inappropriate shorthand. And we shouldn't be happy with that.

    I don't mean to ignore people who vote for Obama because he's black, or those who oppose Romney because of anti-Mormon sentiment (a less common problem, but anti-Mormon bigotry is always worn so nakedly. At least racists know they're supposed to feel ashamed!), it's just outside of what I'm hoping to address at this moment.

  8. ThePsudo

    Source: New York Times
    Headline: McCain's Canal Zone Birth Prompts Queries About Whether That Rules Him Out
    Dated: Feb 28, 2008

    Thousands of others: http://tinyurl.com/9cg7aj4

    They did, in fact, mention it in the media.

  9. @undefined

    Hah! You just perfectly disproved your own argument: there were/are crazy conspiracy claims about the Presidential legitimacy of both the 2008 candidates. But in one case, partisans cynically framed the issue to tar the other side as "racist."

  10. Hentgen

    I'm inclined to agree with Cicero, I think it's a knee-jerk racist thing. But not so much because he's black that he has a funny, foreign-sounding name. If Obama was Steve Jenkins, I'm not sure that the issue would resonate so much.

  11. Claude Horvath

       I came to this site via a search with "obama filibuster racism", and just grow angrier as *that* line of thought is considered.  Correlation is not causation, but the post-2010 flurry of Congressional obstruction certtainly raises suspiciouns.

  12. M_T_Cicero

    I really wish it was possible for either party simply deciding, more or less, not to care one way or another.

    Look, it's nice to say that politics ought to be non-racial, but there have always been fault lines in American politics (and indeed, to some extent, in other nations' politics…minorities in Britain do tend to trend either Labour or LibDem, IIRC). Some of it is socio-economic, some of it is historical, etc. But regardless of the origins (complex though they might be), the fault lines exist.

    Mind you, this sort of pattern generally been limited to blacks (though in terms of partisanship it was reversed once upon a time). Hispanics have had a more complex history (and voting pattern; Bush Jr. was able to get around 40% with them in some elections) compared blacks, partly because they are far less of a monolithic block (Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and so forth all have different histories and voting patterns). Your self-fulfilling prophecy note is very correct, I suspect, since there does seem to be a tendency for minorities to stack up in one party and WASPs in the other. Witness an observation on what happened when Irish Catholics got organized in Connecticut, per Nate Silver: You went from a bunch of WASP Republican Congressmen to a bunch of Irish Catholic Democrats in about a decade (in the early 1900s). Once these stack-ups start occurring, they trigger a feedback loop of sorts that push other groups out since they have less and less of a say in which direction the party goes.

    I don't find this surprising. In a way, what is more surprising is the extremes that both parties do to protest their position in this, at least with blacks: The GOP has virtually no shot at meaningful inroads there, but every cycle you get loud protests that the GOP will be going after black votes, etc., rather than what (especially now) would be honest: An indifferent shrug. (Hispanics, again, are a more complex matter, and one could point out that in the early-to-mid 20th Century, Hispanics were classified as "white" on the census).

    The other problem, of course, is that at some point everything gets called racist for the "non-minority" party, whether it is a desire to cut welfare or reduce the role of the federal government in virtually anything. Somehow, there's a magical racial tinge, and nothing can be down to earnest beliefs about how the world works/should work or about the proper role of government. Somehow, everything acquires a subtext.

    This is going to sound a bit counter-intuitive, but it feels like the only way for this nonsense to stop is, to lean on a line from John Roberts, for the GOP to simply stop caring about the charge (especially with respect to blacks). Bat it aside with something akin to "We support the policies that are best for America as a whole, and we simply do not care about racial classifications. Race is not an issue for us and should not be one for us." Do that, and then when the issue comes up, just lock down on "We're interested in what X does for America without regard to race" or, better yet, "So you're saying that sound policies should be set aside simply because of this special interest group? Because that's what I'm hearing when you complain about a 'disparate impact'." And if they continue, just shrug it off and simply refuse to care.

    The problem with the charge of "racism" is that we have given it far too much power, to the point that it is something like an Olympian thunderbolt or a hard shove onto the third rail of a subway line. Sooner or later, controversial though it will be, indifference is needed to the charge except in extreme circumstances. Otherwise, it turns from a valid complaint into a set of strings with which a marionette can be jerked around. It's one thing to throw the charge at a David Duke or someone in that vein, but it has reached the point of being tiresome, if not outright abusive (remember the Rush Limbaugh row when he was a sports commentator?) and ought to be called out as such and then disregarded.

    (Disclaimer: As you can probably glean from most of my previous posts, I'm not exactly what you would call a lockstep Republican. I'm just trying to pick this nonsense through as best I can.)

  13. @undefined

    The reason these scholars are advancing this argument (racial subtext, racialized election, etc.) is there is actually a deeply, deeply racist context for this election.

    Consider, for example, the dozen or so states which (under Republican control) are actively trying to disenfranchise large numbers of Democratic-leaning voters by introducing utterly superfluous requirements to vote. These requirements are often targeted at students and newly-registered voters (for example, purging everyone who has changed address in the last year–so virtually every single college student), but just as often they're explicitly targeted at racial minorities.

    For example, in some states, the availability of advance polls in minority neighbourhoods has been halved (despite long queues at the last election: in fact, minority voters are substantially more likely to vote at an advance poll than white voters), while the advance polls in majority-white neighbourhoods are left untouched.

    In states like Florida, this problem is being compounded by Republican operatives actively working to add superfluous elections and initiatives to county ballots with the goal of making them as long as possible. In some areas, the ballots are 8, 10 or even 12 pages long. (And that's legal-sized pages.) This makes voting take much longer than it otherwise would, encourages long lines and queues, and–in tandem with reducing voting hours in these neighbourhoods–will effectively disenfranchise large numbers of minority voters.

    Elsewhere, Republican canvassers have been observed signing up new voters in minority neighbourhoods (without representing themselves as Republican staff or volunteers) and subsequently destroying the registration papers of anyone who didn't tick the "Republican" party identification box.

    At the statewide level, the Secretaries of State of several states (including swing states like Colorado) have authorized large-scale advertising campaigns to the effect that voters now require specific forms of ID in order to vote. Aside from the fact that these requirements would be disenfranchising on their own merits ("As of two months before the election, you now need a form of ID which will take at least six weeks to obtain–and that's *before* thousands of people pile into government offices to grab them at the last minute."), most of them don't actually exist, or have been stayed by courts, or otherwise will not be in effect by the time of the 2012 election.

    In other places, Secretaries of State have been circulating publicity materials and running ad campaigns which give the election date as November 6th in English–and as November 8th in Spanish. Once or twice, we could roll this off as an administrative error, but this exact error just keeps occurring, and always in Republican-controlled states and counties. (The date of the election is, equally, always given as AFTER election day. It's never the 6th in English and the 4th in Spanish.)

    These voter-ID and different-date campaigns have been shown to be targeted especially in minority neighbourhoods (minority voters are significantly less likely to hold government ID than white voters), and have become such a problem that some national advertising companies (including ClearCom) have had to issue cancellations and refunds due to threats of legal action.

    Or we might talk about the fact that some states (like Florida) have essentially attempted to ban voter registration drives outright. (Registration drives have always been especially good at recruiting minority and student voters.)

    And once we step outside the formal processes, you stumble across organizations like True The Vote, who–despite absolutely no evidence of any sort of wide-spread campaign of voter fraud (according to the FBI, there was 1 fraudulent ballot cast for every 15 million eligible electors at the 2008 election)–are "educating" and "enabling" volunteers to make voting as uncomfortable as possible for anyone who doesn't like they belong. (And leaked internal documents suggest that they're especially interested in racial minorities and college students.)


  14. @undefined

    Taken by themselves, these incidents are harmful but minor: there are always a few kooks at election time. (viz: the Black Panther Party, which actually consisted of about 5-6 people at a single poll who were dispersed by police soon after arriving)

    But we aren't talking about a few kooks.

    We're talking about statewide officials who appear to be actively attempting to disenfranchise as many racial-minority voters as possible. While the stated goal is to fix a voter fraud problem, there is absolutely no compelling evidence that such a problem exists.

    We're talking about Secretaries of State and Boards of Election shutting down polling stations and reducing voting hours to save money–but only in neighbourhoods and areas which have historically gone Democratic. Even stations that had queues stretching for hours in 2008 are having their hours and access reduced in ways which will disproportionately affect minority voters.

    We're talking about well-funded groups with thousands of volunteers fanning out to disrupt polls in minority neighborhoods. We're talking about governments using taxpayer resources to promote lies and half-truths about ID requirements to vote, and often not correcting their errors until weeks after the problem is made apparent.

    We're talking about campaigns to purge thousands of eligible voters from voter rolls, with the goal of both disenfranchising voters and generating so much work for Boards of Election that they won't be able to do as much outreach or voter activation prior to election day.

    In aggregate, there is a hell of a lot of racism in play here, even setting aside birtherism and subtext.

    Now, "racism" may be a strong word. It's likely the case that these people are being disenfranchised not because they're black or latino, but because they're likely to "vote" the wrong way.

    a) "Let's disenfranchise all the black people" is still a damn racist statement, even if your reasons for making it are slightly more honourable.
    b) "Let's disenfranchise everyone who will vote the wrong way" is a damn problematic statement, even setting the racism aside, and attempting to provide cover for this exercise by mocking the (small number of) people who have commented on that racial subtext is gross.

  15. KKoro

    You argued both that negligible amounts of fraud is going on, and then made a direct claim as to voter fraud on the part of Republicans. You can't have it both ways: either it's a problem that needs to be solved or it isn't.

    From what I understand, many European countries require IDs to vote, and have very little problems with it. At a certain point, it seems like the main reason there's still so many people without IDs that it would be a problem in the US, is because we keep on putting off this requirement and saying that it's necessary to not require them.

    I also don't see how it can be considered disenfranchising specifically to Democratic voters to require IDs. Paranoid and largely unnecessary, sure, but you're assuming ill will when paranoia or simple difference of opinion would easily suffice; you're basically arguing with exactly the shallow race-baiting method that J.J. describes.

    You then claim that it is disenfranchising voters for extra elections and initiatives to the ballots. I simply can't comprehend how this could make sense, as it's almost the definition of bringing the power of decision back to the people.

    Finally, you summarize with "it's definitely racist, but even if we assume that they're just trying to negate votes from their opponents and there's not a racist element, it's definitely racist and you shouldn't criticize the (large number of) people who have claimed that this election is all about race."

    Your argument doesn't make sense.

  16. @undefined

    "You argued both that negligible amounts of fraud is going on"

    No I didn't. I argued that *some* amount of paranoia and fraud is inevitable around elections when they're conducted on this scale, and that any of these actions, by themselves and in a vacuum, would not be worrisome. There are always overzealous poll officials, and we shouldn't be declaring a national emergency every time some state official fails to adhere to protocol.

    But in aggregate, across dozens of states, involving thousands of people, potentially disenfranchising millions of voters, the problem becomes extremely significant.

    "From what I understand, many European countries require IDs to vote"

    There is nothing wrong with requiring IDs to vote–but that's not what's going on here.

    1) ID requirements are being introduced just months ahead of elections for which this identification will be required. If we were serious about these requirements, we could easily provide a two or four-year waiting period in order to allow people to pick up whatever documentation they require; as it stands, it's a clear attempt to disenfranchise those voters who do not already have the types of ID required. (Which will disproportionately disenfranchise college students and racial minorities, who are two of the groups least likely to have this ID.)

    In simpler language, there's nothing wrong with requiring ID. There's something very wrong with introducing an ID requirement two months before an election and demanding that every voter possess a form of ID which takes six weeks to acquire and which no voter has ever been required to possess before. That's not a sober attempt to prevent voter fraud, that's disenfranchisement.

    "but you're assuming ill will when paranoia or simple difference of opinion would easily suffice;"

    You have no idea how much I'd prefer to view this as paranoia or stupidity. I really, really would. It's much more savoury to throw up my hands and decide that these are just foolish officials who don't know what they're doing.

    But there are clear patterns here.

    Consider, for example, that not a single Democrat-controlled state legislature or Democrat state official has introduced any substantial new requirements for voters as of these elections. By comparison, nearly every single Republican-controlled legislature and Republican Secretary of State has actively worked to limit voting.

    Consider the fact that virtually all of these publicity campaigns which provide different dates for English and Spanish-speaking voters also include the same dates. (6 for English-speakers, 8 for Spanish-speakers.) Mere incompetence would produce dates all over the map.

    Consider the sheer number of Secretaries of State (again, all Republicans) who have launched publicity campaigns about new voter ID requirements, even in those states where the requirements will not apply in this next election, have been stayed or blocked by courts, or haven't even been passed by the legislature in the first place.

    Even if it were the case that all of these actions were being undertaken independently, then that would still indict pretty much the entire state-level Republican party for what you describe as paranoia and basic ignorance of the legal and electoral processes.

    But I think there's good reason to suspect more complicity and co-operation here.

    "you're basically arguing with exactly the shallow race-baiting method that J.J. describes. "

    I'm arguing that JJ is wrong: that he's being dismissive of valid concerns, that he's strawmanning his opponents, and that he's providing cover for a very real and very dangerous situation.

    "You then claim that it is disenfranchising voters for extra elections and initiatives to the ballots. I simply can't comprehend how this could make sense, as it's almost the definition of bringing the power of decision back to the people. "

    Now you're just being intellectually dishonest. People already routinely wait 4-5 hours to vote, especially on college campuses and in minority neighbourhoods. Thousands of voters simply can't give up their other responsibilities in order to stand in line for that long in order to cast a ballot, and are effectively disenfranchised as a result.

    By stacking up ballots like this (turning a one or two-page document into a ten-to-twelve page monstrosity), Republicans are trying to make voting even more arduous and difficult, and in particular to make those lines even longer–but as much as possible, this is only being done in counties with significant student or minority populations. It's an obvious attempt to disenfranchise eligible voters.

    "Finally, you summarize with…"

    …something you're so desperate to misunderstand that I'm not even going to dignify this bit of intellectual dishonesty with a full answer.

  17. J.J. McCullough

    I think your two end statements really sum up the fundamental challenges of American politics going forward. I do think the voter ID movement is pretty objectionable in motive, if not necessarily outcome (we have similar laws in Canada), but I also think it's a pretty inescapable outcome in a country where politics is so racially polarized.

    I just really don't think the GOP is racist in intent, in the sense that I think "racism," if it's to be a useful term, has to mean "an active hatred for other races" and manifest in some desire to see them go away, or remain an openly oppressed underclass. Anyone who is honest has to admit that the senior ranks of the GOP and its leading intellectual backers in the press, simply do not believe this. But a lot of liberal minorities believe they do, and I think they're actively encouraged to believe this by liberal politicians and pundits and the rest who actively seek to find racial subtext in everything, which is what my original essay was about. That contribues to polarization too.

    The problem is intractability of opinion and the degree to which that breeds a self-perpetuating cycle. If all whites vote for one party and all minorities vote for another party then politics at some point will simply have to manifest in a racialized (though not necessarily racIST) way for logical strategic reasons, but that process will in turn breed more racial distrust and suspicion. I guess I just wonder how the cycle can be broken by two rational, self-interested political movements. It's a kind of mutually assured destruction.

  18. Trenacker

    I don't think that the GOP is intentionally racist. I do think that most Americans believe in racialism (defined on Wikipedia as, "the existence and significance of racial catagories, and social and cultural differences among the races"), that a large number (perhaps a majority) of Tea Party activists hold views that can fairly be described as racist, and that racism is contextual. That is, Tea Party members can get excited about Hermann Cain and ignore or overlook his "blackness," especially if he is careful not to appeal directly to blacks as a single group, but can dislike Obama even more than they ordinarily would because he is black, and therefore more easily made out to be "the Other." (In my experience, voters with very strong conviction that welfare cheats comprise a large number of people using food stamps and collecting unemployment or other benefits usually envision a racial minority in the role of the abuser.) I also believe that the GOP favors policies that, in the aggregate, have the greatest "negative" outcomes for racial minorities in particular, which explains a great deal of the hostility toward them, as well as the appearance of callousness. It certainly doesn't help that the GOP is increasingly regarded as the party not just of "old white men," but "old, bitter white men." Many people are talking right now about a future racial divide between the Democrats and the GOP. Many more are talking about classism. But what about an electorate fractured by age, as seniors dependent on social programming (especially due to the breakdown in the classical family structure over the past century) place more demands on a system that younger voters can't afford to maintain?

    There is also, increasingly, a religious divide in this country between voters who prioritize social issues and want to live the Bible in public, as it were, and those who take a dim view of religion-as-political-blueprint. (Can you guess where I stand?) The assumptions made by the different sides are very interesting. I wonder, for instance, how much Calvinism has informed American attitudes about wealth, and what wealth signals. Does it correlate at all with the so-called "Cult of the CEO?" And how much does the experience of living in a large, active religious community that routinely practices charity cushion the poorest in that community against going hungry? How much do traditional gender roles account for attitudes toward abortion and equal pay? If you are taught all your life that submission and inequality are the prices you pay for a kind, handsome, hard-working husband, does that affect your attitude about what you ought to be doing as a woman?

  19. E

    “inbred Texas redneck” isn’t considered a racial stereotype because that doesn’t further the progressive movement. You’re supposed to use stereotypes against your enemies to mock and invalidate them (“He’s just a bible-thumper, so ignore his opinions on fiscal policy.”) You then use stereotypes on your supporters to isolate them and ensure they don’t change their vote (“But if you vote for them, they’ll take away your ‘insert special interest here’.”)

    Couple of things on the “birther” issue. One, I’m pretty sure it first came up in the democratic primaries. Two, it’s not a real issue to anyone but the left who use it to dismiss their opponents as kooky nut jobs.

  20. @undefined

    Here's Herman Cain (then a leading candidate for the Republican nomination) endorsing Donald Trump's Quest for the Birth Certificate: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0411/52372.h

    Here's Rick Perry (Governor of Texas and then a leading candidate for the Republican nomination) insisting that there are open questions about Obama's birth certificate: http://www.salon.com/2011/10/24/now_rick_perry_is

    Here's a poll which found that, in some states, a *plurality* of Republican primary voters doubt that Obama was born in the United States: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2012/03/l

    You're trying to tell us that a position endorsed by a sitting governor, by someone who led in the polls for the party's nomination, and by large numbers of the party's voters is something the left is dreaming up? Seriously?

    (And the reason "inbred texas redneck" is less problematic is because of the power dynamic in play here. Nobody is working to disenfranchise people for being rednecks; scads of people are working to disenfranchise black voters for being too pro-Democratic.)

  21. ThePsudo

    I think the birther stuff started out of the Illinois Republican Party. Certainly, Andy Martin (self-described "King of the Birthers") thinks it did.

    The Democrats so completely control Illinois that the Republican Party in that state has adopted 9/11 Truther levels of fringe paranoia more common in third parties in other states.

  22. drs

    I remember polls showing that the core demographic for Birthers were white Republican Southerners. Not whites in general, not Republicans in general, not even white Republicans in general.

  23. @undefined

    "minorities breaking 80% for President Obama and whites 60% for Mitt Romney"

    This isn't exactly new.

  24. Trenacker

    McCain's constitutional eligibility for elected office was never a national obsession to the same extent as that of candidate, later president, Obama. These are people who aren't going to be satisfied by a birth document. Their suspicions have been endorsed by politicians of national significance — people who are often (wrongly) presumed to have special, insider knowledge and the expertise or wisdom to know how best to act on it. They are also already convinced that Obama is a Kenyan.

    As the nation's first African-American president, Barack Obama is the American "other." How else to explain the persistent and irrational belief that he is a "secret" Muslim, whatever that means? The shameful brouhaha over the so-called World Trade Center Mosque, especially when considered in context with local skirmishes over mosques and Muslim community centers in the American heartland, revealed that millions of people in this country are fully prepared to impose religious litmus tests on their neighbors — for public office, but also for mere civic participation. The demand by a huge number of conservative voters that Obama deliver up "proof" that he is a Christian — what does that tell us? What does it tell us that fears of Obama-the-Muslim are more pronounced than fears of Romney-the-Mormon? Yes, some conservatives clearly have an urgent need to demonize the political opposition. But if candidate Obama were replaced by Candidate Biden, the fight would be over how good a Catholic Biden was or wasn't — not over whether or not Biden, ostensibly being a "bad" Catholic, was actually a Muslim. I am forced to conclude that this is because Joseph Biden is a white man, but Barack Obama is a black man of biracial parentage.

    I think it's important to acknowledge that, yes, conservative willingness to sling proverbial missiles at a liberal candidate has much and more to do with partisanship. And certainly there was a huge fund of pent-up frustration left over from the eight years during which Bush was lambasted far and wide for failings both real and imagined. While conservative lawmakers promised to torpedo the President's legislative agenda and looked forward to blaming political stagnation on his lack of leadership four years down the road, conservative voters were often outspoken about their intention to "give as good as we got" in the mud-slinging contest that is party politics.

    But there's political skirmishing, and then there's political skirmishing. Now I agree that MSNBC and Time Magazine have periodically found commentators who dig too deep in their search for racial overtones (and undertones) in our national political dialogue. But the tragedy is, it is rarely necessary to dig very deep. Different notions, different icons, have different meaning in different contexts. In one context, a swastika might symbolize absolutism. In another, it is a sign of anti-Semitism. As a white male, when another white male calls me "boy," I find it demeaning. But when another white male calls a black male "boy," I wouldn't just find that demeaning, would I? I'd find it racist.

  25. Trenacker

    Racism is deep-seated in this country. I think Joe Biden unintentionally gave voice to a certain strain of "passive" racism when he described Obama as an "articulate" black man. That is, I think his statements reflected a kind of racial biased that is pervasive among well-to-do whites who have little experience of blacks and Latinos as friends or colleagues. Whites who perceive that there are black and Latino cultures, but rarely consider whether they have aggregate culture of their own. There is also, I believe, the racism reflected in complaints about bilingualism — the suggestion that use of alternative languages is somehow inconvenient, and that this inconvenience is unacceptable when it is experienced by "we, the majority, who were here first." There can be no doubt: fluency in spoken and written English are essentially to success in this country. But the only persuasive arguments I have heard for use of English-only have to do with how testing is administered at the DMV, where people receive authorization to strap into two-ton missiles that will be used in accordance with instructions on road signs that are (almost) always in English. If banks, utilities, and other entities, public and private, wish to offer alternative-language services, why is that in any way to be criticized? And the mere availability of alternative-language services, I remind you, is a wholly different matter from the availability of clear, fluent service in whatever languages are supported. Then you have the racism inherent in assumptions about who demands and receives social welfare, why it is provided by the federal government, and how it affects voting patterns.

    Of course, many well-meaning liberals probably accuse Republicans of racism more because it flatters their own Manichean view of politics than because it is an accurate reading of why, philosophically at least, conservative voters oppose things like extension of welfare and Affirmative Action. But it is admittedly difficult for me to look at some of the Republican talking points on those issues without wondering, "How is it that they can remain silent on the obvious importance of these programs to so many people?" It is one thing to oppose something, and another to deliver compassionate explanations of why there ought to be a different solution in play. Look at all the speculation about how Obama's father must be driving him toward certain conclusions about the inherent unfairness of the American system, and about how it must be dismantled to serve an internationalist agenda. It seems to me that that argument is based on a conviction that Obama doesn't feel himself to be an American. But how did these observers reach that conclusion? By measuring a man according to his father's beliefs?

    Some conservative behavior is almost transparently racist because it affects minorities primarily, and without any seeming sensitivity. @undefined offered a compelling indictment of the Republican Party's thinly-veiled attempts to disenfranchise likely Obama voters — a program that was more or less acknowledged by some of the party establishment.

    My fear is that, if Romney is defeated, the Republican footsoldiers and pundits — completely separate from, but now with dominion over the Republican Party establishment — will conclude that their problem was not extremism, but "betrayal of true conservatism." Republicans will ask which of their reliable voters stayed home this cycle, and how to move them out the door next time around. They would not ask, "Who was on the fence this time, and might be persuaded to come around to our side of the argument next election?"

  26. OldsVistaCruiser

    This is hardly a new phenomenon. Southern whites were strongly Democratic (the region was once known as the "Solid South" because of its reliability to the Democratic Party) until Lyndon Baines Johnson, a southern Democrat, told them to get out of the Ku Klux Klan on March 26, 1965. Southern whites then switched wholesale to the Grand Old Party (Republicans).

    It's ironic that many of today's "birthers" once supported repealing the "natural-born citizen" requirement of the United States Constitution so that they could run Austrian-born Arnold Schwartzenegger on the GOP ticket.

    It has been said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The last time that an Austrian-born man took over a foreign government led to World War II and the Holocaust. His name was Adolf Hitler.

  27. KKoro

    …So, you're arguing that Republicans are racist because having an Austrian in a country's government means we'll have a Holocaust?

  28. Byk

    Godwin'ed :)

  29. Roland

    I swear that I've heard this person make ad hitlerum arguments on other pages of this site as well.

  30. Ozymandius

    They see me trollin'…they hatin'

  31. The Invisible hand

    until Lyndon Baines Johnson, a southern Democrat, told them to get out of the Ku Klux Klan on March 26, 1965. Southern whites then switched wholesale to the Grand Old Party (Republicans).

    False. The South's switch from Democratic to Republican was actually a very long, gradual process that started way back in the 1920's and wasn't complete until the 1980's. Dishonest partisans have long tried to spread the myth that it was a sudden event where all the racists abruptly switched from Democrat to GOP because of civil rights issues.

    Also, Republicans in Congress supported the Civil Rights Act by much higher margins than did the Democrats, making your claim even more ridiculous.

  32. OldsVistaCruiser

    That makes your response ridiculous. At that time, most of the Southern delegation to the U.S. Congress was still Democratic. That's why the Democrats weren't as supportive of the Civil Rights Act!

  33. Etc.

    So the southerners flee the Democratic party that has approved the civil rights act by going to the party which had voted in even higher amounts for it? I don't think you get the full picture if you view it from the single issue. Republican leaders were working very much to court the Southern vote in all sorts of issues just as the traditional hatred for the 'party of Lincoln' was finally beginning to wear out.

  34. Guest

    I don't think its too complicated.
    Blacks will vote for Obama because he is 'us' (notwithstanding he is far from the typical American Black).
    Whites will vote for Romney because he is 'us' (again, not exactly in the same tax bracket as most).
    The ability to relate to a candidate is essential. That is the reason why GW Bush got re-elected, people could see him at their BBQ, having a beer and a chat.
    Mormons would have overwhelmingly supported the Republican anyway but many will find it easy to support Romney because they know he is just like them (again, obvious differences aside)…

  35. SES

    Blacks will vote for Obama because he's a Democrat.

  36. Guest

    I agree SES – but that's just another form of 'us'-ness.
    It isn't just about what they look like, where they are from or how rich they are.
    It is generally much more about 'do they represent the values that I believe in'. This is true even if those values may actually be detrimental to my interests.

  37. Jake_Ackers

    Blacks wouldn't vote more for Herman Cain (maybe a little but not that much) nor would whites vote more for a Democrat if he was white (maybe a little but not that much). Dems have been losing the white vote for a long time and the same with Reps for blacks. The numbers have always been around this much. The only groups that change are Catholics and Hispanics.

    Some Brit reporter on ABC News was saying the if VA and FL go for Romney it's cause its the Confederacy. George Will slammed him saying that means VA and FL became racist after 4 years even though they voted for Obama.

  38. Guest

    Wow – thanks Jake. What audacity from that reporter – Virginia and Florida would only vote for Romney because of a racist past of 150 years ago?!? Even after they went for Obama last time around? Mindboggling.
    Of course, it couldn't possibly have anything to do with a flat economy and unemployment rates…

  39. Jon H

    Love you JJ, but you're a white Canadian, you'll never really understand what it's like for black Americans.