Thursday, September 17, 2009

7104: Obama’s Critics Lie?

From The Chicago Tribune…

Fiery rhetoric of Obama’s critics

By Clarence Page

People are asking, but President Barack Obama’s White House team denies that racism has anything to do with the protests against his health-care reform plan. That’s smart. The same approach worked during last year’s presidential campaign. In public, Team Obama constantly said race didn’t matter, while in private the team never forgot that it mattered a lot.

Race still matters, although it’s not always easy to say how much. Why do some people think, for example, that the “9/12 Project” tea party protests on the Washington Mall were racially tinged? Maybe it was the sign that television networks photographed that said, as I remember the quote, “The zoo has an African [lion]; The U.S. has a lyin’ African.”

Other signs promoted the idea that Obama is not really a natural born citizen or that maybe he should just die.

But, in fairness, most of the signs weren’t like that. I’m sure most of the folks who showed up in the Mall didn’t have race first and foremost on their minds. Yet, their efforts to appear racism-free seemed downright poignant at times.

For example, somebody made the effort to produce some preprinted signs that offered helpfully: “Not a race issue, Not a party issue, Just an old American freedom issue.” Dear sign carriers: I’m sure you mean well, but every time a black American of my generation hears someone say, “It’s not a race issue,” I immediately think, “Yup, it’s a race issue.”

The great success of the civil rights revolution was to make discrimination illegal and make any sign of racism taboo in decent society. Yet, as serious racism receded, suspicions of racism rushed in to fill the gap. People are afraid to talk about race for fear of offending someone, and if you bring it up you risk being accused of playing the race card.

Yet, it strikes me that one of the byproducts of having a black president is how many white people I know are learning what it feels like to be black in a society that constantly is telling you that something is not a race issue when you so plainly and clearly think it is.

For example, my column-writing colleague Maureen Dowd of The New York Times arched many eyebrows with this bit of mind-reading after Rep. Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, rudely blurted out “You lie!” during Obama’s health-care address to Congress: “Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber. ... Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president—no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq—convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.”

My response: Welcome to my world. Judging by the polls, about 15 percent or so of the country was in shock and even ran to gun shops to stock up, according to news reports, when they heard Obama won the presidential race. Some of them naturally show up at protests like the 9/12 march and buy “I’m with Joe Wilson” T-shirts. I just hope Wilson’s new fans are still happy when they have to go dig up their birth certificates and prove their citizenship just to get some health care.

Yet, on a more cheerful note, a scene you probably did not see on TV happened after the protests as the mostly white protesters wandered home through the nearby Black Family Reunion, an annual two-day street fair on the Mall. Although it sounds like a setup for a zany Hollywood movie, everyone was civil and courteous. Some of the protesters mingled and bought some lunch. That’s the Washington way: Never let political differences get in the way of a good meal. There’s a valuable lesson in civility. Appetizing too.

In judging Obama’s performance, it would be wrong to make too much of the role played by race, although it would be foolish to make too little of it. Team Obama came into office with a lot of defensive boasting about the big jobs they had to do with two wars, economic catastrophe and a broken health-care system, among other disasters. How do you separate the impact of Obama being the nation’s first black president from that of his being the first to take on such a big load of hot-button issues?

Yet, I am amused by conservatives like talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh who insist racism has nothing to do with Obama’s problems. Only a few months ago they were blaming white guilt for his success. Folks, you can’t have it both ways.

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