Steve and Cokie Roberts’ columns appear regularly in the Joplin Globe, and I confess I often pass them by because I’ve found them to be somewhat bereft of the kind of toughness necessary to combat the other conservative columnists the Globe runs.
But when it comes to pummeling Glenn Beck, the husband-wife commentators have written quite forcefully. In March, they wrote a column that ended with this:
…Beck is worse than a clown. He’s more like a terrorist who believes he has discovered the One True Faith, and condemns everyone else as a heretic. And that makes him something else as well — a traitor to the American values he professes so loudly to defend.
I don’t remember if that particular column appeared in our Joplin paper, but today’s edition did feature the Roberts’ latest effort to define Glenn Beck for what he is:
Listen carefully to Beck and his pals on right-wing radio, such as Rush Limbaugh, and their message is unmistakable. Obama is not “one of us.” He’s “the other.” He’s “un-American.”
But that sentiment itself is deeply un-American. The great genius of this country is that it welcomes all colors, creeds and nationalities. Unlike the British, say, or the French, we don’t have one image or archetype that defines our identity. Barack Hussein Obama is as American as Glenn Lee Beck, but Beck cannot seem to accept that and neither can his followers who crowded the Mall on Aug. 28.
Citing the sentiments of a Beckerhead at the D.C. rally—”I want our country back“—and Limbaugh’s hilarious reference to our President as “Imam Hussein Obama” and Beck’s pre- and post-rally comments about Obama’s affection for Marxism, the Roberts’ write:
Beck and Limbaugh have built a fire under a boiling stewpot of resentment, and they’re tossing in every incendiary innuendo they can put their hands on. Their critique might be incoherent but their mission could not be clearer: to brand Obama as a devil, not just a Democrat. He’s not just misguided; he’s a Marxist, a heretic, an apostate.
And who are the true believers? The real Americans? Why the good white Christians who showed up at Beck’s rally, of course. “America today begins to turn back to God,” he assured his followers, “For too long, this country has wandered in darkness.”
So what? many of you may say. These crazies are only influencing a small number of folks, most of them who wouldn’t have voted for Obama even if the Holy Spirit endorsed him.* But read on:
This drumbeat of denunciation — this deliberate distortion of the president’s background and beliefs — is having an effect. The Pew Research Center found that 18 percent of Americans now think Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent at the start of his presidency, and only 34 percent can correctly identify him as a Christian.
The correlation of religious views with political views is stunning. Sixty-seven percent of those who say Obama is Muslim disapprove of his presidency; 62 percent of those who call him a Christian like his performance.
What is even more stunning to me is the brazenness with which Republican politicians play on the ignorance of intellectually lazy voters. Never mind the Becks, Hannitys, O’Reillys, and Limbaughs, who depend on such ignorance and indolence to put more cars in their garages. Politicians, who are striving to get back in power, are sending definite, if sometime subtle, racially-loaded messages to fact-challenged white voters.
In April, Newt Gingrich said this at a—are you ready?—at a Southern Republican Leadership Conference, as reported by CBS News:
“What we need is a president, not an athlete,” Gingrich said during a question and answer period after his speech. He added: “Shooting three point shots may be clever, but it doesn’t put anybody to work.”
Now, among others, Norah O’Donnell on Morning Joe suggested there might be a hint of race-talk in there somewhere, for which she was subjected to some derision. But let’s look at some other things Gingrich said in that speech before his Southern brethren:
Mr. Obama is “the most radical president in American history,” Gingrich said. “He has said, ‘I run a machine, I own Washington, and there is nothing you can do about it.’” [...]
“On every front,” he said, “they’re increasing government” and trying to “micromanage our lives,” raise taxes, increase government power and strip citizens of their power.
“This is a fundamental fight over the core definition of America,” Gingrich said. He told the crowd they should be talking about culture, not politics. “The more we make this a choice about the nature of America, the weaker they are,” he said…
The debate should be framed, he said, not as “Obama vs. Anti-Obama, but America vs. a secular socialist machine.”
There it is: “This is a fundamental fight over the core definition of America.” ”This is a choice about the nature of America. ” “America vs. a secular socialist machine,” led by Obama.
Now in that context one can read his post-speech comment about Obama as an “athlete” and fairly conclude that Gingrich is saying something to his audience that has less to do with Obama’s alleged inattention to the economy and more to do with the uppity negro’s role in the Great Culture War, which many Republican politicians are apparently jockeying to command.
Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that much of the angst in America is related to the sluggish economy and its slow resurrection from its near-death experience caused by over-exposure to Republican economics.
But there is also no doubt that what is fueling the enthusiasm of many, many voters who can’t wait to stick a fork in President Obama this fall and in 2012 is a fear of this strange black man, a fear began and perpetuated by white culture-war conservative commentators and politicians, whose fortunes depend on keeping alive the idea that Obama is not one of us—not one of us white Christian Americans.
* Yes, of course I know the Holy Spirit only endorses Republicans. It’s just hyperbole.