Obama Doesn’t Have A White Problem, Whites Have An Obama Problem

Weeks ago, while a group of us were out registering voters on behalf of Claire McCaskill and Barack Obama, I knocked on a door in a low-income housing complex here in Joplin.

A young woman greeted me. There was the noise of a little one in the background, and I heard the voice of a young man, presumably the woman’s husband or boyfriend. I told her why I was there and she said she wasn’t interested. I turned away and walked down the stairs and on to the next apartment.

Through their open patio door someone heard the man say:

You should have told ‘em we ain’t votin’ for no damn nigger.

That wasn’t the first time I ran into such bigotry while doing the little work I did on the 2008 and the current campaign.

I pass on that story not because I think it is typical of the opposition to Barack Obama this campaign season or last. I pass it on because it is part of that opposition, part of the equation of the 2008 election, part of the reason the 2010 midterm election brought too many bigoted extremists into power.

And it is part of why President Obama is having a hard time convincing a majority of voters that he is a better choice this time than a man who has constantly lied during this campaign, who has misrepresented both himself and Mr. Obama, who has abandoned all pretense of honesty.

And the bigotry we found that evening in Joplin is a large part of why there still is a large number of Americans, mostly Republicans, who don’t believe Obama is either Christian or American, who don’t believe he sees or loves America the way they think—they imagine—they do.

How big a part does such bigotry, such racism play? Beats me. I just don’t know. But it’s a part. It needs to be accounted for. It needs to be addressed. As does more mild forms of race-based opposition to the President.

An AP poll released on Monday showed a depressing result:

In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.

And Hispanics don’t escape the withering eye of whites either:

In an AP survey done in 2011, 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure rose to 57 percent in the implicit test.

All of that has real electoral consequences:

Overall, the survey found that by virtue of racial prejudice, Obama could lose 5 percentage points off his share of the popular vote in his Nov. 6 contest against Republican challenger Mitt Romney. But Obama also stands to benefit from a 3 percentage point gain due to pro-black sentiment, researchers said. Overall, that means an estimated net loss of 2 percentage points due to anti-black attitudes.

In an election as close as this one, 2 percentage points may as well be 20.

Before I go on, I want to note another finding by the AP study, a finding that should disturb those of us who believe we are on the side of the angels:

The poll finds that racial prejudice is not limited to one group of partisans. Although Republicans were more likely than Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism (79 percent among Republicans compared with 32 percent among Democrats), the implicit test found little difference between the two parties. That test showed a majority of both Democrats and Republicans held anti-black feelings (55 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans), as did about half of political independents (49 percent).

So we Democrats have some work to do. No, given we are Democrats, we have a lot of work to do.

As I write this, the latest Obama-Romney pre-election polling confirms the disturbing racial polarization extant in America. While it’s not surprising that a Democrat will, once again, not receive the support of a majority of white voters—none has since Lyndon Johnson in 1964—it is, at least to me, a little surprising that, after Mr. Obama’s rather robust showing among white voters in 2008 (43%, two points more than John Kerry in 2004), a Washington Post/ABC poll now indicates that only 38% of whites support Obama, while 59% support Romney.

One has to ask why Obama has, according to the latest polling, kept or increased his numbers among blacks (95% in 2008) and Latinos (66% in 2008), who have been hurt more than whites by the sluggish recovery from the Great Recession, but lost a lot a ground among whites. Is it mere identity? Or is it that Romney, mostly through his surrogates, has subtly (and not so subtly) exploited white angst and turned off non-white voters? Come on. You know the answer to that.

But one seriously has to ask why it is that Obama performs so poorly among working class whites. Obama lost them by 18 points last time, and in 2010, House Democrats collectively lost working class whites by 30 points to the House Republicans, according to NPR. That reportedly was the largest margin since, uh, 1854, the year the Republican Party came into being. What is it among this group of folks that turns them off from Democrats, even white ones?

And Obama isn’t doing well particularly among white men, as this headline a few days ago from CBS demonstrates:

In 2008, white men represented about 36% of the electorate, according to exit polling, and John McCain got a whopping 57% of their vote, Obama only 41%. But Obama’s 41% was the best showing by a Democrat since 1976. Today, polling shows that Romney is leading by an unbelievable 65-32 margin. What accounts for that?

As I have said for more than three years now, what accounts for some of that, and what accounts for some of the lack of white support for Obama generally, is white angst, the feeling that the culture, dominated from the beginning by white faces, is slipping away.

Oh, don’t take my word for it. Or don’t take the word of a xenophobic Republican like Pat Buchanan, who has written extensively on the subject. Try the much respected Michael Barone, a conservative who worked for years at US News and World Report and who now, among other things, appears on Fox as a commentator and holds a job as senior political analyst for the right-wing rag Washington Examiner.

Barone wrote on National Review Online on Monday:

Why are whites more partisan than just about ever before? Maybe because they’re constantly being told that they’re headed toward becoming a minority of the electorate. Self-conscious minorities tend to vote more cohesively. Or because they’re the objects of racial discrimination in, among other things, university admissions, as documented by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor in their recent book, Mismatch. Republicans are often told that their party is headed toward minority status because of the rising numbers of heavily Democratic non-whites.

There it is, all you lurking conservatives who don’t want to admit it. Michael Barone, one of your own, defined the angst among white people and gave us a reason why that angst translates into votes for Romney, for perhaps the last great white hope.

All of which brings me back to that bigot in Joplin who called Barack Obama a racist name, knowing that we could hear him. Is he one of those white people who is experiencing the white angst I have written so much about these past three years? No, I don’t think so. He’s just a run-of-the-mill racist, a punk kid with a mind full of intolerance, a head full of hate. He would be an Obama-hater under any circumstances, even without the threat of losing cultural control.

But he is part of the problem, part of why there is such racial division in America. Unfortunately, the larger part of the problem, to a degree  not easily measurable, are those white folks who would never allow a stranger hear them call the President a nigger, or entertain in public the idea that their opposition is based on what Barack Obama represents.

But in the privacy of the voting booth, these white folks would cast a vote against him out of an unspoken, often unacknowledged, racial anxiety, but call it something else, something less offensive, something less revealing.

Whether President Obama wins another term, or whether Mitt Romney’s cynical strategy of secrecy, duplicity, mendacity, and subtle appeals to white anxiety is successful, the country will soon change. Demographics will see to that. America is browning, my friends.

And then Michael Barone’s excuse for white partisanship, “Maybe because they’re constantly being told that they’re headed toward becoming a minority of the electorate,” will be a reality.

He’s In Over His (Black) Head

First, look at this image, which I found on the Rush Limbaugh website the day after the first presidential debate:

See that determined white guy whippin’ that black man’s ass? That is the image that Obama-hating conservatives, particularly Obama-hating quasi-racists like Rush Limbaugh, have been begging for from their suspicious paleface champion, Mittens “The Truth” Romney.

The jubilance over Romney’s debate performance, for some on the right, is rooted in the fact that somebody finally put the Uppity Negro in his place.

Limbaugh explained on Thursday why the President lost the debate:

The guy’s a community organizer, an agitator.  He had no experience. He wasn’t prepared for this job ever.  He’s not prepared for this job now…Obama hasn’t been prepared ever for this job.  He’s not qualified.  It’s above his pay grade.  He is in over his head. 

I will translate the above: That trouble-making Negro is too dumb to be president.

Romney, who has never found it in him to criticize anything Limbaugh has said or done, has offered a version of the same thing several times:

…we’ve learned who Barack Obama is, what he’s capable of doing, that he’s over his head and he swimming in the wrong direction.

He too thinks the Negro is too dumb to be president. If you doubt me, read the context: “we’ve learned who Barack Obama is…”

John Sununu, the co-chair of Romney’s presidential campaign, a man who, if there is a hell, will have an entire ego-roasting chamber to himself, had this exchange on Thursday with Andrea Mitchell:

SUNUNU: What people saw last night, I think, was a president that revealed his incompetence, how lazy and detached he is…

MITCHELL: Governor, I want to give you a chance to maybe take it back. Did you really mean to call Barack Obama, the President of the United States, lazy?

SUNUNU: Yes. I think you saw him admit it the night before when he delivered the pizzas. He said, “You know they’re making me do this work.” He didn’t want to prepare for this debate. He’s lazy and disengaged.

So, President Obama is not only a dumb and incompetent Negro, he is a lazy and dumb and incompetent Negro, a charge Sununu has made before.

Thus it is that our president, a man who graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School—and another prominent if cartoonish Romney supporter, Donald Trump, has also openly questioned Mr. Obama’s education credentials—a man who was the first African-American to head Harvard’s Law Review, a man who taught constitutional law as a professor at the University of Chicago, a man who got into politics at the bottom and worked his way up to become the most powerful leader in the world, is really just an incarnation of all the stereotypes that racists harbor about black folks: they aren’t very bright, they don’t want to work hard, and they want to make life more difficult for whites.

And Romney’s loudest supporters have openly appealed to the angst behind those stereotypes without so much as a peep from him. And as his “over his head” comment suggests, that may be because Romney needs to use that appeal to racial angst to get whites to vote for him in historic proportions. Otherwise he has little chance to win.

As Ron Brownstein wrote:

Romney’s camp is focused intently on capturing at least 61 percent of white voters. That would provide him a slim national majority—so long as whites constitute at least 74 percent of the vote, as they did last time, and Obama doesn’t improve on his 80 percent showing with minorities.

That 61% “would equal the best performance ever for a Republican presidential challenger with that group of voters,” Brownstein says, which is why Romney can’t afford to alienate one single white voter, not to mention a buffoon like Limbaugh, who is a spokesman for white cultural angst.

But as sad as that reality is, there is coming a new one, albeit one that will be forced on the GOP:

Republican strategists clearly feel the weight of trying to assemble a national majority with so little support among minorities that they must win three in five whites. “This is the last time anyone will try to do this,” one said. A GOP coalition that relies almost entirely on whites could squeeze out one more narrow victory in November. But if Republicans can’t find more effective ways to bridge the priorities of their conservative core and the diversifying Next America, that weight will grow more daunting every year. 

“The Hounds Of Racism” Are Howling

As right-wingers begin to think the unthinkable, that Barack Hussein Obama just might serve another four years, we can expect the nastiness to escalate.

From The Washington Post:

RICHMOND — Virginia Republican Party officials on Tuesday ordered their Mecklenburg County affiliate to remove photos portraying President Obama as a witch doctor, a caveman and a thug from its Facebook page.

No racism there, right? The local GOP chairman initially refused to take down the photos, but I noticed today the Facebook page is dead. Defiant racists aren’t what they used to be, I suppose.

We’ve all seen the witch doctor photo, and here are the other two mentioned:

Classy stuff. But that’s just some rednecks in rural Virgina, so Republicans don’t want us to worry about it. It doesn’t reflect the party’s views about Mr. Obama, they say.

Okay. But maybe this does, from the lips of Romney surrogate Newt Gingrich:

He happens to be a partial, part-time president. He really is a lot like the substitute referees in the sense that he’s not a real president. I mean, he doesn’t do any of the things president do; he doesn’t worry about any of the things president’s do…he’s a false president…

Hmm. Not only is that disrespectful, but it sort of sounds like the old Georgian is calling our first African-American president a loafer. But that was on Tuesday. On Wednesday John Sununu, another Romney surrogate, clarified it for us, which I present from Fox “News”:

There. That’s better. The scary socialist Negro is lazy to boot!

As I always do in these cases, I will highlight with a box Romney’s response to such less-than-subtle racially-charged remarks uttered by his surrogates:

Oh, I forgot Romney fashions himself as a “No Apology” kind of guy.

In any case, I offer you an excellent observation by Geoffrey Dunn about how a lot of this dark stuff started with Sarah Palin:

when Palin accused then-candidate Obama of “palling around with terrorists” and of not being “a man who sees America as you see America,” she unleashed the hounds of racism in this country and in the Republican Party. She became the first serious candidate for national office since George Wallace to give both body and voice to the vulgarities of American right-wing talk radio and the pernicious racism that fuels it.

The “hounds of racism” are running quite free these days, and apparently Mitt Romney, who has had problems with dogs in the past, either can’t or doesn’t want to put them back in the kennel of shame where they belong.

In fact, Romney has often sounded like a hound himself, talking about “free stuff,” as in if you want free stuff “vote for the other guy.” And along those lines, I noticed today that Rush Limbaugh was playing a tape over and over—and over—of some hysterically sounding black woman yelling something about a phone. Immediately, I knew where to turn, since Matt Drudge is the source for a lot of Limbaugh’s material. Sure enough:

As I followed the link, I found a YouTube video recorded at a “Romney Event” near Cleveland, which had only 317 views when I watched:

Now, Limbaugh, who is one of those white-angst howling hounds unleashed by Sarah Palin, started talking about “Obama phones” and a website dedicated to telling folks like the woman above how to get their “free phones.”  Of course this plays into all the themes advanced by Republicans against our pigmented president: socialist, giver-of-free-stuff, all-around champion of the “permanent under class,” in Limbaugh’s phrase.

And that permanent under class, in the minds of a lot of Republican voters, looks like the woman above. That’s the point of those photos on that Virginia GOP website; that’s the point of Gingrich’s and Sununu’s comments; that’s the point of Drudge and Limbaugh promoting heavily that weird video.

In order to win, Romney has to get as many nervous whites to vote for him as he can, since he has lost any hope of getting much support from folks of color. That’s why he doesn’t say anything to shut down the obvious appeals to white angst by his official and unofficial surrogates.

That woman and her free “Obama phone” is just one more example for worried whites to consider in November, as conservatives see it. It turns out, though, that Obama had nothing to do with the free phones provided to low-income folks. The earliest version of the program was signed into law by, uh, Ronald Reagan!

But that fact won’t stop folks like Limbaugh, who said today that the phenomenon of people voting for Obama “is not about hard work.”

Go talk to the cell phone lady,” he said.

He’s Proud To Be An Okie From Manhattan

I don’t think I’ve ever quoted Ed Shultz on this blog, and some of you aren’t going to completely understand today’s offering, but here it goes:

Last night Shultz said something about the birther issue that may strike some folks as odd:

The President of the United States has had to put up with this honky-tonk conversation in the media for too long.

What a brilliant description of the goings-on regarding, among other things, the racist-infected doubts about President Obama’s birthplace, his college experiences, and essentially his love for his country.

“Honky-tonk” can be defined simply as, “a cheap, noisy bar or dance hall,” but in my (considerable) experience, there is a certain ethos that prevails in the kinds of bars I have known as honky-tonks. In terms of the politics of the patrons, they were, and remain, very conservative institutions.

Let me put it this way:  Honky-tonks aren’t the kind of places in which one would expect to find Barack Hussein Obama bellied-up to the bar.

While part of the etymology of the term honky-tonk is a little cloudy—”tonk” may refer to the brand name, Ernest A. Tonk, on the upright piano used in the old Tin Pan Alley bars—here is how Wikipedia describes the “honky” portion of the term:

The term honky was, as a term for whites, derived from bohunk and hunky. In the early 1900s, these were derogatory terms for Bohemian, Hungarian, and Polish immigrants. According to Robert Hendrickson, author of the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, black workers in Chicago meatpacking plants picked up the term from white workers and began applying it indiscriminately to all whites. “Father of the Blues” W.C. Handy wrote of “Negroes and hunkies” in his autobiography.

Wikipedia further notes that, “honky tonk eventually became associated mainly with lower-class bars catering to men.”  The piano was replaced, for the honky-tonks I frequented, by a juke box, a juke box mostly loaded with country music. 

And the politics was, well, you can imagine.  Mostly uninformed, bigoted noise, spouted by people who don’t know what they don’t know, many of them I could politely call reactionaries, but because I’m still aggressively saddened about the events yesterday, I will call them classic rednecks.

Okay, so you get what Ed Schultz was trying to say. Which led me to thinking about Donald Trump, who I have called an Ugly American. I think a better description of him would be a Manhattan redneck.

Yes, a redneck from Manhattan.  They exist. And Donald Trump is their hero.  In fact, he’s a hero of rednecks everywhere.

I like this definition of the term redneck from the Urban Dictionary:

A glorious absence of sophistication (Part time or full time)

For the record, Donald Trump is “full-time.”

In his press conference yesterday, Donald Trump said,

I am so proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish.

It’s as if Trump was in a honky-tonk in 1964 Meridian, Mississippi, bragging to his buddies, “I showed that uppity negro. That’ll teach him to wink at a white woman.

And there on the bar stool next to Trump was his honky-tonk angel, Sarah Palin, egging him on:

Media, admit it, Trump forced the issue.

Which reminds me of an old Conway Twitty honky-tonk song, sort of Donald Trump’s plea to the world:

So tell me if you think it’s over,

And I’ll leave it up to you how it ends. 

‘Cause if you don’t want the love I can give you, 

Well, there’s a honky-tonk angel who’ll take me back in.

Makes me want to pop the top on another can.

Monkey Business Is Business As Usual For Some

Since I have sometimes mentioned the racially-tinged and racist elements that make up some of the hysterical resistance to Barack Obama (D-Kenya), I suppose I ought to mention the Orange County Republican bigwig, Marilyn Davenport, who has now become a part of the “it has nothing to do with his race” racist Right. 

Ms. Davenport has issued not an apology but a defense of her forwarding a racist email depicting the first African-American President of the United States as a child-monkey:  

I’m sorry if my email offended anyone. I simply found it amusing regarding the character of Obama and all the questions surrounding his origin of birth. In no way did I even consider the fact he’s half black when I sent out the email. In fact, the thought never entered my mind until one or two other people tried to make this about race.

This episode reminded me a little bit of our own Congressman-now-Senator Roy Blunt and his infamous “monkey joke,” which he told before Focus on the Family’s so-called Values Voter Summit in 2009. In Blunt’s case, and I suppose in his defense, at least he never directly tied his joke to Obama or featured an Obama-monkey photo so the folks would clearly get the message.

Marilyn Davenport, who said she would “NOT resign” her “central committee position,” wanted to make sure the recipients of her email did not miss the point: 

Class. Pure Class.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 620 other followers

%d bloggers like this: