Dateline: Madisonville, Kentucky
“Parents and schools should place great emphasis on the idea that it is all right to be different. Racism and all the other 'isms' grow from primitive tribalism, the instinctive hostility against those of another tribe, race, religion, nationality, class or whatever. You are a lucky child if your parents taught you to accept diversity.”
“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.”
For citizens of rural areas to be critical of Washington bureaucracy is as old as our constitution. Here in rural Kentucky, stoic conservatism has held sway in the court of public opinion for as long as the area has produced some of the world’s best bourbon whiskey; forever. What is startlingly different, and scary; is the passion of the raw hatred for the current President of the United States.
Label this new species of man that I have found to dominate the political climate of today’s rural America: Maleus Americanus Crustius, a loose Latin translation for “Angry White American Males.” The solitary target of their anger is the nations’ first chief executive of color, Barack Obama.
In my many conversations in taverns, churches and every other type of rural meeting hall in between; I found their hatred of anything associated with the name “Obama” to be pathological to the level that it often scared me. I never held a discussion with these run of the mill white male everyday hard working and law abiding citizens that involved President Obama that I found spiritually uplifting. On the contrary, I would part their company depressed.
Roaming the country side for the last three years, I often found great inspiration from interacting with the everyday citizens of this great nation. The exception was anytime the name Obama was thrown into the debate with even the smallest gathering of rural white males. Without fail, an unsettling form of hate took over as “Obama Paranoia” raised its ugly head. Any chance for the give and take of compromise was now off the table.
In the rural areas of America, amongst the suddenly vocal demographic of the underemployed and undereducated white male, Obama is the root and the cause for anything and everything bad in one’s life.
Granted, they have always been with us. Since the days of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew’s “silent majority” in the crazy social upheaving decade of the 1960’s - the white undereducated male - feeling left out of a changing society, disengaged and bitter, has played a role on the nation’s political landscape. But somehow, today, the distrust of President Obama just feels different. It is palpable to even the most oblivious observer. The pure hatred is both disconcerting and disappointing.
The election of a black President, according to many Obama critics, has removed forever any historical white responsibility for past racially motivated discrimination. I heard often from whites, “now they got a black president, elected twice with the help of a majority of white voters. So, no more using racial prejudice as an excuse. The time has come for the race card to be permanently retired.”
Can the election of one politician wipe clean the two century plus slate of a nation’s past collective sins? When proposing this question amongst and audience heavy with Maleus Americanus Crustius, the reaction was always negative. Swords were drawn and any respectful give and take discussion shuttered. As one liberal told me, that conservatives, “while they respond well to obsequiousness and stroking, they exhibit a tendency to snarl when put on the defensive.” A lunch companions at the Country Cupboard in Madisonville, KY said it well and concise: “I don't need no doctor’s drugs to get my blood moving to my extremities. The mere mention of the name “Obama” works really well, thank you, sir.”
The omnipresent right wing media “haters” stalk both the print and social media of the nation’s airwaves and cyberspace; evoking from their conservative audiences’ a full blown rage for anything “Obama.” Their potent fury, when unleashed by the mere mention of the “O” word, will overwhelm any adversary wishing to engage in a discussion based on fact and logic, not hate and rumor. From tax policy to the nation’s medical services - spit out with distain as “Obama Care” - anything in American not up to the highest standard is always the fault of the “Muslim who was born in Kenya,” residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Other shared characteristics I began to recognize of those white males floundering in the doldrums of the “Anti-Anything Obama” movement: fragile egos, bitterness without personal accountability and lateral economic movement from one generation to the next, all the while losing ground in the race for a piece of the Great American Dream.
According to a 2014 Quinnipiac Poll, President Obama's support among uneducated white male’s has fallen steadily over the first six years’ of his presidency, plummeting to 29%, which is the lowest of any Democratic President in history.
White men with no education above a high school diploma--like any group of adults without college degrees--tend to land toward the lower end of the income scale. Relative to the policies of the Republican Party and their slant to the best interests of business and commerce, Obama and the Democratic policies tend to offer more of a helping hand to lower-income people. Thus, one would predict that most citizens without a college degree would more favorably matriculate toward the policies of the Democrats and Obama.
But, the polls prove overwhelming and beyond a doubt that the above assumption is not true, if the disaggregated demographic is rural white males.
According to Ronald Brownstein at The National Journal, the answer is this:
“Many [working-class whites] are culturally-conservative; more are deeply skeptical of government (including [Obama's] health care plan); and most are struggling in the sustained economic downturn. Polls also consistently show many working-class whites are deeply uneasy about the propulsive racial and ethnic changes that Obama uniquely embodies.”
There were many times that I found the negativity directed at Barack Obama to be so absurd, all one could do was laugh. One die hard good old boy acquaintance of mine, who took his marching orders from the conservative media hate machine serious – and rote - became enraged when he heard a news teaser on talk radio railing against Obama for his war on “White Christmas.” By happenstance it was only a couple of weeks before the most festive of Christian holidays. He ranted on social media for a solid two days against Obama and the “damn liberals” plan to ruin a perfectly fine tradition like “White Christmas” on the mere premise they didn’t like anything containing the word “white.” Finally, it was pointed out to him that in his outrage he had failed to hear the correct annunciation on the radio and it was “White Christians” that the President was accused of waging war on. White Christmas was still safe, at least for now. Damn liberals.
The most bizarre confrontation I had with a conservative did not occur on the open road but through social media. Seated in front of my home office computer, I received a message over Facebook that said only for an introduction, “Fu#@ you, Almany.” The man had taken offense to what he felt was a liberal slant of one of my Facebook posts on a mutual friend’s wall. The founding fathers, evidently, had not meant to protect speech, if it came from a liberal, when they wrote that pesky first amendment.
He lived in Cherokee Village, AR and was, he told me, a long time radio and TV personality having written, produced and performed for years in the country music business. “I have had numerous Grammy nominations,” he told me. Recently, he had run for state representative but lost to a “damn liberal over in Pocahontas, Almany, and your kind of a town. You should have stayed there.” His anger oozing through cyber space was clearly felt; my screen seemed to be almost smoking, my keys hot to the touch.
I ask how he knew me. “Oh, we’ve met,” he typed, now on open and public Facebook, his anger only seeming to grow as our spat went public. “I wasn’t impressed (with you) then and I am not now. You are just a liberal dick. This isn’t over, Almany, by a long stretch.”
I asked if he could personal message me a phone number and I would like to interview him and get his thoughts for a book I was writing. “I bet that is one hell of a book. How the hell could anyone as dumb as you write a book? Yeah, I will do your interview, asshole, I am not afraid of you,” he stated on my public Facebook page.
After several more rounds of cyber space banter and insults, he finally sent me a phone number. I called and introduced myself. “Why don’t we just meet in person,” he opened with, “that way I can kick your liberal ass.” Before we advance beyond a first date, I said, let’s see what we have in common.
We talked for two hours.
Five minutes in he let down. “I am having a hard time disliking you,” he said with a laugh, “and I am trying real hard to dislike you.” You don’t say, I thought. “I got to watch it,” he said, “had a stroke a couple of years ago.” Who would have thought that?
It took a while, but we did find some common ground. “I am pro-life,” I told him, “the biggest mistake the Democratic Party made was selling its soul to the radical women’s movement of the late 60’s. I bet that surprises you?”
“I think the role of the government in some areas needs to be expanded,” my new friend said. “We need more support for the arts and music in our schools, for example. And I did not support the Republican party line with the Patriot Act. I felt Ashcroft went too far. Most Tea Party members felt the same. Now, I bet that surprises you. You know, I have lots of friends who are Democrats,” he confessed in an almost whisper.
The man was obviously intelligent and talented. His resume in the music business was impressive. I googled him to verify what he had told me. He was legit, but a little off kilter – on a good day. He laughed but agreed when I gave him that assessment. “I had a radio show out of Philadelphia a few years ago and I always told my partner when he showed me some article with all kinds of facts, ‘you read the facts and I will scream the truth.’ Yeah, I am opinionated.”
I already knew the answer, but I asked anyway. “What is the biggest problem facing our nation today?”
“That damn bastard in the White House and you can quote me word for word on that one. You know he was raised and schooled by a communist. Read his book. He has been raised to hate white people. Liberals I hate em. Are you sure you are a liberal, I am having a hard time hating you,” he told me for the third time. “His domestic policy,” he continued, “is horrible and his foreign policy is worse. We cannot get him out of that office fast enough. He supports socialism at home and his Muslim brothers around the world. The man will not rest until he has taken away all of our rights and made this a nation under Muslim law.”
And for two hours around and around we went. “We need to sit down and have a beer sometime,” he said, “but you being a liberal I know I will have to buy it.” Or, I suggested, “We could put it on the government’s tab.”
It became a point of pride with me that I would never end a discussion with a conservative supporter without a hand shake and an amiable parting. My country music producing new friend was the most hostile of anyone I encountered, but within five minutes we had found common ground that allowed for a civil conversation and a healthy debate. Our encounter, that started with so much anger, is the perfect antidotal example that gives me hope that the citizens of this nation will, as we always have, find compromise to our differences through the democratic process.
Placing a human being behind the label “liberal” always seemed to take the edge off and the hostility would cease. I many times requested of those with different political opinions than mine to view the terms liberal and conservatives as verbs, not nouns. Everyone can be labeled as both conservative and liberal if the net of political discussion is tossed wide enough, I would suggest. The term liberal, within itself, is neither good nor bad; nor is the term conservative.
When I grew up during the cold war years of the 1950s’ and early 1960’s “communist” was the boogie man word of choice. We knew it was the ultimate derogatory insult to be hurled during an adversarial argument. It did not matter what the subject was nor that we as pre-teen kids had no idea what the word meant. We just knew it was as bad as it gets. Today, “Liberal,” is the new boogie man word of the uninformed.
“Look he said,” as we prepared to end our phone conversation, “I got a bad temper and sometimes I lose it. I know I gave you a good cussin at the start, but you are a good egg, so no hard feelings. You know, you are not going to change my mind and I am not going to change yours, but it was good to talk about things.”
If that is in fact, fact, I suggested a pragmatic compromise. “Suppose on Election Day next November instead of nullifying each other’s vote, why don’t we just agree to both stay home and save on the gas.”
“Can’t do it,” he said. “If you don’t vote you have no right to complain about the government and no way am I going four years not complaining about the government.”
Touché. How can you not like a right wing extremist with that sort of populist logic?
A Lunch Time Panel Discussion
“When the human race neglects its weaker members, when the family neglects its weakest one - it's the first blow in a suicidal movement. I see the neglect in cities around the country, in poor white children in West Virginia and Virginia and Kentucky - in the big cities, too, for that matter.”
We are gathered with the noon time rush crowd of the Country Cupboard restaurant in Madisonville, KY. I made six at our table, an outsider wanting opinions. The other five were regulars with the midweek lunchtime crowd and knew each other well. We were all male, we were all white and judging from the size of the meal’s tab that I picked up, we were all hungry.
I got them warmed up.
I tell my mostly conservative Republican lunch mates that I see today two major problem groups conservative politicians must deal with. First, being the very misnamed and misinformed gang known as the Tea Party; whose inflammatory rhetoric has managed to attract to their ranks almost every bigot looking for a platform to rant from. I challenged my new lunch friends to deny that this group, and their cause, has not been hijacked by the billionaire Koch brothers whose entire agenda is based on keeping the 1% of the wealthiest from paying their fair share of taxes.
Second, the right wing Christian religious fanatics. These self -appointed guardians of the nation’s morality would gladly take us back to the dark days of the middle ages of intolerance. These zealots claim divine intent and biblical justification in their attempts to spread hate and divisiveness amongst us by inventing convenient enemies. They demonize anyone who is “different”: blacks, gays, women and other religious beliefs. They are an insulting affront to anyone who believes in our constitution, I lectured.
My goal accomplished, I sit back as the chips angrily fall and the frustration erupts with everyone wanting to talk at once. I fain not knowing what I have just done, ignoring the passion I have evoked, turning my intentions to carving up my chicken fried steak. It is time to boost my cholesterol levels and listen to America at its worst.
“Have Republicans Ever Hated a President More Than Barack Obama,” I asked the group?
The answer came from John, in his 40’s and well situated financially in a life on the family farm. He rants on a common complaint I hear often from conservatives, historical revision.
“Yes. The hatred towards Obamanation doesn't hold a candle to the hatred of Lincoln. Lincoln was hated by both the north and the south, republicans and democrats, liberals and conservatives. He is, in fact, the most vilified president of all time.”
“And you're thinking, no, not Lincoln, everyone loves Lincoln. It took the Republican Party 30 to 40 years and a constant barrage of lies and propaganda to turn the tide of hatred that the American people had for Lincoln.”
“If, when you hear Lincoln, you immediately think, Honest Abe, then you have bought the lie.”
“No, I'm not a Republican. No, I'm not a Democrat. I'm a Libertarian. From the Libertarian perspective it's truly humorous to watch the squabbling between Democrats and Republicans, who, in the end, both want the same thing -- control. Republicans want to control people; Democrats want to control corporations. Libertarians don't want to control anyone.”
“Choosing between Republicans with tendency towards fascism and Democrats’ with their tendency towards communism is like choosing between cherry- and lime-flavored cyanide.”
The Tea Partier
Do Whites hate Obama because of his skin color, I quarried the group? I know from painful past experience that when I throw this card on the table, the gloves come off.
“You are asking the question backwards,” George told me. He would prove to be the most outspoken and angry of the five. He was in his late 40’s and told me he was in between jobs, again, having lost his most recent one because of the “Marxist President we have.”
“You should ask why Obama hates white people,” George responded to my question. Then, without provoking from me, George answered the question he asked of me, for me. So, I just listened.
“Obama has a hatred for white people because of the way the British treated his grandfather in Kenya. Even more important, he is a devoted Communist and one of the guiding principles of destroying a free government so it can be replaced with a Communist one is to divide that country along racial and economic lines - rich from poor, black from white etc. He is just being a good Marxist. Karl Marx gave this same advice to Lincoln prior to our Civil War in correspondence with him.”
“The Civil War was never about slavery; it was about state's rights as guaranteed us by the tenth amendment. In effect he (Lincoln) was telling the states and by proxy the people, that they could not be trusted with freedom because they might abuse it therefore all power should be concentrated in a central government - exactly what our founders fought a bloody war against. In other words, their bold experiment in Democracy lasted four score and seven years and has been on a downward slide ever since.”
How will history record Obama’s eight years in the White House, I asked?
“The Son of a Bitch should not have had 8 years,” Joseph said. Around my age, mid-50’s, Joseph was a local business man involved in sales at a time when sales were not good. He saw that as just another reason to disparage the performance of the President.
“Son of a Bitch has ruined the economy and has ruined the nation. Many of us here today are hurting; our families are hurting because of that Son of a Bitch. Without a doubt, he should be impeached, tried for treason and I mean all of this. His attempt to launch us into war with Syria was a violation of Constitutional and International law. At no time should American personnel, treasure or weapons be supplied to a fight that does not directly relate to the security of our nation. Not one drop of American service men blood should have been shed in Syria. That was not our fight, both sides were evil. Let em kill each other. Save us the trouble. Mr. Obama's willingness to bypass Congress and unilaterally strike Assad is MORE than enough reason to consider impeachment.”
“In addition, Mr. Obama's support to end the right to keep and bear arms through injecting himself into the gun control debate was abysmal - especially when he stood behind the survivors of Sandy Hook, browbeating Americans into feeling guilty for a situation that was caused by a lunatic. He calls himself a Constitutional scholar and his leadership has proven him to be anything BUT a scholar in this regard.”
“Patriots do not vote for, follow or obey Tyrants and Mr. Obama is the worst manifestation of tyranny in the United States since we expelled the crown.”
Larry was 27 and a recent graduate of a state university. Trained in the field of management, with the down swing in the economy, he had not been able to land meaningful employment that he felt utilized his training, nor his abilities. He was getting by, barely, he said, as a part time handy man. He had a lot of time to read, he said. I was to deduce Larry also had a lot of time to brood.
“I think over the last 40 years I have been through the omission of persecution as well as racial bigotry. We have activists like this Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson that transpire every event into a racially motivated situation. We have insane people like Lewis Farrakhan that can fill up the Pontiac Silver Dome talking his lecture to 80 thousand African Americans about the easy and most effective way to kill the white man. In the eyes of our nation this is called propaganda as well as anarchy. But in the realm it is a terrorist attempt and indoctrination of recruits.”
“Barack Obama is without a doubt one of the most racist individuals so far, after this horrible killing of this young man in Florida, the Travon Williams (sic) incident. Al Sharpton as his usual racist behavior has already inspired it as a racist event; the black community is already at super madness at this incident. But that is what Al Sharpton is all about. He has and will keep trying to create a racist war. He will not stop until he succeeds. Obama states on national TV that if he had a son he would want him to be like Travon Williams (sic). He knew that the black community was on the verge of a nationwide racist war over this. And he escalates it even worse announcing this to the public. He knew what he was doing and what it would lead up to. They have already been protesting this in Pontiac, MI as well as Detroit MI, two of the worst places to start up a racial event.”
“Obama has no better judgment than those that submit to these escalations in racial bigotry. Al Sharpton wants every black person in the world to believe every white man in this country had something to do with slavery.”
“Obama is nothing more than a smooth talker that came out of the closet. One can only tell that he doesn’t care for the black community or the white community, all he was in it for was to be in the history books and bail out. But he had showed the world one thing that a black man can screw up a country as easily as a white man can.”
“Yes, Obama is a racist. I have been around too many to not notice this one can be judged, but if you’re without sin cast the first stone. Obama has sat at this table and drank from that same blood glassed offered cup as his introduction to a bi- racist. This I know for a fact and I would love to get on a debate in person on national TV with him over his racial tendencies.”
“But for people like Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson and let’s not forget Ralph Abernathy as linked to Farrakhan. Your racist times will end when the black community figures out they have a brain of their own and don’t need you to sabotage their minds with false hopes to line your pockets with blood stained money. So, Mr. Obama, welcome to the back of the bus.”
I asked Larry how many black people he knew on a personal basis, interacted with on a regular basis. “Don’t need to know them,” he reasoned, “I know how they are.”
I noticed on Thomas’ right bicep a tattoo that appeared to be recently inked. Strange I thought, for someone his age with no other visible body art work. Even more oddly strange was the subject of the tattoo; a typewriter. I ask him why a typewriter? “Because,” he said with a laugh, “it symbolizes me; old and obsolete, but in truth, still working just fine.” I immediately liked Thomas.
By just following the menu clues, before he said one word, I knew I had an ally. He had been the only one of the six of us not to order the day’s special of chicken fried steak. He had chosen a tuna salad for his mid day’s meal. Even without the tattoo and his explanation, it was easy to pick out the closet liberal of the bunch.
He didn’t wait for me to ask a prodding question to insert in his opinion. At the age of 80 plus years; Thomas was a retired government employee. He was the one voice of moderate to liberal dissent amongst this lunch time gathering.
“My earliest memories are of a country on the upswing of the New Deal,” he stated. “My dad remembered literally not knowing where his next meal would come from - this from a man who started working in the mines when he was 8 and finally quit high school, going to work full time to send checks home when he was in the 10th grade. And this was in the 1920’s, before the crash. Things hit the mines before the rest of the nation. We were the canary in the tunnel, but nobody paid any attention to the warning signs.”
“I was born when Herbert Hoover was finishing out his term, in 1932,” he continued. “My father by then was out of the mines and worked as a letter-carrier for the post office. He worked hard, but he had a secure income during those years of suffering for most people. Just as now, the best jobs for the 99% were the secure civil service jobs; only now even they are not so secure!”
“Roosevelt was a realist and saw that government intervention was necessary to save capitalism, but he had an ignorant Republican Party in opposition, just as now. I see a lot of our current President as much like FDR. The 1% hated Roosevelt, but he did what he had to do, same as the man there now (President Obama) did with his stimulus, got us moving again, to clean up the mess Bush left him, like the one Hoover left for FDR. Anyone who today cannot see how much better off the economy is than it was in 2008, well, they are just a fool.”
I asked his opinion on the media’s treatment of Obama, in particular FOX News. “FOX News hates Obama,” he said, “because they are owned by Republican Rupert Murdock who hires right wing radicals to express his viewpoints. That is also a wise financial move because they can get 40+% of America's population to watch their news. People like to watch news that reflects their view points. That is why I watched MSNBC during the elections, because I couldn't stand President Bush and the pundits on that channel shared my outlook. Obama bashers galore, they see things very different. I see the economy improving after two terms of bad politics and I believe that nearly everything Obama is doing is paying off well. FOX News is behind the rowdy participants at town hall meetings on health care with hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck encouraging civil disruptions in the debates. Democrats debate, Republicans rile and lie and twist the truth.”
Awkward stoned silence greeted the completion of his dissenting opinion. For the non-conforming outspoken liberals of the coffee shops and cafeterias of today’s small towns, it is good looks cannot kill.
“It is hard to unring a bell.”
I will make no pretense to be impartial on this section. FOX News is a joke and an embarrassment to anyone who has a shred of professional journalistic training. FOX News sells hate, and they do it for ratings. It is that simple.
Does FOX News exploit the naivety of its demographically targeted audience, underemployed and undereducated white males? Sure they do. You would have to be totally oblivious to deny the obvious; FOX News fans have a, “tendency to voraciously consume absurdly spun tales driven by fear.” This has been documented by researchers at the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. “Conservatives regularly demonstrate their proclivity for barking at the outrageous falsehoods proffered by Fox and other conservative fabulists. Among the university’s findings were that the brains of conservatives are more likely to have an enlarged amygdala which is associated with greater inflexibility, emotion, and fear response. This could account for conservatives having a greater susceptibility to conspiracy models of thinking as evidenced by this collection of right-wing crack pottery.”
Since Roger Ailes founded this farce, FOX News’ motto has been “fair and balanced." What a fraud. In no believable stretch of journalistic ethics does this network truly aim for fair-and-balanced coverage. When the obvious becomes too obvious for even FOX News to deny, their defenders go into the defensive mode of pointing to media bias with a liberal slant in the mainstream media. "We're the counterweight. They have a liberal agenda, and we tell the other side of the story," conservative defenders will counter argue.
Fine, but drop the fair and balanced fraud. Fairness and balance would seem to imply telling all sides of a story, not merely one side. Even FOX patriarch Canadian financier Rudolph Murdoch acknowledged that Fox News' mission is to push a conservative agenda, giving America, “somebody who tells the other side of the story."
Having a conservative or liberal slant is a tradition rooted deeply in the bedrock of our democracy, the First Amendment. When the media adopts a liberal or a conservative slant, as long as it is portrayed clearly as an editorial and not a news report; then the consumer can make up their own mind. But, as the liberal media source Mother Jones News points out, “Fox News has always tried to have it both ways: function as a conservative organization but claim it is not (at least when it comes to its news reporting, as opposed to its right-wing-to-the-core Beck-O'Reilly-and-Hannity line-up). This ruse has not been much of a secret. But in trying to defend FOX News with this fair-and-balanced shtick is bunk.” Telling the conservative side of the story may well be a legitimate endeavor, but isn't a balanced one.
Much has been made of supposed research that shows that those who list FOX News as their primary source of political news have IQs that average 20 points lower than those who do not drink the FOX Kool Aid. Fair? Is it valid? Perhaps; perhaps not, but there is an interesting analogy found in the researcher’s conclusion:
"Less intelligent animals rely on instinct when confronted by something which they do not understand. This is an ancient survival reaction all animals, including humans, exhibit. It's a very simple phenomenon, really; think about a dog being afraid of a vacuum cleaner. He doesn't know what a vacuum is or if it may harm him, so he becomes agitated and barks at it. Less intelligent humans do the same thing. Concepts that is too complex for them to understand, may frighten or anger them. Fox News' content is presented at an elementary school level and plays directly into the fears of the less educated and less intelligent."
I have a conservative friend whom I will vouch for having an IQ well above average. He also makes a commendable attempt to watch multiple news sources, including FOX News. I chide him that every time he switches his TV channel from C-Span to FOX News, he raises the average IQ of both audiences.
“If we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race, creed and color, we would find some other causes for prejudice by noon.
Is it Racial?
Is it a mere coincidence that the first black president of the United States is so maligned by white males’ in conservative states? In all the conversations I held, with hundreds of white males who despised President Obama, never once did I find one single conservative who would admit to being a racist. Most would become extremely defensive when I questioned them about Obama’s race and their dislike for him. It is no longer cool to be a racist. “I am not racist, but……” or “I know some of them who are good people, so see I am not afraid of them just because they are black;” became the norm for the start of another discussion on “that damn Obama.”
I was confronted by whites often with the argument that the real racists were the blacks who voted for Obama simple because he was black. It was true that Obama in both 2008 and 2012 received over 90% of the black vote. It was also true that both of his successful candidacies was dependent upon, and received, a large block of white votes. But if it is true that blacks voted for Obama based on skin color, would not reciprocal logic hold sway; that whites voted against Obama because of skin color? No, I was told by one staunch conservative in Texas County, MO. Whites, according to his theory, looked at the issues and voted against Obama based on facts and disagreement with his policy. Blacks, however, just looked at his skin color and voted strictly on race. That in itself, in my opinion, is a classic example of racist thinking. Worn out, I learned to keep this nugget of wisdom in my hip pocket. It always fell on deft and defensive ears.
A young female Doctoral student at the University of Colorado told me in the course of a discussion in a Boulder, CO bookstore, that she could identify racial overtones throughout the right wing movement against the President, and that there were many differences in the hate of Obama and the complaints about previous President’s policies. “I'm not talking about disagreement with policies because even though Bush was disliked by many, the animosity did not start until two years into his presidency. With Obama, race was definitely a huge factor, a trigger. Then the death threats started once he announced he would run for president.”
She saw the country as being misled down the road of misinformation the right wing pundits pitched. “The words from the right-wing media and FOX News got out of hand and were giving in to all the rumors that he's a secret Muslim, the controversy over his pastor, out to destroy America and such. Some of it was religion and politics. Right-wing Christians have this ridiculous obligation to always vote Republican because that's God's side. Some would give messages that Obama is the Anti-Christ or he's the most "liberal" President ever. Misinformed policies would be fed by the right wing media to stir up the good ole boys out in Bubba Land, such as, ‘He's going to take away your guns’, and with healthcare, ‘He's a Communist/Socialist/Fascist/Hitler/etc.…’ or ‘he's going to kill Grandma.’ Facts were never given to back up any of these ridiculous claims, but they were not needed. The conservative voters heard what they wanted to hear, and yes racism played a major role.”
When debating the merits of the current President, I would often be put on the defensive myself, forced to defend “your boy in the White House,” as one angry conservative in rural Missouri referred to the President. “This is nothing personal,” Robbie, a Boulder, CO (yes, there are conservatives in this well-known cradle of liberal think) native told me, “We want only for Obama's policies to fail. If he were developing policies that would work successfully toward our system of capitalism, we would all be rooting for his success. He, however, is fomenting policies that will work not in our current system, but rather in a socialized system. Remember now, Obama is very Marxist oriented and if he fails in his endeavors, we all benefit.”
After three years on the road it pains me to admit, for I see it as a real tarnishing of our nation as a land that supports fair play, but many conservatives would like to see Obama fail, with no regard for the pain it will inflict upon their fellow Americans. Their elected political leaders on the right have made the undercutting of anything “Obama” a zealous crusade of the bizarre.
As I was told by one wise and self-professed Republican women from Saratoga, WY, “For some reason, people who are supposed to be so patriotic and care about America believe that if he fails, then their point would be proven. Their point is? Your guess is as good as mine. For my fellow Republicans to do all they can to sabotage our elected president, disregarding how it hurts our nation, shames me.”
Taking a pragmatic view of Obama’s second four-year term, following the 2012 election; she gave this advice to her fellow Republicans: “I think we all should try to realize that he won, regardless of our choice. If we really want this country to succeed, we would unite behind our president and support our country. It's going to take way more than President Obama to ‘ruin’ this country and I really don't think that's going to happen. He has good ideas, good intentions, and a good plan of action. Why fight that, just because you have a personal problem with a man you don't personally know?”
It is human nature to resist change. I knew many of unquestionable character in the 1960’s, good men and women whose response to the civil rights movement at that point in time would be viewed in the light of today’s acceptance of diversity as non-apologetic racist. The 1960’s winds of change blew both too quick and too strong for many. With Obama today, when filtering in his 2008 landmark election, I would throw out this possibility for discussion: Many conservative whites today are not afraid of Obama, but more of what he represents - change.
It is a simple question: does President Obama’s black skin and its novelty in our history of leadership play a role in white dislike of him? How can you logically argue it does not?
Since Barack Obama was elected president, six years prior, only 10 percent of the nations’ voters believe that race relations in America have gotten better, according to a New York Times/CBS Poll published in August of 2014. Seventeen percent of blacks and 8 percent of whites believe race relations have improved under Obama. Thirty-five percent of Americans believe that race relations have gotten worse in the Obama era -- including 40 percent of whites and 21 percent of blacks.
Fifty-two percent of Americans polled said that race relations have stayed about the same.
The election of the first African American president in history was supposed to improve race relations. So what happened?
According to Lisa, who introduced herself as a white Mississippi Southern Baptist Christian, the blame lies totally at the feet of the President and his advisors, who have pulled over a massive fraud on the American people. In 2013, in her lifelong home of Biloxi, MS, right after the inauguration of Obama’s second term, she told me, “Obama is the Great Divider. From the media-sanctioned manufactured crisis of the ‘war on women’, to his venomous rhetoric towards the wealthy ‘not paying their fair share’, Obama has mastered the art of division. Why else was his entire 2012 campaign waged with relentless character attacks and insults against Romney? He carefully sorts people into those who depend on government programs and those who want to safeguard their wealth against another tax grab. Energy is either the good, green, and clean stuff he favors or it's the "dirtier air, dirtier water" that the Republicans want. In fact, almost all of Obama's political success owes to his addiction for dividing people into camps and appealing to one group by diminishing the other. Reagan, the Great Communicator, fostered prosperity for everyone. Obama, the Great Divider, promotes taking the wealth from the few and giving to the many.”
I give the floor to James, a Northeasterner Snowbird from upstate New York wintering in Florida, for the Democratic retort: “What exactly do you people not understand about the phrase re-elected? The hate and vitriol of the people who don't like him says everything about them - and nothing about Obama. Obama is doing what the majority of voters who elected him in 2008 - and who re-elected Obama in 2012 - put him there to do.”
“If you wanted Mitt Romney, or Ron Paul to win - and you cannot accept that the majority of voters did not agree with you - then that is your issue or your problem. See if you can't be a bit more of an adult - and an American - about it. The people spoke in November 2008 and again in November, 2012. Now get on with your life. If you can't - again - that is your issue.”
I met Dave in a sea side café in Santa Anna, CA. He told me he was white but had mixed half siblings and a black step father; just the kind of blended family that today has become more accepted, but a generation ago would have been considered socially risky. “I think the problems that have been around forever have been exposed more under Obama. Maybe African-Americans have gotten a louder voice with someone who is half black in office but the bigots have definitely gotten louder. They see their hateful way of life being threatened and are lashing out. Either way, we need to remember we are all people and all need to respect each other and love each other because of and in spite of our differences.”
Historically, progress in any area of American society has never moved in a constant direction. It is the nature of a democracy to move haltingly, but also the character of the American spirit to move in the progressive direction of inclusion. Also, historically, in progressive movements of inclusion, there has
always been two steps forward and then one step backwards. But in due time, progressive inclusion in the United States does move in a consistently positive direction. The resulting diversity gives our nation strength and revalidates the universal respect for the quest of the Great American Dream.
I like to tease my conservative friends that they have backed the losing horse in every social issue this country has faced since Reconstruction. Racial minorities, immigrants, women’s suffrage, voting rights, rights for the handicapped, Title IX workplace rights; and now gay rights; the historical trajectory is, over-due time, consistently progressive and liberal.
The late great folk singer Jim Croche was not known as one of the 1960’s protest voices. His songs were mostly ballads and love songs. However, he did compose one political statement through his music. By chance I stumbled upon it, titled Which Way Are You Going? The song was released after Croche’s 1973 death - an eerie lecture from the grave to the hypocrites.
I was amazed at how the lyrics state the very point of inclusion and personal responsibility we struggle with today. He describes the old and new America so accurately. A great musician and a great man.
Which way are you going?
Which way are you going?
Which side will you be on?
Will you stand and watch
While all the seeds of hate are sown
Will you stand with those who say
"Let his will be done?"
One hand on the bible
One hand on the gun
Which way are you looking
Is it hard to see?
Do you say
"What's wrong for him is not wrong for me?"
You walk the streets
Righteousness but you refuse to understand
You say you love the baby
Then you crucify the man
Everyday things are changing
Words once honored turned to lies
People wondering, can you blame them
It's too far to run and too late to hide
Now you turn your back on
All the things that you used to preach
Now it's, "Let him live in freedom, if he lives like me"
Well, your light has changed, confusion rains
What have you become
All your olive branches turned to spears
When your flowers turned to guns
The tenure of our first minority President and the right wing media’s obsession and fixation with stirring racial tension represents a not so feel good American moment. However, our proud history predicts that now that diversity in our nation’s highest elected office has finally arrived, the division we now struggle and attempt to cope with will in due time prove to be more of a speed bump than a blockade in our nation’s relentless and inexorable drive to equality.
So much for a far off some day racial utopia, let’s talk reality. The 2014 conservative white male: loudly proclaiming to be neither racist nor afraid of blacks, but still, always with a solid stash of second amendment rights; just in case.