A new president “evokes weirdly angry and intense denunciations—a reaction hard to explain in terms of anything he has actually done,” said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune. Does that suggest, as former President Jimmy Carter insisted last week, that “an overwhelming portion” of that animosity is based on the president’s race? “No, it doesn’t, because I’m not talking about Barack Obama; I’m talking about George W. Bush and Bill Clinton,” both of whom inspired venomous opposition from Americans who considered them “illegitimate, dangerous, and thoroughly evil.” So, for that matter, did Franklin Roosevelt (denounced as a Bolshevik), Abraham Lincoln (branded a dictator), and presidents dating all the way back to George Washington (who was hung in effigy). What Carter seems to have forgotten is that “hating presidents is an irrepressible American tradition”—regardless of the president’s skin color.
In slurring millions of Americans, Carter missed the real source
of their animosity, said Frank Luntz in the New York Daily News. “It’s not racial hatred you’re hearing, it’s political and economic outrage.” In the past year, Washington has spent about $2 trillion to bail out big banks and automakers and to “stimulate” the economy, “and then can’t explain where the money went.” Now it is flirting with “a trillion dollar health-care experiment when over 85 percent of Americans are satisfied with their health care.” Millions of Americans truly are mad as hell over Washington’s arrogant lack of respect for their tax dollars. That’s why so many “furious” people are flocking to town-hall meetings, the recent “9/12” demonstrations in Washington, and tea-party protests. The “race peddlers have undermined themselves,” said Jonah Goldberg in the Chicago Tribune. “The notion that opposing skyrocketing deficits and socialized medicine is racist is met with eye rolls by a vast majority of Americans,” who don’t need Jimmy Carter telling them “what is—or is not—in their own hearts.”
Obviously, it’s entirely possible to oppose Obama without being a racist, said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. That’s why most Democrats, including Obama, have strenuously distanced themselves from Carter’s remark. But from the “birthers” who portray Obama as a dangerous foreigner to the “nitwits who arrive at protest rallies bearing racially offensive caricatures”—such as signs depicting the president as an African witch doctor—there’s a strong odor of white resentment in the air. Carter “did us a favor” by openly saying what others cannot or will not. Obama’s critics need to take a hard look at the company they keep.
Oh, please—they already know, said Keith Richburg in the London Observer. The Right has been exploiting white resentment for decades, from Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” to Ronald Reagan’s decision to launch his 1980 campaign in a Mississippi town notorious for the murder of three civil-rights workers. Racism often comes in “coded language,” and there is no way to prove, say, that Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina was motivated by racism when he shouted “You lie!” at Obama during his address to Congress. But it sure was “a stunning display of disrespect.” And remember, while Obama captured 53 percent of the total vote, he won only 43 percent of whites. In Alabama, he won just 10 percent of white votes, and in Mississippi, just 11 percent. Why do you think that might be? “For many white Americans,” said Bob Herbert in The New York Times, “Barack Obama is nothing more than ‘that black guy in the White House,’ and they want him out of there.”
It’s hardly that simple, said David Brooks, also in The New York Times. Obama’s election was a victory for highly educated, urban elites, supported by wealthy donors from Hollywood and Wall Street, and it was inevitable that his presidency “would spark a populist backlash.” Such angry backlashes have occurred periodically throughout our history, pitting the heartland’s “hardworking people” against the swells in Washington, and the tone of this class conflict is always ugly. Don’t forget that in January, Obama’s approval rating was nearly 70 percent, said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. It has since plunged to 45 percent. “Did all those people suddenly become racist?” Of course not. Yes, some portion of those who dislike Obama “dislike him because he is black,” but most have been sorely disappointed by his big-government policies. Accusing them of racism smacks of “reverse racial sensitivity,” and it makes dissent and debate impossible. “Our racially divided past, and hoped-for united future, is too important to be co-opted for political purposes—by either side.”