The vituperation and enmity so energetically and continually focused on Barack Obama by a significant — and loud — portion of our national citizenry has made me “curiouser and curiouser,” especially because I expected this to wane after he won the presidency in such undeniable and resounding fashion.
While I’m still vexed by the illogic and irrationality of the hatred he seems to engender in some, I had the clarifying experience of my 50th high school reunion, several months back, to point me to some answers and the probable origins of a big part of the anger Obama seems to involuntarily sustain.
My high school class was — and to an extraordinary degree remains — an emotionally and socially cohesive group. I had, and have, no doubt that the bonds created more than one-half century ago are still quite strong and resilient for many ‘59ers. I have tested these over the past several reunions in lengthy, intense arguments with classmates (and teammates: our baseball nine, a talented and still successful group, is the strongest and most right-wing sub-set of the Class), almost all of whom have political, cultural and philosophical perspectives quite different than mine. I often tried humor and self-deprecation in positing my contrary views, usually to good effect, but I was always so outnumbered that non-confrontational alternatives were few.
At the 50th, however, things seemed to have sharply shifted and the adamancy and stridency of their absolutist views made it difficult for me to respond effectively in any mode. Halfway through the busy, celebratory weekend, I realized that I’d heard the N-word used, contemptuously and angrily, more in those two days than I had in the past several decades. And, the seriousness of the racial epithet was not in doubt, nor the target: It was the President.
Jimmy Carter, a true, if well-educated, son of the South, told America that race, per se, would cost Obama votes and support, an opinion that produced denials from both left and right. If the objectors had been at my high school reunion, they might have affirmed Jimmy, or at least been chastised into silence. He spoke the hard truth that racism is alive and active in America. He seems to think that sometimes things are exactly what they appear to be.
Polls and surveys now tell us that the major characteristic of the true Obama haters is a belief that their values and Obama’s are irresolvably separate. Many of my fellow ‘59ers hold this view. But when I probe and ask and push them for operational definitions of this perceived breach, I get no sensible answers.
Is it his observably constructive and committed role as the loving father of the two delightful children, Sasha and Malia?
Is it his obviously strong, vibrant marriage to an obviously strong, vibrant wife?
Is it his success in some of the nation’s most competitive academic environments?
Is it that he didn’t auction off his considerable intellectual wares to the highest-bidding, $500-an-hour, white-shoe law firm, but instead chose a teaching and community development career?
Is it that his basketball free throw percentage bests most NBA players (and we all know their racial origins)?
Is it that he never had a DWI or a 25-year drunk like the last presidential darling of the conservatives?
Or is it just because he’s a genuine African American, the “birthers’” claims notwithstanding?
If I opt for this last answer, it explains much of what I hear and see from the Obama haters. A caveat here: I exempt the legitimate complaints — and the legitimate complainers — from this attribution, noting that there are rational objections to Obama’s leadership, his strategies, his programs and his priorities. Some of my good friends — yes, Republicans and even genuine right-wing conservatives — fill this category, yet have no truck with emotive racism.
Encomiums to them for eschewing the yahoo cults. Some conservative arguments can be strong and a challenge to dispute, but they don’t have to rely on the visceral racial anger I witnessed at my reunion.
I do, however, continue to be perplexed by the propensity of Republican conservatives, who should know better, to blame Obama for the nation’s fiscal crash. The record offers zero sustenance for this claim, but it nevertheless lives. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page, a cache of right-wing economic voodoo, labels this as nonsense.
Most distressing, I find that there is a bit of James Earl Ray, Gov. George Wallace and restaurateur Lester Maddox in the scripts now adopted and proselytized by the Obama haters. I can only hope that we are now a sufficiently vigilant nation to avoid the violence modeled by these once-notorious players in our past racially-driven tragedies.
And, I hope for some enlightenment for those ‘59ers who’ve bought into this dangerous and unjustifiable litany. I’ll report back any progress after our 60th in 2019, if Sarah Palin’s death panels allow any of us to survive.
John Loehr lives in Montezuma. He may be reached at 454-1731.