Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Problems with caricature

Sullivan does a lot of nice writing, and this is another example of why I like his style and choice of topics:
It has long befuddled me - the way so many on the right view him not with disagreement or discernment, but with contempt. Contempt is a strong word; and it is built on some notion of his illegitimacy as president. They called Clinton illegitimate as well, of course, because of his plurality victory in 1992 (he never quite made it to 50 percent of the vote in 1996 either). But Obama? A clear electoral victory by a black candidate after one of the most brilliant underdog campaigns in our lifetimes. I suppose the right's view that racism no longer exists in America defuses the racial barrier. But it's telling, is it not, that very, very few Republicans have hailed the election of a bi-racial man as president, if only to celebrate the progress this country has made.
It's true, too. I've written about how so many people in the US - primarily among the right wing - disapprove of being biracial (as if that is something that you can choose to be as an individual), and how it's odd that the GOP - who called for everyone to respect the office of the president during the George W. Bush years - is now effectively demanding that Obama respect the office of the President (that is, when they aren't trying to show him off as some sort of caricature). And Sullivan goes on to make some good observations.
Instead [of fear or suspicion] we have contempt. A president who can be shouted at during a State of the Union address; a president whose birth certificate, readily available, is still questioned; a president who is regarded by an unthinkable chunk of Republicans as a Muslim; a president who allegedly cannot speak a full sentence without a TelePrompter; or, in Glenn Reynolds' immortal words, "a racist hatemonger."
This isn't some mere caricature of what some people on the political right in America think about President Obama. Do a Google search for "President Obama is" and the first option that pops up is "President Obama is a muslim". As former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said (quite reasonably and with an aplomb that has been lacking in much of the "debate" over the President's practiced religion) a number of years ago, "... but the right question is, 'but what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim?'"

That "right question", though, seems to have been lost in the "discussion" among the right wing, and it is now often brought up by people during Q&A sessions with the GOP presidential candidates. Back in 2008, McCain slapped down the notion that Obama was a Muslim; an obvious attempt at painting him as some sort of "other"; some "foreigner", and therefore illegitimate. Powell did the same thing that year. However, the attacks continued, and it has become a truism among many right-wing voters that Obama is a Muslim, and not only that, but being a Muslim is somehow wrong and makes Obama an illegitimate president. (Which is, itself, wrong in the extreme.) This point of Obama being a secret Muslim is unfortunately coming at a time when there is increasing Islamophobia, regardless of the fact that Islamic extremism in the United States has actually significantly diminished since 9/11/2001. But let's move on with more highlights from Sullivan's post:
Every now and again, they tip their hand in further weirdness. One of the more Kinsley-esque moments in contemporary Washington is the spectacle of every liberal in the town now bemoaning judicial activism, and every conservative celebrating the courts as a vital part of our constitutional system. Why, it's enough to make someone a little jaded. In that vein, comes one Michael Walsh who just had a conniption about the president's attack on the Supreme Court yesterday.
Sure, GOP members are allowed to point out when they perceive judicial "activism", but when a Democrat does it (let alone the President), then it's wrong? Hrm... When judges rule in favor of the GOP's activist base on gun rights or religious liberties, then it's the judiciary acting nobly, but when they rule against the GOP's activist base on civil liberties, then they are "unelected officials" or "activist judges" who are "overthrowing the will of the people". But when Democrats do the same thing? Well, I can understand why someone doesn't like to have their idea stolen, even less so when it's used against them, but seriously, you'd think that they'd have thicker skin than this. Still, evidence shows: nay.

Sullivan notes that a lot of the basis for these Republican attacks stem from (and are aimed at) undermining the authority of the President; that the whole thing that happened in 2008 was somehow a sham; that this President isn't actually meant to be there; that the win was a fix; that the GOP was defrauded; etc.:
Walsh is clearly implying that the election of 2008 was "fixed" or "rigged." And when you think about it, this has to be the case, or else their contempt for Obama would have to be leavened by at least some respect for one of the most brilliant underdog presidential campaigns in modern times. But not even that. Not even in the killing of Osama bin Laden could they give him any credit.

Is this rank racism, pure partisanship, class resentment, or some toxic combination of them all?

UPDATE (April 4, 2012): Sullivant posts some response-emails to his post.

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