Obama and Race
When Obama first took office, his poll numbers were sky high. Easily seventy percent of the country was solidly behind him, and even many conservatives were impressed with his post-election performance. (Immediately after Obama’s election, many in the traditional media were absolutely giddy with excitement. I was recently stuck in a waiting room with a copy of a December Time magazine; that issue featured four brief essays for possible Persons of the Year. The choices were Obama, Obama, the American people for electing Obama, and Obama again, but with Michael Phelps second).
Obama has squandered much of that good will. According to the reliable Rasmussen Reports, Obama’s overall approval numbers have plummeted from a high of sixty-nine percent in early January (and sixty-five on the day of his inauguration, with forty-four percent of those strongly approving) to fifty-one percent in the most recent day of polling.
It’s not difficult to find the reason for Obama’s drop in popularity. He has turned out to me more liberal than most (at least those who don’t listen to talk radio) expected. With the passage of the stimulus bill, he committed himself to deficit spending, and with cap-and-trade and health care reform, he has signaled his commitment to expensive and intrusive social programs.
Americans liked the hope and change stuff, but many draw the line here. So many moderates shift from “approve” to “disapprove,” and many more conservative people suddenly strongly disapprove of Obama’s policies.
Not a bad thing, from a conservative point of view. But there’s a catch. People who disagree with another politics can rarely restrain themselves to the issues—rather, the other person’s character and person comes under attack.
A good example of this phenomenon is the liberal response to George W. Bush. They couldn’t accept that Bush happened to support different policies than they did—instead, he was a stupid, uneducated hick controlled by a diabolical Dick Cheney. (This about a man who went to Yale, and whose family has set down some pretty solid roots among the Eastern elite).
It was inevitable that such attacks would crop up among conservatives as well. Most of them are irrelevant but tolerable—the worst of these are the nutty but harmless birth certificate rumors.
There are other, more harmful attacks as well, and unfortunately some of them involve race. One, which I experienced, was a chain email, the gist of which was an unflattering photo of Michelle Obama next to a picture of monkey. Another example was a conversation I had with a conservative stranger; she suggested that Obama’s sterling college record was tainted by affirmative action and summer classes, which in her experience were apparently crutches used by “stupid” blacks to retake hard courses. (Speaking as a college student, taking very difficult courses during the summer isn’t exactly uncommon, nor is it done only by unintelligent people).
Both of these people were quite nice; people who you wouldn’t expect to have a racist bone in their bodies, and indeed probably don’t—in the former case, I am quite sure that distain for Obama won out over good judgment with the “forward” button.
Such tasteless joke probably won’t set the cause of race relations back twenty years, or give the Ku Klux Klan a new lease on life, or anything of that kind. They’re just nasty and tasteless, and hopefully they’ll die out soon. And they aren’t any nastier than thing liberals have been known to say about conservative politicians.
At the same time, while these jokes and attacks may be mostly harmless to society at large, they hurt the Republican party. Puns aren’t the lowest form of humor, racial jokes are, and racial attacks are the nastiest. A party, or a movement, is defined by its base—and what discerning person would want to be part of a movement that thinks insinuating that a black woman looks like a monkey (which Michelle Obama, by the way, really doesn’t) is a hilarious and cutting bit of wit?