(Update: 9/17/09) South Carolina’s Joe Wilson might have been thinking the n-word when he shouted “you lie” in the hallowed hall of the House of Representatives, otherwise known as “The People’s House”. We’ll never know. But as Dana Milbank points out in ( The Washington Post ) he wasn’t the only one to disrespect the president.
There was booing from House Republicans when the president caricatured a conservative argument by saying they would “leave individuals to buy health insurance on their own.” They hissed when he protested their “scare tactics.” They grumbled as they do in Britain’s House of Commons when Obama spoke of the “blizzard of charges and countercharges.”
Obama is said to have instructed his spokespersons never to so much as whisper that racism may drive any of the vehement attacks against him. He knows full well that the best defense racists use against being called out for being what they are is accusing the truth-tellers of “playing the race card”.
During the campaign John McCain accused Obama of playing it. Obama said McCain was trying to make voters scared of him because he doesn’t look like past presidents and has a funny name.
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said, “Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It’s divisive, negative, shameful and wrong.” ( Reference )
If there are 52 regular cards in the deck of politics and social attitudes the joker of racism trumps all of them. Of course this joker is hardly a jester.
Certainly the Republicans have a political incentive to deny Obama a victory on the health care reform initiative. But I got the queasy feeling that comes when you get a fleeting whiff of something rotting when I watched the speech.
My impression is that there was enough group acceptance in the room so those who were inclined to boo and grumble loudly felt empowered to do so. The mob mentality can be a dangerous and powerful thing. Not to resort to hyperbole, but this is what happened in American mobs when (according to Wikipedia) between 1882 and 1968, at least 4,742 African Americans were lynched.
It’s impossible to discern the motivations of those who broke the tradition of simple respectful silence when a president of the opposition party says something they disagreed with in a joint session address.
I strongly suspect that the loudest protests came from those who can’t stand that there’s an “uppity n—r” in the White House. They will find any excuse to discredit or attack him from a speech to school children to where he was born.
If racism is the joker in the deck, I want that card examined with a microscope. If racism is there I will not hesitate to play it.
Marueen Dowd is my favorite columnist. I’ve written a few columns that turned out to mirror her opinions, and managed to get them published before she did. Of course, she is a far more accomplished writer than I am. When it comes to writing a snarky column, she is the Queen of Snark.
On Thursday and Sunday when her columns are published in The New York Times, unless there a headline that takes precedence, her’s is the first item I read.
Today she addresses the same topic I wrote about here. She agrees with me, only she says it far better with a better title: Boy, Oh, Boy.
Dowd did some research and discovered that Joe Wilson “belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol and denounced as a ‘smear’ the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond.”
At first Dowd said she dismissed the idea that the “shrieking lunacy” of the right wing this summer had much to do with race. She says that the Joe Wilson outburst has changed her mind.
But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.
Welcome to the “playing the race card club” Maureen.
You’ve seen “the joker” for what it is.
Read Boy, Oh, Boy.
Sometimes a writer reminds me how emotions can get in the way of writing clearly and expressing simply what I want to get across.
I think Maureen Dowd was guilty of this too.
Charles Blow finally expresses what I was attempting to say. He does it succinctly in a short New York Times OpEd today “Here we go again” (link).
The bottom line is his bottom line:
“Let’s stop talking about racism as if it’s black or white. There are many shades of gray.”
The New York Times’ other black OpEd columnist, Bob Herbert, also addresses this issue in “The Scourge Persists” (link).
He asks “After all these years of race-baiting and stirring the pot of hatred for political gain, it’s too much to ask the leaders of the Republican Party to step forward and denounce this spreading stain of reprehensible conduct. Republicans are trying to ride that dependable steed of bigotry back to power.”
He adds: “But it’s time for other Americans, of whatever persuasion, to take a stand, to say we’re better than this. They should do it because it’s right. But also because we’ve seen so many times what can happen when this garbage gets out of control.”
Here’s another good article: “There’s no denying Obama’s race plays a role in protests” (link)