Part 2—They called him Mister Bush: Do people show disrespect for President Obama because of his so-called race?
(Race is an invention, as we all know. In this country, it’s a very prevalent invention.)
Do people show disrespect for President Obama because of his race? As stated, the question is highly imprecise. It’s so imprecise that it’s hard to see how it can be useful, except to the plutocrats who are tightening their hold on our floundering nation.
That said, a British journalist popped a form of that highly imprecise question to Oprah Winfrey last week. In Saturday’s New York Times, Charles Blow opened his column with one part of Winfrey’s reply:
BLOW (11/16/13): Disrespect, Race and ObamaWe don’t mean this as a criticism of Winfrey, although we’ll pick some nits tomorrow. That said, the highlighted statement is so imprecise that it’s barely a statement at all.
In an interview with the BBC this week, Oprah Winfrey said of President Obama: “There is a level of disrespect for the office that occurs. And that occurs, in some cases, and maybe even many cases, because he’s African-American.”
With that remark, Winfrey touched on an issue that many Americans have wrestled with: To what extent does this president’s race animate those loyal to him and those opposed? Is race a primary motivator or a subordinate, more elusive one, tainting motivations but not driving them?
Does disrespect occur “in some cases” because Obama is African-American? Presumably yes, it does. That answer is blindingly obvious.
Does this type of disrespect occur in “maybe even many cases?” Same answer! There are 315 million people in this country, and the word “many” is highly imprecise.
Alas! Unless we start to speculate about what Winfrey meant by the word “many,” her statement is so imprecise that it’s barely a statement at all. And yet, her extremely imprecise statement has launched a thousand pseudo-discussions.
As everyone knows, race is the central brutality at the heart of American history. We’ve barely even created a vocabulary with which to discuss the brutality of that history.
We aren’t real skilled at that discussion. But for obvious reasons, many people have very strong feelings about the historical role played by race, and about its role today. That’s why public figures should possibly try to be extra thoughtful in the things they say on this subject.
Can we talk? The plutocrats we mentioned above have always worked from a famous game plan. It’s called divide and conquer.
If the one percent can get the 99 to name-call, revile and despise one another, it becomes much, much easier for the one percent to rule.
(We’re really talking about the one-hundredth of one percent, of course. They hire the one-tenth of one percent to serve as their spear-chuckers. People refer to this guild as the one percent for ease of transcription.)
On the slopes of Mount Plutocracy, the gods take pride in their strength when they see the 99 percent fighting among themselves. And that’s exactly what they saw in reaction to Blow’s latest column.
As he continued, Blow attacked Rush Limbaugh’s response to Winfrey’s remarks. We can’t say we agree with the overall thrust of Blow’s reaction; more on that tomorrow. But for our money, Blow helped inspire the 99 percent to fight and divide.
And good lord, how Blow’s readers took that bait! In the very first comment to his column, a regular commenter to New York Times columns imagined a much better world:
COMMENTER FROM CALIFORNIA (11/16/13): I hope your readers will listen to the Oprah interview. She's right. Things will get better when the last of the racist generation dies.How uplifting! If only Those Very Bad People would die! High on the slopes of Mount Plutocracy, the gods roared out their pleasure!
We’re not saying that commenter is “wrong,” although we think she’s extremely unwise and a gift to the plutocrat gods. For today, let’s consider one commenter who really was just flat-out wrong on his facts.
That first commenter declaims near the top of many New York Times comment threads. Last Saturday, this well-intentioned person commented much further down the line.
We assume this commenter was well-intentioned. But his memory was playing some tricks:
COMMENTER FROM NEW YORK CITY (11/16/13): I have believed from the beginning of his campaign that the ferocity and animosity directed against the president and his policies has less to do with ideology than it is a bunch of angry, threatened white men who resent being told what to do by an intelligent black man. I also find it interesting that the media often times refers to him as “Mr. Obama”, not “President Obama”. I don't remember hearing that in reference to any other president.Is it true? Does the animosity directed against the president have less to do with his ideology than with his race? There is no way to answer that riddle. But we were struck by this reader’s belief that no president has ever been treated this way before:
This commenter “doesn’t remember” hearing any previous president ever referred to as “Mister.”
That recollection is completely faulty. We presume the recollection is heartfelt, though it does serve the plutocrats’ ends.
No president was ever treated this way! Well-intentioned but clueless observers have constantly advanced this claim during Obama’s tenure. In this case, we decided to check the New York Times on the corresponding day in the tenure of the last president, a fellow named George W. Bush.
Over and over, the New York Times called him Mister Bush! Reporter Carl Hulse even displayed this form of contempt on the paper’s front page:
HULSE (11/16/05): Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader and a sponsor of the Iraqi policy approved by the Senate, sought to frame the approach as one of cooperation with the White House.Mister Bush was out of the country? Edmund Andrews played the same game on the front page of the Business section:
But the main opposition for the policy proposal came from Republicans who said it put too many constraints on the administration, was a step toward a timetable for withdrawal, was ill timed because Mr. Bush is out of the country and had been prompted mainly by political anxiety about the impact of the war on next year's midterm elections.
ANDREWS (11/16/05): But House leaders are working on a very different measure. That bill would include a two-year extension of Mr. Bush's tax cut on stock dividends but would not include any tax breaks for hurricane reconstruction or any reduction of the alternative minimum tax. House Republicans are betting that they can pass those provisions separately from the main package because those tax cuts are urgently sought by lawmakers in both parties.Back on page A1, Steven Weisman typed this:
WEISMAN (11/16/05): The Arab and European allies pressed for more American efforts to untangle the issues paralyzing the peace negotiations. Diplomats from allied countries have said the credibility of Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice is at risk, and they have besieged Ms. Rice to seize the opportunity or lose what they regard as the last chance of making peace for years to come.For eight solid years, they called him Mister Bush. Have they ever behaved this way toward a Democratic president?
One such person was President Clinton. On the corresponding day in his tenure, Eric Schmitt took to the Times front page:
SCHMITT (11/16/97): Mr. Clinton's decision on Friday to send a second aircraft carrier, the George Washington, to the Persian Gulf was an important symbolic show of force. But it also served a practical purpose: If Middle Eastern allies of the United States balk at letting the 200 American warplanes in the region launch strikes from their soil, the 100 combat planes on the two carriers could conduct round-the-clock operations.We assume last weekend’s commenter was sincere about what he said he couldn’t remember. He was sincere, but absurdly wrong on the facts. Race, a very powerful topic, will often affect us that way.
Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, the commander of American forces in the gulf, has visited Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates this week seeking those countries' cooperation. "It isn't a done deal yet, but it's looking very positive," said one Pentagon official.
Moreover, Mr. Clinton and his top national security aides began building a case this week that would be the underlying rationale for any military strikes the United States might carry out.
Let’s be clear. We the people can be, and frequently are, wrong on a wide range of topics. But thanks to our brutal American history, nothing creates faulty perceptions, and understandable anger, as readily as issues of race.
The plutocrats cheer when this fury occurs—when one branch of the 99 percent starts attacking another. To see how sweeping these attacks can be, let’s return to that very first comment, the one in which the regular commenter was wishing death on roughly 49.5 percent of her own generation.
This very fiery pseudo-liberal wasn’t satisfied by the sweep of her death wish. She made it clear that she was prepared to clean out her own tribe too:
COMMENTER FROM CALIFORNIA: I hope your readers will listen to the Oprah interview. She's right. Things will get better when the last of the racist generation dies.Let’s give her credit—she got it all in! The other half of the 99 is primarily driven by racism, with tactics from the Confederate era. But there are latent racists within her own tribe! Their racism is just as ugly!
There are latent racists among Liberals too. Those are the ones with reduced expectations of people of color. Their racism is muted, in the subtext. It's just as ugly.
There is no doubt in my mind that the GOP/Tea Party obstruction is primarily borne out of racism, with elements of class warfare woven in, using tactics from the confederate era. I am convinced that any other president, while meeting some obstruction, would not have been disrespected as this one has been. I don't believe the White House denials that President Obama was told "I can't stand the sight of you."
(Beyond that, she doesn’t believe a recent White House denial. By rule of law, any claim against one of The Others has to be true. That’s the way the facts get sifted by this lover of war.)
In our view, that regular commenter is one of the least constructive, least insightful people we’ve ever seen in print. Today, though, her number is legion in pseudo-liberal comment threads.
She’s also one of the very best friends the plutocrats could have.
The plutocrats have always lived off warfare among the 99. Given our brutal racial history, no topic can start such wars quite the way this topic can.
How sure we are of our perceptions! No one has ever been treated this way, one commenter said.
No one except all the other presidents! When we work ourselves into a fury, do those folk even count?
Tomorrow: Winfrey, Limbaugh and Blow