Friday, July 1, 2011

Obama and the Dirty Word

Has anyone missed the little stir over rightwing news commentator mark halpern's reference to president obama as a 'dick'?  he was on the rightwing msnbc show, 'morning joe,' and thought the camera and mike were off at the moment; he coyly hesitated before he offered this analysis of the presidential press conference the day before.  we were then treated to the edifying spectacle of halpern and the show's two hosts giggling about the 'naughty word' like a bunch of 3rd graders who realized the teacher had heard them.

 halpern came back on 'morning joe'  later to apologize, and has been suspended from his own msnbc show for  couple of weeks.  today's 'mother jones' ran an article about the incident, pointing out that it was part of a pattern of ugly conservative attacks on obama.

oddly, to me, the mother jones article didn't mention what should be increasingly obvious.  it's true that the conservative sniping at obama and the 'liberals' are nastier than i've heard in public commentary over the years: the parties hate each other, yeah yeah, and are always snide.  but the attacks on obama have been especially ludicrous from the beginning.  it's clear that the conservatives want to get rid of him.  and exaggerations--though not outright lies--are par for the course: one might have believed that bill clinton was a marxist, not a moderate-to-conservative liberal.  but the big attack on clinton was at least around something he actually did, however irrelevant it was to his politics.

there has always been a pretty fiction that however one feels about the president, one respects the office of the presidency and thus treats its inhabitant with at least surface politeness.  never before has a president been reduced to having to display his birth certificate.  i don't recall any earlier time when a televised  presidential address was interrupted by an opposition party member shouting, "you lie!'   and i certainly don't recall a president being publicly called a dick.  [that they thought they were off camera is fairly irrelevant--these are three media pro's; they should know that you watch what you say whenever there is the slightest chance that it's being recorded].

then again, i don't recall a previous black president.

obama has never used the race card: in fact, only his absolute dignity keeps him from appearing like a placating uncle tom.  he has been dignified to the point of frustrating those who wanted more of him than he has to give: he constantly harps about 'bipartisanship,' when many of his supporters want him to take a firm stance.   he has firmly resisted any temptation to attribute attacks on him as racist.

that latter, at least, is a wise strategy. [and i rarely praise obama for wise strategy.]  the political differences between him and his enemies are real, and if he once mentioned racism in regard to the attacks, he would go down in history as an 'angry black.'  the word, i suspect, would not be 'black,' away from the microphones.

but the rest of us don't have to hide from the racism.  mingled as it is with the honest hatred of the poor and disenfranchised that the conservatives constantly manifest, racism is omnipresent.  why is he 'a dick'? why is he a liar?  why is he non-american?

because he isn't a 'good negro.'  you know that figure, the good negro.  my grandfather used to  love to point out the 'niggers' in front of bars, or dressed tough, or walking down the street like they had a right to do it.  at the point when one of us started to protest, he would add, 'oh, i don't mean all of them!  there are  some good negroes.'

obama acts like a good negro--he dresses in suits, he's polite, he uses no ghetto jargon, and he's worked his way into the upper class.  but when he argues for his programs, when he counters the arguments of the conservatives with firmness and facts, he's not being a good negro.  when he doesn't argue for his programs or accuse the conservatives of harming america, he's still attacked for being extreme, hateful, even [shudder] socialist, or, worse these days, a muslim.  read 'bad negro.'  he is not a good negro when he supports plans republicans have pushed: they drop their own platforms because he has embraced them.  above all, he is not a good negro because he ran for, and became, president of the united states. no matter how qualified, how polite, how educated, how intelligent a black candidate may be, he has no right to aspire to a higher office than, say, mayor or member of congress. he can become a judge, even a supreme court justice.  but a president is a not only powerful:  he is one single figure who represents the american self-image.  and that remains a white image.

let me emphasize that i am not suggesting all criticism of obama, from the right, left, or center, is based on race.  any president is, and should be, subject to real, even angry, criticism.  but it would be a large mistake ever to ignore the racial hostility underlying the form too much of the criticism takes.  20 years ago, i was amused at times during the clarence thomas/anita hill hearings, because the all-white [and all male] senators were trying constantly not to appear racist while judging between the stories of two african-americans.  they continually tried to express polite respect for both hill and thomas, as they would not have done if either or both parties were white.  i didn't buy it, which is why i found it bitterly amusing.  but now, while still pretending to be anti-racist, there is little effort to act on  even that much pretense.  obama is an uppity negro, and they will do all they can to get him out of the white --the very white--house.  the real dirty word on that 'morning joe' show, the one beneath the gleeful giggles, wasn't really 'dick' at all. 

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