Open season on the president
“Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Does it disturb you that so many people hate you?” —Conservative political commentator Bill O’Reilly to Barack Obama on a Feb. 6, 2011, during a White House interview.
Largely unknown to the general public a decade ago, Barack Obama’s ascension to national prominence was the result of his appeal to a demographic far beyond the scope of one ethnic constituency. Many of the brightest and most talented of a voting-age generation turned off by the overall disappointment of his predecessor George W. Bush’s administration were swayed by the charisma of this junior senator from Illinois, who pledged to ease the reliance on foreign energy resources, provide widespread healthcare (an issue that has confounded prior presidential administrations and remains a point of contention between the two major political parties), and end an unpopular war (in December all but a small number of troops were pulled out of Iraq and his plan is to remove all troops from Afghanistan by 2014).
Obama’s 2008 election in itself was a monumental event. Besides the ascension of a man of color to the nation’s highest office, his campaign coffers dwarfed those of rival candidates to the tune of half a billion dollars, most of it through the efforts of small contributions of less than $100, thanks to the emergence of a comparatively new interactive pastime called social networking.
The first major party candidate to shun public funding, Obama and his tech-savvy strategists cultivated a legion of private donors, and secured an unprecedented level of non-governmental funding. Through the use of website surveys, they built upon their candidate’s mantra of grass-roots organizing to collect data on potential supporters, and tailored emails to resonate with the beliefs and concerns of eligible voters.
With such an extraordinary build-up, it was perhaps inevitable that a letdown would materialize.
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” —Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Three-quarters of the way into his presidency, much of the coalition that made up Obama’s constituency, including liberals who believe he has in some cases capitulated to his Republican opposition, have become disgruntled. Republican antagonism is pretty much a given, considering the realities of political life, and yet many of the president’s original supporters were disappointed by his seeming lack of backbone as he appeared to submit to John Boehner and the rest of the GOP-dominated House of Representatives after a midterm “shellacking” in which the House gained a Republican majority.
Obama’s rise was due in no small part to his appeal to “fringe elements” or groups historically excluded from full participation in society such as gays, immigrants, the economically impoverished and, of course, African Americans, many of whom feel abandoned by the man they campaigned so diligently for. Such dissatisfaction, suggests James Lance Taylor, the chair of the University of San Francisco’s Department of Politics, might stem from a naïveté about the nature of Capitol Hill, and the harsh reality of politics performed within the environs of Washington, D.C.
“Certainly many progressive forces have been disappointed with the president’s centrist orientation in governance,” noted Taylor. “What many fail to acknowledge is that Barack Obama is being accused on the right for being an extreme ideologue, bent on undermining the very union of the United States, itself.”
And there has been a level of hatred aimed at this president that seems to surpass the criticism aimed at other presidents.
The effective passage of legislation depends on agreement between both sides of the two-party system. In other words, bipartisan support. In this sense, Obama’s administration has been impeded in no small part by the untimely death of Sen. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy just after the election. “The Lion of the Senate” was renowned for his charisma, influence and talent for “reaching across the aisle” to forge relationships and serve as a bridge between disparate viewpoints, and this talent was essential in the passage of hundreds of bills enacted during his decades-long tenure.
The absence of this key ally created a vast void, since championing the interests of marginalized factions often means challenging the interests of the status quo, in this case the Republican Party.
“I can’t pass laws that say I’m just helping Black folks. I’m president of the entire United States.”
—Barack Obama, Dec. 23, 2009
This statement, made two years ago, reveals much about politics and the chronically disenfranchised. Utterances of unvarnished truth in the political arena can have unfavorable consequences.
Members of groups traditionally ignored or persecuted, upon seeing one of their own elevated to a position of influence, insist upon having their needs met first and foremost, while others, not necessarily among the traditionally maltreated, may construe such actions taken (like affirmative action) as preferential treatment.
Among the most dissatisfied Obama supporters are African Americans, including media figures like Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. Curiously, Black voters were among the most ardent supporters of Bill Clinton, whose successes were facilitated largely because of his center-left approach (also called “the third way”) of incorporating conservative economic guidelines with social policies associated with modern American liberalism or progressive ideology. But Clinton also incurred the wrath of Republican conservatives, while simultaneously infuriating members of his own party.
Obama’s undeniable steps towards diversity have done little to appease the ravenous demands of some political commentators—like Smiley and West—and issue-specific groups.
“High-profile appointments such as Attorney General Eric Holder, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, former Environmental Czar Van Jones and many others, certainly provide examples of the president’s commitments to a demographically representative administration,” said Taylor.
Taylor also pointed to these progressive appointments and legislation:
•The Lizzy Ledbetter Equal Pay Act of 2009, which addresses wage discrimination
•Reforming the most draconian crack cocaine laws
•Support of the 99% Occupy movement
•The appointment of Elizabeth Warren to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
But there are other issues such as healthcare reform, jobs and the overall economy.
Obama has the burden of walking the tightrope to make himself attractive to mainstream America while remaining “authentic” to a Black constituency.
Tiffany Willoughby-Herard, Ph.D., a professor of African American Studies at UC Irvine, weighs in on one possible drawback of such an arrangement:. “In many ways because of the established requirement that Black male elected officials de-racialize themselves to win moderate White voter support, the result is often (merely) symbolic representation of people who most need the executive branch’s leadership toward economic and social justice.”
A similar situation transpired with the ascension of Tom Bradley to Los Angeles’ mayoral helm some 39 years ago. His across-the-board popularity and role in generating business growth and downtown revitalization are countered by sentiments still held by the African American community that their interests were not prioritized.
Willoughby-Herard echoes this emotion by saying “the people who were left out of the political miracle that was Bradley’s tenure are now just as bad off as they were with even less social infrastructure.”
“I see Obama as Sisyphus in the first four years. And nobody would speak about the size of the rock, or the elevation of the hill. All you hear people talk about is what he didn’t do.” —entertainer and activist Bill Cosby in an MSNBC interview dated April 12, 2012
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was condemned by the Gods to push a huge rock up the summit of a large hill, then forced to watch it roll back down wherein he was compelled to repeat his futile task. Contemporary philosophers have made Sisyphus into an absurd hero, and use the story of his fruitless labors as a metaphor for the meaninglessness of life.
In a sense, Obama was also doomed from the start by the triple millstone of an economic decline of the sort not seen for decades, the Middle Eastern conflict that lost its luster after the post-9/11 hysteria died down, and a general apathy and loss of confidence in government as a whole.
But this doesn’t begin to explain the synchronized maelstrom of abuse hurled from long range and close quarters at him.
Politicians expect a certain amount of abuse as a byproduct of the profession, and the presidency is often a convenient “scapegoat-in-chief” of choice, for the globe as well as America’s voting citizenry. As the recognized leader of the world’s most powerful country, he is a suitable receptacle for the animosity of anyone with a need to point fingers. This has been the case, arguably at least, since the tenure of Lyndon Baines Johnson and his assumption of blame for the Vietnam War.
UC Irvine professor of political science, Kathleen Tate, Ph.D., takes the position that a certain amount of disparagement is appropriate, with limitations.
“His critics often mention ‘just because he’s Black doesn’t mean he can’t be criticized,’ and I agree,” she said of Obama.
“But they still need to stop and think about why it’s easier to criticize Blacks in leadership positions than Whites,” she continued, opening the door of contemplation about the root of this scorn.
“If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”
—Detroit rock star Ted Nugent at an April 2012 National Rifle Association convention in St. Louis.
“Never has a sitting president been spoken of in the manner that President Obama and his family have had. Not just by the birthers and right-wing zealots but those in high places—people with great influence have spoken against him in a manner that has never been according to even the worst of America’s White presidents.” —Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan during the annual Saviors’ Day speech, Feb. 26, 2012
In spite of the possible veracity of his statement, Farrakhan is not above his own style of Obama-bashing, noted Professor Taylor. (His speech may be accessed in its entirety at http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/videos/article_8628.shtml#.T1bAV....)
In it, he takes the president to task for his foreign policy, specifically his involvement in Libya and the removal of Moammar Gadhafi, Farrakhan’s close friend, openly declaring “we got a murderer in the White House.”
“Along with Ted Nugent’s recent comments, this video should provide a list of some of the various outrageous comments by elected officials, and other American elites,” said Taylor.
“I think it is important to clarify that this racism is not simply that of poor Whites of the Tea Party sort, but is held by Democrats and Republicans, males and females,” Taylor said.
Taylor pointed out that “in the modern presidency, which begins with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, there has not been the level of disrespect broadcast as widely as for the current president.”
“From the fact that Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have boycotted each of Obama’s State of the Union addresses, to congressmen, congresswomen, presidential candidates, governors, and popular media personalities questioning the president’s faith and ideological commitments, to Sen. Chuck Grassley’s recent tweet that charged that Obama is “stupid,” there appears to be a level of hate that seems qualitatively more intense than the forces that hated Clinton and George W. Bush,” Taylor concluded.
Expressions of this derision have manifested themselves in many shapes and forms. Political adversaries and gadflies have variously accused their target of :
•Being a closeted Muslim
•Being born abroad, with no valid proof of citizenship, and thus is ineligible to hold the office of president
•Being a Marxist or Socialist on a secret mission to lead the country into communism, evidenced by photos of him not placing his hand over his heart during the National Anthem
•Being the product of an insidious breeding program in which his ancestor President Theodore Roosevelt, impregnated several African women during a safari early in the 20th century
•Having ties to the Illuminati and Masons, and being merely a pawn in a convoluted scheme to bring about the New World Order and the coming of the antichrist (or being the antichrist)
This last scenario has been championed by rapper Prodigy of the group Mobb Deep, and the lead singer of the popular rock band Korn. These allegations were reportedly the motivation behind an assault on Echo Park artist Shepard Fairey, best known for his iconic Obama campaign poster. Last August in Denmark, leftist anarchists, shouted that the L.A.-based artist was an “Obama Illuminati” as they pummeled him outside an opening of his exhibit in Copenhagen.
Aside from T-shirts and apparel proclaiming the wearer’s distaste for the chief executive, more creative demonstrations of disapproval include an Obama punching bag available online at Amazon.com, toilet paper printed with the president’s image, and “disappointment mints” with the intriguing question “This is change?” printed on the container.
Alas, this salacious drivel is not confined to the president; detractors have determined that his family is ripe for defamation as well. Shortly after his inauguration bloggers on one far right site casually speculated about the promiscuity of his eldest daughter, a child hovering at the start of puberty. One curious participant pondered “wonder when she will get her first abortion?”
Mercifully, even grassroots conservatives have slivers of decorum, as the site owner eventually directed followers to abstain from spewing the venom at minors years away from casting their first ballots. The owner came up with a valid rationale: “They can’t help it if their old man is an American-hating Marxist pig.”
These sentiments can be dismissed as the rants of a lunatic fringe element, but as Taylor pointed out, overt opposition has been expressed by the likes of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who infamously shook his head while mouthing the words “not true” as the president delivered the 2010 State of the Union Address.
Among the other rude and disrespectful acts, comments, and lack of civility observed in the media are:
•Congressman Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) bellowing “you lie” as the president addressed the House of Representatives on his healthcare package in 2009.
•Orange County GOP member Marilyn Davenport’s email of a Photoshopped image suggesting that Obama is descended from a family of monkeys.
•Republican Gov. Jan Brewer pointing her finger in the president’s face during a heated exchange in full view of news cameras in January of 2012.
•Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner joking about the first lady’s “large posterior” at a church social.
“We won’t know really this (Obama’s) presidency until a decade after he leaves office. We just need time to make a clear assessment.”
—Professor Kathleen Tate, UC Irvine.
“[There are] people who are very quietly acting like they have no idea what he inherited. It’s as if he had the surplus when he moved into office.” —Bill Cosby
Greatness is often forged within the cauldron of turmoil. The men generally considered our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, assumed office during periods of strife and turbulence. Lincoln demonstrated his mettle by navigating through a war whose casualties have exceeded those of all other conflicts in which America has been engaged combined. Roosevelt circumvented an economic quagmire of epic proportions, then mobilized the country to undertake the global hostilities that emerged right on the heels of that depression, before the nation regained financial solvency.
It is debatable whether the situation Obama inherited is equal to the obstacles surmounted by his predecessors, but it is almost certain that the opposition he faces is equivalent or greater than those of earlier eras.
Not a politician or analyst by training or vocation, Cosby’s stature as an activist of many years has given him cachet to expound on the issue, often responding with abrasive remarks running against the grain of public opinion. Such utterances, however divisive they may sometimes be, periodically ring with the clarity of truth.
“I’m disappointed that people who don’t look at the woes and the trouble given to this man, people blatantly speaking out against his color, wasting time, starting up new stories about whether or not he was born here, saying things that they can’t prove,” Cosby said in his April broadcast.
Life is about dealing with disappointment, but even adults forget that occasionally. “America’s dad” acknowledges the shared frustration thusly: “gays, lesbians, Blacks, illegal aliens—pardon me—people like that are right. It didn’t happen. But look at why it didn’t happen. It’s a man trying to go about doing his job, and a ton of other people voting against him regardless of what he says.”
Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, Ph.D., deserve high props for their summer poverty tour. They started on an Indian reservation, hit the inner city, and looked at poverty in all of its manifestations. While many dismissed their high-profile tour as a political ploy, I am absolutely convinced of their sincerity.
In addition, these two men are among the few who have dared utter the “p” word in public.
Los Angeles, CA -- Ten years after he first convened it, talk show host Tavis Smiley is bringing the State of the Black Union symposium back to Los Angeles, and the key question that will be explored during the Feb. 28 event is what has changed?
Smiley said many of the Black thought leaders who were at that first meeting—including economist and College President Julianne Malveaux, Princeton professor Cornel West and National Urban League president Marc Morial—will come to this reprise to offer their thoughts.
President Barack H. Obama triumphed again against unrelenting opposition, some of it far beyond mere campaign rhetoric, for the highest political office in the country, and was re-elected to a second term as president of the United States.
By the next morning, he had accumulated 303 electoral college votes (270 needed to win) to 191 for the challenger, Mitt Romney, and a solid 2 percentage points lead in the popular vote count (more than 3 million votes more than the challenger).
The best speaker
Ordinarily, Feb. 26, 2012, would have been a normal day for Patricia A. Wallace, a noted Michigan-based clinical psychologist. She had left her practice and was driving home with her radio tuned as usual to the Rev. Al Sharpton show.
But as she listened, Wallace realized that the legislative monster she had fought against since before its adoption in 2005 was being discussed on the air—an African American Florida youth had been killed and the killer was using as a shield the notorious Stand Your Ground law.