Tuesday, June 12, 2012

President Obama and the great hate



THE SUPREME Court today took the morally upright, eminently practical and (given the political bent of some recent decisions) refreshingly unexpected step of rejecting an appeal from a birthers’ group challenging the citizenship of President Obama, and his authority as the commander in chief.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier ruled that the challengers — enduring political incompetent Alan Keyes; Wiley Drake, Keyes’ equally undistinguished running mate in their 2008 American Independent Party presidential campaign; and campaign chairman Markham Robinson — had no legal standing to file the lawsuit. SCOTUS agreed.

The court’s obvious stand on common sense wouldn’t be the significant statement that it is if not for the overall social and political climate that surrounds it. The fact that it’s being widely seen as a stunning rebuke to the birther movement just underscores the malaise and poison rhetoric that have come to a laser focus, like never before, on the president and the painfully reliable power of race, ethnicity and hate to animate Americans like nothing else.

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Terry Jones didn’t get the Supremes’ message. You remember Terry Jones, pastor of Florida’s Dove World Outreach Center. The man rockin’ the Otto von Bismarck whiskers did his damnedest to ignite an international incident in March 2011 when he burned a copy of the Quran, leading to an arousal of outrage in the Muslim world, and perhaps the deaths of up to 21 people in Afghanistan.

Late last week Jones was back in the news after hanging President Obama in effigy on a gallows above the gay pride and American flags, as an Uncle Sam figure stands by. This was a response to the president’s stand on gay marriage and what Jones in a statement called Obama’s “appeasing of radical Islam.”

No doubt chastened by the Secret Service’s announced intention to conduct an “appropriate” response, Jones and his crew at the Dove church switched the staging. As of this week, the Obama effigy has traded places with the Uncle Sam figure.

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JONES' NOVEL foray into racist diorama design is just the latest manifestation of a new and almost fashionable intolerance toward President Obama in particular, and minorities generally. There’s an ugly backlash underway that speaks more than anything to a conservative denial of demographic reality, and a hatred of a president so deep and absolute, it obscures common sense (like most hatred does).

This hatred’s taken many guises. There’s the high road, where hatred assumes the appearance of elected officials Just Doing Their Job: In Florida, the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, has taken point in a measuredly frantic bid to purge the state’s voter rolls, eliminating hundreds of thousands of blacks and Latinos from those rolls in the name of preserving an unsullied electorate free of fraudulent registrations — despite voter fraud being an inconsequentially small percentage of Florida voters.

It’s a violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act — the Justice Department told the Florida/Scott government as much late last month.

Undaunted, Florida announced its intention to continue purging voter rolls. Today the Justice Department formally announced its intention to sue Florida for what amounts to attempts at willful voter disenfranchisement. Hatred by legalistic means? Legal battle royal to follow.

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And there’s the low road: the makers of Obama hate bumperstickers and posters have created a cottage industry, selling their wares online. Back in March, ThinkProgress reported on Paula Smith, whose company, Stickatude.com, proudly offered a bumperstrip that implored: “DON’T RE-NIG in 2012” next to a crossed-out version of the Obama campaign logo.

Smith defended her use of part of the N-word, offering a lexicographic explanation so inventive it could have won her a place in the Bush-Cheney White House. Other entrepreneurs of intolerance have been doing much the same thing for years, of course, and especially in the wake of the 2010 victories by the Tea Party variant of the Republican Party.

AND OF COURSE there’s the lower than low road: The Southern Poverty Law Center’s new report on U.S. hate and extremist groups found that these  groups are metastasizing at an alarming rate. The organization's quarterly Intelligence Report, released in March, found that the number of so-called patriot groups grew from 824 to 1,274 between 2010 and 2011, up from 149 in 2008. These groups, once more or less solely animated by racial animus, have lately intensified expression on their discontent on economic issues and matters related to globalization.

But race and ethnicity are never far off their radar. Carolyn Gallaher, author of “Fault Line: Race, Class and the American Patriot Movement” told the Christian Science Monitor that with these groups, the catalyzing issue isn’t any one thing.

“[I]t's not about race or class, it's always race and class all blended together. So we can get caught up on whether or not we label them racist or not, but that's a semantic issue. The real issue is, what are they espousing, and what would it do to minorities and immigrants and the poor?”

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CONSERVATIVES and extremists will try to make the case that all of this is a liberal fabrication, that’s an election-year concoction meant to poison the country against the Republicans and, hey, anyway, the other side does it, too.

But there’s no moral equivalency here. Not even close. The conservatives, faced with playing the strong weak hand they’ve been dealt after a clown-car primary season, are using every weapon in the contemporary political arsenal. For them and their proxies and enablers, as they’ve done before, that means reaching into the poison well of our worst, deepest national anxieties. And that means race. And that means using race to create an Other with which to quietly, consistently terrify the American people.

Bill Maher gets this, as only he can. In a May 28 broadcast of “Real Time With Bill Maher,” in a hypothetical conversation with conservatives, Maher said plain what they were up to: “This isn’t about what Obama is. It’s about what you need him to be. Because hating him is what gets you up in the morning.”

Image credits: Birth certificate: Pubic domain. Obama effigy I: via theGrio. Obama effigy switcheroo: Broward-Palm Beach New Times. Scott: Public domain. Obama bumpersticker: Facebook via The Huffington Post. Obama '12 poster: Unknown. 

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