Monday, August 10, 2009

Quote of the Day: Andrew Sullivan on Obama and the racism of the Birthers

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's Sullivan, in The Times:

This is the silly season. But this silly story seems to me an indication of something more ominous. The demographics tell the basic story: a black man is president and a large majority of white southerners cannot accept that, even in 2009. They grasp conspiracy theories to wish Obama — and the America he represents — away. Since white southerners comprise an increasing proportion of the 22% of Americans who still describe themselves as Republican, the GOP can neither dismiss the crankery nor move past it. The fringe defines what’s left of the Republican centre.

The chilling implication is that a large number of Americans believe the president has no right to be in office and has fraudulently manoeuvred himself there.

I hope the secret service is on alert. If we thought racial panic had ended with Obama’s election, the resilience of this story in key parts of the country is a helpful wake-up call.

I'm not sure if we're at the level of "racial panic" here, but I think Sullivan is right that racism is one of the prime motivations -- if not the prime motivation -- behind the Birther movement.

If you doubt that, answer this: Do you really think there would be any sort of Birther movement directed at a white president, even a white Democratic president? Do you really think there would an organized campaign, supported by leading members of the right-wing media, questioning the legitimacy, based on place of birth, of, say, John Kerry or Howard Dean or Hillary Clinton or John Edwards?

Sure, a white Democratic president -- or any Democratic president -- would be subjected to other right-wing campaigns questioning his or her legitimacy (or fitness for the job), but the Birther campaign both feeds off and stokes racism. In Clinton's case, some on the right would no doubt have questioned her sexual orientation, but, here, the Birthers have tried to turn Obama into an African, and specifically, doubling up on the bigotry, into an African Muslim.

Polls show than many Americans -- most of them Republican -- believe the lie to be true. That is, they believe that Obama may very well be both an African and a Muslim, and that he is not just an illegitimate president but, given their ideological prejudices, very possibly an enemy of America.

Being black (even half-black), Obama is already, to these Americans, the Other. The Birther movement, along with the other right-wing efforts to paint Obama as a non- or even anti-American, builds off that racism, that all-too-common racism, and provides an outlet for some of the ugliness that seethes below the surface of American society -- and that is right on the surface, with deep roots below, of much of the American right.

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1 Comments:

  • Of course the worst offenders will try to dismiss the racialist component of Obama Derangement Syndrome as a cheap shot, I think it's undeniably true. Most of the "birther" belief resides in the South and in those parts of the Midwest where the Klan still has strength and I believe it's more a derangement of those in their late 70's and older than of the young and educated.

    As to whether this would have arisen with a white President, I have to recall that John McCain was born in Panama, which may have been American territory at the time, but any attempt to twist that fact into a question about his "native" status never gained any traction.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 10:06 AM  

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