Monday, October 04, 2010

Obama won: Get over it

Guest post by T.W. Wilson 

Ed. note: This is the pseudonymous Mr. Wilson's fourth guest post here at The Reaction. His first three were on Glenn Beck, the right's war on the poor (and Beck's war on Frances Fox Piven), and Chris Coons and Marxism. -- MJWS


I was thinking recently about what is different now in the national politics of America than at any other time since I started paying attention almost 40 years ago. The answer, it occurred to me, is in the way that a significant percentage of the electorate have convinced themselves that the Obama presidency is illegitimate.

It is not simply that they don't like him or that they disapprove of his policies. That is certainly true, but it is not the point.

The Birthers, who have tried to argue that Obama was not born in America and is therefore not eligible to hold the office of President of the United States, under terms set out in the U.S. Constitution, were early out of the gate making the illegitimacy argument. It was foolishness, but it should have signaled what was to come.

Those who argue that Obama is a socialist who is trying to import some foreign economic regime into America are really also arguing that this disqualifies him from holding the office. For these types, socialism, however poorly defined (see my post), is tantamount to communism and precisely the kind of thing that foreign agents have tried to impose on America for years in order to destroy our way of life – or so they argue.

It's murky, but Obama instituting policies inimical to some conception of unfettered capitalism shows clearly that he is un-American and by definition illegitimate. Somehow, bailing out Wall Street came to be proof of Obama's socialist bona fides (man, that sentence is so perverse that it was almost hard to type). Saving the auto industry, pumping money into the capitalist economy to keep it afloat – all socialist actions and all proof of illegitimacy. (Note to reader: "making sense" and "being true" are not always the same thing).

And then there is this whole weird thing about the U.S Constitution. It is amazing to me how many people, who otherwise appear incapable of stringing together a complete sentence, still manage to mutter something about the fact that progressives are stealing America because they fail to abide by the strictest meaning of the American Constitution.

I do love it so when television cameras find these self-styled legal scholars at Tea Party rallies, which invariably provokes some tri-corner-hat-wearing genius to blurt out "read the Constitution!" Call me an elitist, but I have no confidence that these people have either read the document themselves or would have any clue as to its meaning or the meaning of the many decades of case law that make it the living document it must of necessity be.

If the President of the United States, they argue, runs the government in a way that is inconsistent with what they say is in the Constitution, then, by golly, he really needs to be removed. 

I was not that surprised to see the Republican Party announce in its "Pledge to America" for the 2010 campaign that it would "pledge to honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers and honor the original intent of those precepts that have been consistently ignored." Republicans know full well what the electorate is thinking, or at least their slice of it, and they are not at all ashamed to pander. 

The whole point of harkening back to the Founders, I would argue, is a not-so-subtle attempt to claim that Obama and the current administration are subverting the original intention of the Founders and therefore proving their nefarious plan. (If Glenn Beck hires one more actor to play the role of a Founding Father, I will scream. I will.)

I know this whole "original intent" thing is an active debate amongst serious legal scholars. I just can't take it seriously. How many unquestioned social constructs in 21st-century America would have been incoherent in 1787? The point is that Congress and the President have specific roles in the legislative process, as do the courts, which sometimes includes striking down legislation as unconstitutional. That's the way the system works. It has nothing to do with subversion. If it did, there would have been many presidents in jail, including a lot of Republicans. 

So Birthers, and those who call Obama a socialist, and those who say that he is ignoring the Founders and subverting the Constitution, are really saying one thing: President Obama has no right to hold the job he has, and something should be done about it and more than, it seems, simply voting him out. 

To be fair, the idea of illegitimacy is not entirely new to American politics. When George W. Bush stole the 2000 presidential election by judicial fiat, many people (rightly, I believe) argued that W. was not legitimately elected. Interestingly, though, to Al Gore's credit, he ceded the most powerful job in the land because he believed that it was better for America that he accept this injustice and move on.

Can you imagine what would happen today if the situation were reversed and a Democrat "won" the White House in similar fashion? Can you imagine what would have happened if a black Democrat had won the White House in this way? It is more than a frightening thought.

But George W. Bush was never really vilified as illegitimate beyond the first few months after the election, as Obama has been, and there was undoubtedly a better argument for it in Bush's case. The same kinds of things we are seeing now just did not happen then, not with the same consistency.

Nixon's criminal activities rendered him illegitimate and he had to go. No question. But the claim that Obama's presidency is counterfeit is really about nothing. Obama is governing as a centrist Democrat doing the kinds of things Democrats have always done. Like a lot of people, I don't even think he nests very well amongst the left. Go figure.

The easiest explanation may be that a large number of Americans continue to be racist and will not accept a black man as president. Another answer, which I have argued elsewhere, is that after 9/11 many people came to consider anyone who did not buy into a grossly nativistic and blindly patriotic understanding of America as an enemy of the state. For these people, Obama represents and leads those who just won't go along with this view.

And although I can't get into it at length here, I would also argue that as the American Empire declines, a lot of people are going to demand that their political leaders tell them soothing lies about brighter days ahead. Good luck with that one. Anyone who doesn't play along is probably going to be pretty unpopular with the head-in-the-sand crowd.

Maybe none of this is all that original or all that interesting. But I have never seen a time when so many people stretched the truth so far to try and prove that a duly-elected American president, doing the job well within the rules as any reasonable person would interpret them, should not be accepted as legitimate by the country.

No easy answers, just a lot of odd stuff going on here.

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  • Race definitely has a lot to do with GOP rejection of Obama, but I think the underlying issue is that the GOP base does not regard Democrats as legitimate office holders. These people didn't regard Clinton as legitimate, either.

    That's a lot more dangerous than just a bunch of teabagger racists who are upset over the fact that there's a half-black man in the white house.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:41 PM  

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