“Here is a guy who understands the world through black liberation theology, which is oppressor and victim… it’s Marxism disguised as religion.” – Glenn Beck
“What if Obama is so outside our comprehension that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior can you begin to piece together his actions? [Obama] happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.” – Newt Gingrich
“Here is a man who spent his formative years—the first 17 years of his life—off the American mainland, in Hawaii, Indonesia, in Pakistan, and in multiple subsequent trips to Africa.” – Dinesh D’Souza
Barack Obama is not like you. He’s not normal. We’re not exactly sure what it is about him, but something just isn’t right.
God, you’ve been hearing that a lot, haven’t you? The above quotes are just a sample of the nonsense spread over the past month or two about the president. Maybe it was all inspired by this Ground Zero mosque hubbub, but there seems to be a pretty consistent and united effort on the part of conservative talking heads nowadays to paint Obama as both (a) foreign and (b) untrustworthy. There was a lot of this before the election, but at least within my sphere of news it had steadily declined after he’d actually taken office, and people began to get interested in real issues again….
But now, with recovery slow and steady and people getting impatient, the lull in the political conversation has allowed the nuts a way to squeeze back in. In a way, the Tea Party is the culmination of this, although the entire phenomenon is very misunderstood. (As I see it, about 20 percent of Americans have always been that politically loony—they’ve just never been given a voice by the media or mainstream politicians until now. And although they say their movement is about taxes and economics, believe me, these people wouldn’t be getting half the attention they are if the president was white.) The only difference now, unlike those eras of “intellectual conservatism” of yore where the Republican Party actually had ideas, is that the Newt Gingrichs of the world are now happy to couch their political arguments in the language of racism and xenophobia. Forget that just two years ago this whole group’s main argument against Obama had to do with the Christian reverend whose pew, they never tired of telling us, he sat in every Sunday for 20 years. Now, according to a recent Gallup poll, just under 20 percent of Americans—a number suspiciously similar to the number of self proclaimed Tea Partiers—believe that our president is actually a Muslim.
The pertinent question here is, do they actually believe that? If they do, they obviously know nothing about Islam; Obama’s occasional public consumption of alcohol alone (we’ve all seen him drinking beer at publicized restaurant visits—hell, what about that beer summit last year with Henry Louis Gates and the officer who arrested him? It was Biden who drank the non-alcoholic beer) rules out any practice of Islam—all sects of Islam universally regard alcohol as a poison for the body and soul. Furthermore, if Obama truly is a Muslim, that means he has “faked Christianity” his entire life, and in a way that no one of repute would ever know his true religious ties. And, having made the decision to appear Christian for reasons of electability, he is now going to use as his white-bread front a church with a pastor like his? I mean, it’s just factually impossible that Obama’s a Muslim.
Unfortunately, in this context, “Muslim” doesn’t mean “follower of the Islamic faith;” to most of the Americans in question here, “Muslim” just means “inherently different from me.” The fact is, a lot of the people out there who feel vaguely uneasy about Obama are simply under the grips of both racial prejudice and Islamophobia, and they’re just more comfortable expressing the latter than the former. And for these Tea Party leaders and cowardly sensationalists—even they couldn’t get away with just going after him on an explicitly racist note. But Muslim-bashing is socially acceptable in this country—at least to a large segment of it, the one they’re going after in the first place—and they basically cater to the same worries of losing power and one’s voice to foreign influences. And, like Dinesh D’Souza did in the above quote, by describing Obama as more generically foreign, D’Souza is able to arouse all the necessary feelings of mistrust within his audience without pressing any particular cultural or ethnic hot buttons. Don’t make any explicitly racial comments—just say he’s bound to a racially-centered Christian church; or deny his Christianity in the first place. Instead of using the word “black,” just call him an “anti-colonial Kenyan.” As if that doesn’t get the job done. D’Souza and his kind deny that there’s any xenophobia in questioning Obama’s love for America due to “subsequent trips to Africa” (more than one of which has occurred since he has taken national office—I guess Bush’s focus on ending the AIDS epidemic there said something bad about him, too).
When you get down to it it’s really the security argument of the 1960s. Richard Nixon ran his 1968 campaign on the premise that the American people would value security and safety over equal rights and maximum liberty, and was he right! He was elected twice and was the beginning of five out of six Republican presidential election victories between 1968 and 1988. In an era of great cultural shift, just as Nixon’s era was—a black president, religiously charged wars in the Middle East, and fast changing religious and racial demographics within our own country—the good old conservative “doesn’t this kind of bother you?” machine is out in full force. The only notable thing is how many times this has happened in the past. Nixon himself even had an idea called the “Southern Strategy” that was created specifically to help him and his team arouse all the race- and class-based fears still lingering in the south four years after the Civil Rights Act, but without appearing specifically racially conscious in the way a George Wallace was.
As someone who understands at least the general trends of recent American history, all of this shameless political posturing by the conservatives (can you even call this group of bullshitters conservatives?) is easily see-through; but I feel more sad for than enraged toward the people who actually believe this kind of thing. We really hate to admit it, but for a minority of the people in this country, race is still a really big deal. Prejudices, and what one was told when one was a child, can go a lot further than you’d expect. A lot of these folks who just can’t get over Obama’s blackness, and his “funny name,” as he himself said, find an outlet in Islamophobia: it’s a socially acceptable prejudice that quiets the few intellectual qualms any of these people might have about feeling antipathy toward the president for no clear reason. Nothing in this country’s really changed as it comes to prejudice: with every “minority group” we have to learn these same lessons over and over again. And which racial/religious ignorance and insensitivity is only predictable on the part of the American public, it’s simply shameful coming out of the mouths of these “senior conservatives” who are both the popular and intellectual leaders of their parties.
About the author: Ian MacIsaac is a staff writer for the Capital City Free Press. He is a history major at Auburn University Montgomery in Montgomery, Alabama, where he edits the opinion section of the school newspaper, the AUMnibus, and serves as a Senator-at-Large within the Student Government Association.
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