Racist Attacks on President Obama: Early and Often

A blogger over at DailyKos (blackwaterdog) has raised a question I have been thinking about for nearly a year now. How is President Obama being treated differently than other presidents and leading white politicians?

He first notes the differential treatment by the mass media in regard to President Obama’s intense and innovative meeting this week with Republicans:

With anyone else, CNN wouldn’t dare go to commercials every time the president speaks, like they did during that summit on Thursday. They wouldn’t dare counting how many minutes George Bush or Bill Clinton were talking. Chris Mathews wouldn’t dare making an issue out of Ronald Regan calling members of congress by their first name. . . .They fully cooperate with the Right-Wing smear machine when it comes to president Obama’s national security performance – even if almost every independent and military expert actually thinks that he’s a terrific Commander in Chief.

Presidente saluda de puño a trabajador
Creative Commons License photo credit: Embajada de Estados Unidos en Bolivia

Not just the white supremacists and extreme rightists have constantly quibbled about or directly disrespected our President:

On Thursday, almost every Republican had no trouble interrupting him in the middle of a sentence. They looked like they’re going to vomit every time they had to say “Mr. president”

Much has been made in various media about Obama being “professorish” and/or “arrogant,” but clearly this is a stereotyped way of putting down his distinctive intelligence and grasp of the facts on many issues, including health care. Many folks accuse him too of being

elitist (because he uses big words that they don’t understand). He is weak on national security (because he actually thinks about the consequences). He divides the country (well, he did that the day he had the audacity to win the election). Worst of all, he actually thinks that he’s the president.

The racist imaging has obviously come from the far right wing and white supremacists, but some criticism is also coming from the white left, which can be seen in the left political blogs:

. . . there’s also some hidden and maybe subconscious and disturbing underline tone behind some of the things . . . throughout the Left blogosphere…. “He’s weak, he’s spineless, he’s got no balls, primary him in 2012.”

Adia and I predicted some of this attack in our Yes We Can? Book, but it is already clear that we need to add a chapter to that book on how quickly and severe these attacks have become, and not much more than a year into his pathbreaking Presidency. What do you make of the many attacks on President Obama so far?


  1. John D. Foster

    Thanks for the post, Joe. I thought of the ample times when people in media refer to the Prez as “Obama” or “Mr. Obama.” the latter I do recall being used before, but still just think how often we hear “President Obama” or, most of all, simply “Mr. President.” It hit me when both Obama and Biden were at that town hall meeting the day after the SOTU, and Biden was answering a question from the crowd. With the Prez standing at his side, Biden was recalling a conversation that had had together, and he said “Mr. President” at least twice. Some might think this is unimportant, but as the whole birthers and teabaggers should tell us by now is that many people question his legitimacy as President. For an old white dude like Biden to call him “Mr. President” helps to establish such legitimacy, which is obviously something that makes Obama’s experience as Prez unique to the white men who have preceded him.

  2. DJohnson

    Are you serious? CNN is part of a right-wing attack machine? All the right-wingers will be so relieved to hear that CNN is finally on their side. And Chris “tingle up my leg” Matthews, too! Who knew the media were in the bag for the Republicans all along. I see now that the drooling and ring-kissing during the campaign was all an elaborate plot to get a black man elected — just so they could enjoy four years of cracking each other up by calling him an “elitist.”

    What a strange fantasy world you’ve created.

    By the way, calling the congressmen by their first names is rude and it’s a transparent attempt to gain a psychological upper hand since they’re obviously not going to call him “Barack.” I would have, though.

    This famous grasp of the issues Obama is supposed to have baffles me. I just don’t see it. I see a typical left-liberal with a more-or-less unquestioned belief in the power of the government to do anything as long as it’s headed by people like himself. Ho, hum. The rest is all wishful thinking. He’s not stupid, but smarts are hardly important when it comes to Presidents — the range is so small. What matters is leadership, an area where he seems profoundly deficient.

    They guy is apparently a dud. Maybe he’ll pull them out of the fire, we’ll see. But I’d say the odds are 2:1 we’re looking at a one-term president who squanders majorities in both houses before he’s voted out himself.

  3. John D. Foster

    @DJohnson: I’m sorry this discussion goes beyond your conception of right/left and conservative/liberal; if you’ve been reading the blogs on this site you’d know that we discuss how SYSTEMIC racism works, and it’s something perpetuated by liberals and conservatives alike, albeit in different ways and (perhaps) amounts. We’re talking about images and beliefs so embedded within our minds that much of it is buried deep within our subconsciousness; however, the consequences of this frame of mind are very real, resulting in privileges for whites and hardships for nonwhites. Concerning the President’s addressing members of Congress by their first names, I think he was trying to sound cordial and try to show people they’re capable of having a grown-up discussion about health care reform…silly him. And you say that “smarts are hardly important when it comes to Presidents.” Really??! Folks such as yourself are just ticked off that he’s in power; just remember (if you’re old enough) how many conservatives said the exact same thing about Clinton being a “one-term President” in 1994-5.

  4. DJohnson

    Why are you sorry? You’re not the one trapped by his own limited perspective, I am. You should be jubilant that you’re not suffering from the limitations I am. Meanwhile, I’ll just KBO, as they say, applying the meager tools I have at my disposal: reason, common sense, blah, blah, blah.

    I must have missed the part where Obama asked the congressmen to call him by his first name in return. When was that?

    I am a little ticked that Obama’s in power, your online psychoanalysis nailed that one. But it’s not because he’s black. I’d run at a dead sprint to vote for Condaleeza Rice, and I suspect that Clarence Thomas may be the single best Supreme Court Justice on the bench. No, it’s because he’s a typical lefty who was never forced to grow up, coming as he did from the bubble of Chicago politics. He’s a dorm-room theorist with a goon mentality. No good.

    It’s interesting you brought up Clinton. Clinton survived by governing as an Eisenhower Republican for the last six years of his term. Hillary Clinton was kept out of the cabinet meetings and off the task forces, and he just went ahead and signed welfare reform. (At least that’s what my teacher told me, I’m not old enough or sober enough to remember myself.)

    Do you think Obama will move to the center after failing on both his major initiatives, or do you think he’ll just blame Bush?

    These attacks that are nothing more than business-as-usual in politics. Even if some were to note Obama’s race (and I’ve not seen it) that doesn’t mean it’s *because* of his race, just that his race is a salient characteristic. Kind of like Clinton’s bubba-hood and GWB’s Texas-ness and tongue-tiedery.

    By the way, I agree with you about racism being present deep in our minds. It’s a biological fact, not a cultural one. We are predisposed to prefer our own genes to others, which is why we prefer our own children to other children, our own families to strangers, and our races to others. This will never go away. And, of course, it applied not just to whites.

    Whether racism is a good explanation for the differences in outcomes between races is another question. I do not believe it is.

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