by Dr. Elwood Watson
Think about the following:
• Former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has made the claim that President Obama’s health care plan would establish “death panels” to oversee end of life care for the elderly and terminally ill.
• A Swastika was found spray-painted on a sign fronting the office of U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia, (who is Black) a week after rowdy attendees at a town hall meeting angrily confronted the congressman over health care reform.
• Newly-turned Democratic Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania faced a hostile crowd as well as taunts during a town hall meeting on health care reform.
• Right wing agitator and talk show host Glenn Beck of FOX News states that President Obama has a hatred of White people.
• A political poster of President Obama equating him with the deviant Batman character, the Joker, is posted on a number of right wing Web sites.
• A small but vocal number of Americans (known as birthers) refuse to believe that President Obama is an American-born citizen
• The majority of Republican Senators vote against confirming Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court
I could provide you with more examples, but the point should be made clear by now. Unless you have been comatose or camping in the most remote regions of the earth without any access to modern technology then you are aware of ferocious rage that has erupted among a segment of the political right. From dishonest comments from certain right wing radio talk show hosts to aggressive and in some cases, mob violence from resentful tea baggers and private citizens who align themselves with such a movement, the far right has been on the warpath demonstrating its ugly, callous, and largely inhumane face to a currently surprised mainstream America.
For over a month now, the leaders of this political segment of American politics have engaged in the most destructive rhetoric publicly expressed by fearful citiizens since the days of the early modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Even President Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which was able to successfully garner the support of the region by manipulating racist Whites who were fearful of and resented the civil rights movement, did not seem so overtly hostile in its aims.
Some radical critics have gone even further and compared such troublesome behavior on the right to that of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. While it is probably safe to say that this nation will never reach the horrific crisis that engulfed Germany during the Nazi era, the similarities are far too eerie to dismiss. The naked raw emotions and resentment expressed by Obama opponents in public are striking.
From ruthlessly spreading falsehoods that the current proposed health care plan would allow “death panels” to pull the plug on dear old grandma and grandpa if they became too ill; to shamelessly lampooning the president; to referring to Judge Sotomayor as a “Latina racist”; to arguing that Obama was born in Kenya; to comparing the Obama White House to a Nazi organization and the president himself to Adolf Hitler, the malcontents who represent this extreme brand of conservatism have shown their racist, sexist, sinister and xenophobic teeth. And guess what? They have demonstrated that they are not afraid to bite no matter how disgraceful, rabid or perverse the consequences. Some of these anti-Obama protestors have arrogantly carried loaded guns to town hall meetings.
All one has to do is listen to the steady stream of hate that is coming from right wing talk radio on a daily basis to realize that the anger, fear and mistrust is rampant among more than a few people. The level of hate is unreal. Throughout American history, every president has had critics who have levied all sorts of allegations against him no matter how bizarre or unfounded. History has shown that there tends to be a vehement hatred toward those in power from those who are looking in from the outside.
Nonetheless, I would argue that among our very contemporary presidents –from Jimmy Carter onward, there has never been the level of unrestrained paranoia that is being directed toward our current commander-in-chief from his opponents. To be sure, while Ronald Reagan was not popular among many liberals (or many Black Americans for that matter); many liberals did like him personally. No one managed to incur the wrath of conservatives like Bill Clinton did (his wife was a frequent target of conservative ire as well). George W. Bush infuriated a number of groups, including liberals for what they saw as his embracing of anti-intellectualism as well as many traditional conservatives due to his rejection of a mainstream conservatism in favor of neo-conservatism.
However, there was no one (at least that I recall) posting incessantly on political blogs, carrying signs, contacting congressmen, disrupting town hall meetings demanding to know whether the president was a legitimate American citizen! Note to all the doubting Thomases out there – HE WAS BORN IN AMERICA! He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on August 4, 1961.
To me, such intense resistance and resentment has a racial nexus to it.
From the first Latina being confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, to the son of a Black Kenyan immigrant and White Kansas mother occupying the most powerful office in the nation and the world for that matter and other milestones, the fact is that a number of people (certainly not all or perhaps even most) cannot fully accept the fact that the “Leave it to Beaver”, Norman Rockwell , “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley,” “Pleasantville” early post-World War II suburban America, male dominant WASP culture has suddenly included non-Whites (and for sexists, White women) in the top echelons of power in the U.S. The America that that these people knew where non-Whited were frequently marginalized, occasionally seen but not heard and certainly had little, if any voice, have managed to secure Supreme Court seats and live in the White House. This fact is driving a number of them mad with PARANOIA!
There are some conservatives who have denounced the tactics of some of their more extreme brethren, but these are the individuals who seem to be voices in the wilderness as opposed to being taken seriously as rational voices of reason. When this current madness will end is anyone’s guess. To be sure calmer voices will prevail as they always eventually do. Nonetheless, Republicans and other conservatives may want to do some real soul searching about what is happening in their party. As of right now, the right wing lunatics are running the asylum.
Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)