Monday, September 14, 2009

Is Obama Opposition All About Race?

One unexpected result of Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-SC) outburst during President Obama’s speech last week has been the topic of racial anxiety among Republican - almost entirely white - voters.

Today Politico reports that many Democrats have come to see the opposition to Obama’s presidency as at least somewhat race driven.

This comes not long after the Los Angeles Times reported a growing “problem” Obama had in losing white support. Tom Schaller at argued that the “problem” was being overblown for the most part, but it does seem to suggest that the divide over the 44th president’s performance is at least partially racial.

Just as they were infuriated by the Department of Homeland Security’s report that right-wing militia groups could spawn domestic terrorism, conservatives are undoubtedly becoming infuriated by the suggestion that their opposition to President Obama’s policies are due to racism. Conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh will undoubtedly say that Democrats are “playing the race card” now.

Of course, many social psychologists can easily explain what’s happening. Studies show that the image of a black man can evoke subconscious fears, anxieties, etc. in whites. Therefore, it wouldn’t be to far-fetched to assume that the unprecedented intensity of opposition coming from Tea-Baggers, birthers, and other hard-line anti-Obama conservatives is due to a little racial undercurrent.

Joe Wilson served as the perfect example. As a white Southerner (the South has by far the saddest record of race relations) he gave evidence to that theory when he made an unprecedented outburst (screaming “you lie!” of all things) during a presidential address to Congress.

But can Democrats admit it openly?

So far, it’s been liberal pundits and Democratic activists that have been ready to call their conservative counterparts out on the issue of race - politicians have known better.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we relayed an article from the New York Times explaining how then President-Elect Obama had been “an omnipresent icebreaker” for racial anxiety.

But Obama took a bit of a hit in the polls earlier this summer when he said that the Cambridge, MA police had acted “stupidly” in their arrest of an African-American Harvard professor. There was a huge racial divide on that subject - blacks supporting the professor, white’s supporting the arresting officer - and Obama’s mismanaged reaction resulted in a small (even just temporary) drop in the polls.

So far, neither the Obama Administration nor the Democratic Party will speak directly to the question of race in this debate. And that’s exactly what they want to do. Affirming the speculations of race-driven opposition will only hurt Obama among moderate whites while denying the speculations would hurt his position with progressives and minorities.

So the opposition to this president is (very likely) partially driven by racial anxiety. Unfortunately we can’t really admit it.

1 comment:

Paul said...

South Carolina has a long list of dignitaries that includes Lauren Caitlin Upton (Miss Teen USA 2007 pageant contestant), Board of Education Chair, Kristin Maguire, Governor (and avid Appalachian hiker), Mark Sanford and now Joe “the hater not a debater” Wilson or the “screamer not the dreamer” as others have dubbed him. I did enjoy him cut and running through his apology, which only goes to show that he stands for nothing. He is just another good old boy where in the morning these married men preach to you that there should be prayer in our schools and in the evening they are on their cell phones setting up a date with their other women on the side, hypocrisy has been bred in. I am not surprised that he felt compel to yell like he was at some Friday night game. So long Joey, you too will be seeing the unemployment lines.