Policy and Prejudice

How do you distinguish criticism of President Obama based upon policy from that motivated by racism?

There are some telling clues. For example, in a recent Facebook exchange, a commenter weighed in on a post featuring a picture of Obama, accusing the President of “Nixonian” behavior and (ironically) racism.

Let’s deconstruct that.

It is beyond debate that President Obama has encountered massive resistance to even his most uncontroversial initiatives. (There’s a lively debate over whether the enormous and vicious hostility to this President is “one of the worst” or “the worst” in history–not having been around for all of that history, I’ll leave that argument to the historians.)

It is perfectly understandable that Americans would disagree with the priorities or suggested policies of this or any chief executive. (The current opposition to the TPP is a good example.) But it’s also clear that racism drives a great deal of the hostility.

There is a simple test that lets you tell the difference between genuine disagreement and bigotry.

I’ve previously blogged about the woman who complained that, every time she had a principled policy objection to something Obama was doing, she encountered accusations of racism. I commiserated, then asked her which of the President’s policies she objected to. Her response was “He’s a socialist!” When I asked her which policy positions she considered socialist, she raised her voice; “He’s a Muslim!”

Gee–I wonder why people think she’s a racist….

A similar dynamic was obvious in the referenced Facebook exchange. The objections to the President were all what we call “ad hominem” attacks–name calling. Labelling. Not a single concrete example of a wrongheaded policy or a “Nixonian” activity.

I happen to admire President Obama. But even though I think he’s done a remarkably good job under unbelievably difficult circumstances, I can identify policies he’s pursued with which I disagree. (NSA, anyone? Drones?)

So here’s the test: when someone protests that their criticism of POTUS isn’t racist, ask them to specify the policies with which they take issue. If they can’t–if they respond with characterizations and indignation rather than a factual, verifiable example of something the President has actually said or done–then yes, they’re racists.

And boy, there are a lot of them.


  1. Or, they watch faux news and can’t remember the talking points. Yes. Obama is a different level of hatred than we have seen before, and much of it is racial. However, I’m fond of saying indiana wouldn’t vote for Christ, Jesus (D) because of the (D) and would likely think he was an illegal because of his first name.
    The whole red state/blue state mentality affects not just the attitude towards Obama, but many officeholders. I’m sure that is some sort of “ism”.

  2. I happen across comments on blogs and news sites that call him everything under the sun. If I watched any faux spews, I would know the terms by heart but can’t stomach that many lies and innuendos of their disgust toward the President. To read that he is ‘the racist’ is the one that gets me the most. How can a mix-raced human be racist? That one makes me laugh out loud. When I travel back to Indiana soon, I’ll look for those comments and remind those that he’s only holding the office another 18 months or so and they can elect someone else. (Hopefully, Bernie Sanders, as he is my pick).

  3. “How do you distinguish criticism of President Obama based upon policy from that motivated by racism?”

    Easy. Here’s the test. When you wish Obama’s position would be more liberal, your criticism is “principled.” When you wish Obama’s position would be less liberal, the criticism is “racist.”

  4. Racism I always thought was not a condition but a spectrum and we all have our place on it. We certainly have extreme racists but mostly we have a normal distribution with them on the tails.

    Given that, our politics could have bent the curve towards justice starting in 2008 by taking the high road and real news media did. But Republicans and oligarchs had a problem. Bush had ended the political debate between conservatism and liberalism. Conservatism was rendered obsolete by actual demonstration. It had gone from a political asset based on the myth of trickle down to a liability when it became obvious to almost everyone that it did not work. And war had also become a liability.

    On the asset side of the ledger they had the oligarch funding and their, by “their” I mean Rupert’s, media. The script writers went to work picking at the scab of racism.

    I have a family member who is addicted to Fox. I wish that it was a treatable condition like alcoholism but it’s not. She has been led down the rabbit hole of hatred and one of the symptoms is racism. She was taught that by the salesman in her living room. Her dormant or incipient racism has been inflamed raw by fleas jumping from Fox daily for more than six years now. It’s awful to watch it’s progression.

    What made things worse was Obama’s best nearly ever performance. Conservative politics has no high road left at all. So they utilized what had become their only road, the low one.

    The perfect storm for conservatives. Their only salvation required racism (and strangely enough evangelicals).

    It worked for a while as lies often do but Obama’s greatness has outlasted even the media’s ability to sell snake oil. The great awakening is upon us.

    That’s good news in all respects for America save one. Republicans are now even more desperate and cornered. Who knows what that will require them to do?

    Run Donald Trump as Presidential candidate? Shut the country down by refusing to fund it? Totally abandon the future by allowing oligarchs the financial benefit of the dregs of fossil fuels thus bankrupting coming generations? Shut down all possibilities of Middle East stability? Red state succession from the Union?

    We just don’t know.

  5. Absolutely agree, and the “indignant” reply (above) exactly makes your point.

  6. “I’ve previously blogged about the woman who complained that, every time she had a principled policy objection to something Obama was doing, she encountered accusations of racism. I commiserated, then asked her which of the President’s policies she objected to. Her response was “He’s a socialist!” When I asked her which policy positions she considered socialist, she raised her voice; “He’s a Muslim!”

    Almost word for word, this paragraph illustrates how a friendship with a female neighbor ended. I am, unfortunately, surrounded by more like neighbors.

  7. There were the poisons hidden and lurking in the body politic, but Obama seems to have been a catalyst that brought the poisons to the surface in a grotesque form. There is a whole industry on conspiracy theories surrounding Obama.

    We have the rise of the one word labeling. The one labeling word allows the individual person and collectively others to use their imaginations to the extreme. Here in the USA we have that simple formula labeling, that for many has the force of “facts” ever bit as valid as Einstein’s or Newtons Scientific principles or theories. Liberal=Socialist=Communist=Castro=Stalin=Mao.

    I happen to be a Bernie Sanders supporter. His opponents and critics have decided to label him as a Socialist. OK, fine now which part of his platform do you disagree with and why??? Sanders wears the label of Democratic Socialist proudly.

  8. It’s interesting that given our 1/3 socialist 2/3 capitalist economy the word “socialist” is still the boogeyman. I suppose that stems from a non-thinking connection between socialism and Communism and the oligarchy sales tactic that we have defeated Communism as compared to the much more realistic explanation that it failed because it just doesn’t work.

    Calling Bernie a socialist because he offers government solutions to national problems is not pejorative but accurate and visionary and as American as apple pie.

    But to be more accurate he should be labeled as anti-oligarchy which is the source of the negativity that some paint him with. America as a democracy. What a radical thought!

  9. I think Obama’s election released the fears and inner bigots of a large minority of American society. They were OK as long as black people “knew their place,” gays stayed in the closet, illegal immigrants stayed hidden, and religions other than Christianity and Judaism kept their mouths shut. They resisted the changing attitudes of the last few decades until Obama was president, then everything hit the fan.

    Not only was there a black family in the White House, but LGBT folks came into the open, illegal immigrants and their children came out from hiding, and lots of other religions and atheists started demanding the rights guaranteed in the constitution.

    For the fear-of-change group, it was too much to process. Instead of doing the difficult job of trying to figure out their places in a changing social landscape, they instead chose to make Obama the scapegoat for their fear and confusion. And, they still had faux news to tell them that they were right and everyone else was wrong.

    I have no realistic ideas on how to persuade this fear-of-change group to just think about whether their opinions are out of place in our 21st Century society, especially when they still believe society will change to fit their opinions.

  10. It’s especially a judgment call between when you can actually have a fact-based discussion or should “suffer fools gladly”. I guess you have to put your toe in the water and see the response to determine whether or not there is any evidence of one’s inclination to be self-reflective. Then decide whether the discussion is worth your time. Sheila’s example is a first rate example of when you should say “Oh, I see”, and invest your time elsewhere. She’s a candidate for Juanita Jean.

  11. Gopper: The republicans even hate their own ideas when Obama supports them. What is that all about? I agree that it has been a terrible time for conservatives, especially social conservatives. They are becoming more powerless and irrelevant every time they open their mouths. Like him or not, the pres has not chosen to wrestle the pig and he always appears intelligent and measured in his responses to the crises he has faced. You don’t see that blank look of fear in Obama that was W’s trademark.

    He was the guy with the balls to save the auto industry and the stinking banks and to pull the Bush economy out of the ditch. And then, unsurprisingly the republicans jumped on him because the economy was in terrible shape; he worked through it. And the republicans that he still isn’t creating jobs fast enough – they’re a friggin joke.

  12. I forgot to add that the republicans are completely out of ideas that are relevant in the 21 st century.

  13. daleb; thank you for your dead on comments. Some days I don’t want to face it but get sucked in again – Gopper is a bad joke and typical of today’s Repubicans who can do nothing to help so they block the way for others to move ahead. I love this country but it has become a frightening place to wake up every morning not knowing what they will try to take away today. Frustrating not to be able to physically protest to stand up for rights of true Americans or to canvas my neighborhood to get people registered to vote…and vote to improve life for all of us.

  14. Daleb,

    You’re a good liberal. Like a good liberal, you just make everything up. It’s not worth debating anything with you, because I’d have to step inside your mythology. What nonsense you belch.

  15. Sheila; can your computer wizard son possibly add a “delete” option to your comments listing? I for one would appreciate it. I hate waste; waste of time, waste of computer space and scrolling down past empty-headed blathering. Thank you

  16. Boy Gopper, I’d give anything for you to be right. Can anyone even imagine how good it would feel if the last 15 years of conservative Republicanism turned out to be merely a pepperoni produced nightmare? And Republicans could wake up and realize that Obama’s successes were merely a dream and were never needed? And we all lived in a politically productive democracy staffed with real diplomats?

  17. Daleb, it might be premature to say the GOP is losing power. They continually create new ways in which to usurp power from the populace. In 1902 it was the Dems who fought constantly to disenfranchise blacks nationwide. (Re: Indy News archives) What many fail to get is that the Dems of Thurmond’s party of yesterday are the GOP of today.

  18. Gopper: Thank you. I didn’t make up the facts about the economic recovery under Obama or the train wreck that was the W economy. That republicans are out of relevant ideas is my opinion.

  19. So, Gopper, what about President Obama’s positions do you actually object to? And what policy solutions do you think he should implement instead?

  20. Louie – well said, but you forgot the last part of your equation = spawn of Satan

    Cheryl – religion still has to be Protestant – Jews have shaved their beards and uncovered their heads to be more acceptable but even with that until the Civil RIghts laws, many places were still restricted, excluding Jews and often Catholics along with “Negroes”

    I truly believe that the derangement on the Right began after Reagan was elected and they believed that only their side was allowed to rule. The Left would say don’t blame me, I voted for the other guy or even, snidely, yes “W” was elected –by a 5 to 4 vote, but when Clinton was elected was the first time I ever heard someone say “He can’t be allowed to be President” — the excuse was the he was a philanderer. The fact that the “He can’t be allowed to be President” is 100 times worse now — yes, skin color seems like the most likely explanation.

Comments are closed.