Thursday, October 4, 2012

Is America's fear of a Black President crippling Obama?

The lackluster performance of President Obama in last night's first of three debates in the presidential campaign, has triggered the wringing of hands among the 'left' and many Obama supporters, including media pundits, are pointing to the Vice-presidential debate between Biden and Ryan, October 10, as one of the routes to a come-back in the second debate one week later.
Obama, sluggish, head-down, writing notes ("for the second debate?" chimed Chris Matthews on MSNBC)refusing to fire the loaded rifle with bullets that would "take Romney out":-
  •  on the 47% video,
  • on the chicanery of his calculations,
  • on the turn-about on Obamacare,
  • on his pretentious 'care' for the middle class,
  • on his persistent beagle-bark demanding the last word, overriding the moderator, 
  • on his contemptuous smirk that accompanied all of Obama's responses
  • on his running-mate's misguided, middle-class-gutting budget proposals
  • on his mis-representation of the source of Obama's $716 million from Medicare (from efficiencies, insurance companies and providers, and not from patients)
  • on his refusal to come clean on the gap between his tax cuts and spending increases
  • on his phoney pledge to create 12 million new jobs, without supporting evidence of where or how
Will these shots now be fired by Obama surrogates, whose powder is relatively "dry" compared with that of a sitting president, seeking re-election?
Were these "missed opportunities," as they have been characterized by many observers, deliberate or missed because American racism still requires a black President to remove all trace of anger from his consciousness, and certainly his vocabulary and demeanour.
In a compelling piece, Fear of a Black President, in the September 2012 The Atlantic (p.79), Ta-Nehisi Coates, writes the following:
By virtue of his background-the son of a black man and a white woman, someone who grew up in  multiethnic communities around the world-Obama has enjoyed a distinctive vantage point on race relations in America. Beyond that, he has displayed enviable dexterity at navigating between black and white America, and at finding a language that speaks to a critical mass in both communities. He emerged into national view at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, with a speech heralding a national uncolored by old prejudices and shameful history. There was no talk of the effects of racism. Instead, Obama stressed the power of parenting, and condemned those who would say that a black child carrying a book was"acting white." He cast himself as the child of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas and asserted, "In no other country on Earth is my story even possible." When, as a senator, he was asked if the response to Hurricane Katrina evidenced racism Obama responded by call the "ineptitude" of the response "color-blind."
Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others, Black America ever lives under that skeptical eye. Hence the old admonishments to be "twice as good." Hence the need for a special "talk" administered to black boys about how to be extra careful when relating to the police. And hence Barack Obama's insisting that there was no racial component to Katrina's effects; that name-calling among children somehow has the same import as one of the oldest guiding principles of American policy_ white supremacy. The election of  an African American to our highest political office was alleged to demonstrate a triumph of integration. But when President Obama addressed the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, he demonstrated integration's great limitation--that acceptance depends not just on being twice as good but on being half as black. And even then full acceptance is withheld. The larger effect of this withholding constrict Obama's presidential potential in areas affected tangentially--or seemingly not at all--by race. Meanwhile, across the country, the community in which Obama is rooted sees this fraudulent equality, and quietly seethes.
Obama's first term has coincided with a strategy of massive resistance on the part of his Republican opposition in the House, and a record number of filibuster threats in the Senate. It would be nice if this were merely a reaction to Obama's politics or his policies--if this resistance truly were, as it is generally described, merely on more sign of our growing "polarization" as a nation. But the greatest abiding challenge to Obama's national political standing has always rested on the existential fact that if he had a son, he'd look like Trayvon Martin. As a candidate, Barack Obama understood this.
"The thing is, a black man can't be president in America, given the racial aversion and history that's still out there," Cornell Belcher, a pollster for Obama, told the journalist Gwen Ifill after the 2008 election. "However, and extraordinary, gifted, and talented young man who happens to be black can be president."
Belcher's formulation grants the power of anti-black racism, and proposes to defeat it by not acknowledging it. His is the perfect statement of the Obama era, a time marked by a revolution that must never announce itself, by a democracy that must never acknowledge the weight of race, even while being shaped by it. Barack Obama governs a nation enlightened enough to send an African American to the White House, but not enlightened enough to accept a black man as its president.
Along with the possible explanation of battle-fatigue, espoused by Jon Meacham on NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook, certainly a note-worthy explanation for Obama's performance, could the judgement of American history and culture hanging over his head, as outlined in The Fear of a Black President, continue to haunt the president?
And could it eventually lead to his becoming, as Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, declared his primary objective, "a one-term president?"

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