It's been a week since Melissa Harris Perry wrote this article in "The Nation". Sorry for the late post, but like Jon Stewart said, I have stuff to do.
There was a lot of anger generated about this article. I have to tell you, I wasn't one of those who was angry - and I am middle-aged, white guy.
The nexus of her argument is contained in the first paragraph:
Electoral racism in its most naked, egregious and aggressive form is the unwillingness of white Americans to vote for a black candidate regardless of the candidate’s qualifications, ideology or party. This form of racism was a standard feature of American politics for much of the twentieth century. So far, Barack Obama has been involved in two elections that suggest that such racism is no longer operative. His re-election bid, however, may indicate that a more insidious form of racism has come to replace it.
She then goes on, in quite a dispassionate way to try to prove her argument. I do not think that she is completely off-base, but I think she might be mistaking good old-fashioned liberal angst for racism.
Are the people she is pointing at prejudiced? Absolutely. The reason that I make this distinction is because an old acquaintence of mine (who now works for the Obama administration and who happens to be black) defined the distinction. Prejudice is just the thought of favoritism or racism. Racism is the overt act. I haven't seen the overt act of white-on-black racism against this president by the left. Is there possibly some of this kind of racism within the ranks of the so-called "Obama Haters" on this site? I believe so, but I do not believe that is the overriding act here.
Part of it is more of "I am not getting what I want, so I will take my marbles and go home." This is not racism. It's childish, but it's not racism.
This phenomena of liberals abandoning their standard bearer is not new. It has happened before in 1980.
Let's go back a bit during President Carter's run for President in 1976, when he was the unknown Governor and peanut farmer from Georgia. During the campaign, he addressed a group of celebrities from Hollywood, most notably Carrol O'Connor, the man who beautifully played Archie Bunker in the hit television series "All in the Family" and many other unfortunately forgotten roles on screen.
The fundraiser is mentioned in a book entitled "Reelpolitick II: Political Ideologies in 50's and 60's films".
The book only devotes a paragraph to this fundraiser. It is as follows:
Despite the fact that Hollywood viewed Carter with unspecified suspicion, Warren Beatty arranged for a fund-raising gala at which Carrol O'Connor pinned Carter point-blank, asking just exactly he was going to do for the assembled. An unabashed Carter shot back "absolutely nothing" and won over the room. It was a moment that would have made the title character in 1998's "Bulworth" (written, directed and starred in by Warren Beatty) proud.
In 1980, when the ground swell against Carter was gaining steam, Carrol O'Connor turned right around and went after him with this ad endorsing Sen. Ted Kennedy for the Democratic nomination for President. In it he calls Carter, "the most Republican president since Herbert Hoover". Jimmy Carter may have been a lot of things, but this?
I have heard many of these same types of statements from people who will just not accept Barack Obama as their president and some of these people are not from the right.
I think my defense of Ms. Perry stems from the idea that I think I know where she is coming from, but I am not sure that the basis of this is purely white-on-black racism. I think this has to do more about gender than anything else.
There was a recent poll done on Hillary Clinton, the President's Secretary of State and former rival for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. 34% said that the country would be better off if we had elected Hillary Clinton President of the United States in 2008. To me that is a very telling sign of what Melissa Harris-Perry is really talking about.
Joan Walsh (who declared herself a friend of Ms. Perry's, even though Ms. Perry had no idea where that came from) is someone who I think represents those in that camp.
Here is what she said after Hillary conceded and Barack Obama won the nomination in 2008.
The self-described "hope-monger" now needs to be a grace-monger, in a word, to win back Clinton supporters proud of what she's accomplished in this race and angry over her mistreatment.
Joan Walsh, Salon.com, "The Other 18 Million" June, 2008
"Hope-monger"? What is that supposed to mean? "I guess I am glad you won, but here's a back-handed compliment to say I guess I am with you."
She then proceeds in the article to suggest how he is to win Hillary supporters. This is yet another swipe at the future president, as if he didn't know how to win over female voters in the first place.
It is my assumption that Hillary supporters (of which there are many) are still holding his nomination and election of 2008 against him. They supported him in the election because Hillary supported him and he was much better than the alternative. (By the way, if Chris Christie gets in and wins the nomination for the upcoming 2012 election, the President will look a whole lot better to women.) However, that is seemingly not enough for them to stay loyal. Is it racism? I am not sure. Is it a kind of sexism? Perhaps.
Now, is sexism a form of racism? It is more subtle, but it is an overt act against another individual based on purely external, physical factors. I have seen it many times in my life and I feel that I am seeing it a bit here. In this case, there are people whose judgement is clouded because they feel they are (were) absolutely right and everyone else is (was) absolutely wrong. In some ways, that is the root of racism. Most likely, however, I believe that this is generated more from the white-liberal angst of not getting everything they want in a short amount of time, like with Mr. O'Connor. Like I said before, it's childish and stupid, but not necessarily racist.
It's a great irony that people who fervently believe that Hillary would have been better are saying some of the same types of things said about women in the '60s. Just substitute "A man " for "Hillary" in a sentence about who would have done it better and you get a phrase right out of "Mad Men".
My biggest question to people about how Hillary would have been better is "What proof do you have of this?"
Tim Geitner, Larry Summers, Rahm Emanuel were all part of her husband's team back in the 1990's. Are you folks seriously saying that none of these people would have been picked to serve in the White House in 2008? There is a very good chance that all of them would have made it to the White House, especially if Rahm Emanuel had been chosen Chief of Staff by another Clinton. President Clinton and Secretary Clinton are VERY good friends with Mayor Emanuel. There was a VERY good chance that he would have been Chief of Staff either way. As President Clinton once joked about him:
"I found Rahm. I created him. I made him what he is today. I am so sorry."
Pres. Bill Clinton, 125th Annual Gridiron Dinner, March, 2010.
You don't joke like that about someone unless they are one of your best friends.
As for another member of the cabinet that receives a flogging daily at this site, Eric Holder, was the Deputy Attorney General for President Bill Clinton's entire second term. He would have at least been on the short list.
Jonathan Alter also has a pretty good piece about the President entitled "You think Obama's been a Bad President? Prove It!" In it he defends the President, although not completely, from some of the criticism towards him, some of which is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Here is some of the article.
From the left: “He should have pushed for a much bigger stimulus in 2009.”
That’s the view of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, now gospel among liberals. It’s true economically but bears no relationship to the political truth of that period. Consider that in December 2008, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a hardcore liberal Democrat, proposed a $165 billion stimulus and said he would be ecstatic if it went to $300 billion. President- elect Obama wanted to go over $1 trillion but was told by House Democrats that it absolutely wouldn’t pass. In exchange for the votes of three Republicans in the Senate he needed for passage, Obama reduced the stimulus to $787 billion, which was still almost five times Rendell’s number and the largest amount that was politically possible.
From the right: “The stimulus and bailouts failed.”
When Obama took office, the economy was losing about 750,000 jobs a month and heading for another Great Depression. The recession ended (at least for a while) and we now are adding several thousand jobs a month -- anemic growth, but an awful lot better than the alternative. How did that happen? Luck?
On the near default scenario:
Again, from all sides: “He looked weak during the debt- limit debate.”
Yep. And if you were president and a group of extremists was pointing a gun at the head of the American economy, what would you have done? Invoking the 14th Amendment sounded satisfying, but a constitutional crisis layered on top of a debt-limit crisis would have been a fiasco, and probably would have ensured default as world markets spent months wondering who in the U.S. had the authority to pay our bills.
On that last point, why did that happen? Because in 2009, people in Massachusetts voted in a Cosmopolitan magazine model named Scott Brown into the Senate and then the rest of the country in 2010 gave the House of Representatives stopping power with regards to our economy and jobs. A lot of those people were liberals.
People, liberals in particular, have walked away from the President and the Democrats. Why did they do that only two years into his first term? I have to ask this because based on the president's accomplishments he compares favorably to Hillary's husband, Bill Clinton. Ms. Perry does a very fine comparison of the accomplishments of both administrations in their first term.
Today, America’s continuing entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan provoke anger, but while Clinton reduced defense spending, covert military operations were standard practice during his administration. In terms of criminal justice, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which decreased judicial disparities in punishment; by contrast, federal incarceration grew exponentially under Clinton. Many argue that Obama is an ineffective leader, but the legislative record for his first two years outpaces Clinton’s first two years. Both men came into power with a Democratically controlled Congress, but both saw a sharp decline in their ability to pass their own legislative agendas once GOP majorities took over one or both chambers.
Additionally, he has passed health care legislation. He has put two women on the Supreme Court. He started the withdrawal from Iraq. He, as Mr. Alter says, stopped a global depression. Yet, the poll numbers are not with him. A lot of that comes from independents, but a fair amount comes from liberals. Enough to make me wonder why. I think the answer comes from those who can't quit Hillary and those that are selfish enough to think that they know everything.
Some people say that he has not been enough of a fighter. You know, I remember Bill Clinton saying to the White House Press Corps in 1995, "I am still relevant." or something like that. How can that be interpreted other than weak? Yet, we still re-elected him. I know he had that showdown with Newt Gingrich, but the next year he stated, "The era of big government is over." President Obama is saying, "The rich need to pay their fair share." yet his numbers are worse than Clinton's during the same point in his presidency.
Add to this the fact that they flat-out lost on their health care fight and the debacle of Mogadishu in their first two years.
In her final paragraph, she states:
President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans—from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now. I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation.
I agree with this statement, but not from the same vantage point. I think this backlash is generated from supporters of someone who a lot of people have fond memories of from the "good old days" of the 1990s. With this nostalgia comes anger. "She should have been President." "Who the hell does he think he is?" "Health care reform? What health care reform? Hillary would have done it better. We should kill that bill!"
For all I know, the fact that President Obama got it passed might be a source of jealousy from this group. He at least got something done in the arena where presidents over the past 80 years (since Teddy Roosevelt) couldn't. Maybe this anger comes from the fact that the president's legislative record compares quite favorably in this aspect to the Clinton administration's.
Let me restate that the Clinton Administration tried to implement Hillary's health care initiative and tried to push it in the way that Jane Hamsher, Adam Green, Joan Walsh and a host of others wanted her to: with a lot of force. She got creamed in 1993 and health care for Americans got worse. If Hillary Clinton as President of the United States had taken the same route, do you really think things would have been different? If she had the same type of fire that you all envision she would have had as President, what do you think she would have gotten done? How much stimulus (if any)? Would she have been able to overturn DADT? Who would have been her appointees to the Supreme Court?
I have written a lot here and I know that there is one outstanding thing I must point out that does point to white-on-black racism, but not necessarily with liberals. This might be the real source of Ms. Perry's analysis. Hillary was (perhaps still is) great with blue-collar voters. We might be seeing this manifestation of this in the election on Tuesday for the governorship of West Virginia. As has been reported here, Gov. Manchin's replacement for his old seat is in a dead heat to win the governor's race. This is usually a pretty safe seat for Democrats. However, to call West Virginians liberal would be stretching it a bit. It has been mentioned more than once that race plays a factor in a place like West Virginia.
So, what do you think?