Brooks ought to go running even more often; maybe take a different
route sometimes. A couple of weeks ago the New York Times
columnist was doing his usual Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol and
back trek when he encountered a bunch of “tea party” people demonstrating
and “carrying ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flags, ‘End the Fed’ placards
and signs condemning big government, Barack Obama, socialist healthcare
and various elite institutions.” Nearby
were people at a celebration of African-American culture and Brooks
says he noticed “the mostly white tea party protesters were mingling
in with the mostly black family reunion celebrants. The tea party
people were buying lunch from the family reunion food stands. They
had joined the audience of a rap concert.” From this harmonious
vision Brooks concluded that as far as the tea baggers are concerned
“race is largely besides the point.” Now get this. There are “some
people” in the country, he writes, “who see every conflict through
the prism of race.” Who? Racists? No, it’s “many people from Jimmy
Carter on down” who have suggested that “the hostility to President
Obama is driven by racism.”
reason I say Brooks should jog more often is that in other parts
of town he might discover that in the neighborhoods of the District
of Columbia most people would prefer not to see political issues
through the prism of race at all; they prefer racism would just
go away. But it doesn’t. It keeps popping up. Compare the placards
Brooks saw that day on the Washington mall with what others saw.
“At a rally in Washington a few days ago after the President announced
his healthcare plans to Congress, protestors bore placards featuring
slogans including ‘the zoo has an African lion while the White House
has a lyin’ African and, ‘Somewhere in Kenya, a village is missing
its teleprompter’,” reported the Financial Times last Friday.
That’s just sampling of the demeaning racial slurs that have been
directed toward the white House over recent weeks.
have no patience with those who want to pretend that racism is not
an out-and-out big deal in the United States, as it always has been,”
wrote Brooks’ fellow Times columnist Bob Herbert last Saturday.
“We may have made progress, and we may have a black president, but
the scourge is still with us. And if you needed Jimmy Carter to
remind you of that, then you’ve been wandering around with your
are bits and pieces of an increasingly unrestrained manifestation
of racism directed toward Mr. Obama that is being fed by hate-mongers
on talk radio and is widely tolerated, if not encouraged, by Republican
Party leaders,” wrote Herbert. “It’s disgusting, and it’s dangerous.
But it’s the same old filthy racism that has been there all along
and that has been exploited by the G.O.P. since the 1960s.”
here we come to the crux of the matter.
populism is dangerous but the greatest potential peril lies not
in the presence of some loony or deluded, irrational people parading
through the streets. It arises from the certainty that there will
always be someone lurking about in a trench coat to fan the flames
for their own cynical purposes. It was true in Central Europe 70
years ago when fascism arose and it’s true there today, what with
agitation against immigrants and ethnic minorities. It’s been true
in our country for just as long.
course, the tea party uprising isn’t just about race. It certainly
isn’t just about healthcare. You watch, as each and every item on
the Obama Administration comes to the fore they will be out there
waving their personally vindictive signs and the vituperative tenor
of their attacks will increase. No sooner than the President had
announced his decision to can his predecessor’s mad ‘star wars’
missile project than he was being accused of everything short of
treason. The assaults on Obama will continue to be tinged with racism
and they will continue to draw out numbers of people aghast that
the country elected an African American president. But it will be
in context. This venom is being supported and stoked by powerful
forces whose objective is nothing less than bringing down the Obama
presidency. While the know-nothings are being wild in the streets,
the Republican spinmaster Karl Rove is calmly assuring readers of
the Wall Street Journal that this is all to the good and
if all goes well for them, they could be back on top by the time
of the 1010 Congressional elections.
Obama is forgetting that the political landscape can change when
the pool of people who vote changes,” Rove wrote in the Journal
a few days after the President’ healthcare address to Congress.
“In 2008, five million more people voted than in 2004. Mr. Obama
drew two million more African-Americans to the polls. He also shifted
support among younger voters (ages 18-24) from 54 percent, Democratic,
45 percent Republican in 2004 to 66 percent Democratic, 32 percent
Republican.” Rove went on to suggest opponents of the President
can siphon off some of the youth vote by convincing younger voters
that under the health care plan now before the Senate they would
be fined for not having health insurance. “Fining them only antagonizes
them,” he wrote.
went on to make it clear rightwing strategists are aiming their
message at older voters, “The political risk for Democrats is clearest
among seniors,” he wrote. ‘This matters because seniors make up
a disproportionate share of the off-year vote,” he went on “CNN
exit polls showed that they were roughly 16% of eligible voters
in 2008, but 29% of the turnout in 2006. The generic ballot among
seniors in 1994 was 45% Republican and 43% Democrat.
it’s not just any elderly voter they are going after.
The Hotline’s Amy Walter wisely pointed out, 1994 became
the ‘angry white male” election because those who were displeased
with the direction of the country were “more engaged than those
who just two years earlier were voting for Bill Clinton and singing
‘don’t stop thinking about tomorrow’,” wrote political commentator
Charlie Cook a couple of weeks ago. “But ‘angry’ is only a third
of ‘angry white male,’ and anger is only part of the story today.”
If recent polling number “are even halfway accurate, they should
frighten Democrats.” Cook went on. “Their surveys show voters 65
and over, who gave Democrats a 50 percent to 39 percent edge on
the generic ballot in November 2006, giving Republicans a 51 percent
to 43 percent edge now. If that reversal holds, Democrats could
be ruing the “year of the angry white senior” at the polling place,
not just the town hall.”
said the “southern strategy” was dead?
weekend’s grassroots rally against ObamaCare in Washington was a
sign that voters are getting active to oppose the president’s agenda,”
declared Rove. “If it keeps up, middle-class anxiety about the national
debt could make 2010 a tough year for any Democrat up for re-election.”
isn’t just about Obama and it isn’t just about the Republican Party’s
cynical electoral calculations. As one internet observer put it,
“the Teabaggers are only pawns in the rich man’s game.” There are
powerful people in this country (many of whom couldn’t care less
what the color the President is) who are determined to turn history
back. To them the emerging progressive political forces that were
to a large extent responsible for Obama’s election is an anathema.
The moves of the current administration – as hesitant, timid and
often contradictory as they may seem to many of us – suggest a direction
in which they don’t want to go. On a whole host of issues, from
climate change to green jobs to policy toward Latin America and
beyond, they are out to return us to the policies of the Bush Presidency
– or worse. To this end they are willing to exploit every social
issue they can latch onto, from gay rights to taxes. And, of course,
they are more than anxious to trade on the current economic crisis
and the government’s seeming largess to Wall Street CEOs and reluctance
to get really serious about the economic precariousness of working
who have termed this rightwing upsurge “populism,” are correct.
“This is right-wing populism in the classic American style, as inchoate
and paranoid as that hawked by Father Coughlin during the Great
Depression and George Wallace in the late 1960s,” wrote the Times’
Frank Rich Sunday. Even Brooks is willing to use the label.
Brooks, who often comes across as the learned conservative cultural
anthropologist always trying to position himself in the political
“center,” wants us to see the Obama Administration and its supporters
as elitists and the tea baggers as “plain people” arrayed against
“ the cosmopolitan elites.” “Given all of this, it was guaranteed
that he would spark a populist backlash, regardless of his skin
color,” he writes. “And
it was guaranteed that this backlash would be ill mannered, conspiratorial
and over the top — since these movements always are, whether they
were led by Huey Long, Father Coughlin or anybody else.” What he
does not accept, apparently, is that racism has always been a central
factor in populism. (It has historically also been the Achilles
heel of populism on the left.) Couglin was an anti-Semite and he
preached anti-Semitism. Wallace was a racist and he promoted racism.
Both served the interest of others with wider agendas. Both constituted
serious threats to democratic advance.
to from here? Stepping up efforts to secure progressive aims, like
meaningful healthcare reform and an end to the war in Afghanistan
is crucial to combating the right and buttressing the movement that
was critical in the last Presidential election. It
seems to me there must also be resolve to form a unified front against
racism and reaction. Ignoring, obscuring or downplaying the threat
will serve no good purpose. This is serious business.
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Bill Fletcher, Jr.
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