Thursday, September 1, 2011

More on Date-Gate

I'm going to risk blowing out of proportion a trivial, or even a non-event, but I can't help commenting on some of the reaction to the dust-up between Speaker Boehner and President Obama over the date for the President's planned address to a joint session of Congress next week. Some Republicans applauded the Speaker for showing the President the primacy of Congress in the Constitution. They think it was perfectly appropriate for the speaker to prove to President Obama that he can't push Congress around, or try to upstage a Republican candidates' debate. But a lot of Democrats remain angry at the Republicans for insulting the president in such an unprecedented manner, but also angry at the administration for seeming to cave in to this type of behavior without making more of an issue of it.

But there is something else going on whenever this particular president is treated differently from any of his predecessors, and that can't be ignored. Even if I were to give John Boehner the benefit of the doubt and assume that he doesn't have a racist bone in his body, and whatever slight he extended to the president had nothing to do with who he is, I would still say that the Speaker needs to be more conscious of appearances. Because there is something truly disgusting about the spectacle of the white power structure trying to make a black man, especially when that black man happens to be the President of the United States of America, dance to their tune. And if supporters of Speaker Boehner and the House Republican majority get any satisfaction from treating the president in that manner, they should think twice. Because it makes a lot of people angry. The same way it made a lot of people very angry when Donald Trump had the gall to gloat about his role in making this president the first in history to have to show his papers to prove he is an American citizen.

What is also interesting is that this anger takes different forms. I don't want to over-generalize, but it seems that a lot of white supporters of the president are more likely to take some of their anger out on President Obama himself. They are disappointed that he just smiles and shrugs off every effort by his opponents to humiliate him. Black supporters may be more likely to direct their anger toward those who enjoy making the president dance. Some of them would like to see the president get angry, but they understand his reaction. They have seen it before. They might see an echo in Barack Obama's big smile of Louis Armstrong's big smile, or perhaps Jack Johnson's big smile. A big smile, and a shrug of the shoulders, are ways that African-Americans throughout our history have fought off injustice. And those may be some of the most effective ways, because anger and outrage just play into the hands of your opponents. Better to ignore the insults and let your dignity and intelligence and talent shine through.

The political opponents of the president might cry foul at comments like mine. They resent the fact that the president's defenders are sometimes too quick to claim racism in response to what conservatives claim is legitimate criticism. They think they are victims of a double standard. I understand that reaction. But I think it ignores context, and it ignores history, and it ignores some powerful symbolism. And like I said, I'm willing to assume that when Speaker John Boehner decided that he would treat the President of the United States in a manner unprecedented in history, he did not do that because of the president's ethnicity or skin color. I still say that Boehner needs to be more sensitive about the reactions he is causing, however, if he wants to be taken seriously as a leader who represents all Americans.


  1. I pray your views are shared by so few that the POTUS doesn't suffer from them. You might consider censuring yourself :-)

  2. My personal view is that everyone should reserve judgment, and try to give people the benefit of the doubt. What my post was about, however, was trying to understand the different reactions to this incident from various quarters. And to understand that, it helps to understand how things look to different people in the light of our history, don't you think?

    Why did we see a lot of black people cheer when OJ was acquitted, while whites were generally outraged? Everybody saw the same trial. Could it have been because the black community perceives the LA Police Department in an entirely different manner from the white community? And that perception is based on history.

    I've been writing an Obama blog for 3 years, and I hardly ever mention the subject of race. That in itself might be viewed as a kind of blindness or self-censorship. So forgive me for mentioning the subject this time, but we need to understand that the same events are sometimes viewed by different groups in different ways, whether because of ideology or experience or race, or some other reason. And people like John Boehner should be more sensitive to that, is all I'm saying.

    I've been reading David Remnick's biography of Obama, which is ALL about race. I mostly stay away from that view, but sometimes it's hard to avoid noticing that there is a difference between how Obama is treated compared to past presidents. And we have to wonder what could explain that.

  3. << I'm going to risk blowing out of proportion a trivial, or even a non-event >>

    We do have to measure risk vs reward. Your comments hurt the POTUS and are unfair.

  4. It's hard for me to see how I'm hurting the Prez when my intention was to call out those who are insulting him, and to try to explain why he brushes off these kinds of slights instead of getting angry. Maybe I'm not making myself clear somehow. I'll try again another time.

  5. Here one example of hurting the Prez:

    << there is something truly disgusting about the spectacle of the white power structure trying to make a black man, especially when that black man happens to be the President of the United States of America, dance to their tune. >>

    I believe (as I think the majority of left, right and middle agree) comments like yours are unfair and undermine Obama’s chances to be re-elected. Intelligent, fair people will refuse to be bullied by false cries of racism, especially people who voted the man into office the first time around (white swing voters). As well, just as Stepin Fetchit insulted African Americans in the 1930s, your characterization of Obama dancing around for the white estblishment is disturbing to Black America today; let alone his wife and kids.

  6. You'd better believe that when John Boehner makes the president dance, just like when Donald Trump did it, that is disturbing to black Americans, and I'm not the only one saying it. Here is an excerpt from a letter posted at TPM:

    "When Boehner does something like this (that no previous Speaker has done to any previous President), when he refuses to return the President's phone call during the debt ceiling crisis, when he skips state dinners, when he refuses to definitely say that he believes the President was born in the US or is a Christian, or when Boehner coddles a member of his caucus who shout "you lie" during a Presidential address, etc one certain thing happens - black Americans notice it.

    African-Americans are especially sensitive to the unprecedented disrespect that white Republicans have afforded to the first black President. Every time it happens, it ripples across black radio, black newspapers, black websites, and in conversations in black communities. It helps cement the ties that Obama has with the black community, and helps overcome whatever doubts and disappoints some may have. It reminds people who have experienced overt racism in their own lives that the President is experiencing the same kind of dehumanizing disrespect. It will help drive strong African-American turnout and overwhelming numbers for Obama next year."

    Political pundits may gossip about the rift between Boehner and Obama, but millions of black Americans see something much more sinister when this happens.

  7. Here's another example of what I'm talking about that I found very disturbing:

  8. Many on the left are calling the White House "out of bounds" over the speech flap.

    On the cartoon: are you upset that the Daily Kos ran it? Or that cartoonist Matt Wuerker (Herblock Prize, 2010 and
    National Press Foundation - Berryman Award, 2010) drew it?

  9. If the point of that cartoon is to criticize Obama for making too many concessions to the Republicans in the debt ceiling negotiations, I get that. I don't agree with the criticism, but it's fair game to make that criticism. The problem is that all I can see when I look at that cartoon is Stepin Fetchit, so it makes me sad. And so that is an example of insensitivity from the left.

    The right criticizes Obama for being too liberal and too uncompromising, and the Republicans in Congress think it is legitimate to use every possible tactic to obstruct him. And they went out of their way to humiliate Bill Clinton too, I understand that. I mean they impeached the guy for something that nobody should have been asking in the first place! But when they do it to Obama it's different, and they can whine all they want about how unfair that is that they are being asked to be extra careful about humiliating the black guy and how they're not really racists--and again, I'm willing to assume they're not--but still, they need to be more sensitive.

    And people like yourself in the middle who get annoyed when somebody seems to be playing the race card, or who think we just shouldn't talk about this issue, I think should also try to understand how slights such as this are perceived in the black community, and also be sympathetic to how difficult it is for the president to respond to these kinds of petty humiliations. He has to choose between getting angry, or just grinning and bearing it, and whatever he does, he is going to be attacked for it.

  10. << If the point of that cartoon is to criticize Obama for making too many concessions to the Republicans in the debt ceiling negotiations, I get that. I don't agree with the criticism, but it's fair game to make that criticism. >>

    Fair comments.

    << The problem is that all I can see when I look at that cartoon is Stepin Fetchit, so it makes me sad. And so that is an example of insensitivity from the left. >>

    That's what I saw when I first looked at it and it made me sad, same as you. Then I looked closely at where it was posted (Daily Kos) and who the respected, award winning cartoonist was. I realized that the Daily Kos knew you and I would respond the way we did -- with anger and sadness. They used us.

    I also saw the Matt Weurker is one of the top satire and Op Ed cartoonist in the business for over twenty years. I don't think he wanted us to feel what the Daily Kos wanted us to feel. I would love to ask him!

    In the end, I appreciate you taking the time to respond. I wonder if adults our age are more sensitive to seeing a cartoon like Weurker's because of the times we grew up in. I am going to show it to my 21-24 year old daughters (one of whom is engaged to a black man) and ask if the see the political satire or if they are saddened as we were when we first viewed it.

  11. Kevin, you're worth it and the issue is important, so I'm happy to take the time to kick it around and understand each other better.

    I would be curious to hear your daughters' reaction. I'm guessing they won't find the cartoon shocking in the same way as you and I do, which is probably a hopeful sign. My kids, who are teenagers, seem to live in a world that has mostly moved beyond race. If only the older generation could catch up to them.

  12. Thanks. I tend to agree with you. I don't think my daughters will comment outside Wueker's political satire. The reason? They don't see Obama as a black man. They just see a man!

    I did contact Matt Wuerker for comments relative to his cartoon that was run in the Daily Kos. I asked if he intended political satire separate from race or if he was commenting on racism in America; or considered it while creating the OpEd piece.

    My hope is that the far left, the middle and the far right remember that it is possible to project on others what we protest too loudly. I will let you know what I find.

  13. Matt Wuerker was kind enough to respond to my e-mail. Perhaps he will say hello here. Anyway, here is his response:

    Hi Kevin,

    Glad you like the cartoons.

    There was a dust up on the Kos by some people who found it racist. I was amazed... And a little hurt. I've been cartooning for 30 years and called a lot of things but this was the first time anyone called me a racist. I was certainly trying to show Obama kowtowing to the right wing... But I certainly wasn't trying to use anything vaguely racially charged. I considered putting a lampshade on his head.... But thought that might be confusing to people.

    Hope that answers your question.


  14. I would take Matt at his word that he had no racist intentions. Still it is surprising that he was oblivious to the way that people would react to his drawing. Let's say all he was thinking about was making a dig at the president because he was, as Matt says, "kowtowing to the right wing." But to show that he draws an image that a lot of people can't help seeing as racist.

    I had a slightly different reaction to that cartoon, which I posted as a comment on DailyKos. To me, the people that should be viewed as acting disgracefully in that cartoon were the tea party people demanding that President Obama do things that no president has ever before been asked to do as a condition of Congress agreeing to raise the debt ceiling. My reaction was that they should be ashamed to treat the president that way. My heart went out to the poor guy doing the balancing act. But then I'm kind of a knee jerk Obama supporter. Others saw the cartoonist joining with the tea partiers in mocking the president. I think it's a shame that a liberal cartoonist hops on the tea party bandwagon in that way, and does so by using a (subconsciously) racist image to boot. If he thought about what he was doing a little more, maybe he wouldn't be so amazed and hurt. Maybe he should be a little embarrassed.

  15. I think it is a shame you see the cartoonist's sensitivity as lacking. Sometimes I think some liberals (hippies like me from Isla Vista in the 60s and 70s) suffer Stockholm syndrome as a result of all the guilt laid on them from their childhood in the 50s and 60s. All good reasons for sure. I get that. But at some point they need to be rehabed and broaden their perspective. I raised kids who see things differently. I am sick and tired of being labeled racist because I am a white man who disagrees with Obama.

    As you yourself suggested; our kids think differently. They don't see color or sexual preference as deciding factors. Get on board.

    The man was elected president (by white swing voters).

    He will be re-elected or voted out of office by the same people. You are damaging his cause. You may energize black voters but you are angering a hell of a lot more people by insinuating the ugliest of all accusations.

    Crap, I hope you are writing a blog in 2050 when whites are a minority. I am going to hold your feet to the fire :-)

  16. I accused no one of racism. But I do think that John Boehner and Matt Wuerker might be guilty of a lack of sensitivity to how their actions might be perceived by others. That's meant to be constructive criticism, and I really don't see how my suggestion that people be more sensitive to how their actions are perceived can possibly harm the president's re-election.

  17. The Shakespearean line that most fits this issue was written in Hamlet, "the lady doth protest too much." Strong denial of the proposition indicates a cover up of the embarrassing truth. Maybe we all ought to try that on and see if it fits. I will.

    There are racist progressives, neocons, blue dogs, rhinos, independents and tea partiers. It is not specific to one race or party affiliation. I would list examples from the left that are hurting Obama but I don't think repeating them is helpful to our country as a whole. That is what I care about, not party power.