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Has racism, not incompetence, hobbled the Obama presidency?

posted at 2:39 pm on August 26, 2012 by

If you thought the twin subjects of race and racism as they pertain to Barack Obama had finally wheezed their last when a black MSNBC host charged Mitt Romney with “n**gerizing” the president, think again.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic, has a piece in the magazine’s September issue titled “Fear of a Black President.” There appears to be a deliberate ambiguity in that title inasmuch as the essay goes on to imply that the fear is Obama’s—that he has perforce walked on eggshells throughout his presidency because America is still not ready to accept a black man as its leader.

To paraphrase Jerry Maguire’s most famous line, Coates lost me at monument to moderation, an unintentionally humorous phrase he uses to describe the Obama presidency. As evidence, Coates writes:

He peppers his speeches with nods to ideas originally held by conservatives.  He routinely cites Ronald Reagan. He effusively praises the enduring wisdom of the American people, and believes that the height of insight lies in the town square.

The claims are not untrue, just lacking context. When Obama took his case for raising the debt ceiling to the American people in a nationally televised speech on July 25, 2011, he did mention Ronald Reagan and other conservatives. Here is what he said: “President Reagan did it 18 times. George W. Bush did it seven times.” What he didn’t say on this occasion but said previously, back when he was a U.S. senator and voted no to a measure to raise the debt ceiling under George W. Bush, was, “the fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills.”

Although I had trouble making it through the entire 10,000-word essay (my mind began to drift around about Chapter 12), The American Prospect’s Jamelle Bouie apparently did read the piece through to the end. In his own analysis, which describes the article as “fantastic” (presumably a synonym in Bouie’s lexicon for long), he predicts that “Coates will inspire howls of unfairness from the right,” adding:

It’s almost forbidden to discuss the role racism has played in shaping opposition to Obama. Conservatives dismiss such concerns as ‘playing the race card’—and use it as an opportunity to accuse liberals of racism—while more neutral commentators note that Bill Clinton also faced a rabid conservative opposition. But as Coates points out, no one called Clinton a ‘food stamp president‘ or attacked his health care plan as ‘reparations.’ Local lawmakers didn’t circulate racist jokes about the former Arkansas governor, and right-wing provocateurs didn’t accuse Clinton of fomenting an anti-white race war.

The opening claim—that it is “almost forbidden to discuss the role racism has played in shaping opposition to Obama”—is ludicrous. It is hard to recall a month that has gone by since Obama was sworn into office when someone on the left, black or otherwise, hasn’t accused some or all on the right of racism.

The problem with the complaint about the labels that have been hung around Obama’s neck is that most of them reflect views held by radical fringe elements of the Republican party. These include the birther movement, which Coates cites as another indicator of the hostility uniquely directed toward Obama because he is black. Coates conveniently overlooks the truther movement that similarly dogged President George W. Bush after 9/11, even inspiring a “documentary.” The “food stamps president” label is more mainstream, but the claim that it has racist intent is in the mind and eye of the beholder.

Bouie offers up his own grievances about the double standard Obama has faced as the nation’s first black president, writing:

The power and symbolism of Obama’s election is compromised by the extent to which his presidency has been shaped by white expectations and white racism. Obama can’t show anger, he can’t propose policies tailored to African Americans and he can’t talk about race. In other words, he can’t remind white Americans that their president is a black man as much as anything else.

Whether Obama has shown anger in some of his more impassioned speeches is a matter of personal judgment (to this observer he sounds plenty angry in this sermon to his base in Congress). As to the arguments that he “he can’t propose policies tailored to African Americans and he can’t talk about race,” has can and he has.

Bouie must have been out sick on July 26 of this year when the president signed an executive order to improve educational outcomes for African Americans. Included in the initiative was a directive to form a Federal Interagency Working Group on Educational Excellence for African Americans—presumably on the taxpayers’ dime. As for Obama talking about race, for Bouie’s convenience I provide a link to the text and video of “A More Perfect Union” (aka, Obama’s Race Speech), which he delivered on Nov. 17, 2008. If Obama hasn’t spoken at length about race since, it is because so many of his surrogates, including Mssrs. Bouie and Coates, have done so on his behalf.

If Barack Obama is unelected on Nov. 6, it will be because of his failures in office, not because of an oppositional Republican-led House and certainly not because of the color of his skin.

In parting it is worth noting that if the nation were as racist as the two black authors cited herein believe it is, the TV host mentioned in the opening paragraph, Touré, would be sending out résumés right now. Instead, his tepid apology for his obscene coinage was sufficient to ensure his continuing employment by a network that remains stubbornly mum on the whole affair.

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bho and mo came in he!! bent, it seems, to see to it any little thing someone said about bho/mo was because of the shade of their skin? WE, bho/mo that is NOT the case, WE don’t like your policies to crater our Republic, simple as that and no amount of ‘race’ krap against us will change that, IMO!

letget on August 26, 2012 at 3:27 PM

It’s both–and the racism and incompetence both originate and come forth from within the Obama administration, not from without.

stukinIL4now on August 26, 2012 at 3:45 PM

The only hate talk I’ve seen comes from the left. They are masters of it, while projecting the malice behind it onto Conservatives.

avagreen on August 26, 2012 at 3:47 PM

The democrats thought Barack’s race would be a shield for anger about the color in his life that matters, Red.

Barack it is not about your skin buddy it is about your economic hue.

harlekwin15 on August 26, 2012 at 4:23 PM

It’s almost forbidden to discuss the role racism has played in shaping opposition to Obama.

Are they kidding? They never shut up about their delusions of racism and they never will.

Blake on August 26, 2012 at 4:54 PM

This is “moderate?” No. This is extreme.

Who will pay for this? The “middle class” and future generations via taxation or inflation. That is also “extreme.”

Sorry, the “fundemental transformation of America” is not a “moderate” position.

visions on August 26, 2012 at 5:03 PM

Although I had trouble making it through the entire 10,000-word essay…

Let me help you out. First he drones on about Trayvon Martin and then he drones on about Shirley Sherrod. I supposed he had a point buried somewhere in all that droning, but I didn’t catch it.

SukieTawdry on August 26, 2012 at 5:26 PM

Let me help you out. First he drones on about Trayvon Martin and then he drones on about Shirley Sherrod. I supposed he had a point buried somewhere in all that droning, but I didn’t catch it.

I was actually being facetious. I suffer for my craft: It’s part of the job description.

Howard Portnoy on August 26, 2012 at 5:32 PM


pat on August 26, 2012 at 5:47 PM

2008 – 0bama & the DNC deftly rope-a-dope America’s ‘white guilt’ – and win.

2012 – 0bama & the DNC reuse ‘white guilt’ manipulation but America says, Shove it – not buying that again.

Yephora on August 26, 2012 at 5:50 PM

My hatred of communists has nothing to do with race.

single stack on August 26, 2012 at 6:02 PM

It’s not that he’s Black, it’s that he’s Red

teacherman on August 26, 2012 at 6:07 PM

Hate to jump ahead of a msm led, badly missed point, but if the “O” weren’t so incompetent, he and his gang of thugs probably wouldn’t be so racist. That’s the real point.

onomo on August 26, 2012 at 6:55 PM

I’m from a minority and anyone from ANY minority will tell you the same thing. What’s happening with black people is that they are blaming everything they don’t like on their minority status. I’m not black, but on the blame game, been there, done that. It’s a vicious circle and it’s more a problem for blacks (or any minority doing this) than for anyone else.

Now, white liberals use it too. That’s just because they like being on the other side of the attack for once. It’s addictive. You get to lash out false accusations, but because said false accusation is so toxic that most people just go away, they continue using it and are consumed with its power like a drug.

Problem lately is that the effects are wearing off. They’re trying to rekindle the hatred. This is a liberal thing (I used to be one), not a racist thing (though liberals don’t care if the hate is racist or not). Liberals just want to stoke the flames of hate in any way they can. That explains Biden’s comment. Liberals are taken aback by the pushback from Republicans. This was not supposed to happen. Republicans have traditionally not said anything and tried to move on.

I’ve predicted it before and I was right and will continue to be right. As we get closer to election day, you’re going to see a MUCH nastier campaign than anything we’ve seen so far. And we’ve had a lot. Accusations of killing someone with cancer. Accusations of being a criminal and cheating on tax records. Ryan pushing granny over a cliff. etc. This will all seem like child’s play.

What I like this time around is that these false attacks are indeed being rebuked. That’s a game changer this time around.

MrX on August 26, 2012 at 7:06 PM

Ta-Nehisi Coates……..

I’m sorry. I quit reading at Ta-Nehisi.

BacaDog on August 26, 2012 at 7:10 PM

Ta-Nehisi Coates? Meet Shelby Steele.

John the Libertarian on August 26, 2012 at 7:14 PM

I read the whole thing as a quote-end-quote minority and don’t have a clue what he is talking about. He starts with an idea that he assures us he has no support for, then based on that continues to pile up spleen on conservatives. Conservatives are racist, therefore their opposition to the President must be racist. We know that Conservatives are racist because they oppose the President. Therefore they must be racist and it’s all a dog whistle to say they oppose him for any other reason.

He sounds a bit like a professor of evolution, to be honest. Because we believe this rock to be five billion years old, therefore this fossil in this rock must be five billion years old. How do you know the rock is five billion years old? Because the fossil in it is five billion years old.

You can’t win with these peddlers of discontent.

JoseQuinones on August 26, 2012 at 10:26 PM

It’s almost forbidden to discuss the role racism has played in shaping opposition to Obama.


WeekendAtBernankes on August 26, 2012 at 11:54 PM

If you think Obama is not THE Monument to Moderation, you’re RAAAAAAACIST!

WannabeAnglican on August 27, 2012 at 8:57 AM

on July 26 of this year when the president signed an executive order to improve educational outcomes for African Americans. Included in the initiative was a directive to form a Federal Interagency Working Group on Educational Excellence for African Americans


I’m sorry…the Re-Education camps were introduced WHEN???

WIll you G-damn sheep in the “African American” community wake the HECK up NOW?

God doesn’t need to help my people; they (Obama voters)just need a good swift kick in the exit door.

BlaxPac on August 27, 2012 at 10:10 AM

Thank you, Mr. Portnoy. Its nice to hear a calm and rational voice in what has become a wilderness of lies, obfuscation, demagoguery, and avoidance on this particular issue.

thatsafactjack on August 27, 2012 at 11:04 AM

thatsafactjack on August 27, 2012 at 11:04 AM

You’re welcome and thank YOU.

Howard Portnoy on August 27, 2012 at 11:11 AM

Many years ago my dad worked for a guy, he and the boss were the only two white guys there. But he was getting flack for not hiring anyone actually, you know, a real minority (aka black), so the next time he hired someone he purposefully picked a black guy, who turned out to be a disaster, and was soon fired. When they guy accused the boss of firing him because he was black, Boss said, no I hired you because you are black…I fired you because you’re incompetent, lazy, and dishonest.


Bob's Kid on August 27, 2012 at 12:33 PM

…yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s the incompetence.

AndStatistics on August 27, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Bob’s Kid on August 27, 2012 at 12:33 PM

Terrific story and perfectly analagous.

Howard Portnoy on August 27, 2012 at 2:27 PM

Ahem . . .

Old Joke, New Again:

Employee says,”You’re firing me because I’m black.”
Boss says, “Wrong. I hired you because you are black. I’m firing you because you are useless.”

How appropriate as the nation readies to rectify its 2008 hiring mistake.

Yephora on August 27, 2012 at 2:58 PM

Hmm, I seem to remember a black man doing remarkably well in a certain party’s primary until the right wing media dug up several women who claimed but couldn’t prove sexual harrassment. Those darn right wing . . . Oh, wait . .

That was a black CONSERVATIVE candidate that LIBERAL media played the “all black men are sexual predators” stereotype against . . . A handful of complaints from a time when corporations thought it better to trade a settlement for a resignation than spend five times that proving the woman a gold digger became the center of the conversation when a, gasp, conservative BLACK man might challenge the messiah and take race completely off the table.

November 7 – 30 are going to be painful as the media whines and complains about how racist and divided America is to come together and trounce the POLICIES of the Obama administration

PastorJon on August 27, 2012 at 3:55 PM

Obama, incompetence is thy muse.

aniptofar on August 27, 2012 at 5:21 PM

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