In Obama’s America, racism fights back

Wayne Brown is a well-known Trinidadian writer and columnist who now lives in Jamaica. This is the fifteenth in his new series on the Obama era.

Three decades ago, Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in the UK between them put paid to the economic and financial world of FDR’s New Deal. In short order, they broke the power of unions, deregulated their financial systems, destroyed most of their respective countries’ welfare safety nets, abolished the idea of the national community, and unleashed in its stead the dog-eat-dog, weakest-to-the-wall philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism.

Privatization and globalization, the buzz words of the new dispensation, were novel euphemisms for the fairy tale level of self-enrichment which the wealthy now rushed to embark upon; for the concomitant impoverishment of the middle and working classes; and for the imperial surge of American goods and capital into the Third World.

That whole orgy of looting was what came crashing down last September with the collapse of the US financial system, followed hard on its heels by the current reeling-towards-ruin of the US economy. And it was clear that, from the start, Barack Obama saw the chance this would give him as president to administer the coup de grace to 30 years of ‘Reaganomics.’

If, in the naïve hope of achieving bipartisanship, Obama moved much too equivocally at first, including huge tax cuts as a sop to the right in his stimulus package, the Republicans’ near-unanimous opposition, willy-nilly, to the latter evidently had the fortuitous effect of leaving Obama free in his mind thenceforth to pursue his own agenda. And his budget last week was just that: a trenchant slamming of the door on the barbarous, and now dramatically failed, world of laissez-faire capitalism, and a return to the basic social decency of the New Deal.

(We shall see if Caribbean governments now follow his lead as eagerly as they rushed to enact the socially destructive measures of the Reagan-Thatcher revolution.)

Obama’s budget steeply raises taxes on the rich and reduces them for everyone else. It also intervenes in health care and education, in ways designed to make both affordable far more cheaply to the middle and working class.

Paul Krugman, the NYT’s liberal economist, was delighted. Obama’s budget, he wrote on Friday (‘Climate of Change’), “set[s] America on a fundamentally new course. Fears that Obama would sacrifice progressive priorities and satisfy himself with fiddling around the edges of the tax system have now been banished… This budget looks very, very good.”

It goes without saying that, across the ideological aisle, William Kristol, the Washington Post’s neoconservative columnist, immediately  issued a call to arms to Republicans to oppose what he called “the most unabashedly liberal and big-government speech a president has delivered to Congress since Lyndon Baines Johnson.”

Obama, warned Kristol, “intends to use his big three issues — energy, health care and education — to transform the role of the federal government as fundamentally as did the New Deal and the Great Society.”

And Kristol called upon Republicans to “obstruct and delay”:

“They should do their best not to permit Obama to rush his agenda through this year. They can’t allow Obama to make of 2009 what Franklin Roosevelt made of 1933 or Johnson of 1965.

Slow down the policy train. Insist on a real and lengthy debate. Conservatives can’t win politically right now. But they can raise doubts, they can point out other issues that we can’t ignore (especially in national security and foreign policy), they can pick other fights — and they can try in any way possible to break Obama’s momentum. Only if this happens will conservatives be able to get a hearing for their arguments against big-government, liberal-nanny-state social engineering.”

Kristol at least restricted himself to attacking Obama’s and the Democrats’ weltanschauung. Other, more intemperate voices were unabashedly racist.

A fortnight ago, a New York Post cartoon compared Obama to a mad chimpanzee and showed him being shot by two white policemen. (Remarkably, the Post’s owner, the infamous Rupert Murdoch, actually apologized.)

Last week, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (a forum this year for such rightwing nutcases as Rush Limbaugh and Joe the Plumber), the head of a conservative group, Accuracy in Media, averred that Obama was a communist, and had moreover not been born in the United States — an old slander at which, however, the crowd cheered wildly.

Elsewhere, the mayor of a small California city was forced to resign after he circulated an e-mail picture depicting the White House lawn planted with watermelons under the lament, “No Easter egg hunt this year.”

And Alan Keyes, the conservative political activist and failed politician (three unsuccessful runs each for the US senate and the presidency), outdid all others in stridency: “Obama is a radical communist… He’s going to destroy this country and we’re either going to stop him or the United States of America will cease to exist. The man is an abomination…” And so on.

Keyes can hardly be accused of racism: he is black. And thus one of those scary examples, like Condoleezza Rice, of a profoundly damaged (and utterly lost) African-American.

Such vituperation recalls the murderous atmosphere of the McCain-Palin campaign rallies, at which crowds shouted, about Obama, “Kill him!” And last week, in a reprise on the New York Post’s cartoon, a letter-writer to the Washington Post darkly hinted at the threat of assassination.

Signing himself Jeff of the ‘US of A’ (sic), he warned: “The Messiah has caused one industry to boom here. Weapons and ammunition sales are booming. Believe me, people are arming up, and if [Obama] keeps poking the hornet’s nest he will get stung.”

Well, no one should have expected that, just because it was defeated at the polls, virulent white American racism would henceforth lie down and play dead. And the pitch of rhetorical hatred being indulged in by the right, even by Republicans in Congress — last weekend, eg, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) noted that he had never seen Obama’s birth certificate — can only keep that rage simmering.

Obama’s Secret Service agents will need to stay on their toes.

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