GOP racism of 2009: Still alive and well

Maine's Tea Party governor is sure that the president "hates white people." The party just keeps producing nut-jobs

Published August 20, 2013 3:20PM (EDT)

  (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)
(AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

Rodeo clown Glenn Beck began to spiral out of his Fox News show back in July 2009, when he railed at President Obama in particularly personal and unhinged terms. “This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture,” he told the folks on Fox and Friends. (I’m not sure what “white culture” is and Beck didn’t elaborate.)

Now we have Maine’s Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage telling local Republicans last week that Obama “hates white people,” according to two people in the audience who spoke to the Portland Press-Herald. According to the paper:

Each said LePage talked about how Obama could have been the best president ever if he had highlighted his biracial heritage. LePage said the president hasn't done that because he hates white people.

"Yeah, he said it," said one of the lawmakers. "It was one little thing from a speech, but I think most people there thought it was totally inappropriate."

Now that’s interesting. At least LePage acknowledges the obvious challenge to his charge – the president’s mother is white and he was raised mainly by his white grandparents. It’s hard to believe he hates white people when he loves the family who raised him. But LePage creatively works that into his indictment: Obama could have been “the best president ever” if he played up the fact that he’s half-white. But because he identifies as African-American, he’s a racist.

Got it?

I confess to having thought that Obama Derangement Syndrome might subside once the president was reelected, not because his enemies would recognize his mandate but because they wouldn’t face him on the ballot again. Instead it has surged in the last two weeks. A rodeo clown in an Obama mask exhorted a Missouri State Fair crowd to cheer for him to be trampled by bulls. Arizonans greeted the president by singing “Bye Bye Black Sheep” and calling him “47 percent Negro.” At an anti-Obama protest in Florida, one sign read “Kenyan Go Home.” And the original rodeo clown, birther-in-chief Donald Trump, just last week renewed his claim that the president might have faked his long-form Hawaii birth certificate.

It’s worth noting that the 2009 uptick in “Obama is racist” ranting on the right came after the president weighed in on the Cambridge, Mass., police arresting Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates as he tried to get into his own house. After Obama said the cops “acted stupidly,” he had to “recalibrate” and of course hold a famous “beer summit” between Gates and Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer. But the right went nuts: That’s when Beck spewed his “deep-seated hatred of white people” garbage. Rush Limbaugh was crazier, in his own way.

“Here you have a black president trying to destroy a white policeman,” the radio bully said on the very day Obama expressed regret over his “acted stupidly” remark and invited Gates and Crowley to the White House for a beer.  “I do believe [Obama is] an angry black guy!” Limbaugh declared.

Four years later, this new surge of racial idiocy came after the president weighed in on the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, a far weightier matter but one that also involved issues of racial profiling and police fairness. While Obama praised the system as working in the Zimmerman case, even if people didn’t like the verdict, and talked about the progress we’ve made as a country on racial issues – this is trademark optimistic Obama; when it comes to race, the glass is always half-full – he also talked about his own experience with racial profiling and about the grief of Trayvon Martin’s family. “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” he said powerfully. That was all the right needed to come undone. 

“Obama is grievance politics, and the primary reason for that grievance is race,” Limbaugh spewed. “It’s in everything that he’s done. It’s in every policy. It’s in almost every speech.” The ludicrous Sean Hannity joked: “Is that the president admitting that I guess because what, he was part of the Choom Gang and he smoked pot and he did a little blow — I’m not sure how to interpret because we know that Trayvon had been smoking pot that night.”

In the month since the Zimmerman verdict, then, the effort to depict the president as a race-hustling radical as well as a Kenyan Muslim illegitimate president has escalated.

Now comes LePage recycling Beck’s silly claim that the president “hates white people.”  The white grievance industry is still on overdrive (even if Sean Hannity has fallen on hard times, losing his Cumulus radio deal.) I’m still waiting for national Republican leaders to repudiate this new surge in racial attacks on the president. House Speaker John Boehner managed to find the spine and the integrity to denounce Rep. Steve King for his racist spew about immigrant drug smugglers with “calves the size of cantaloupes”; why hasn’t Boehner done the same with the birthers and would-be Obama impeachers in his caucus?

I’ll be waiting for that a long time.

To be clear, Obama and his policies are fair game. A two-term president is often the symbol of his party to the opposition, especially when the heir or heiress-apparent either doesn’t exist or has yet to decide to run (you know who I'm talking about). Certainly the entire Democratic field ran against George W. Bush in 2008. Still, the Democrats’ anti-Bush rhetoric never reached anything close to the violent vitriol faced by our first black president – I don’t remember anyone cheering for a Bush rodeo clown to be trampled by bulls in effigy. If Hillary Clinton declares she’s a candidate, we can expect sexist bilge to begin to pool along with racist bilge in the fever swamps of the right. But until then, the dying white reactionaries will try to outdo one another in crazy claims about our racist, anti-white president, and Republicans will tolerate it, if not encourage it, as the cost of doing business when you’re on the verge of demographic extinction.

By Joan Walsh