From The Times
August 11, 2009 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/david_aaronovitch/article6790709.eceObama gives birth to some genuine hatred
Why does the American Right insist its opponents are not just wrong, but illegitimate; not mistaken, but anti-American?
I was half asleep yesterday morning when some BBC voice from the ether declared that it had been discovered that some dogs were “as bright as children”. And my first addled thought was that the reverse implication — that some people were as dumb as animals — would come as little surprise to Barack Obama, as he attends to what a few impatient liberals obviously imagine is the easiest job in the world, the presidency of the United States. Over there, according to one American commentator writing at the weekend, “the stupid is accelerating”.
A bit of the stupid is made up of left-wing Democrats who search Mr Obama minutely — and almost hopefully — for signs of backsliding. But most of it comes from the Right; and what strange forms it takes. Such as the “birther” movement — the raft of websites, writers, fringe journalists and activists who have determined that President Obama is not the legal POTUS because, actually, far from having been born in the US state of Hawaii in August 1961, he was, in fact, given birth to in Kenya, Indonesia or anywhere else that today’s theory has a yen for.So strange is this theory that it imagines the plot to falsify the President’s birth record was hatched before he was, thus explaining the otherwise terminally awkward placing in two Hawaii newspapers in 1961 of birth announcements of a son to the Obamas. Mr Obama is thus the foetal Manchurian candidate, although it might have been easier from the conspirators’ point of view, one imagines, to have allowed him actually to be born on US soil.
If only people were passionate in proportion to the plausibility of their opinions. Alas, not so. One recent viral YouTube video shows a town hall meeting on health in Delaware in which the veteran Republican Mike Castle is being yelled at by an apparently insane woman flourishing a birth certificate in a plastic bag, and demanding (1) that Mr Obama produce his, and (2) that everyone present recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Which, amazingly, instead of calling for an ambulance, they do.
The daftness gets dafter. The investigators are out there investigating and discovering that (under the headline “Obama ‘mama’: 15 days from birth to Seattle class”) Mr Obama’s mother may have enrolled in a course a fortnight after his birth. And you think, what are you saying here? That she’s not his mother? That his birthdate is different, for some unknown reason?
Or maybe that he wasn’t born at all, but left, like Moses, in a basket, on the waters of the Indian Ocean, before fetching up in Hawaii. One pompous ass, the CNN anchor and radio host Lou Dobbs, seems to buy this stuff and has called for Mr Obama to produce his original birth certificate, and a dozen Republican Congressman have lent legitimacy to “birtherism” by signing up to a Bill to require all future presidential candidates to produce the originals of their birth certificates.
This stuff is mad and bizarre, but there are other emanations that are scarier. Take what seems to be happening at many of the recent local town hall meetings called to discuss President Obama’s proposals on healthcare reform, which have attracted absurdly intemperate criticism from Republicans. I’ve watched a couple of these meetings online and seen, in both, organised attempts not to express an opinion forcefully but to barrack, to intimidate and to disrupt the discussion. From Austin, Texas, to Romulus, Michigan, speakers have been shouted down by people obviously there to prevent debate. Last Thursday in Tampa, Florida, there was violence when some protesters couldn’t get into the over-packed hall.
I don’t think I’m a sissy. I can take heckling and vituperation, and understand that sometimes people yell. Nor do I argue that the Left was always (or ever) fair to George W. Bush. Liberals invariably treat right-of-centre presidents as if they are morons. But looking at the early stages of the Obama presidency, and imagining what is to come, I think that I see the repeat of a pattern of how some on the American Right patently cannot bear the existence of a Democratic president.The previous one, Bill Clinton, was enveloped — from before his first day in office — in a series of accusations of scandal that simply rose in volume: Whitewatergate, Troopergate, Travelgate, the accusation (made by supposedly serious journalists) that he had his friend Vince Foster, the White House counsel who committed suicide in July 1993, murdered. None of these accusations was substantiated, despite the £2.4 million spent on investigating and publishing them by the multimillionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who told George magazine in 1999: “Listen, Clinton can order people done away with at his will ... God, there must be 60 people who have died mysteriously.”
All this eventually led to impeachment. But the Clintons had earlier faced a healthcare crisis too. In Carl Bernstein’s biography of Hillary Clinton, he describes her arrival in Seattle in 1994 to speak on health. There were more than 4,000 people present. “During her speech,” Bernstein recalls, “the catcalls, screaming and heckling drowned out much of her remarks. When she left the stage and got into a limouisine, hundreds of protesters surrounded the car. They were rabid with hatred.”
Why hatred? Why not “pregnant with disagreement”? Or “eloquent with dissent”? Why did — and does — a section of the American Right insist that its opponents are not just wrong, but actually illegitimate; not just mistaken, but anti-American? And why does this partisanship take such an unreasoning tone when their party is in opposition?
The right-wing writer David Brock, who later repented of his role as an anti-Clinton muckraker, wrote that Bill and Hillary “were made into a metaphor for all the social changes of the past 30 years that the right-wing base of the country hated”. And, of course, such resentment was easier to express when your own equivocating presidents (usually one of the Bushes) were not in power. Fear of any state encroachment is a big part of it, of course – and for some Obama represents a gallop in a socalist direction. But also there’s this: Republican administration or Democrat, American society has evolved and the country is now heading for a situation when non-whites will be in the majority in our life times.
It was an Obama conceit that his election had healed all divisions and that somehow Americans were more prepared for painless change. But all change is loss, and in the States the losers know how to hate.