Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Thinking, Honest Liberal ::: Sorry, Democrats, racism isn't everywhere

A thoughtful piece.

Sorry, Democrats, racism isn't everywhere

Wednesday, September 16th 2009, 9:10 AM

When a President's prime-time speech is interrupted by a congressman with the accusation of "You lie!" that is something to talk about. But it is hard to decide who is stricken with a more severe American pathology: the ideologues who can't stop themselves from text-messaging or shouting insults at the President while he's talking to them or the demagogues who can't stop crying racism simply because not every citizen is enamored with America's first black President.

There is grandstanding and tomfoolery on both sides: The tea party crowd protests with signs that depict President Obama as Hitler, and the left quickly plays the race card - saying that such protest is "hate speech" and is directed at Obama only because of his skin color.

As any history student or veteran of the civil rights movement knows, Presidents (all of them white) have always been targets of epithets and subjects of caricature. Some were accused of "murder" and "racist" genocide - including the man from Missouri who dropped two A-bombs, and FDR who authorized the internment of innocent Japanese Americans into concentration camps. Lyndon Baines Johnson, a former segregationist who was adored by many blacks for his anti-segregationist policies as President, was driven into political exile over his insistence on waging and "winning" an unpopular war against the Vietnamese. And, lest we forget, Richard Nixon was oftentimes depicted with a short mustache. George W. Bush, too, was drawn as a monkey and as worse by protesters and artists.

We are a country with a vicious, personal political streak. That's who we are.

It is wrong to believe that in 21st century America, Barack Obama, simply because his skin color is darker than that of other Presidents, can or should be spared similar harsh treatment - including slurs, discourtesy and unwarranted comparisons with Adolf Hitler. Obama isn't the first and he won't be the last President to be hated by angry parts of America - on the left and right.

Perhaps his election ushered in a postracial period of good feelings, but a postracial America never envisioned a silencing of old-fashioned protests or any permanent era of civility. That's not the American way. In our free country, we simultaneously decry and feel pangs of guilt and shame and conscience - or don't - but we always tolerate "hate" and political speech that we don't like and the grotesque signs that depict our Presidents as buffoons, jackasses, apes and even murderers. Our American President does not merit the protections or courtesies and bows accorded a king.

In truth, the protesters on the right who think of Obama as a radical and foreigner and those on the left who treat him as some kind of saint or savior are brothers and sisters under the skin. They're both wrong.

Obama's address on health care reform is a case in point of both sides being wrong.

To my ears, Obama's speech before Congress was a bundle of contradictions - one big, fat lie. I did not buy his claim that real health care reform, the kind we on the left can believe in, won't add a "dime" or even a penny to our out-of-control federal deficit. Nor did I hear anything credible from him about controlling the skyrocketing costs of Medicare and Medicaid. The promises he listed simply did not add up. I said to myself - not being on the floor of Congress at the time - "you lie." That heretical thought did not make me a "racist." Nor did the expression of the idea make Joe Wilson a "racist."

Wilson was, to be sure, boorishly rude, the kind of rudeness we have witnessed in town hall meetings from the left and the right. And Wilson broke with the decorum of Congress. But it is not because he hails from the South or was once a member of the Sons of the Confederacy or directed his outburst at America's first black President that his utterance can be deemed "racist." He surely did not say or intend the N-word or "boy." Those who claim he did are either fantasizing or engaging in racial histrionics.

Indeed, I think those who so cavalierly play the race card are actually insulting Obama. When Obama's supporters feverishly play the race card they know exactly what they're doing - they are trying to stop the conversation. But Obama says he wants to encourage dialogue, so the racialists who back him do him no favor.

America's racist past cannot be denied, but the kind of real racism that was once popularly supported is finished, for good. As Obama himself says, there is now no black race or white race. In any serious discussion about health care coverage, we are therefore obliged to face this hard truth: We don't withhold a blood transfusion from anyone who needs it, whether or not they can pay, whether or not they're black or white or legal or illegal.

The only issue is who pays: Who pays the bill to keep us from contracting communicable diseases from one another and for ensuring our well-being and personal security from a catastrophic wipeout if our insurance doesn't kick in or if coverage is denied?

These are fair questions, not racial in cast.

Someone once asked, "Can't we all just get along?"

Maybe not. But can't we disagree with the President and oppose what he has to say as a "lie" without interrupting him while he is speaking?

By the same token, can't those who object to Obamacare and an Obama Nation be recognized as wholly within their rights to speak up and to ridicule the man who temporarily occupies the White House, without having to genuflect and bow before the President?

As a liberal, I must ask: Why can't liberals who support Obama make an intelligent argument without accusing those who disagree with us of racism, and sideswiping other liberals who, like me, when I heard Obama's speech, reflexively agreed with Wilson's sentiment - to wit, "Mr. President, you lie!"?

Meyers is executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition.

Frankly, I think playing the race card at this stage in the game is embarrassing for the cardholder. Are the smearslingers really that thick and unimaginative? (Apparently so.)

Sorry, Democrats, racism isn't everywhere

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