The opposition against President Obama is not like what we saw against Clinton and Bush. It comes from a darker, more dangerous place. It expresses itself in a more troubling form.
People disagreed with Bush and Clinton. They questioned their character and intelligence. The Republicans even tried to bring down Clinton by impeaching him. But through it all they continued to respect the office of the presidency – even if they did not like the man holding that office. That is how Americans have been. Not so with Obama. A line is being crossed.
That line was crossed when Congressman Joe Wilson said “You lie!” in the middle of speech by the president to the country, openly disrespecting him.
That line was crossed when Sean Delonas of the New York Post drew a cartoon showing the president being shot dead (as a chimp).
Before Obama no one has doubted the president’s right to be the president, not in living memory.
Bush in 2000 lost the popular vote, winning only through a questionable vote count in a state where his brother was governor. Yet there was no movement that continued to question his right to hold his office.
Reagan in 1980 won by less than Obama, destroyed the power of the labour unions and pushed through much more extreme policies than Obama’s. Yet you did not hear about people “taking their country back”.
Further, none of these men had their Americanness questioned. None were required to show their hospital birth record because suddenly the one from their state of birth would not do.
The only thing that makes sense of all this is that some have a hard time accepting a black man as president. So they question his right to be president or act towards him like he is not the president.
If so then it is coming from a dark and dangerous place in the American soul, a place of whips and chains and hangings. Dangerous because no one knows how it will end. It could do more than simply take down a president, it could divide the country to a dangerous degree. Already it seems like racism is becoming much more open and naked than it was even six months ago.
Unlike a president’s sex life or bad English, race is one of the few things that can tear the country apart.
The Republicans hammered Clinton. Even in 1996, two years before Monica Lewinsky and her blue dress, it seemed like Clinton might not make it through another four years. It seemed like sooner or later the Republicans would find something that would stick.
Yet the worse it was ever going to do was to bring down Clinton. It was not going to shape the nature of the country. Its damage would be limited.
If Republican opposition to Obama was based mainly on stuff like ACORN and Tony Rezko, then it would be like what they did to Clinton. But it is not. This is something different.