Democrats Losing = Racism?

Is the public anger at Obama really just papered over racism?

Bernard Finel is understandably frustrated that his party looks to get drubbed at the polls today.  But this is over the top:

The idea of his administration as an extreme leftist one is laughable.  It has nothing to do with substance, and everything to do with the fact that Obama appears “alien” to some.  The vowels in his name and the color of his skin have more to do with how angry people are, even if they don’t realize it.

Look, there’s no doubt some anti-Obama sentiment is based on racism and its cousins, xenophobia and Islamophobia.  All the “Barack HUSSEIN Obama” and “He’s a secret Muslim born in Kenya” business is tied into those themes.

But the fact of the matter is that this is the same man who cruised to victory two years ago, winning states and districts that hadn’t voted for a Democrat in years, if not decades.  Aside from his hair turning noticeably whiter, he looks no less “alien” now than then.   The words “President Obama,” once exotic, now roll easily off the tongue.

This seem alien-looking person of color with name of vowel was at 65.5% approval as recently as February 2009. And, while his current 45.7% approval is slightly less than his 49.3% disapproval, it happens to not only still be 20 points higher than the WASP George W. Bush, who has exactly the right number of vowels in his name.

So, no, I don’t think race, large ears, or vowel placement is the deciding issue here.   Rather, as James Carville famously put it some 18 years ago, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  (See this morning’s post “Obama Backlash in Context” for a more nuanced analysis.)

Bernard continues, “Because outright racism is not acceptable, rationalizations are playing a powerful role, which is why about 95% of the bitching about Obama is based on fantasy.”

Obama cut taxes, including in the stimulus bill.

He did, although very modestly.  And he wants to extend most of the Bush tax cuts, too.   But he’s spent a lot of time engaging in the rhetoric of class warfare — raising taxes on the rich on the basis they don’t deserve to keep their money rather than that it’s where the money is — and the Republicans have done a good job of attacking that message.

There was no “government takeover” of health care.

No, but government is going to play a much larger role in health care than it did before ObamaCare.  And he’s paved the way for a lot of companies to drop health coverage and put people into the government-created pool.

There isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Obama and Bush on defense policy. Hell, Obama kept Bush’s Secretary of Defense!

Which is why it hasn’t been much of a campaign issue this time around.

Sotomayor and Kagan are absolutely mainstream picks for justices.  Heck, Kagan is as bland as Roberts pretends to be.

Well, it remains to be seen what kind of judges they’ll turn out to be.  But, yes, they’re mainstream Democrats.  But Roberts and Alito were mainstream Republicans and got pilloried.  That’s how the game is played these days.

But, again, the economy, the bailouts, and the government mandate on healthcare are the biggest policy issues this cycle — with the economy far, far, far and away the biggest.

UPDATE: Commenter PD Shaw points out that I’ve missed the most obvious retort:  “The polls show that Democrats lost support from independents. If Bernard wants to argue that independents are conspiratorial racists, that’s a pretty broad bush to tar with.”

That’s exactly right.  The fact that staunch Republicans campaigning against the Obama agenda are exaggerating the degree to which it’s “extreme” really isn’t the issue. They were against Obama to begin with.  The reason the Democrats are likely to lose the House today is that they’ve lost Independents, not that Republicans are angry.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Race and Politics, US Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Again, pfui. The evidence for an Obama backlash is slim—his approval ratings are about what Reagan’s and Clinton’s were at this point in their presidencies.

    I think there’s a backlash against the Congressional leadership. Part the economy, part ideology, part style.

  2. James, you are ignoring the constant drumbeat about Democratic overreach and about Obama’s socialist agenda. Just read your own commenters. Call Obama weak. Call him ineffective. Call him a cold-blooded technocrat. But portraying him as a radical extremist who is trying to change American dramatically is just lunatic. And unless you want to argue that the Republican party has suddenly come down with some sort of coincident mental illness, the only other plausible explanation is that people hate Obama as much for what he is (black and exotic) and what he has done (middle of the road Democratic policies). He’s as radical as Bill Clinton. Yet, listening to the angry voices on the right, you’d think he was to the left of George McGovern.

  3. c.red says:

    Well I haven’t seen a good Republican defense of tax the wealthy, more of “it will hurt the economy”, whether it will or not, shouted loudly over any reasoned argument. But, to be fair, I’m in the tax the wealthy, and everyone else, camp.

    I will give the Republican media machine kudos on how they have managed to make the ending of cuts they set to expire for poltical reasons into “tax increases”.

    While I feel there might be some element of racism in opposition to Obama, I really don’t see how it can be quantified and therefore I feel we have to discount it. In practical terms it is pretty much meaningless whether someone opposes him because he is black or because they are convinced he is a raging socialist, neither one would be susceptible to reason.

  4. mantis says:

    Here in Illinois, I have a hard time believing that people are voting for Mark Kirk and Bill Brady over Alexi Giannoulias and Pat Quinn because they have racist attitudes towards the president. And while I agree that ” 95% of the bitching about Obama is based on fantasy,” much of that has to do with the fact that the electorate in this country is woefully uninformed and looking for someone to blame for the economy. Basically, it’s still the stupid economy, stupid.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Bernard

    James, you are ignoring the constant drumbeat about Democratic overreach and about Obama’s socialist agenda. Just read your own commenters. Call Obama weak. Call him ineffective. Call him a cold-blooded technocrat. But portraying him as a radical extremist who is trying to change American dramatically is just lunatic.

    That’s just the tone of American politics. Same charges (or other party equivalent) were leveled at Reagan, Clinton, and Bush 43.

    And unless you want to argue that the Republican party has suddenly come down with some sort of coincident mental illness, the only other plausible explanation is that people hate Obama as much for what he is (black and exotic) and what he has done (middle of the road Democratic policies).

    He was black and exotic when he won a landslide 2 years ago.

    He’s as radical as Bill Clinton.

    A we fucking HATED Clinton! And the economy wasn’t in the toilet then.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    I don’t think James’ commenters are representative of anything.

    The polls show that Democrats lost support from independents. If Bernard wants to argue that independents are conspiratorial racists, that’s a pretty broad bush to tar with.

  7. Highlander says:

    More and more of the American people see Obama as a “Pretty Guy”(can’t say Boy, that would be racist)empty suit, who some very smart people managed to con the American people into electing him as our President.

    George W Bush was-is looked upon as an idiot by a significant portion of the American electorate. Bill Clinton is looked upon as a immature fool by a significant portion of the American electorate. Both of these guys are white and nobody whines about their detractors being racist.

    Black people need to quit whinning and get on with building for their futures. You ve got a Black President, you have Black fortune 500 CEOs. Quit whinning like little children, about descrimmination, and take advantage of the obvious opportunities this wonderful country has provided you.

    I acknowledge not all Black people do this, but a large portion of their leadership elites do in order to keep their various money scams alive.

    Two years in politics is a lifetime. Obama could stage a dramatic turnaround like Ronald Reagan did, and win reelection by a landslide.

    I hope for all of our sakes he does. It is getting late in the day in Rome.

  8. rodney dill says:

    no doubt some anti-Obama sentiment is based on racism and its cousins, xenophobia and Islamophobia.

    Everybody knows that most of the anti-Obama sentiment stems from Stultophobia.

  9. mannning says:

    #1 is the fact of the terrible economy, jobs, and national debt.
    #2 is the image of tax and spend, spend, spend, with no visible and cheering impact on #1.
    #3 is the image of a Leftist social agenda that impacts the economy without compensations.
    #4 is the image of a disasterous and servile foreign policy that makes patriots cringe and friendly nations disgusted and disappointed.
    #5 is the image of it being campaign time, party time, golf time, and vacation time on our dollar to excess in a belt-tightening era.
    #6 is the image of being soft on Islam and Palestine to the detrement of Israel.
    #7 is the image of being soft on illegal aliens, and supportive of amnesty.
    #8 is the unsavory crowd of White House and Department lackeys pulling off illegal stunts.
    #9 is the image and dread of more years of the same.
    #10 other factors of far less impact.

  10. Drew says:

    To blame this election on racism is vile, and intellectually light.

  11. Drew says:

    Most polls I’ve seen do not lay the economy at Obama’s doorstep, although I think that needs some clarification. Only an idiot would say he caused the recession, which was a situation he inherited. However, the complaint is that he has done little to ameliorate the situation, in fact perhaps exacerbating and extending its duration. That would be my view, given the circles I travel in.

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    I don’t like him because he is a Bear fan! I think….. do marxists even watch football?

  13. Trueofvoice says:

    Democratic turnout is expected to be low, a result of widespread dissatisfaction with Obama’s policies. Are those Democrats also disapproving of the president’s name and skin-color?

  14. george says:

    Has any first term incumbant ever been popular at mid-term when the economy was in bad shape? He’s got the same popularity as Reagan and Clinton (neither of which had so bad an economy) had at the same point, so this seems to be pretty much business as normal. And its quite likely he’ll recover for the next election just like they did as well.

  15. G.A.Phillips says:

    Obama is no Reagan or Clinton, and we have two more years left of his incompetence!

  16. JKB says:

    So it is racist to vote against mostly white politicians who followed lockstep with the black president, who gained a majority of the popular vote just two years ago? I think we can all agree that come next January 31, Obama will still be president regardless of what happens at the polls today? So a lot of those people who voted for the black man in 2008 are not going to punish the white politicians as a racist vent against the black man they elected? This is confusing.

    Obama’s administration may not be “an extreme leftist” one but it is apparently extreme left compared to what American’s bothering to vote this election want. One presumes that those not voting are either for a shift right or unconcerned. Or it could just be that people don’t like the policies the Democrats enacted. That Obama actively promoted those policies will be a matter for the election in 2012. That his popularity couldn’t save Democrats who voted for policies he promoted will be telling.

  17. Dave Schuler says:

    neither of which had so bad an economy

    Wuz u there, charley? The recession of the early 80s was pretty rugged and although the recession of the early 90s was pretty mild you wouldn’t have thought so for all the bitching.

    I agree with your larger point which echoes mine, above. To my eye to the extent that the 2010 midterms are a referendum on anything it’s not really Obama. Clearly, the electorate is punishing somebody.

    My conclusion is that they’re punishing the Congressional leadership which is Democratic. That’s completely consistent with the polling data. If you believe that this is a referendum on Obama you’ve got to reconcile the job approval polling data with that view.

  18. Steve Verdon says:

    Presidents have always claimed to be able to fix the economy when it is doing badly. Just as they claim credit for when it is running well. Obama is no different. He has picked up that very same narrative device and ran with it. So while he is clearly not responsible for the down turn in the economy, he and his party is taking a beating because of their seeming inability to solve the problem like they said they would. While I understand that this is largely a narrative device and that the President (of any party) has at best limited ability to move the economy, Obama has made his own mess here.

    As for extending the recession, increasing uncertainty over various aspects of economy probably hasn’t helped things along.

    Claims of racism is a sign of intellectual vacuity.

  19. […] the same lines as Bernard Finel’s post, which James Joyner responded to earlier, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson uses today’s column to question the motives behind […]

  20. Samael Howard says:

    Nothing said about his failure to reach his base? The Obama administration failed to fight for the public option, fell to the right of California’s Republican governor on drug enforcement laws, and did little to stop the corporate world from rewarding itself for breaking the economy. Their push for gay rights was a “someday, stop asking about it” for longer than it’s been a priority…

    The left really doesn’t know what to make of a guy who’s often to the right of Nixon. That the conservative media was able to paint him as a far left candidate proves he’s a better community organizer than he is an effective leader.

  21. […] the same lines as Bernard Finel’s post, which James Joyner responded to earlier, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson uses today’s column to question the motives behind […]

  22. tom p says:

    “Look, there’s no doubt some anti-Obama sentiment is based on racism and its cousins, xenophobia and Islamophobia. All the “Barack HUSSEIN Obama” and “He’s a secret Muslim born in Kenya” business is tied into those themes.”

    Let us start with an outright admission of racism, and go downhill from here….

    James, I was 3/4 of the way thru a reply to this, but then I hit the wrong button….

    tomorrow….

  23. Drew says:

    Those racist Tea Party pigs – courtesy Sister Toldjah –

    Let’s just look at a couple of US House races for examples of the damage “raaaacist” Tea Partiers can do:

    – Tim Scott – South Carolina’s US House District 1. Elected Tuesday night – with 65% of the vote. Wasn’t even a contest. SC1 is 75% white, and solidly conservative. Scott will be the first black Republican Congressman from SC since the Reconstruction.

    – Allen West – Florida’s US House District 22. Elected Tuesday with 54% of the vote. Not much of a contest there, either. FL22 is 82% white. That seat was a Republican pick-up and, as far as I know, is the first time a black Republican has ever represented that district in the US House.

    Did I mention that both of these US House Rep.-Elects were and are heavily backed by the “raaaacist” Tea Party crowd? Yeah, they are. And here I thought racists did everything they could to keep black folks from even participating in the political process, let alone getting elected for political office …

  24. Maybe instead of racism we just hostile to people whose first name starts with a B. It’s not like they don’t give good reasons to do so.

  25. And I meant to add it makes more sense.

  26. Perhaps Bernard’s next retort will be that denying it is proof that I am a racist.