In the batterer classes I teach some of the men complain or ask why we would speak about racism in a class about domestic violence. I often tell the story about the King Center in which they conceive that the work in Russia to end domestic violence is a continuation of his work to end segregation and racism. This is because racism and sexism are part of a system of oppression and we cannot end one without ending all oppressions.
Just as I discussed how sexism is often subtle or unconscious, the same is true about racism. We tend to think of racism as the kind of behavior associated with the Ku Klux Klan, but more often it is about stereotypes and unconscious assumptions that give whites unearned advantages over blacks. Whites, including politicians who are quick to deny their actions are racist would likely pass a lie detector test, but only because they do not understand all that racism entails.
Research shows that local television stations disproportionately cover crime stories involving alleged black offenders and do so even when the crime rate is down. This promotes stereotypes suggesting young black men are dangerous and has serious consequences. Trayvon Martin was viewed as potentially dangerous, not because of anything he did but because of this stereotype. Many whites have never heard of someone arrested for DWB, but people of color know this stands for driving while black. Many whites would not associate their fear of black men as coming from racism. It is important to understand that good people can act on their racist or sexist superiority and do so without realizing it. This means we should be slower to deny our own oppressive acts.
Vitriolic Attacks against the President
President Obama has repeatedly been the subject of some of the most personal and offensive attacks that any President has received. Obviously people have different political views and there is nothing wrong with criticizing someone whose policies they disagree with. I have heard some people justify the attacks on the President by saying that Presidents Clinton and Bush were attacked similarly. I believe the level of hatred against Obama is greater than the other presidents, but perhaps more to the point there was a basis for the level of anger against Clinton and Bush that does not exist in the actions of Barack Obama.
President Clinton earned strong public anger and disgust over his sexual behavior with an intern and lack of honesty about this and other issues. There were scandals involving his administration and many believed he was dishonest with the American people.
President George W. Bush engaged in many actions that could reasonably have created severe anger in his opponents. He prevented a full count of the ballots in Florida so that many people believe he was not properly elected. When the country came together after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, many believe he used the issue for political gain instead of using it as a way to maintain unity in the country. He made serious misrepresentations to the public to justify starting a war against Iraq that many believe was unjustified. In doing so, we lost an opportunity to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden. His economic policies that included lax regulation, the costs of two wars and a massive tax cut without paying for these expenses, led to the worst economic catastrophe since the great depression. He also had significant scandals in his administration.
By contrast, there has been nothing in President Obama's record that compares to the actions that could reasonably have led to the angry reaction towards Bush and Clinton. Again it is reasonable for people with different political views to dislike his policies and wish him to be replaced. Everyone is entitled to their views. His administration has been remarkably free of scandals. He did not talk about getting Bin Laden the way Bush did, he just went out and did it. Many people, including Obama hoped or expected the economy would improve more quickly and dramatically, but the President has been successful in averting a massive meltdown which was a real possibility and the economy is far stronger than when he took office.
Many people strongly disagree with his position on health care, but any discussion that considers context would provide a more reasonable perspective. There has been strong support for a national health care law for many years from both parties. Republicans as diverse as Richard Nixon, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have advocated for a national health law. This has been needed because so many people are uninsured with devastating consequences. People can disagree about whether we need such a law, but it cannot be viewed as something outside the mainstream of thought and support. I could understand anger from the right wing if Democrats passed a one payer system which would be the liberal form of health reform. The moderate form would involve an insurance mandate with the government providing competition. The actual plan that relies on a mandate originally championed by Romney, Gingrich and others, based upon the free market system, was the most conservative approach considered. People can disagree, but the level of vitriol does not match the moderate nature of the reform. This is especially true when no other realistic alternative has been put forward by those who so strenuously object.
Included in the common personal attacks against the President are bizarre and obviously false claims that he is Muslim and was not born in the United States. There would be nothing wrong with a President who was Muslim, but this is used by opponents in a pejorative manner. There is no factual basis for these claims and the widespread belief is based upon repeated lies by the President's opponents and racism. A recent poll of Republican primary voters in one southern state found over forty percent of the voters believed he was Muslim and another forty percent were not sure if he was. The level of ignorance and prejudice necessary to believe such obvious lies makes one wonder if such people should be qualified to vote.
Claims that Obama is the Worst President Ever
Included in the attacks against the President are frequently expressed opinions that he is the worst President ever. Obviously anyone is entitled to their opinion, but based on his actual record described earlier, there is no reasonable basis for this view. The multiple and catastrophic failures of the Bush Presidency would create a much stronger argument that he was the worst President ever, but he is not close.
The worst President in our history was Richard Nixon and there is no one in second place. He is the only President forced to resign from office in disgrace because of a long series of gross violations of our laws and our Constitution. Today many people do not understand the extent of his corrupt actions and how close he brought us to losing our democracy.
Many people have heard the lies he promoted that other Presidents did the same thing or that it just involved campaign irregularities in an election he would have easily won anyway. In reality, when he started his Watergate crimes, the polls showed him losing to Senator Edmund Muskie who had been a popular Vice Presidential candidate in 1968. Nixon and his co-conspirators systematically and illegally destroyed the campaigns of each of the Democratic candidates who had a good chance to beat him. In effect he selected his Democratic opponent and then engaged in dirty tricks against Senator McGovern also.
I was a student in Washington during Watergate and the election and so had the opportunity to see just a small part of the criminal activities from the Nixon campaign. At one point the president of the George Washington University College Republicans repeated to me a conversation I had just had with a McGovern staffer. The Senate Watergate Committee would later describe his activities on behalf of the Committee to Re-elect the President (aptly referred to as CREEP) for spying on the Quaker Peace Vigil that was protesting in front of the White House. We thought the information suggested CREEP had placed a listening device at McGovern Headquarters and sought to warn them by giving them a piece of paper that described how the Republicans had information from the phone conversation. A few years later I learned from a former McGovern staffer that they treated everything as an open campaign because Nixon spies had infiltrated McGovern's staff.
One of the scariest events I ever witnessed was the Nixon Justice Department's response to May Day protests aimed at ending the war. Thousands of people, most of whom had nothing to do with the demonstrations were arrested and held at RFK stadium. On our campus many students were arrested going to or leaving class. Pepper gas permeated the campus for weeks afterwards. That night parents kept calling the dorm and we did not know where their children were or even if they were alive. The courts later found the arrests to be illegal and the victims were compensated.
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