Some Americans, especially on the Left, seem to have almost forgotten that Barack Obama is an African-American whose rise to the presidency was one of the most unlikely political stories in U.S. history.
Reflecting this attitude, I sometimes get e-mails from progressives calling Obama a coward for his failure to battle more aggressively against Republican policies. And there surely have been plenty of times when Obama folded his cards prematurely.
But the truth is that no black man in the United States who makes a serious run for the White House can be described as a coward or lacking guts.
On the last night of the campaign in 2008, my youngest son Jeff and I went to Manassas, Virginia, to see Obama's final rally. About 100,000 people crammed into an expansive field normally used for county fairs, an impressive turnout especially for an event only recently added to the schedule.
But an unsettling image was kept out of the TV camera angles: Secret Service sharpshooters with their baseball caps on backwards were positioned around the fairgrounds surveying the crowd through the telescopic scopes of high-powered rifles. The threats against Obama's life were unprecedented.
Yet, when the Democratic candidate arrived at the rally, he spoke to the crowd -- as he had hundreds of others -- without the slightest hint of the ever-present danger that he faced.
I know that many Obama critics pooh-pooh such facts, noting that it was his choice to run for president and that he knew the risks. Also, it's true that the Secret Service is a highly professional organization with a great record for protecting presidents and other high-ranking officials.
But Obama also was well aware of the tragic history of the United States in which black men -- both prominent and little known -- were gunned down for acts far less presumptuous than running for president.
And, on the Right, the resentment against Obama continues to simmer. The sorry spectacle of Obama's political enemies pushing the ludicrous conspiracy theory that he wasn't born in the United States has been a reminder that Obama's race and his electoral victory unleashed some very ugly sentiments among both right-wingers and members of the Republican Party.
This "birther" smear was promoted with zest by the right-wing media, but it also was tolerated by leading Republicans, the likes of House Speaker John Boehner and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin who refused to discourage what was apparently viewed as a politically useful tactic against Obama.
So effective indeed that recent polls showed that large majorities of Republicans said either that Obama was born outside the United States or that he might have been -- despite Obama's long-ago release of a Hawaiian-state-certified short-form birth certificate and the existence of other persuasive evidence like his birth announcements in Hawaiian newspapers.
And, whatever the protests to the contrary, there clearly were racial undertones to this "birther" movement, the assumption that a black man with an exotic name couldn't be a "real American."
The Right also demonstrated again that its vast propaganda machine could put any wacky notion into play and get a significant portion of the American people to fall for it.
A Cringing Moment
So, the nation had to endure the cringing moment on Wednesday as the president of the United States presented his long-form birth certificate to the public to prove he was a naturally born American.
Then, shameless Republicans, who had helped stoke the conspiracy theory with snarky formulations about "taking the President at his word," chastised Obama for wasting the country's time with such a trivial matter when he should have been focusing on important matters like the economy.
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