Wed, Sep 16, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Racism appears to drive protests against Obama


A southern conservative lawmaker breaks decorum and hollers “you lie,” at the president in Congress. Protesters display guns at venues where the president is speaking. And a movement arises alleging that the president’s birth certificate is forged.

To some, it is clear that the burgeoning opposition to US President Barack Obama is rooted in racism, driven by whites’ discomfort with the fact that the US is now led by a black American president.

A series of Democratic lawmakers and political columnists have pointed to the trends — the heckling, the gun-toting, the preachers leading congregations in prayers that Obama will die — and warned of the danger therein.


“There’s something loose in the land, an ugliness and hatred directed toward Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president, that takes the breath away,” columnist Colbert King wrote in the Washington Post.

To New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, the South Carolina Republican’s cry of “You lie!” showed that Obama is “at the center of a period of racial turbulence sparked by his ascension.”

“This president is the ultimate civil rights figure — a black man whose legitimacy is constantly challenged by a loco fringe,” Dowd wrote.

Searching for the root of angry outbursts by white, middle-aged to elderly Americans at lawmakers’ town hall meetings on healthcare reform over the summer, Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel also pointed to racism.

“Some Americans have not gotten over the fact that Obama is president of the United States. They go to sleep wondering, ‘How did this happen?’” Rangel said earlier this month.

Other black Democratic lawmakers have concurred.

But to Obama opponents, whenever a Democrat cries “racist,” it is nothing more than a political ploy to muffle dissent.


“It is an intimidation tactic. When you make that attack and call someone racist or homophobic it is a way to kind of silence them,” said Brendan Steinhauser, grassroots coordinator for FreedomWorks, which organized the first large-scale protest against Obama in Washington over the weekend.

“This movement is made up of people who oppose big government,” said Steinhauser, describing the tens of thousands of protesters who converged on Washington.

“The idea that people are trying to bring race into this is absolutely ridiculous,” Steinhauser said.

Some at the protest carried posters depicting Obama as The Joker character from Batman or wearing a mustache like Adolf Hitler’s, and there were signs decrying the arrival of socialism and banners pledging to defend the nation against government intrusion.

No personal weapons were on view, but one protester was seen hoisting a sign that showed a picture of a handgun, and the words: “Come and get it sunshein [sic].”

Those kinds of displays, even though they come from a minority of the movement, concern some experts.

“Clearly they are trying to portray Obama as an ‘other,’ as a foreigner who is going to try to hand the country over to aliens,” said Gary Weaver, a professor of cross-cultural communications at American University.

“That means from their point of view they are defending the country. They can dehumanize Obama,” he said, warning that such sentiments can encourage fringe radicals to act out.

“People who have used violence for political reasons are people who are afraid and believe somehow they are protecting their nation and their God,” he said.

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