Obama’s Citizenship & Race: Separated at Birth?

It never ceases to amaze me how eager some white liberals are to divorce race from political analysis when it comes to Obama. Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler (who seems to have settled nicely into his blogospheric role as the curmudgeonly Luddite uncle who refuses to replace his black and white TV with a flat-screen plasma because, goddammit, a 10″ Zenith was good enough for Al Gore back in college) has been relentless in his contention that wingnut animus towards the 2nd blackest president ever is simply par for the course when you’re a Dem. Even Birtherism is merely a burden that anyone with a ‘D’ following their name must bear.

Brendan Nyhan approvingly quotes:

Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler objects to the liberal conventional wisdom that, as the New York Times put it, “It is inconceivable that this campaign [birtherism]… would have been conducted against a white president”:

We think it was a remarkable statement because somewhat similar campaigns already have been conducted against white candidates. A somewhat similar campaign was conducted in 1988 against Candidate Michael Dukakis, for instance. After that, strains of the same ethnic/nativist cards were played against Candidate Kerry in 2004.

Somewhat similar except, well, they aren’t — unless one can recall a protracted disinformation campaign against either individual questioning their bloody American citizenship (rather than, eg, their patriotism, a more common line of attack faced by the left) that managed to drive the news cycle for well over 3 years. Nyhan himself acknowledges that Obama’s “unique” life circumstances have driven the way conspiratorial attacks are framed, before trying to use Chester A. Arthur as a counterexample of a white president who also faced baseless attacks on his citizenship. Which is true, except, as again noted by Nyhan, those attacks were framed in the context of Arthur’s Irish identity.

In the 1800s.

(No need to apply, natch.)

So, um, yeah,  nativist attacks against a member of a marginalized ethnic group clearly prove that race isn’t really a factor when it comes to Birtherism.

Look, no matter how many counterarguments are offered, one shouldn’t discount the fact that Obama’s ethnic identity affects the tone and tenor of attacks being leveled against him, and how said attacks are received by the general public (without twisting one’s contentions into Gordian-like contortions, that is). From the beginning, race has influenced how we frame this issue (much like Clinton’s identity as an ex-’60s radical boomer fed into the still-lingering divide of an America embroiled in the Culture Wars, or W’s class background and swaggering anti-intellectualism shaped how he was portrayed and perceived, both by supporters and detractors). To point that out isn’t to label any and all critics or criticism racist (though, obviously, some are), but, again, to try and properly contextualize.

Political opportunists jump on any and all opportunities; for some, Obama’s racial identity presents an all-too-tempting opening for baseless attacks that, if leveled against, say, Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter, would hold no traction.

On a less analytical note, it’s frustrating to be constantly lectured about what is and isn’t ‘racist’ by those who, quite frankly, have no lived experience with racism, merely in abstract. For many of us, this isn’t an intellectual exercise. When we see Obama’s citizenship in question on a mass scale, we recall all the myriad times some cluelessly earnest soul has asked us where we’re from originally (because apparently dark skin in a normatively white culture instantly screams ‘other’), an all-too familiar suspicion that, through Birtherism, has now been magnified to ridiculous proportions.

Yes, based on past history, any Dem holding the keys to the Oval Office would likely be subject to a dishonest scorched earth smear campaign by the GOP and associated right-wing partisans. But that doesn’t mean Birtherism is simply par for the course. Obama is being attacked because he’s a Democratic POTUS and because he’s a scary person of colour with a funny name.

It’s not an either/or proposition.

(x-posted)

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Slacktastic Placeholder Post

by matttbastard

Busy busy busy lately, kids (and by ‘busy busy busy’ I mean ‘lazy lazy lazy’, as my always-obsessive Twitter output will attest — 140 characters is a lot less daunting than 140 words, sadly). But we can’t enter into the last year of the first decade of the new millennium without a new post up on the main page. That would be blasphemy, or bad luck, or…well, ok, I don’t believe in fortune or have any faith, so it’s more an aesthetic quirk on my part.

But if I was actually religious or at all superstitious I’d so be praying for salvation and walking around ladders while simultaneously avoiding black cats. Or something.

Anyway, have some choice links to keep you satiated and, most importantly, forestall my inexplicable squick over the lack of any new content since, um, before New Years. Hopefully I’ll settle into a more regular pattern soon. Feel free to give me shit in comments if this post remains at the top of the page for more than a week:

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Inverted Priorities and Blagojevich Coverage

by matttbastard

Apparently the general public isn’t as concerned about the faux-Blagobamagate taint as the MSM would love to believe:

Public ratings of Barack Obama are unscathed by the scandal swirling around Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s apparent effort to trade off his power to appoint Obama’s successor to the U.S. Senate, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

More than three-quarters of Americans approve of the way Obama is handling the presidential transition, up significantly from three weeks ago, and a slim majority in the new poll said the president-elect has already done enough to explain any connections his staff may have had with Blagojevich.

But, as Steve Benen notes, a new Rasmussen poll does seem to indicate that the constant bombardment of MSM innuendo and conjecture is beginning to make a dent in the public consciousness–either that, or the poor phrasing of the question affected the response:

Forty five percent (45%) of U.S. voters say it is likely President-elect Obama or one of his top campaign aides was involved in the unfolding Blagojevich scandal in Illinois, including 23% who say it is Very Likely.

Just 11% say it is not at all likely, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey taken Thursday and Friday nights.

The exact wording of the question was: “How likely is it that President-elect Obama or one of his top campaign aides was involved in the Blagojevich scandal?”

The problem, of course, is that “involved” is more than a little ambiguous. For that matter, asking about “Obama or one of his top campaign aides” opens the door awfully wide.

Indeed, while I suspect some news outlets will pounce on the Rasmussen results as evidence of public doubts about Obama, the exact same pollster, on the exact same day, found that Obama’s approval rating is still soaring, and one point shy of a post-election high.

In other words, looking at the Rasmussen numbers, Americans either a) believe the president-elect or his team were part of a major corruption scandal, but don’t care; or b) think Obama or his aides were “involved,” but not in a way that reflects badly on the president-elect or his team. My hunch is that it’s the latter.

Regardless, as Benen further observes, the Village appears bound and determined to ride their new (dead) pony into the ground, despite the lack of public concern:

Yglesias tuned into MSNBC this morning, and found a “lengthy discussion of Obama’s involvement in Blagojevich’s corruption.” It follows a week of inexplicable media reports about Obama’s non-existent role in the matter, reality notwithstanding.

Not surprising, if one uses the following agenda that Mark Halperin laid out yesterday as an outline of Village priorities:

1. Watch the Blagojevich affair. …

2. Watch Obama’s press conference to unveil his environmental and energy team. …

3. Watch the economy.

Yes, in that order.  Look, the Blago affair is the political equivalent of Britney Spear’s crotch, or Anna Nicole Smith’s corpse: a frivolous waste of journalistic resources that has stolen attention from an issue that the public overwhelmingly declared to be its number one priority on November 4th. This is exactly what Jamison Foser meant when he warned about the media distracting us from  “serious problems by overheated conjecture and baseless insinuation masquerading as journalism.”

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Foser: “[T]his week brought signs that much of the media is set to resume the absurd and shameful behavior that defined the 1990s”

by matttbastard

Jamison Foser on the Blagobamagate!!1 media circus:

If the news media regains a bit of the skepticism so many of them set aside for the past eight years, that would be an unequivocally good thing, and it should be applauded.

But this week brought signs that much of the media is set to resume the absurd and shameful behavior that defined the 1990s — guilt by association, circular analysis whereby they ask baseless questions about non-scandals, then claim they have to report on the “scandal” because the White House is “besieged by questions,” grotesque leaps of logic, downplaying exculpatory information, and too many other failings to list.

If that happens — if the media continue to behave as they did in covering Whitewater — they will damage the country. It’s really that simple. We cannot afford to be distracted from serious problems by overheated conjecture and baseless insinuation masquerading as journalism.

IOW, less Blago, more bailout.

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Media Maestros Strike a Sour Note

by matttbastard

Via Hugh Hewitt groupie Mark Halperin, we see that The Politico is still going strong in its crusade to make the Blago affair into Whitewater 2.0. Incidentally, Halperin, in a move that will shock and disgust you (cough) jumps on the irresponsible headline bandwagon–um, “Obama Faces the Blago  Music” implies that Obama will soon be forced to confront the unpleasant results of his own actions (oh noes!)  Kinda difficult, when you aren’t, y’know, actually accused of doing anything, apart from being a bit player in Gov. Blago’s comedy of errors.

Even more difficult when the author of the original criminal complaint , US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, plainly stated “We make no allegations that  [Obama] was aware of anything.”

Not that ‘facts’ (slowly going the way of the buffalo in today’s post-clutter corporate media environment) will likely stop the press from raising a cacophony of dissonant allegations during today’s sure-to-be discordant press conference with the President elect.  And, courtesy Halperin, Kenneth P. Vogel and Carrie Budoff Brown have helpfully provided the sheet music, 7 Blago questions for Obama (nice segue after a lengthy digression, eh?)  Although after reading through the list (and the rationale behind each one) I think KPV and CBB forgot an eighth:

“When did you stop beating your wife, Mr. President-elect?”

Seriously, what do these New (Old) Media upstarts have against the classics?

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Of Fools and Folly

by matttbastard

How much you wanna bet that the only reason Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith cobbled together this rickety structure of baseless speculation about Obama and the potential (yes, potential) scandal that might (yes, might) arise (passive voice!) for the President-elect and certain members of his team, following yesterday’s dramatic arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, was to frame the following paragraph:

One prominent Chicago Democrat close to many of those named in the indictment suggested the risk for Obama is “Whitewater-type exposure.” That was a reference to an Arkansas real estate deal that produced a series lengthy and highly intrusive investigations in the 1990s that never proved illegality by the Clintons.

Apparently The Politico brain trust is still stuck in 1992.  Not surprising, considering that throughout the ’90s Politico editor-in-chief John F. Harris and his then-colleagues at the Washington Post reported extensively on many  now-infamous media-and-Republican-manufactured Clinton-era scandals that would not fucking die.   Eric Boehlert, critiquing a 2006 book written by Harris and ABC News  Political Director Mark Halperin, puts “Whitewater-type exposure” in proper context:

The duo devotes an entire chapter detailing Clinton’s often troubled first term in office, yet the phrase “Whitewater” never appears in print there. Keep in mind that reproducing The Washington Post’s library of breathless Whitewater stories printed during Clinton’s first term would likely fill three volumes the size of The Way to Win, while ABC’s Whitewater archives could fill a weekend of around-the-clock coverage. But for Halperin and Harris, the story, and the media’s absolutely central role in keeping alive a Republican-generated hoax about a long-ago real estate deal, goes down the memory hole.

The old proverb about dogs and vomit comes to mind.

Update: More from Steve Benen, who looks at AP’s latest “wildly irresponsible” example of “cutting through the clutter”  by not relying on such hoary journalistic conventions as “facts” or “evidence” to support ones assertions.

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