Right-wing criticism of Obama is not racial, but Obama’s kick in the pants to New York Governor David Paterson apparently is. Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele told CBS on Sunday:
I found that to be stunning, that the White House would send word to one of only two black governors in the country not to run for re-election.
Republicans denounce identity politics, except when they engage in it themselves. Steele is claiming either that Obama is going after Paterson because he is black or that Obama should not go after Paterson because he is black. The first proposition is ludicrous, the second, poisonous. Steele strikes me as intermittently unhinged, but his exploitation of identity discourse here is hardly sui generis. Sarah Palin parroted Hillary Clinton’s feminist blather in announcing her vice presidency: “It turns out that the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.” Her supporters regularly accused her critics of being anti-woman. I wouldn’t have been surprised, therefore, to have seen Limbaugh or some other Republican luminary, instead of Steele, play the race card against Obama for his anti-Paterson campaign.
Is it too much to hope that Republican criticism of Obama stay within a zone of rationality and dignity? Yes, the Democrats demonized Bush, but that doesn’t mean that Republicans have to respond in kind. Why not be icily factual and coldly respectful, rather than hysterical and hot-headed? Both parties seem to have forgotten the Clinton and the Bush eras. Democrats, in portraying right-wing hyperventilation over Obama as a manifestation of covert hostility to blacks, forget the insane Clinton conspiracy theories that grew like kudzu even in the highest reaches of Republican opinionizing. Only this year has the right-wing obsession with the Clintons appeared to have finally and thankfully petered out. But Republican pundits, in portraying Obama as an unprecedented danger to the country—on Wednesday, Mark Levin announced: “We’ve never been in this situation before at least in modern times . . . They intend to use the system against you”–forget their own dire warnings about the Clintons as the end of civilization.
Republicans were furious at the criticism of Bush, “a wartime president!” We’re still “at war,” but the respect that should be accorded a wartime president, per the Republicans, is nowhere in evidence. The Democrats who are now so offended by Obama-hatred either participated in Bush-bashing themselves or didn’t object to it.
As Mr. Hume has pointed out, the growing government involvement in the private sector is worrisome, possibly quite dangerous. I am not confident that things would have looked radically different under a Republican administration, however—health care overhaul excepted. Republican and Democratic administrations have undertaken too-big-to-fail bailouts, for understandable, if misguided, reasons. The bank bailouts obviously began under Bush, and Bush or his predecessor might well have extended government lifelines to Chrysler and GM as well. Obama’s health care proposals are a different matter, though let us not forget that John McCain bashed the drug companies for their evil profit-making with as much zeal as Democrats currently bash the insurance companies (hearing Romney rebuke McCain for his drug company demagoguery during a campaign debate swung me into Romney’s camp, loony Mormonism notwithstanding).
But however undesirable our current trajectory, I don’t see it as part of a deliberate conspiracy of some reified “Left” to take over the economy or the country. Obama strikes me as a standard-issue liberal, reacting in an ad hoc fashion, with standard liberal impulses, to circumstances as they arise. (Again, health care “reform” is an exception—that is not a reactive policy but a proactive one. Ditto global warming policies, though they mask as reactive.) Perhaps Clinton made Republicans forget what an unreconstructed, non-DLC Democrat looks like, in which case, maybe they were crying wolf over Clinton back then.
Right-wing media pundits are often unimpeachably accurate in their analyses of Obama’s misguided policies. Limbaugh today rightly railed against the Democrats’ refusal to deregulate the health insurance markets across state lines. Why, then, also indulge in loony-bin allegations, such as Limbaugh’s charge that a recent attack by black teens on a white kid at a St. Louis bus stop is an emblem of Obama’s America? Does anyone remember the Jena Six? Blacks have been disproportionately involved in violent crime, and in cross-racial attacks, for decades. The charge that somehow Obama has given a license to blacks to attack whites is not just ludicrous, it is deeply irresponsible.
We are not moving from pure capitalism to pure socialism, we are moving from an already highly regulated, corporate- and individual-welfare-saturated economy to an even more regulated and redistributed economy. (And we didn’t get to our welfare-saturated state without popular support for trying to minimize risk, however unwisely.) The difference is one of degree, not of kind, which is not to say that we couldn’t easily reach a tipping point where differences in degree become paradigm-shifting. Conservative commentators are right to warn about the consequences of our present course, I just wish they did so with a little less recourse to Manichean, conspiratorial, or absurd rhetoric.