A South politician preaches to the poor white man "You got more than blacks, don't complain You're better than them, you been born with white skin" they explain And the Negro's name Is used it is plain For the politician's gain As he rises to fame And the poor white remains On the caboose of the train But it ain't him to blame He's only a pawn in their game. - Bob Dylan "Only a Pawn in Their Game"
Former President Carter's comments with respect to race and President Obama's oppostion are, regrettably, dead on - at least in the South. This is not to say that all opposition (Southern or otherwise) to the Administration's policies is motivated by racism. Carter didn't say that; what he said was that the most vehement, hateful opposition had a significant racial component. Maureen Dowd wrote essentially the same thing in Sunday's New York Times.
Conservative officials send and forward ethnically-demeaning emails - pictures of watermelon patches at the White House, portraits of the 43rd President as a pair of white eyes in an otherwise black frame, pictures of the President dressed as an African witch doctor or as Curious George - the list goes on. Underlying the so-called birther's contentions regarding the President's citizenship is the bigoted fear of the other - the exotic - the foreign - the un-American. There are to be sure a number of Americans - and the vast majority of them are in the South - who simply cannot accept the fact that a non-white person could be the Commander-in-Chief. Not all southerners - not even most southerners. But they are there. Some of them I know - some I have known all of my life.
Glen Beck is probably the prominent journalist to flirt with overt racism - his accusation that the President "hated white people" was a play to those in his audience who wanted their own bigotry and hatred rationalized and made legitimate. Pat Buchanan writes longingly of the days when when Jeb Stuart and Robert E. Lee were viewed as heroes (instead of the traitors that they most certainly were), and laments that Dr. King and Cesar Chavez have taken their place in the American pantheon. Rep. Joe Wilson - with a history of association with neo-confederate organizations - shouts out at the President, "you lie" and those of us who know the South could almost hear the "boy" which would have followed in less august surroundings. And the weekend "Tea Party" demonstration in Washington, DC - which glorified the aforementioned Beck and displayed numerous racist signs and placards - resembled nothing so much as an old-fashioned lynch mob. The only thing missing was the rope - at least, I didn't see a rope in any of the pictures (there might well have been one there).
The election of President Obama has picked a scab from a national wound - and, while they will not outwardly condone overt racism, the conservative leadership recognizes the fact that bigots represent a small, but significant portion of their following. Their titular leader - Rush Limbaugh - has known this for years and racially-offensive humor has been a part of his routine from the beginning. Even the election of the embarrassingly incompetent Michael Steele to the RNC chair was little more than a callous and cynical attempt to cloak that aspect of the right wing. But - in the final analysis - the Republicans have only the White South remaining as a base - and they cannot afford to antagonize any of their remaining constituencies. So they don't.
Fueling the fire further is the demographic holocaust which is beginning to engulf the conservative movement. American whites are well on their way to minority status; this is the real reason behind the vitriol directed at citizens of African or Hispanic descent. Before all is said and done, Asians will likely join other non-white people as objects of suspicion. There are still some dark days ahead - but we recognize that these issues have to be exposed to the light of day. And the offenders will run from that light like the cockroaches they are.
"I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it."