Within no time of Barack Obama’s election to the presidency, his honeymoon was met with a backlash of epic proportions, an uprising against “Big Government” of which the newly created Tea Party was an emblem. Many of Obama’s left-leaning supporters, both in Washington as well as in the media, identified this phenomenon as a “racist” reaction to the election of our “first black president.”
Those on the right, forever ready to prove their color-blindness, insist that Obama’s color or race hasn’t anything to do with their frustrations; rather, it is his determination to grow the government well beyond anything that it has ever been—and even further beyond anything that it was originally intended to be—that is the source of their angst. In a word, it is Obama’s “socialism” that unleashed the beast typified by the Tea Party movement. Had he been any other color and still been a socialist, his conduct would have been greeted by exactly the same response.
So, does Obama’s race factor into the grassroots rebellion that his election invited?
It may interest readers of this column to discover that I find the left’s account of events to contain some truth. Of course, the idea that the overwhelming majority of whites that constitute the Tea Party and “conservative” movements, to say nothing of the Republican Party, are driven by an irrational and malevolent pathology called “racism” is absurd. However, that Obama’s race informs, to some extent, the great awakening that appears to have transpired over the last couple of years is a proposition that isn’t so easy to circumvent.
The aggressiveness with which Obama and his Democrats pursued his socialist agenda isn’t itself what gave rise to the resistance with which it has been met. I have no doubts that had John McCain or some other Republican been president, and had this Republican moved just as speedily and ambitiously as Obama in advancing the same exact program as the latter, the town hall meetings, massive Tea Party demonstrations, and the like would never have occurred. Moreover, while there would have been some measure of outrage, I suspect that even had any other Democrat been president and moved with the swiftness that Obama moved, chances are that this outrage would not have been as intense as that which Obama faces.
Conservative students of modernity have long noted the sense of “alienation” experienced by citizens of the modern state. The modern state—what is commonly (but not always correctly) called “the nation-state”—is unprecedented for its largeness of size and scope. Thus, the national governments of such entities, of necessity, are far removed from the everyday lives of the citizens over which they preside. Due to this, citizens tend to feel as if their government is something over and above them. That is, they feel alienated from it.
Much to the chagrin of many a leftist, from its inception to the present day, the vast majority of America’s citizens have been white. The segment of the population with ancestral roots in Europe has diminished some in recent decades, it is true, but the country remains predominantly white. Given this fact, for as racially enlightened as 21st whites undoubtedly are relative to other peoples around the world and throughout history, this tacit sense on the part of Tea Partiers and scores of others that their federal government is among them, not of them, intensified with the election of our 44th president.
However, as Obama’s opponents have repeatedly insisted, the color of his skin alone isn’t relevant to their feelings toward him and their government. After all, contrary to popular opinion, no one, white, black, or other, ever sees just color. Race is never thought of as a just a matter of biology. In every person’s mind, race encompasses certain cultural, and even ideological, characteristics. Blacks more so than anyone recognize this, a fact that explains such otherwise puzzling phenomena as their description of Bill Clinton as “the first black president” and the insistence of left-leaning blacks that their more conservative minded brethren aren’t really black.
No, that our president has more melanin than the majority of Americans is by itself neither here nor there. His color isn’t at issue. But Obama is a “race man.” This much has always been abundantly clear to anyone who was willing to read his first memoir—Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance—or consider his selection of allies. Whites chose to ignore all of this. Blacks, in stark contrast, are well aware of it.
By some estimates, Obama received as much as 96% of the black vote. Thus, blacks have no doubts regarding his racial authenticity. Yet Obama is considered authentically black precisely because of both his alliances—let us never forget the colorful cast of far left racial ideologues with whom Obama surrounded himself for most of his life, beginning with his pastor and “spiritual mentor” of over two decades, Jeremiah Wright—as well as his unapologetic endorsement of a robust redistributive scheme designed to transfer resources from whites to non-whites.
Though they won’t admit this, even to themselves, I maintain that since his election, it has dawned on an ever growing number of whites that this black president may regard himself as black before he regards himself as the president.
It is this realization, I contend, that has exacerbated their sense that their government is as alien to them as is Obama’s name.
Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.