“Otherizing” Obama: Strange face welcome in a crisis?

The Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristof had a piece on Sunday, “The Push to ‘Otherize’ Obama,” that perfectly sums up the efforts to key in on fears of Obama’s race and persistent (unfounded) doubts about his faith, and how that plays out in ways overt–see the Scranton Catholic guy’s crack about “the Black House” in last week’s piece ostensibly on Catholics and abortion–and under the guise of religious worries:

What is happening, I think, is this: religious prejudice is becoming a proxy for racial prejudice. In public at least, it’s not acceptable to express reservations about a candidate’s skin color, so discomfort about race is sublimated into concerns about whether Mr. Obama is sufficiently Christian.


The result is this campaign to “otherize” Mr. Obama. Nobody needs to point out that he is black, but there’s a persistent effort to exaggerate other differences, to de-Americanize him.

Raising doubts about a candidate based on the religion of his grandfather is toxic and profoundly un-American, cracking the melting pot we emerged from. Someday people will look back at the innuendoes about Mr. Obama with the same disgust with which we regard the smears of Al Smith as a Catholic candidate in 1928.

As Kristof writes, “Just imagine for a moment if it were the black candidate in this election, rather than the white candidate, who was born in Central America, was an indifferent churchgoer, had graduated near the bottom of his university class, had dumped his first wife, had regularly displayed an explosive and profane temper, and had referred to the Pakistani-Iraqi border …” It’s a powerful piece.


But I also wonder if the financial crisis will so sharpen the worries of middle- and working-class Americans in particular that it will help to pierce subtly ugly propaganda like the “Obama Waffles” episode.

I was struck by a story inside today’s Times revealing that after spreading apparently false rumors that Obama was receiving advice from the former head of the failed mortgage giant, Fannie Mae, McCain’s own campaign chief and source of those reports turns out to have received some $2 million in fees from both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over five years–$35,000 a month to lobby McCain on behalf of the two mortage behemoths whose woes McCain and Davis are trying to link to Obama.

Even in traditional Latin, we Catholics would call that chutzpah. What will everyone else call it as we sink deeper into debt and bailouts?

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posted September 22, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Combine the effect of this “otherizing” with all the “trash talk,” such as the mocking and implied ridicule at the RNC, and I fear the fallout may be a genuine threat to Obama’s personal safety, not simply his chance of being elected. Never mind that I am a white person, I would riot in the streets if something were to happen to this genuine American.

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Charles Cosimano

posted September 22, 2008 at 2:10 pm

The economic mess may be the thing that gets Obama elected. He was dead in the water before it hit and now he’s riding it.

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posted September 23, 2008 at 7:51 am

In the bishops’ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, Catholics are instructed not to vote for a candidate who “takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism…” By naming racism as an intrinsic evil, it is also apparent that if a VOTER is himself or herself racist — and would refuse to vote for Obama because he is black, for that reason (certainly one can differ with the senator on his position on issues) — the voter would be committing a sin. It’s not just about the candidate’s stand on issues; it is about us as voters too!

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