There was something really strange in the air last week. Former President Jimmy Carter took to the air waves and denounced the vitriolic attacks being launched in President Obama's direction, declaring them mostly driven by racist feelings that an African-American should not be in the White House. Asked about his reaction to Carter's statement, Obama refuted it, saying he did not agree that this is what is motivating people. What is prompting so much unrest, Obama suggested calmly, is a historic, age-old disagreement about the proper size and role of government in people's lives. It's to be expected, he said. It's always been the case, especially over health care. Well, maybe.
But I was mystified, all the same. Not racism? I was feeling like a bit actor in the middle of a movie called "A Perceptual War of the Worlds," spitting against the Waste Land's implacable wind. My mind kept racing back to that memorable moment in August when Barney Frank said to a woman at a health care rally who was screaming in his face about Obama being a Nazi: "What planet are you living on, Madame?"
Hasn't he seen those placards? Is the President sleeping with the enemy? Or maybe a victim of Stockholm Syndrome? I love this man. As do most of the folks I know. I/we want to make sense out of everything he does. But denying the blatant racism? Will he be denying the Holocaust next? Everyone I know is on the edge of their seats about the extremeness of the racial hatred and threats towards Obama now rearing their ugly head:
"I just read your latest blog and printed it out for James," writes my long-time friend, artist, and activist, Margot McLean. She is married to James Hillman (post-Jungian, archetypal psychologist and writer). "Jimmy Carter, who seems to be the only one who is willing to tell it how it is, is absolutely right. It is about racism. It's as clear as black and white...The most frightening thing to me is that everyone seems to want to "move on" about race in this country, but we haven't even entered into facing it yet. How can we move on? As James has said more than once 'Americans always want to move on. It's our psychopathy--ignoring the past. No remorse. No learning.'..James also said when I showed him the protest sign on your latest blog "That's great. At least we can see it. It's much worse when it's hidden."
I slowly began to understand the President's weird response to all the irrefutable race-baiting after reading this cogent commentary by Ta-Nihisi Coates (who happens to be a black man as well), a regular blogger on theatlantic.com:
"Barack Obama, bourgeois in every way that bourgeois is right and just, will not dance. He tells kids to study--and they seethe. He accepts an apology for an immature act of rudeness--and they go hysterical. He takes his wife out for a date--and their veins bulge. His humanity, his ordinary blackness, is killing them. Dig the audio of his response to Kanye West--the way he says, "He's a jackass." He sounds like one of my brothers. And that's the point, because that's what he is. Barack Obama refuses to be their nigger. And it's driving them crazy."
That's it! I thought. I finally got it. Obama isn't dancing. He refuses to be "their nigger." Wow! This became even more clear on the Sunday talk shows when he was being interviewed. Obama does not intend to let the race-baiters--or the media--pre-empt the conversation about health care and turn it into one about race, or for that matter, about him. Like I've said many times already on this blog, this man's greatest teaching to our species is HOW NOT TO TAKE THE BAIT.
No sooner had I written this, then James Hillman, ever the maverick, e-mailed me his comments. I add them here with gusto:
Mocking the upsurge of the "crazies" and exaggerating their sudden danger to res publica is altogether the wrong move. Exult! Show them off! Don't you see: white supremacy is fully out of the closet. They parade in the nation's capital, announcing their ideas on placards, their hidden hatred and fear and desperation in full view—no longer hidden behind small town sherifs and good old boys at Shriner's conventions and local Lion's clubs of business men, their confederates who murder in the dark and on the sly, burn churches in Mississippi, and drag gays to an ugly death. And, don't forget they do have a grievance: our system has always abused the ignorant and the poor. All their beliefs have capsized: the shibboleths of church honesty, the ideas of free market and equal chance to fulfill the American dream, the loyal breadwinner husband and the faithful wife. It crumbled and they know it; they just don't yet get who's really at fault. They still haven't seen through the hypocrisy of carpetbagging, freebooting capitalism that has been strangling their honest impulses ever since Nixon and Reagan and their cynical cohorts turned them into Republicans, and their religion offered salvation only in another world.
I expect there is a good case to be made that "sunshine is the best disinfectant!" But where is all this headed?
"I think we have two countries," writes my friend Bill Rutherfoord. Certainly that seems to be more and more the case, but surely it is an alarming prospect. How will it end? The closest thing I've found to a meaningful answer comes from an anonymous commenter on the Huffington Post:
"Everyone I know agrees, Obama's problem is his race. The Regressives ain't even trying to cover it up. Obama's biggest endeavor probably won't be health care or the wars. It's going to be leading our country through a cultural change, which will end up either isolating the bigots and their leaders or, the bigots will win--and the Republicans will continue to ruin our country."
Anyone care to place a bet?