Obamaphobia: What's Really Behind It?

It may have more to do with non-policy sources

A Nashville man was convicted of ramming his SUV into a car purely because it had an Obama sticker on the bumper. A colleague of my wife’s endured a barrage of insults from men in a pickup truck on Pellissippi Parkway.

No president since the Civil War was so hated so much from his inauguration. Even before he was inaugurated, people were complaining to me about his being elected, as if I could offer some solution.

I have a suspicion that Obama isn’t being judged just on what he’s actually done, or even what he’s actually said he wants to do. Not on the government bailouts, a continuation of Bush policy, during a major economic crisis already in progress, to throw a lifeline to capitalism. How Obama can be labeled a socialist by bailing out Wall Street and Detroit, the capitals of capitalism, bewilders real socialists everywhere. Another crash is what real socialists have predicted and dreamed of since the days of Eugene Debs. And maybe Obama spoiled it.

Is it the recession? Unemployment’s worse than when Obama took office, true, but the Dow’s about 3,000 points higher. That’s what cynical liberals used to call a Republican Recovery.

Health-care reform? As finally passed, it’s a patchy and conservative shadow of what Harry Truman was pushing in 1945—and comparable to what Teddy Roosevelt proposed in 1912. And hardly the public-option health-care plan Obama himself promised to cheering crowds during the campaign.

Is it the fact that he hasn’t yet closed Guantánamo, criticized as an unprecedented and unconstitutional oddity in our justice system? Or that he’s backed off some of his claims of pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan? Or his surprise pro-drilling environmental policy? My disappointed liberal friends call Obama “Bush Lite.”

By any standard you want to measure him, Obama, the president, is much more conservative than Obama, the candidate, whom American voters elected by a bigger margin than any president in 20 years. And we hate him.

Especially us white Southerners. Polls suggest he’s more disliked in Tennessee than in most other states. It’s not surprising that some jump to the conclusion that racism is behind it. As a 10th-generation white Southerner, that charge bothers me.

The voting patterns of 2008 are unnerving. The charismatic Obama was much more popular with Americans in general than the stodgy, awkward John Kerry had been, four years earlier. The only demographic group less likely to vote for Obama than they were to vote for Kerry was white Southerners. The only geographic part of the country where Democrats overall didn’t vote in bigger numbers for Obama than they did for Kerry was a band of the mid-South that included Tennessee. Maybe there are other explanations, but this is the region where white Southerners’ preferences aren’t balanced by a large black electorate.

I don’t doubt that white Southerners are prejudiced against Obama. Some are prejudiced against him because he’s black; a few older folks have told me they are. But most, I suspect, may be prejudiced for other reasons. Conservative white Southerners might have been okay with a black president if his name were Colin Powell.

White Southerners have something in common besides a heritage of racial presumptions—besides the fact that we were unwilling, 47 years ago, to sit in the same movie theater as anyone who looked like Barack Obama. White Southerners resist most sorts of change, racial and not. It may be hard to remember that Southerners were once very slow to accept other Northern imports like football and automobiles.

Perhaps we’re also less likely to be willing to submit to a leader who doesn’t pass all the old-fashioned qualifications.

Obama isn’t just the first black president. He’s different in lots of other ways, whether they seem overtly relevant to his job performance or not. He’s the first president in U.S. history with an obviously non-European name. He’s the first son of an immigrant to be elected president since 1832; Andrew Jackson was the last one. He’s the only president in U.S. history with a parent who didn’t settle in America. He’s the first president in U.S. history whose grandparents belonged to a non-Christian faith. He’s the first president in U.S. history who wasn’t born in the continental United States, those represented in the 48 stars on flags during World War II. Thousands of white Southerners are old enough to remember when Hawaii wasn’t even a state. Maybe we’re still getting used to the idea.

And I suspect many Americans, and especially Southerners, resent him for this reason: If you survey the men we’ve elected to the presidency over the last 150 years, those elected to office tend to be people with either several years experience legislating in U.S. Congress, major administrative experience as governor of a state, or national experience as a member of a presidential cabinet. The only exceptions we’ve made are men with a record of supreme military leadership.

Of all sorts of Americans, I suspect, Southerners are the ones most interested in people paying their dues. We resent Johnnies Come Lately, who are likely to strike us as arrogant. When the South picked its own president—to lead a nation opposing the U.S.—they picked a guy who was a former officer in the U.S. Army, a former U.S. congressman, a former U.S. senator, and a former U.S cabinet member. Jefferson Davis was, perhaps ironically, the definitive Washington insider.

In terms of these traditional qualifications for the presidency, when he was inaugurated last year, Obama was arguably the least experienced commander in chief since maybe Chester A. Arthur, who was never actually elected president. That fact has probably hurt him in practical ways. He hasn’t learned how to slap backs like Bill Clinton or LBJ, whose liberal changes were more sweeping than Obama’s. And few in Washington owe him any favors.

A final prejudice may be personal. No Democratic president in history has ever had the leisure to so fully ignore the Southern vote and still get elected. That’s hard to get over.

© 2010 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 8

KnoxvilleUrbanGuy writes:

I really love your writing. I really can't argue that some of what you write in this article. I'm sure there is truth in it. Sadly, I have to disagree with the basic premise. I do think it is race. The map you refer to of white voters was too striking for me to believe otherwise. Also, I've heard too much from relatives and acquaintances in Alabama about the guns and ammunition they are hoarding and the comtempt with which they view him - often for reasons that are not true (citizenship, death panels) to see anything but cold, hard racism. I hope you are completely right and I am completely wrong.
KnoxvilleUrbanGuy
http://www.stuckinsideofknoxville.blo...

justme writes:

Hi, Jack,
Perhaps you are looking at only one side of the coin -- the other side being what was lost with the Obama election. After 9/11 we basked in the sweet righteousness of spilled blood. It felt SO good to strike back and we kicked donkey, not just the rear of the evil doers (or close enough), but the liberal namby pambies as well. In 8 short years we reversed the loss of military pride from our SE Asia experience AND scotched the corrosive influences from the left. A new sheriff was at the wheel. People had been messing with Texas and we were in the parking lot, under the night lights, serving up Justice. We separated Saddam from his head (bad foreign policy, but he WAS evil) and watched the liberals mutely accept the negation of the un-American aspects of the Constitution. Man, it HURTS to loose control of that.
Could anyone have broken up the fun with any authority? Here is where your comments pick up. McCain or Colin Powell, maybe. But Obama? No way! A community organizer and all those other things you mentioned? Not in this parking lot.
Ask this question: could those elements who are now up in arms have accepted Obama better in 1998?... not whether the nation was ready then, but assuming we were. The transition would not have been so great then, the loss of a good time not so irritating, the thirst for blood not so palatable. We can't accept Obama because he IS the liberal reversal of Righteousness, the undoing of Justice that had finally gotten on track. Give us our bullet back! Or to use the direct quote: "We want our county back."

Swanky writes:

Conservatives are the most vocal. Obama is centerist if not liberal. That just gets conservatives goat. There is a strong feeling among conservatives that the real America is also conservative. They OWN America. They have been told by their leaders that G-d is on their side and they will always be on top. That is not true. And it stings.

I think it has a lot to do with race. I heard it from many people who I never considered to be racist that: "Obama won't survive his term." They felt sure he would be assassinated. Because he was black. If those words came out of the mouths of people I never considered racist, I am sure the many I know who are clearly racist (hey, this is the South) are waiting with baited breath for the end of this Presidency.

It's unfortunate. Obama has accomplished an overhaul of healthcare that many powerful people have tried to do for decades. It should be something to be incredibly proud of. I don't think he'd get credit in many circles even if unemployment was 4% and home values were all back to normal.

It's just how people were raised.

PeterIL writes:

I am from Chicago and my knowledge of the South is somewhat limited, but could it be that southerners are seeing northern urban liberalism up close for the first time? In Chicago we see the elements of it regularly and are used to it: the tyrannical power of public employee unions and the inability of anyone to prevent them from looting the public, the inefficiency and waste of govt bureaucracies--hire as many people as you can and pay them as much as possible, the inability to stop spending and the determination to never, ever, allow public payrolls to be cut. I am sure southern sts have their little pol machines and cliques, but the sheer breadth, scale and viciousness of northern urban liberals, when it comes to protecting and expanding the ranks of those who feed at the public trough, must be a breathtaking sight for those who live in states with modest public establishments. Thrown in the fact that Obama is a 'post-American' liberal uncomfortable with American power, military and otherwise, and I am not sure how the more conservative regions of America could have a reaction that is anything other than very, very negative. Finally, there is the fact that this guy got elected as a moderate and he has governed as the most liberal president in American history.

jtdavies writes:

I don't think you get the whole picture when you focus just on the President. I'm dissatisfied that I am being forced to used fluorescent light bulbs. I'm annoyed that the government seemed to swallow man made global warning without a hiccup. I'm tired of my government deciding what is best for me when I can maintain budget and they obviously cannot. I'm tired of being condescended to by people that have never had a job that provided value or faced layoffs and mergers.

I'm against socialism, but even in socialist governments they didn't try to ban salt in restaurants.

Mouse_Human writes:

in response to PeterIL:

I am from Chicago and my knowledge of the South is somewhat limited, but could it be that southerners are seeing northern urban liberalism up close for the first time? In Chicago we see the elements of it regularly and are used to it: the tyrannical power of public employee unions and the inability of anyone to prevent them from looting the public, the inefficiency and waste of govt bureaucracies--hire as many people as you can and pay them as much as possible, the inability to stop spending and the determination to never, ever, allow public payrolls to be cut. I am sure southern sts have their little pol machines and cliques, but the sheer breadth, scale and viciousness of northern urban liberals, when it comes to protecting and expanding the ranks of those who feed at the public trough, must be a breathtaking sight for those who live in states with modest public establishments. Thrown in the fact that Obama is a 'post-American' liberal uncomfortable with American power, military and otherwise, and I am not sure how the more conservative regions of America could have a reaction that is anything other than very, very negative. Finally, there is the fact that this guy got elected as a moderate and he has governed as the most liberal president in American history.

Peter-

Total government payroll has fallen by a little over 350,000 (so far) under Obama. It increased by 60,000 under Reagan, and 79,000 under Bush 42. It also decreased under Clinton by 379,000. Obama hatred certainly has something do with racism, and quite a bit to do with ignorance.

KnoxvilleUrbanGuy writes:

in response to PeterIL:

I am from Chicago and my knowledge of the South is somewhat limited, but could it be that southerners are seeing northern urban liberalism up close for the first time? In Chicago we see the elements of it regularly and are used to it: the tyrannical power of public employee unions and the inability of anyone to prevent them from looting the public, the inefficiency and waste of govt bureaucracies--hire as many people as you can and pay them as much as possible, the inability to stop spending and the determination to never, ever, allow public payrolls to be cut. I am sure southern sts have their little pol machines and cliques, but the sheer breadth, scale and viciousness of northern urban liberals, when it comes to protecting and expanding the ranks of those who feed at the public trough, must be a breathtaking sight for those who live in states with modest public establishments. Thrown in the fact that Obama is a 'post-American' liberal uncomfortable with American power, military and otherwise, and I am not sure how the more conservative regions of America could have a reaction that is anything other than very, very negative. Finally, there is the fact that this guy got elected as a moderate and he has governed as the most liberal president in American history.

Obama was elected as a liberal and has governed as a scared moderate. We should only be so blessed in this country to ever elect a true liberal. I don't think it will ever happen in my lifetime.

philOnTheHill writes:

in response to Mouse_Human:

Peter-

Total government payroll has fallen by a little over 350,000 (so far) under Obama. It increased by 60,000 under Reagan, and 79,000 under Bush 42. It also decreased under Clinton by 379,000. Obama hatred certainly has something do with racism, and quite a bit to do with ignorance.

Counting the decrease in the military payroll as a decrease in govenment is the kind of twisted logic that got the Democrats thrown out this election and which will be remembered and will continue to keep getting them thrown out in the next couple of election cycles. People are slowly starting to catch on to your style of cr*p, so you keep at it. Remind us what we are really dealing with, you liars and cheats, so we can get rid of you when it comes time to vote.

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