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The demonization of Barack Obama

Over the months that  I’ve been writing this web site and hosting a great online community of commentators, I keep coming back to some basic questions. Why do conspiracy theories about Barack Obama have as much support as they do, and why to people say things about Barack Obama that are extremely offensive and totally false? Why are people willing to believe criminals and cranks while rejecting Senators, state Governors, federal judges, established news organizations and eminent legal scholars? I’ve wrestled with these questions in my articles It’s an insult to his mother, Scapegoats and lynch mobs, and again in The President is a ni–, as well as in countless comments.

Why do some people see President Obama like the image below?

Obama Antichrist - KFI AM

Asking where it started is rather a chicken or egg situation1. For whatever reason, there was a concerted effort to smear Barack Obama as an election tactic. Obama was called pretty much everything imaginable, and some things unimaginable. The tactic didn’t work so far as the election went (and perhaps even backfired) but it still left some people who believed those things. In addition, there are some true things about Barack Obama’s views on some issues that are deeply antagonistic to some people (whether they are pro-life or pro-gun or anti-tax or just raised to hate liberals).

Just as the soldier has to dehumanize the enemy before he can kill him, so the political assassin has to demonize his opponent too. And once the opponent is no longer a human being, then it’s OK to tell lies about him and to say disgusting things about him and his family. Slander and rumor mongering are OK and false witness is not a sin if the victim is not your neighbor. You may think this is OK, but I tell you truly, you are the victims of what you do, not Obama. You cannot play with evil and escape undamaged.

1In case you’re wondering, the egg came first.

33 Responses to The demonization of Barack Obama

  1. avatar
    kimba December 23, 2009 at 10:37 pm #

    “You cannot play with evil and escape undamaged.”

    You’re spot on Doc.

    I think the answer for most of the anti-Obamas is “The President is a Ni-“. I am amazed at how effectively the right-wing, the neocons and the corporatists have convinced so many middle-class Americans to identify with the rich and vote against their own self-interest.

    Merry Christmas, Happy Festivus, Happy New Year etc etc Happy whatever-you-celebrate to all the wonderful Obots at ObamaConspiracy.

  2. avatar
    Mary Brown December 23, 2009 at 11:16 pm #

    I live in a red state and I can tell you that progressives have no idea about how people think and come to conclusions. Folks I know, and that includes me to an extent, think that progressives are arrogant and as one friend told me “pat on the head bigots.” In other words, everyone but the progressive is stupid. There is,I think,too little effort to get into the trenches and get to know people as they are without telling them how they need to change. The right wing seems to understand where the people I know live emotionally and spritiually. Do they use that understanding in ways that serve their interests. No doubt about it.

  3. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy December 23, 2009 at 11:39 pm #

    Insightful as always, Mary.

  4. avatar
    Lupin December 24, 2009 at 5:24 am #

    Sadly, it isn’t just your President.

    I understand Senator Graham from SC was quoted saying:

    “I have 12 percent unemployment in South Carolina. My state is on its knees. I have 31 percent African American population in South Carolina.”

    …because we all know how disheartening it is to be surrounded by people who you used to “own,” but now have to deal with as “voters” and “citizens” and “constituents”.

    Or “presidents”.

  5. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy December 24, 2009 at 8:43 am #

    I must admit, I had to read it several times before I understood the objection being made to Graham’s comment. That’s probably because I live in South Carolina.

    Graham’s comment may be understood in terms of what it means to be black in South Carolina, and in particular, it means (on average) to be under-educated, poor, and twice as likely to be unemployed than whites. Equality in educational opportunity and economic development is unheard of in this state, and we all know it. Until recently (and maybe even now) we had one-room schools in the lower part of the state (where the population is majority African American). So when I, as a South Carolinian, hear Graham list large numbers of African Americans among a list of challenges facing the state, I hear nothing more than a measure of the magnitude of the problem of poverty, education and unemployment.

    And anyway, we have to be nice to Graham, the closest thing we have left to a moderate Republican in the Senate, and a friend of this blog because he wrote to a constituent:

    “Every child born in the United States is a natural-born United States citizen except for the children of diplomats.

    –Lindsey Graham”

  6. avatar
    Lupin December 24, 2009 at 9:59 am #

    I’m inclined to agree that it’s more of a foot in the mouth thing (besides Graham knows better), but it is an odd remark, at least to an outsider.

    We visited SC in 2002 I think, and I was surprised that even liberal, non-racist people often framed ordinary remarks, touristy sort of things, within a racial context, always mentioning blacks as if there were somehow a different people.

    I can only tell you that it sounds odd, in an obsessive sort of way, to a visitor.

  7. avatar
    SFJeff December 24, 2009 at 12:39 pm #

    I live in California but my wife is from South Carolina and we visit often. From my perspective your statement:

    “…because we all know how disheartening it is to be surrounded by people who you used to “own,” but now have to deal with as “voters” and “citizens” and “constituents”.”

    is not deserving of you. I like your posts, and find them thoughtful and observant, but I have never, ever, met anyone- even the most blatant racists I have met- who think of African American’s as someone they used to own.

    While I find Graham’s comment cringe-worthy, if you read it in context- and as the Doctor said- it is far less offensive than it is a realistic observation of how this will impact SC. As someone who has observed some of the poverty of African-American’s in SC, his statement actually makes sense but sounds really bad.

    And Lupin- sometimes I have to remind my European friends- racism is not only to be found in the United States. I have many times had Europeans casually mention to me how lazy or dirty the Turks, or Muslims or Africans are.

  8. avatar
    John Rainey December 24, 2009 at 1:10 pm #

    “Just as the soldier has to dehumanize the enemy before he can kill him, so the political assassin has to demonize his opponent too”

    Soldiers don’t need to ‘dehumanize’ anyone. We are quite aware of their humanity. We do what we do because that is what we’ve trained for. We do it for the Soldier next to us. No ‘dehumanizing” necessary.

  9. avatar
    Mary Brown December 24, 2009 at 2:55 pm #

    Humans tend to look at others through the framework of their experiences, beliefs and expectations. Reading the comments here remind me to look at my own perceptions.

  10. avatar
    Lupin December 25, 2009 at 2:23 am #

    I’m certainly not going to defend a comment I made mostly in snark, so apologies to all; no offense was intended.

    That said, I don’t think either you or Dr C understood what I meant by it.

    Of course we have racism in Europe. The Holocaust is, after all, the ultimate expression of racism.

    What we never had was that strange, one might say clinically insane, form of racism you had in the south, with back of the bus, colored signs at water fountains, etc.

    I challenge you to find one single example of such lunatic expressions in Europe over the last century.

    What we have in Europe is racism as xenophobia, ie: some people are hostile to foreigners, have caricatural views of them (be they French, Germans, Brits, Arabs or Gypsies) and generally speaking don’t like them.

    What we never had are the different soda counters. Show a TV series like I’LL FLY AWAY to even the most bigoted French or German person, one who hates Arabs or Turks, and he’ll shake his head in incredulity, because to him, it doesn’t make any sense.

    The type of racism I have seen in the South reflect, IMHO, some kind of deep trauma to the national (or Southern) psyche which I can only explain through past history, i.e.: slavery.

  11. avatar
    Expelliarmus December 25, 2009 at 2:58 am #

    Lupin: The Holocaust is, after all, the ultimate expression of racism.

    What we never had was that strange, one might say clinically insane, form of racism you had in the south, with back of the bus, colored signs at water fountains, etc.

    I challenge you to find one single example of such lunatic expressions in Europe over the last century.

    The Nazi death camps were a culmination of practices that began with “separation” of Jews in all types of activities — laws regulating where they could attend school, whether they could use public transportation and where they could sit, where they could live, etc. And that came on top of years (even centuries) of practices that similarly discriminated. Just look at the derivation of the word “ghetto”

    From wikipedia:

    Jewish ghettos in Europe existed because Jews were viewed as alien due to being a cultural minority and due to their non-Christian beliefs in a Renaissance Christian environment. As a result, Jews were placed under strict regulations throughout many European cities.[5] The character of ghettos has varied through times. In some cases, the ghetto was a Jewish quarter with a relatively affluent population (for instance the Jewish ghetto in Venice). In other cases, ghettos were places of terrible poverty and during periods of population growth, ghettos had narrow streets and tall, crowded houses. Residents had their own justice system. Around the ghetto stood walls that, during pogroms, were closed from inside to protect the community, but from the outside during Christmas, Pesach, and Easter Week to prevent the Jews from leaving during those times.

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghetto

    Obviously there is no justification for US racism and Jim Crow laws, which is an outgrowth of slavery — but the Holocaust was possible precisely because of long entrenched racism and exclusion of Jews, Gypsies, and other ethnic groups generally treated as sub-human in countries throughout Europe.

    I am an American precisely because my ancestors fled Europe to escape oppression and seek opportunities that were denied to them there based on their ethnic/religious heritage.

  12. avatar
    Mary Brown December 25, 2009 at 2:59 am #

    Lupin, no minarets. Now that ranks with back of the bus to me. We have some idiots here who want to declare Islam a political system and not a religion, but then they would have to do the same to Mormons and Catholics. It is all very idiotic whatever the manifestation. I think that we tend to look at our own lunacy differently than that of others. There is an old Quaker saying, “Everyone is queer(meaning strange) but thee and me. And I wonder about thee.”

  13. avatar
    SFJeff December 25, 2009 at 3:37 am #

    Lupin,

    I won’t try to excuse the legal segregation that existed in many parts of the United States, not just the south. Let us not forget the Chinese Exclusion laws and the other laws against Asians in the West.

    But I think I could find examples of legally sanctioned racism in Europe without digging very hard. I have some examples in mind, but I would rather say that I think we probably agree more than we disagree- racism bad- and there are enough ugly racist examples in all of our histories to go around.

  14. avatar
    AuBricker December 25, 2009 at 7:23 pm #

    I must take some exception to your comment. I am as liberal as they come — I find Obama to be somewhat too restrained at times. I voted for Obama in the last election and I will hopefully vote for him in 2012. But I retain some connection to “real people.” I was born into a very poor Southern white and fundamentalist family. It was only by luck that I escaped my background, obtained an education, and renounced religious intolerance. Before going to college, I performed blue collar labor. Before obtaining a profession degree, I worked in the public school system. I have been in the trenches.

    I cannot pretend to understand what inspires Birthers and Teabaggers (and perhaps I am slightly arrogant with respect to these two groups), but I do not deny the intelligence or motives of the average conservative. Nor do I immediately esteem the intellect of every liberal I me. I know too many intelligent conservatives and ignorant liberals to make that mistake. Conservative success is an exaggeration. Conservatives take advantage of the fact that we are all a little uneasy with “rocking the boat.” I also share that fear. People who live from month-to-month, from check-to-check take comfort in a party that promises to protect their employer from the government. People who have achieved some meager measure of success are attracted to politicians who vow to protect their gains. Most Americans don’t gain practical knowledge of politics from indifferent sources. They watch Fox News, follow internet news sites, and view the local news on television. As a liberal and someone who believes, for example, that healthcare reform is a national necessity, understand why my Christian cousin, his family covered by employer-provided insurance, distrusts the Democratic efforts.

    Fear always sells better than change. That’s why conservatives seem more successful than liberals when it comes to implementing policy. American political and social progress has always consisted of two steps forward and and one step back.

    I suspect that very many liberals realize how “real people” think. I don’t think we disdain the intelligence of “real people.” I simply think we fail to educate the public about the need for reform, and we too often allow conservative activists to define what we stand for.

  15. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy December 25, 2009 at 8:48 pm #

    What I gain from your comment is the idea that America gains strength through diversity. The same political trick can’t work on everybody.

  16. avatar
    misha December 26, 2009 at 1:52 am #

    Lupin, and other European progressives, are simply expressing a belief that the States stands for better than what has happened. And in fact, Europeans look with dismay at some of the current anti-intellectual trends here in the States, and wonder how they can get traction. France is trying to become a solidly secular society, and Lupin and others wonder how fundies have gotten so far here.

    Here’s an example: I tried living in Anchorage, because I have severe asthma. In fact, it became substantially better there. I gave up after 3 months, because of all the anti-Semitism flung in my face. I drove back to Philly, and my employer – a Catholic woman from Germany – graciously gave me my job back.

    I met a minister in Palin’s church. He demanded I let him baptize me. When I refused, he bellowed at me: “Auschwitz was divine retribution, because you people have refused to accept G-d’s only son.” I heard the same thing from others in their church.

    When I was getting ready to drive back to Philly, he said he wanted to baptize me, “If you’re killed on the way back, you’ll spend enternity in the torments of hell.” I said nothing will happen.

    He also told me the 1st Amendment was wrong, and that “Buddhism should be banned.” Go to jewsonfirst.org, and read all the assaults on the 1st Amendment, science, and civil rights by Christians.

    The anti-Christ will be Jewish, as was Adolf Hitler, as was Karl Marx. – John Hagee

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7706179979766534830&hl=en#

  17. avatar
    misha December 26, 2009 at 5:28 am #

    I would just like to add there is just as much anti-Semitism here as there is in Russia. It’s just under the surface, instead of more overt.

    So Lupin’s contention has a basis in fact.

  18. avatar
    Lupin December 26, 2009 at 6:13 am #

    I absolutely agree with everything other people have said, and again offer my apologies for not expressing myself clearly enough.

    Let me give it one last try: I understand all the ugly and heinous manifestations of racism and xenophobia. (I was the one who brought up the Holocaust in the first place.) And I don’t claim any country is truly free of them.

    That said, certain superficial aspects of the Jim Crow laws in the south do strike us foreigners as lunacy (as opposed to just racist or ugly).

    Take the separate water fountains. Why? Did people believe there going to catch cooties or something like that?

    It was that single somewhat “crazy” or irrational aspect I was trying to underline when I commented (poorly) on Sen. Graham’s remarks.

  19. avatar
    misha December 26, 2009 at 6:50 am #

    Lupin, as I wrote before, I perfectly understand your dismay at some aspects of the States.

    Here’s another example: I was working in a Fairfax, VA optical store. A black man with his five year old son came in. Ron, another optician, waited on him. Somehow, the Civil War was brought up. Ron said to him “the Civil War was about states rights. Slavery had nothing to do about it.” He stood up, and said loudly “oh really?!” Ron replied, “yeah.” He then said “I never knew that before. Thank you for telling me.” He turned to his son, and said “We learned something new today.” I was aghast.

    He left in a huff.

    Here’s another example: Josephine Baker was treated miserably here, so she went to Paris. Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, both Jewish, went to France where they could openly live together; in the States they were denounced.

  20. avatar
    misha December 26, 2009 at 7:00 am #

    One more example: Bessie Coleman. Every airport she went to for flying lessons told her “no colored.” So she went to Paris, and earned her pilot license there.

  21. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy December 26, 2009 at 8:06 am #

    Lupin: Take the separate water fountains. Why? Did people believe there going to catch cooties or something like that?

    Yes, something like that.

    Perhaps segregation’s best analog is the Jewish concept of tamei (ritually unclean, impure). In old Judaism, the Jews became a holy people (and pleasing to God) by instituting a system of separation between that which was holy and that which was not. There were tamei animals and tamei objects tamei acts, and the interaction (sometimes even tangential) with something tamei rendered one tamei. Pouring water from a tamei pot into another made the receiving pot tamei.

    Racial segregation was the designation of a whole race of people as tamei, and an elaborate legal and ritual system evolved around this basic concept. Among many Southern people there would have been a physical revulsion to drinking after a black person akin to how some Jews would feel eating pork.

    I can still remember the first time I shook hands with a black person. I was around 17 years old. I felt a distinct change of status afterward, perhaps tamei in some sense, but a welcome change in status. I didn’t wash my hands for a couple of days so as to cement that change, so that when I did eventually wash my hands, it would not be for the purpose of washing off that first contact. But even now, over 40 years later, I am still conscious of race in situations where it is irrelevant.

    However, things are much different now. When I was growing up, restaurants were segregated, which is not the case today. However, not only are restaurants not segregated, folks of different races having lunch together is totally unremarkable. Teenagers today would have no conceptual framework to understand my experience.

  22. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy December 26, 2009 at 8:15 am #

    While these historical instances are interesting, to me the more important thing is to recognize when analogous things are happening in our personal sphere and fix it.

  23. avatar
    Jason December 27, 2009 at 12:26 am #

    I find it very funny that people think that liberals have the good of the less fortunate in mind. What good are you doing people when you give them something without asking for personal responsibility? None. When you give and give and give and don’t ask for anything in return, then you create dependant drones, who will revote liberals in because they become to lazy to take personal responsibility to better their own lives. I have always been a hard working, devoted worker who has been an employee and and employer. I had an accident and ended up on food stamps and medicaid. In the two years I have been on them, I have never once had to prove that I am looking for a job or prove my income.
    The purpose of my post is to tell you that we, the people who dislike Obama, don’t dislike his color, we hate what he and liberals, progressives or whatever you what to call them are doing to the people. Making them lazy and irresponsible. I, to have fallen into the category of, if I get a job that doesn’t pay great I will lose alot of benefits for my kids so I don’t look.
    For those of you who think the conservatives favor the rich, you’re right. Because the rich give the unfortunate people jobs, benefits, self respect, a feeling of worth. What the conservatives don’t favor is a hand out, we give people a hand up. We believe that you do have to help people when they fall, give them a safety net not a hammock. We don’t say screw the poor, but we do say screw the people who don’t want to take pride in themselves. Put time limits on benefits for those who are able body and can work, no time limits for the truly incapable. Stop making it easy to do nothing.
    As for voting against my own self interest, I have a brain and can see what Obama is doing to the people and this country. It will be to late to stop this freight train by the time you wake up. You will get what you deserve, unfortunately so will everyone else.

  24. avatar
    Rickey December 27, 2009 at 1:17 am #

    I had an accident and ended up on food stamps and medicaid. In the two years I have been on them, I have never once had to prove that I am looking for a job or prove my income.

    How ironic. If it had not been for liberals, you would have neither food stamps nor Medicaid to help you through your post-accident difficulties. What would you have done without food stamps and Medicaid?

    For those of you who think the conservatives favor the rich, you’re right. Because the rich give the unfortunate people jobs, benefits, self respect, a feeling of worth.

    What have your rich friends been doing for you since you had your accident? Apparently they aren’t falling over themselves to provide you with a good-paying job.

  25. avatar
    aarrgghh December 27, 2009 at 1:47 am #

    sorry things haven’t quite worked out for you and your family, but your ire is aimed at the wrong target. yours is a perfect example of how empty conservative talking points and slogans turn people facing hard times against the very policies designed to help them, by demonizing those unfortunate enough to need them.

    you claim liberal social services:

    create dependant drones, who will revote liberals in because they become to lazy to take personal responsibility

    but you continue to avail yourself of these very services because …

    if i get a job that doesn’t pay great i will lose alot of benefits for my kids so i don’t look

    which makes you different than all those other lazy irresponsible folk on welfare because … um, they don’t have kids or pride?!?

    no, what’s much closer to the truth is that you aren’t any different from any other welfare recipient. and if as you claim …

    the rich give the unfortunate people jobs, benefits, self respect, a feeling of worth

    … then why do we have double-digit unemployment? why aren’t the rich creating more jobs? don’t they have a responsibility to keep people like yourself employed? if not, how can you then blame easy access to unemployment services for your predicament?

    there are no easy answers. it is the desire for easy answers and scapegoats that allows a person to look at his fellow men on christmas and say:

    screw the people who don’t want to take pride in themselves

    or is it yourself, the self you thought you’d never see, that you rail against?

  26. avatar
    Catbit December 27, 2009 at 1:59 am #

    Jason –

    It truly warms my heart to finally see someone reasonable present God’s truth here on this OBOT board. I read every word of your post, and I must say I agree with every point you make.

    I am particularly impressed that, as a true patriot (and not those stinking Lib-tards who want to force clean drinking water on us), you refused to take part in a socialistic food-stamp program just because you were involved in an accident and cannot provide for your family. People often forget about personal responsibility, and after all, it was YOUR accident, not mine – why should MY tax dollars go to support you while you recover, right?

    I was, however, a little confused about the Medicaid bit – but it must have been a typo, since no doubt your employer is keeping your job – and your medical benefits – intact with full pay until you are well enough to return to your former job.

    Still, it is inspiring to see someone so dedicated to their principals that they will gladly put their conservative pride over the well-being of themselves and their family. I hope that you will not succumb to starvation or health problems before your support check from Bernie Madoff arrives, or some big corporation steps in and gives you a better-paying job with full benefits. But if you do, just know that all of us admire your pride and sense of conviction. Because we all know that EVERYONE who needs help is nothing but a blood-sucking leech, and can certainly never be a contributing member of our society. We should all follow the example of Jesus – he would never take time away from persecuting marriage-ending homosexuals to feed a bunch of losers who were too lazy to pack a lunch for the day, now would he? Why should we?

  27. avatar
    NbC December 27, 2009 at 1:59 am #

    For those of you who think the conservatives favor the rich, you’re right. Because the rich give the unfortunate people jobs, benefits, self respect, a feeling of worth.

    How nice of them and when they don’t, one just suffers, I imagine.
    The rich have the poor as their toys… Imagine that… And the poor have to be greatful..

  28. avatar
    NbC December 27, 2009 at 2:01 am #

    Jason, I don’t believe you.

  29. avatar
    Lupin December 27, 2009 at 2:10 am #

    This is fascinating. Thank you very much for sharing this first-hand experience.

    I was born in 1954 and grew up in Toulon, a city on the Southern Coast of France. There was always a lot of prejudice towards the Algerians, which was only increased by the French defeat during the Algerian War of Independence, and the subsequent influx of legal or illegal Algerian workers.

    There was a word (“ratonnade” for ” rat”) to describe a gang of white thugs beating up an Algerian. Prejudice ran the usual gamut of accusations from being lazy, shifty, dishonest to smelling bad.

    There was some de facto segregation, dictated mostly by economic reasons as there were a few rich Algerians who had also emigrated and they bought properties in the nicer parts of town.

    There wasn’t however separate seats in bars, restaurants, buses, theaters, or separate bathrooms. As I said before, it is that fringe manifestation of racism that strikes us as, well, kind of crazy.

    I certainly would not rush to state that today, we are ahead of the US in this area. In fact, I don’t think we are, in many respects. Affirmative action has been a very effective tool in America, and we have nothing of the kind in France.

    But at the very extreme of the curve, I would argue (for what it’s worth) that our racists and bigots are less crazy than yours.

  30. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy December 27, 2009 at 9:42 am #

    Jason: I have a brain and can see…

    Well if that be the case, then you will know that Barack Obama is the President of the United States, fair and square, whether you agree with his policies or not. This forum is really intended to discuss conspiracy theories, not anything of substance.

  31. avatar
    Randy December 27, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    Always remember that a job is redistribution of wealth.

  32. avatar
    Little Dreamer January 2, 2010 at 4:37 pm #

    Poor thing. I guess you are one of those people who has never heard of a certain young man named Jesus? I thought we westerners were thoroughly saturated with Jesus’ knowledge… who knew?

    Anyway, this man Jesus? He fed poor people, he never expected repayment and he said that rich people would never be able to follow his directives or receive his blessings. He was so against amassing fortunes that he told his followers to sell all of their possessions if they wanted to be like him. You might have seen one of those things called a Red-Letter Bible? All of his words are in red. Easy to find his works where he helps the poor. Perhaps you’d like to be introduced? Do you know this man named Jesus?

  33. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy January 2, 2010 at 5:11 pm #

    Yes, asking for things in return before helping someone is very un-Christian.