Sunday, June 13, 2010

On "Aliens"

This week, Dorothy Rabinowitz published an editorial in the Wall Street Journal titled The Alien in the White House.

For it was clear from the first that this president—single-minded, ever-visible, confident in his program for a reformed America saved from darkness by his arrival—was wanting in certain qualities citizens have until now taken for granted in their presidents. Namely, a tone and presence that said: This is the Americans' leader, a man of them, for them, the nation's voice and champion. Mr. Obama wasn't lacking in concern about the oil spill. What he lacked was that voice—and for good reason.

Those qualities to be expected in a president were never about rhetoric; Mr. Obama had proved himself a dab hand at that on the campaign trail. They were a matter of identification with the nation and to all that binds its people together in pride and allegiance. These are feelings held deep in American hearts, unvoiced mostly, but unmistakably there and not only on the Fourth of July.

A great part of America now understands that this president's sense of identification lies elsewhere, and is in profound ways unlike theirs. He is hard put to sound convincingly like the leader of the nation, because he is, at heart and by instinct, the voice mainly of his ideological class. He is the alien in the White House, a matter having nothing to do with delusions about his birthplace cherished by the demented fringe.

My disgust at this kind of thinking reminded me that I'd felt the same way during the Presidential campaign when Kathleen Parker said basically the same thing. She was responding to a young McCain supporter who said "he would just be more comfortable with someone who is a full-blooded American as president."

Full-bloodedness is an old coin that's gaining currency in the new American realm. Meaning: Politics may no longer be so much about race and gender as about heritage, core values, and made-in-America. Just as we once and still have a cultural divide in this country, we now have a patriot divide.

Who "gets" America? And who doesn't?

The answer has nothing to do with a flag lapel pin, which Obama donned for a campaign swing through West Virginia, or even military service, though that helps. It's also not about flagpoles in front yards or magnetic ribbons stuck on tailgates.

It's about blood equity, heritage and commitment to hard-won American values. And roots.

When I can get beyond my anger at this kind of nonsense, I recognize that these two women are articulating what I think is behind much of white America's discomfort with Obama...whether they couch that in policies or temperament.

We've grown used to a myth in this country that white Americans embraced their new black President because he won the Iowa Democratic Caucus and there certainly was a national celebration of this historic milestone between the November election and the January inauguration. But the truth of it is that almost 60% of white Americans voted for the other guy.

This week Gallup released a poll who's headline was about the drop in support for Obama among Hispanics.

While that is indeed an important story, what struck me was the consistency of the numbers from whites and blacks. As folks on the right (like Rabinowitz) and others on the left espouse the reasons they think Obama is loosing support across the nation, this Gallup poll seems to indicate that there hasn't been much change among whites and blacks, but that perhaps Hispanics are beginning to question his commitment to immigration reform.

Its just another example to me of how the media and bloggers tend to be blinded by our white privilege...we always want to frame the story from our own perspective, even when it is contradicted by facts like this. So if Obama is loosing support, it just must be related to how I (and those I surround myself with) feel about him.

Rabinowitz got it right in one sense...white Americans are uncomfortable with Obama, the majority of them always have been. As I've written about before, I believe that this discomfort with Obama is rooted in the way that white Americans fear the changing dynamics of power in this country as it relates to the changing demographics. Another story that caught my eye this week was the release of 2009 data from the US Census Bureau. Here's the kicker:

In 42 states, numbers show a loss of non-Hispanic whites under age 45. Nationally, this group declined by 8.4 million. In contrast, the number of states in which the majority of children under 15 are minorities has increased, with Florida, Maryland, Georgia and Nevada bringing the number of such states to 10.

BooMan put it well.

I have news for you. Nearly half of all 15 year-olds will be eligible to vote in 2012. And watch out in 2016.

This is the larger canvas on which folks like Rabinowitz and Parker are reacting. Recently, Michael Tomasky at the Guardian wrote about Obama returning the bust of Churchill to England and some folks desire to make that story into a controversy about Obama's dislike of Britain. In the process, he summed it all up perfectly.

I suspect this diffidence (if it's real, which we don't really know) has something to do with the fact that Obama's roots are Kenyan. Which country colonised Kenya? Ah. This is the kind of thing that happens when white Anglo-Saxon hegemony is interrupted and you let people into the club whose forebears saw history from the other side. Deal with it.

(emphasis mine)

Yes...the world is changing. The folks "whose forebears saw history from the other side" are developing a foothold in the halls of power. We can either try to scare ourselves about that (as Rabinowitz and Parker were trying to do) or we can embrace it as perhaps the next thing the world needs to right the wrong direction we've been going for centuries. I, for one, welcome the "alien" voice of all the people Obama has come to represent.

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