Is tea party hostility toward Barack Obama racially motivated? Some of it probably is, but this is a famously difficult and fraught question to answer. So let's ask instead: regardless of how much racial animus the conservative base harbored toward Obama in the first place, are leading conservatives eager to fan those racial flames for whatever benefit they can get from them? As Paul Waldman points out today, that question is a lot easier to answer. First, here's Rush Limbaugh on Obama:
What is obvious to me is that this guy harbors a deep resentment about all this rather than an appreciation, and this chip on his shoulder, which got a lot more on it than just this story, there's a racial component as you know, and other elements. Now he sees a need to get even with this country, or this country needs to be gotten even with itself.
This is a common trope on the right: Obama is angry at white people, anti-colonialism is at the core of that anger, and for that reason he hates America too. Here's Paul:
When Limbaugh says Obama's resentment is about race "as you know," his audience certainly does know, because they've heard it hundreds of times. I think most liberals are unaware that this message gets pounded home to white conservatives day after day, and has been since 2008. This is how something like health care reform can be fit so seamlessly into the culture war: it's big government, and that can only mean taking money from hardworking white people and giving it to undeserving, shiftless black people. That's why Limbaugh so often refers to health care reform as "reparations" — Obama, angry black man that he is, enacted it to stick it to white people in vengeance for slavery and discrimination.
Liberals look at Obama and see someone who is overly conciliatory, forever reaching out to opponents who despise him and giving up more than he should. But we shouldn't forget that a substantial portion of the population is constantly steeped in this racial poison. Nothing the president or anyone else says or does will change that.
This is why last summer's Fox-fest of xenophobia — Shirley Sherrod, the Ground Zero mosque, the New Black Panthers, anchor babies, liberation theology, etc. etc. — was so effective. It's also why all the birther nonsense is so powerful. Without the constant drumbeat of racially charged crap from the likes of Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Dinesh D'Souza, it might just be a fringe curiosity. But with it, it gets a patina of intellectual support that turns it into a dangerous and mainstream belief.
Everybody involved in this pretends to be outraged if you point out what they're doing. But anyone with a pulse can see what's going on. And guess what? Summer is coming! There's no midterm election in the offing, so maybe Fox News will decide to cool it on the xenophobia front this year. But then again, maybe not. Nobody on the right really called them out on this last year, and there doesn't seem to be any real limit to their shamelessness. So maybe they'll try it again. It seems to be pretty good for ratings, after all.