Obama’s Post-Racist Presidency: Is ‘Socialist’ the new N-Word?

By Guest Columnist Sep 08, 2009

Written by Victor Goode In the last few weeks, some of the right wing criticism of President Obama has reached a virtual crescendo. To be sure, some of his policies raise questions, and reasoned critiques have come from both right and left. But outside of this more sane debate, a new phenomenon has taken shape. It started with the “tea parties,” and then rapidly spread to the town hall meetings on health care. It has received a steady drumbeat of support from right wing talk radio, and has gotten undeserved airtime from many television news programs. This phenomenon is the slanderous demonization of the man, rather than critique of the message. Obama is (take your pick) a Muslim, not to be trusted; a foreigner, illegally holding the office of President; a stealth leader of world domination by the UN; and simultaneously a Fascist and a Communist. More recently, as this attack shifted from health policy to his speech on education, it seems that the word chosen as the common denominator for all his evil intent, including environmental policy, is “socialist.” But could it be that lurking slightly beneath these charges by the crazies is the issue of race? While President Clinton was assailed for his proposals on health care, he was declared to simply be wrong. Obama can’t just be wrong; he must also be the embodiment of all that is evil.
Race has always skewed perceptions of reality in this country. Despite Obama’s election, many Americans still have difficulty accepting the fact that people of color have a right to shape the policies of the country that they are a part of. But for many, this reality is outside their ability to accept or even to comprehend. Some, not surprisingly, seek to understand their fears though the old familiar lens of race. After all, the Willie Horton ads explained crime through the lens of race. Ending welfare as we know it meant no more support for undeserving people of color, and Obama as “socialist” embodies the vague but deeply rooted fears echoing from speeches from Reagan to Bush, suggesting that anything “foreign” is part of the evil empire. When attempts to vilify Martin Luther King were unsuccessful, many politicians declared that his civil rights demands were the handiwork of communists. But today, one cannot get much airtime calling Obama "that n—–," as King was openly referred to in the ’60s. But tagging him as a socialist satisfies the same gut sense that this guy is out of his place. The dance of race relations in America has always been full of code words. Could it be that the “S” word has now become one of them? Victor Goode Teaches law at the City University School of Law and has taught a Race and the Law course that include an examination of law and language. Image by quinn.anya