TNC and Joe Klein both have good pieces up about the racist angle in Republican attacks on Obama. TNC makes the point that what angers the right most is that “Barack Obama, bourgeois in every way that bourgeois is right and just, will not dance.” Klein makes the point that it may not be white-on-black racism per se so much as it is generalized xenophobia and paranoia that animates the birther crowd.
My opinion is that it’s obviously no coincidence that the first time a president was heckled from the House floor it was a white southerner heckling the first black president. And if Joe Wilson doesn’t laugh at racist jokes, that may be because he takes racism very seriously, to paraphrase the great Jake Gittes.
But there’s another angle on this that I haven’t seen discussed. Klein, in particular, should be familiar with it from covering Clinton, though I doubt he’d admit it (pundit’s code and all that). It’s that personally destroying your opponent is an important part of Republican politics. I’m not making a value judgement here, but it’s a fact that these days at least, Republicans are much more aggressive about dehumanizing Democrats than vice versa. Have you ever seen a Democratic presidential ad as personal and free of issues as McCain’s “Celebrity” ad? And, in the end, what Obama went through last fall was pretty mild compared with what Clinton, Gore, and Kerry got hit with, and with with what Obama is being hit with now.
With Clinton in particular, the notion that he was the first black president because Republicans treated him like a black man is right on target. Racism is about viewing others as less than human. And so was Clenis-hunting. I remember having a talk with a Republican acquaintance of mine who told me that “Kerry and Gore are just weird people, like aliens, they’re not really humans.” The politics of personal destruction and the politics of racially-based debasement are striking similar.