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Obama the Demon: How much of the fear is based on his Name, his Race, and his Party?

06/24/2010 03:12 pm 15:12:57 | Updated May 25, 2011

I have to admit the impermissible: Barack Obama's name and race were factors that helped attract me to his candidacy.

To have a thoughtful, measured and articulate black President is an inspiring validation of the America I believe in. To have one named Barack Obama is potentially a knife to the heart of the radical Islamic terrorists, who diatribes fall flat when directed at a leader who personally embodies diversity, tolerance, and individual bootstrap self-determination.

These were only contributing factors - they opened my mind. They did not persuade me. I saw in candidate Obama a young man with strong achievements, a steady demeanor, extraordinary promise, and the potential to unify us after eight years of division and incompetence. His ethnicity was a factor that suggested he could be inspire us to come together.

So I can only assume that, for some others, Obama's name and race were factors that closed their mind, and led them to be suspicious of him.

I have watched in jaw-dropping amazement these past 18 months, as President Obama has been systematically demonized, as a radical, a socialist, a communist, an illegal alien, an Islamic extremist.

I'm not yet convinced Obama's presidency will be a grand success. I am disappointed by his health and climate policies, his reluctance to roll-back the executive powers that his predecessor assumed, and his overly-eager spending plans. I did worry about his youth - I would have preferred him to have another decade of seasoning before assuming a position like this. His inexperience has, at times, shown, such as in his slow response to the BP spill.

But I am also impressed that he managed - in the face of absolute GOP intransigence - to secure 60 votes for his health care plan, negotiate a $20 billion escrow fund from BP, drive finance sector reforms, and thoughtfully reshape our military adventures abroad, in an attempt to unwrap us from the complex mess his predecessor leaped headlong into.

And I am inspired by at least three benchmarks: First, his direct engagement with the Muslim world, which undermines terror more effectively than war. Second, his direct inside-the-tent engagement with the GOP on health care, to no avail yet, but it will set the stage for next year. And third, his calm understated demeanor, and reluctance to provoke panic for political ends. What a change.

Others obviously see a very different person. Where, in Heaven's name, is the diabolical Obama that some friends of mine insist lives in the White House?

Today I challenged my Facebook friends to be very specific about why some think this President is such a demon - why he is a collectivist bent on spending us into poverty and eliminating our individual freedoms. I have received surprisingly few specifics. I do expect more.

Until I receive them, I am increasingly persuaded that the President's skin color, his foreign-sounding name, and his political party are - unconsciously - factors that predispose some people to fear and distrust him, expect the very worst, and interpret all his actions in ways that confirm their fears.

I've seen the left and right toss the race card on the table in very cynical ways. I do not mean to do so here. President Clinton attracted similar venom, so race and ethnicity are clearly not the only factors driving the fear and rage. But the tendency to ascribe to Obama the views of Islamic extremists, to question his citizenship, to sense that he is not "one of us" - these suggest to me, in the absence of compelling evidence to support the fear - that ethnic and racial stereotyping is a powerful underlying driver.

I hope I am wrong about this. I am waiting to hear, precisely, why this President is - as some say - the worst in our history, and the greatest threat to our prosperity and freedom.

I'm open, and ready to be persuaded, with a well-developed argument. I want to understand.