Just when you thought that the level of mean-spirited arrogance directed toward President Obama could not get any more disgraceful, a new example comes along to add to a long list of blatant slights and disrespectful behavior. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia's body was barely cold before a civil war of words began to make the rounds throughout Washington and the nation at large.
Anyone who follows politics or is not brain-dead has witnessed the verbal grenades that a number of Republican politicians have hurled toward President Obama. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell stated in no uncertain terms that the Senate would not even entertain the idea of considering voting for any Supreme Court nominee that President Obama would submit for confirmation.
Imagine that, telling the leader of the free world to basically "forget it," we are not going to consider, let alone confirm any Supreme Court nominee you put forth. Ridiculous and disgraceful! There are conservative operatives such as GOP presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and others who have made largely unconvincing arguments by either inadvertently or purposely misinterpreting the Constitution in an effort to give credence to the position they have staked out in an effort to curry favor with their right-wing constituencies. It is a sad commentary for sure.
Needless to say, there is a more fundamental reason for the level of blatant disrespect and obstruction that has confronted President Obama during his tenure as the nation's first Black president -- race, period. It's that simple. From the minute he was sworn in as the nation's 44th president, this president (and, in some cases, his wife) have been the victim(s) of unrelenting vitriol from a segment of the population that has become emotionally unhinged at the reality of a Black man and his family residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
There are those who will argue that all presidents, particularly recent presidents, have been subjected to varied forms of disrespectful behavior from political opposition to the public at large. While there is some kernel of truth to this, the fact is that, in the case of our current president, such disrespectful behavior has been taken to an entirely new level. It has been more searing, deep-seeded, acidic.
In some quarters, the president has been held in such ill regard that some journalists, political pundits, cultural critics and even fellow politicians have made it their duty to remind the public of such treatment. Well, I am doing the same. To refresh your memory here are examples of how our commander-in-chief has been treated with such contempt:
· The fraudulent birther issue led by Orly Taitz and championed by Donald Trump -- now the GOP front-runner for the presidential nomination -- that raised questions about the president's citizenship.
· Mitch McConnell, at the time Senate minority leader, boldly announcing that the priority for the Republican Party was to make Barack Obama a one-term president.
· Congressman Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) yelling "you lie" at the president during his State of the Union speech in 2010.
· Tea Party signs that displayed blatant and venomous racism in their anti-Obama statements.
· The House GOP prompted by the Tea Party refusing to raise the debt ceiling in 2011.
· The House GOP -- before notifying the White House -- invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session to denounce negotiations with Iran on limiting its nuclear program.
· Former Arizona governor Jan Brewer directly shaking her finger in the president's face.
· Newt Gingrich referring to the president's "anti-colonial behavior."
The list goes on and on.
While naysayers can belabor the point of other presidents being targets of hostility, the fact is that no other president in recent memory has been subjected to such dishonorable behavior. It is clear that race has been the predominant factor.
Recently on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews had as his guest Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe. Both men said that there were a number of Republicans and segments of the White population who were determined to mark the Obama presidency with an asterisk, that they wanted future generations of Americans to view this president as somehow "illegitimate."
There certainly seems to be considerable evidence of such an argument. Even former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a Reagan nominee, has expressed her dismay with the actions of some Senate Republicans and makes a strong case for the process of choosing and confirming a justice to proceed quickly.
The fact is that many Whites, particularly those over 60, came of age in an America where people like them, particularly White men, were the people who made decisions. Other people, especially non-Whites, were seen but not heard and were, oftentimes, invisible to the mind. Ever current shifting demographic trends over the past few decades have caused deep psychological anxiety among more than a few individuals. The days of pre-1980 yesteryears are increasingly becoming a distant and fading memory.
That being said, it can be frustrating to see President Obama (too often as far as I am concerned) hold back from calling out such behavior for what it is. Rather, he often decides to engage in a form of an "it's partly my fault" position. It is as if he has become afflicted with a mild degree of Stockholm Syndrome. This is disappointing.
The fact is that no one is perfect. That being said, we can spin, analyze, deflect, deny, decry, etc., but the truth will reveal that the majority of resistance and less than cordial treatment that the president has confronted has been due to his race, period. Something tells me that he is probably smart enough to know this.
Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is Professor of History, African American Studies and Gender Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the co-author of HBO Girls: And The Awkward Politics of Gender, Race and Privilege (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2015)