Editor’s note: This commentary is by Kevin Ellis, a lobbyist and partner in Ellis Mills public affairs firm.
My uncle in New Jersey is a really smart guy. Retired partner of a major law firm, Yale Law School – the product of the American liberal arts educational model.
He has always been somewhat conservative in that Ivy League kind of way. Hard work, responsibility, critical of the poor as takers and shirkers. He probably liked Mitt Romney’s talk about the 47 percent of Americans who will always be takers from the system.
But nothing prepared me over the last few years for his views on President Obama. He has wholesale adopted the Rush Limbaugh view of the president. You know the list. A closet Muslim terrorist bent on destroying America to assuage his anger at his Kenyan father and destroying the economy by expanding government to take care of other lazy takers and apologizing for American strength abroad.
Now, I get the paralysis in Washington that is by now a given. We are now so partisan that even when Obama proposes something to the right of Ronald Reagan, which he does quite often, Mitch McConnell blocks it. I’m OK with that. That is what elections are for and the president is a big boy who can handle Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.
But it is the real hatred that I still don’t get. My uncle just hates Obama. And so do a lot of people I know – people who 10 years ago I would have categorized as moderate Republicans. Sure they disagree with Obama on education reform, the stimulus, the Iraq surge and other issues. But such disagreement was the way I used to feel about George H.W. Bush – a decent man, loved his country and ran it with dedication and care. Passed the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act laws of 1990! Disagree with him on policy? Sure. Never forgive him for the Willie Horton ad? Check. But one rarely questioned his desire to do the right thing.
It is a complicated thing this hatred of Obama. But it has something to do with him coming to power at a time when the America of post-World War II greatness and superiority is being shown for what is was – a myth built on lots of other myths.
With Obama, that is all gone. People HATE this guy. And when presented with the list of Obama accomplishments – getting bin Laden, getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan, Race to the Top, saved the U.S. auto industry, recapitalized the banks, toppled Gadaffi and many others, his haters scoff and return to the secret Muslim who is destroying America.
Full list of accomplishments is here: Washington Monthly, March/April 2012.
The easy answer is race. Our issues with race in this country are so deep and complicated that it requires a longer space than here. But it’s deeper. The Obama haters long for an America that they helped build after World War II, an America of the movies, an America of myth, an America respected abroad, that is church going, hard-working.
The problem with this view may just be this. That America was largely white and privileged and was strong and respected not just because of its NYC law firms and Wall Street wealth. But because of the working class guys (The Greatest Generation) who did the fighting and the working so that we liberal arts grads could sit around the country club after a full week at the office talking about how hard we work.
That power structure is changing – and fast. Just like the immigration of the Irish changed this country forever (for the better). The changing demographics of America are changing it again. My uncle hates this change and Obama seems to symbolize it for him and the other haters. Pretty soon, the Latinos and the Asians are going to want theirs. And my uncle and the other haters don’t want to give it up. And they blame the president for this change because he reflects it in his skin color and in views.
It is a complicated thing this hatred of Obama. But it has something to do with him coming to power at a time when the America of post-World War II greatness and superiority is being shown for what is was – a myth built on lots of other myths. And it sure has very little to do with Obama.