Kevin Ellis: The mystery of Obama hating

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.


  1. Pete Novick :

    “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

    ― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

  2. Avram Patt :

    That is what it’s about. There is a big difference between disagreement and bigotry/hate. You’ve nailed it, Kevin.

  3. Chuck Nichols :

    So why did (do) all the liberals hate Bush ’43? I’m sure it had nothing to do with his policies, which of course some agreed with. I, for one, can tell you I disagree with Obama’s policies and it has nothing to do with his color.

  4. Frank Boyd :

    Chuck, you’re 100% correct.

    The passionated HATRED of W. Bush in Vermont was ubiquitous amongst liberals. It wasn’t on policy, it was personal. At a cocktail party in the mid-2000’s, I told someone that I actually voted for Bush in 2000 (did not in ’04). They literally turned their shoulder to me on the spot.

    Do you not remember all of the 1-21-09 bumper stickers on the rusty Volvo’s a few years ago? Liberals hated Bush as much as conservatives hate Obama.

    As John Stewart said it best, the ones responsible for this hatred are the “Crossfires” of the world. That show has since been replaced by entire news stations that are really opinion pieces (Fox / MSNBC). MSNBC does not take out full page ads in my beloved New Yorkers because they’re trying to attract the general public. They want people who already agree with them to watch their station.

    I normally like your pieces, Mr Ellis, but this one is simplistic and one sided.

    • Karl Riemer :

      I don’t personally know anyone who hated GWB. Mental deficiency is an unavoidable condition, generally untreatable, often troubling, but no one hates the afflicted.

      It’s also, though, usually considered a disqualification for consideration as Commander-in-Chief. Even faked to capture the I-don’t-get-it vote, the outcome is likely to be destructive.

      Having reaped that outcome, disqualification for mental defect seemed sensible again. Admitting that you helped put an idiot in the White House deserved a cold shoulder, at the very least. That’s not hatred of him, it’s disgust with you.

  5. Bill Birch :

    I also, don’t like Obama’s policies and it has nothing to do with color. Its amazing how the liberal’s such as Mr. Ellis turn us all into racist if we con’t agree with Obama’s view of the direction of our country. Should Obama be white or blue it wouldn’t matter to me. He has divided this country like no other president. The writer even managed to make his poor uncle look like an idiot to try to prove his point. I bet having dinner with those two would be real fun.

    • Karl Riemer :

      It was a reading comprehension test. The article clearly postulates that your problem with Obama isn’t his pigmentation, parentage or privilege. Saying the same thing is hardly a refutation. The postulate is that your problem with Obama is your growing apprehension about erosion of your entitlement based on *your* pigment, parents and privilege. Obama is merely symbolic of seismic changes pitching you out of the cat-bird seat. What’s dividing this country is the idea that accidents of birth might no longer be enough to park a select group at the head of the table, exempting them from significant competition or even having to stand on line.

  6. Fred Woogmaster :

    This dialogue, in my opinion, reflects the nature of a “two party system” fueled by obscene campaign funding – more than it does anything else.

    The ‘hatred’ of George Bush during the various tragedies of the Iraq War was intense, more among liberals than others.

    The see-saw goes up and down depending on the shifting of weight. There is merit to Mr. Ellis’s piece; there is merit to some of those comments put forth in opposition.

    Our Presidents are now elected by greenbacks. No matter what – they become puppets on a string- the puppeteers remain invisible – and therefore unclassifiable as to color – or are they?

    • Bob Moris :

      There is no two party system in Cuba, North Korea, China, Russia .. etc is there Wendy?

  7. Wendy Wilton :

    A strong dislike of Mr. Obama is ubiquitous among older Americans, even some Democrats, especially since his re-election. I hear this frequently from older relatives. He and his spouse are considered anti-American with regard to weak foreign policy, socialistic domestic policies, and their flamboyant vacations, especially during difficult economic times. The Benghazi incident and the Fast and Furious debacle are foremost on their minds as proof of how he differs from them and a demonstration of his arrogance. It is not about race.

  8. Frank Chance :

    No one is 100% correct saying all liberals hated GWB. I am social liberal but not a member of either major political party) As much as I disagreed with most everything he did in office and I thought his administration committed serious crimes I never hated the man and always wished him well. Many of us are loyal citizens of this country and can not hate our elected leader. Somewhere along the line it became acceptable to think of this country as two nations. This went extreme when we elected Obama. It is now sunni /shiite style without the suicide bombers. Campaign reform would be a good step to elect a leader not beholden to business interests but it won’t change people’s intolerance.

  9. Bill Banas :

    I find myself in agreement with much of what Mr. Ellis has to say having encountered the hatred of which he speaks first hand from as seasonal neighbor of mine. (coincidentally from NJ and probably the same generation as Mr. Ellis’ father)

    What seems to be missing in some of these comments is the difference between hatred of the policies and hatred of the man. I detested many of Bush 43’s policies, but I never hated George W. Bush himself. There is a difference in the tide of hatred here and it will likely be examined by historians in years to come.

    For now, we need to focus together on how we can make the most of the dysfunctional system we have and then make incremental improvements in it.

    Good luck to use all!

  10. Thank you for this piece Kevin. Yes, I agree that we are seeing the end of the “old” USA as I knew it growing up (1948); it is being replaced (or changing into anyway) by what I’m not sure but the unknown is often see/felt as scary compared to the known, even if painful.

    All my life we’ve lived in a world where a huge percentage of humans did not have a chance. How many millions and millions of (mainly dark-skinned) children, for example, have died in my 65 years for lack of a few pennies worth of medicine or remained illiterate because the rest of us spent (still!) our money on an insane nuclear weapons standoff rather than books and teachers.

    While I certainly don’t agree with much he has done, for me Obama offered the first real evidence this shift was taking place resulting in a do-or-die conflict with the old ways.

    And, by the way, I opposed W Bush at nearly every turn because the man was, in my opinion, a fool put into a high place far beyond his intelligence. Nothing I’ve read about him before or since suggests otherwise. To capriciously send so many into the hell of war was unforgivable.

  11. sandra bettis :

    i think it’s all about race, period. my son’s boss was going on and on about obama and my son asked him why he hated him so much – he was at least honest – his answer: he’s black.

  12. timothy price :

    FAUXBAMA: that is the reason for his generating disgust. He promised to be a man of the people, but instead revealed himself to be a lackey for the Wall Street bankesters, and for more government secrecy, more spying, more executive orders, and has become revealed as only spokesman for waht is written on his teleprompter. What’s not to hate?

  13. walt amses :

    Although I think it’s extremely complex, a huge chunk of the GOP’s having refused to compromise on anything since ’08 and gridlocking the country and subsequently blaming Obama was based on his race and their perception that doing so would appeal to the southern fried dingbats who make up their base. Paul Ryan, who supposedly is the intellectual among the knuckle draggers, as recently as this week had to walk back his remarks on men in the “inner city” who are too lazy to work. It isn’t necessarily that Republicans are racist in and of themselves but rather they cannot figure out a way to appeal to a wide ranging constituency without alienating those on whom they’ve grown completely dependent in the meantime. Hence the code words or – as Paul Krugman put it in the NY Times – “Dog Whistles”.

  14. Come on folks, this is all about diverting attention away from the incredible mess that President Obama’s policies have created for himself, the Democratic party and the American people.

    This is what we see at this time:

    1. President Obama’s approval ratings are in the tank with more that 50% of American’s disapproving of his policies. These disapproval numbers go well beyond conservatives reaching to independents and Democrats.

    2. The Obamacare roll out has been a disaster, resulting in Democratic politicians fleeing Obama in wholesale numbers, while the law itself is having disastrous effects on the many people.

    3. President Obama lied to the American people about being able to keep their doctors and insurance. He failed to acknowledge this problem for months even though it was sadly documented many times on tape. This basic dishonesty does not set well with the American people.

    4. President Obama’s foreign policies are in ruins around the world causing America’s standing abroad to spiral downward.

    5. In the up coming mid term elections there is no chance of the Democrats regaining the House and a strong chance they could loss the Senate. As bad as the Republicans are perceived to be, this condition can thus only be attributed to President Obama’s policies and the Democrats own ineptness in the Congress.

    6. Essentially no Democratic candidate wants President Obama anywhere near him/her went campaigning for office.

    7. The economy remains in the dumps.

    8. Americans, including Democrats, are outraged at the government spying on them. Sen. Feinstein as an example of one.

    9. Americans are worse off today economically than they were five years ago. There is income inequality that has only worsened under President Obama.

    10. And the list of policy related problems for President Obama goes on with little chance that he can turn things around.

    So when everything is going wrong, the President and Democrats try to change the subject and attack their opponents. Thus we hear that:

    1. Conservatives hate President Obama and they are racists.

    2. The greatest crisis we are facing is global warming or now known as climate change.

    3. We need to raise the mimimim wage.

    4. And just about anything else that doesn’t focus on the problems created by President Obama’s policies.

    Anyone who can chew gun and walk at the same time can see the game that’s being played.

    When you’re failing, blame someone else, a strategy President Obama has relied on all to frequently and now does so constantly.

    The American people are smarter than they are given credit for, something that President Obama as yet to realize. Thus the country finds itself in a position where more than half of its citizens are deemed to be Obama haters.

    How ridiculous can it get?

    Disclosure: I voted for President Obama is 2008.

    • Bob Goldberg :

      “5. In the up coming mid term elections there is no chance of the Democrats regaining the House and a strong chance they could loss the Senate. As bad as the Republicans are perceived to be, this condition can thus only be attributed to President Obama’s policies and the Democrats own ineptness in the Congress.”

      It is blatantly dishonest statements like this that lead to the Republican Congress being so unpopular.

      The reason Democrats will not regain the House is primarily due to gerrymandering. The same reason they were not able to regain it in 2012 despite gaining nearly 2 million more votes than Republicans.

      As reputable analysts like Sam Wang have pointed out, the deck has been so heavily stacked against them it would take a massive victory across the nation to regain the House.

      The rest of your talking points contain similarly misleading statements, but I’m too tired to go through all of them.

  15. Dave Bellini :

    “So why did (do) all the liberals hate Bush ’43?”
    How about the fact that he promised to secure the boarder with Mexico and did nothing.
    He promised America would “no longer be in the business of nation building” and then wanted to build Iraq.
    Bush 43 was a failure as a conservative! He ruined the Republican party for at least a decade. Bush made being a republican and being an idiot synonymous.
    He grew up in privilege, had his credentials bought and paid for by his family. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but the Bush 41 tree must have been on top of a Formica hill.
    Bush 43 has spawned the likes of Sarah Palin, Donald Trump and Michelle Bachman. Because of Bush 43, the republican presidential primary has become a comedy.
    It’s not just liberals that hate Bush 43. Liberals are just more expressive about the former idiot-President.

  16. Jim Christiansen :

    A silly editorial and classless commentary. Sad to see this site devolving into the Green Mountain Daily Blog.

  17. Ross Laffan :

    There’s a long list of reasons to hate Bush ’43, but at the top of the list is the death and destruction he’s responsible for by invading Iraq. Thousands of Americans dead, tens of thousands maimed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, maimed, tortured and displaced, and trillions of dollars simply wasted in a region that remains as volatile as it was before. The fact he’s allowed to walk the streets as a free man is simply wrong. He’s a war criminal.

    • Linda Wysocki :

      Seventy-three percent of all U.S. deaths in Afghanistan have taken place since 2009. In the first seven plus years of war in Afghanistan, 2,638 U.S. soldiers were wounded in action. In the next forty-five months (2009 – 2012) an additional 15,036 suffered the same fate.

      • Ross Laffan :

        Good point. You should have clarified that Obama didn’t start and ineptly wage that war. By now the right wingers have turned to Bush’s puppy paintings and forget he started the war more than a decade ago. I would have preferred Obama pull out the troops the day he took office but you play the hand you’re dealt.

  18. Marc Latzky :

    This writer has “democrat” between his ears and not much else. His supposed “facts” are merely historical anecdotes, and liberal talking points. Why do “smart” people dislike Obama so much? Because he has no regard for the constitution and international law. And to liberals who say we have a fear of change? Others have tried Socialism before and it has not worked. Changing America from Freedom to wage slavery is not what most Americans want. As been pointed out, votes are bought not won, and talk about the end of innovation? Socialism is not innovative, its deconstruction.

    • kevin ellis :

      WOW – I’d like to respond.

      1. I am not calling those who dislike Obama racists. In fact, I am saying that the issue goes beyond race, that race is to easy and convenient a label to put on those who hate the guy. I am trying to get deeper than that – although I might have done so in a clumsy way. My uncle is no racist. And I know Peter Yankowski and other critics aren’t either. There is something far deeper at work.

      2. On the policy issues – let’s stipulate that you critics can’t stand his policies. Great. But again, I am trying to ask us to go deeper and further. Because I don’t think it is the policies in the end. His policies are demonstrably moderate. The stimulus didn’t go far enough for the left, as Mr. price points out. He has done nothing on climate change, very little on Israel/Palestine and didn’t prosecute any Wall Street bankers. So the left feels betrayed by him too.
      3. Wendy Wilton’s comments are getting to the core of my issue. She calls the Obamas anti-American. Really?!!! I find them very American. You may hate their politics. But are they really anti-American as in Against America. They are from Chicago and send their girls to an elite prep school. What’s more American than that. “Flamboyant vacations?” C’mon. What do you want him to do, camp out at Lake Bomoseen? Bush and Reagan had ranches. Clinton had no money so he “borrowed” vacation homes from others. Bush went on vacation a lot more than Obama.

      This is exactly the point I am raising. Why the hate when he is clearly not a Socialist, displeases the Left and was handed an economy in the tank. I think the dislike of Bush was qualitatively different. The liberal elites disliked Bush intensely for all sorts of reasons. But the right didn’t like him either over his spending.

      Proposal – Let’s have a half-day conference about this issue in Randolph or Montpelier and examine the question.

      • Fred Woogmaster :

        And who benefits most from ‘the hate’?

        Those who play the “two party system” like a harp, who understand the benefits of ‘divide and conquer’ and those who enjoy the game ‘let’s you and him fight’.

        Corruption is widespread. “Campaign funding” has become an obscenity. The inordinate control of the two parties is destroying the democratic process.

        Despite the limited achievements of his presidency, in the presence of high expectations, I admire Mr. Obama and I believe that he is “doing the best he can with what he has.”

        Examine the question, Mr. Ellis? Why not?
        The American Dream is still salvageable – but barely!

        Racism, sexism, ageism,drugs, fear, violence and the threat of war create the backdrop for contemporary America, the Super Bowl it’s metaphor.

        Who our President is – is not the problem. It’s the system that produces that president and the unfortunate limitation of viable candidates.

        Examine the question, Mr. Ellis? What is THE question?

  19. James Ehlers :

    Bush hatred; Obama hatred — same malady, different patient. A society built on hate is a society condemned to darkness. If we are the light, and there will be no room for those who thrive on hate.

    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
    –MLK, Jr.

    I expect the two-party system has outlived its usefulness for all except that those those prosper from a society living in the dark. Only our love for each other and the communities that sustain us will drive them out. Shall we get about the business now of shining light on all that we do?



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