The Racist Red-Baiting of Obama is About More than Race Alone
The persistent, deeply entrenched, and often all-too hidden power of racism in American life needs to be acknowledged  and acted upon in progressive ways if the left is going to have any chance of successfully and desirably advancing democratic social transformation. It is important, however, for progressives not to seem to overstep the bounds of common sense in too readily reducing current events to race (well, to racism) alone. We should remember that while white supremacism is widespread, ingrained, and ubiquitous in the U.S., often in maddeningly cloaked ways, it doesn't magically explain everything. And we should always keep in mind the capitalist-imperial framework within which American race and racism are constructed and function and the service that racial division provides to the (yes, predominantly white) U.S. ruling class and its fake, corporate-managed "democracy."
"THE RED-BAITING IS ACTUALLY ABOUT...SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY"
These are things that the prolific white anti-racist author and activist and "Progressives for Obama"(PFO) member Tim Wise would have done well to keep closer to the front of his mind when writing a recent provocative PFO essay titled "Socialism as the New Black Bogeyman - Red-Baiting and Racism."
Wise's thesis is that the only real content behind the American right's attempt to ludicrously demonize the nation's first black president Barack Obama as a radical leftist - a "socialist" - is racism.
The real and only relevant content behind the absurd "socialist" charge against Obama, Wise argues, is racism. "It is not, and please make note of it," Wise proclaims, "about socialism. Or capitalism. Or economics at all, per se" The people issuing the charge" of "socialism" against Obama are really "using the term......as a symbol for something else entirely."
That "something else" is race.
BEYOND TOM FRANK
Wise is on to something, God knows. Accurately described by Harper's Magazine president John MacArthur as "a moderate with far too much respect for the global financial class," Barack Obama is anything but a socialist. He has predictably proved to be a most definitely "unleft" and "unradical president" (MacArthur). 
At the same time, it doesn't take a lot of work to discover a deep undercurrent of toxic racial animosity behind the intense white "conservative" hostility to "socialist Obama" that is expressed on talk radio, on FOX News, at Republican "tea-bag parties," and during some of the recent "health care town-halls." As Wise correctly observes, the white right "now too often views Obama's moves to more comprehensive health care as simply another way to take from those whites who have ‘played by the rules' and give to those folks of color who haven't. Even as millions of whites would stand to benefit from health care reform-and all whites," Wise adds, "would enjoy greater choices with the very public option that has drawn the most fire- the imagery of the recipients has remained black and brown, as with all social programs; and the imagery of the persons who would be taxed for the effort has remained hard-working white folks." The popular noxious Amerikanner television personality Glenn Beck, a leading voice in the right crusade against Obama's mythical "socialism," has "sought," Wise notes, "to link health care reform, and virtually every single piece of Obama's political agenda to some kind of backdoor reparations scheme." Beck has even "claim[ed] to have discovered a communist/black nationalist conspiracy in the administration's Green Jobs Initiative."
Does Obama's racial identity give a special edge and hook to the right's predictable red-baiting of the nation's first president? Do some, perhaps many, maybe most, right-wing whites connect the dots between (a) their reactionary fear/hatred of "socialism" and "redistribution" and (b) their related fear/hatred of black civil rights, affirmative action, and reparations for blacks (we might add their fear/hatred of predominantly Latina/o immigration and citizenship)? Do a considerable number of "conservative"/ Republican Caucasians accept and advance (what we on the actual left know to be the) bizarre claim that Obama is a "socialist" in order to stealthily attack a president they really fear and/or hate because he's black (and intelligent and charismatic and widely supported by highly educated people) - this in a time when open racial prejudice is no longer considered publicly acceptable?
I'm quite certain that the answer to each of these questions is a resounding YES. As I have occasionally gone blue in the face trying to argue with race-/racism-denying denying white Americans, race and racism are ubiquitous in American society, culture, and politics. Racial oppression is ever-present in American life, shaping and lurking behind numerous interrelated inequality structures of wealth, class, geography, and gender. The red-baiting of Obama could not lack a sharp racial edge any more than could the refusal of employers to hire people with felony records or the skewed spatial distribution of full-service grocery-stores and livable wage jobs and campaign contributions and disease rates across segregated zip codes and city ward boundaries. Moreover, the red-baiting of Democrats and Democratic social programs by the American Right has long contained a significant racial/racist content even when the politicians targeted are and were white, from Franklin Roosevelt through John F. Kerry and Nancy Pelosi.
For what it's worth, failure to grasp the longstanding relevance of racism as a driving force behind Republican power in the late 20th and early 21st century is one of the truly egregious failures of liberal author and Wall Street Journal columnist Thomas Frank's widely read book What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America? (2004). I was astonished at the length to which Frank went to avoid the obvious factor of white racial backlash in seeking to explain the plutocratic Republicans' success in getting tens of millions of ordinary white working people to vote for them. Wise is absolutely right to bring race back into the picture. 
THE RED-BAITING OF WHITE DEMOCRATS, PAST AND PRESENT
Still, race is not the whole story. It is all too easy, I think, to over-focus on Obama's blackness when it comes to explaining the current ongoing escalation of popular "white-wing" red-baiting. Please recall the right's ridiculous, out-of control neo-McCarthyite smearing of the entire Democratic presidential field during the 2007-2008 primary season. The Republicans and their noise machine's insistent claim that the Democratic contenders as a group were "radical leftists" and "socialists" (I monitored Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh a fair amount during the primary campaign) got so strident and unrelenting that I was moved to write a satirical, Onion-like essay based on the purposefully preposterous proposition that each one the Democratic candidates except Kucinich (who I painted out as a mock left-anarchist) was some kind of orthodox Marxist. I do not recall the right claiming that the Obama was any more radical than the rest of the Democratic candidates. If anything, the proto-fascistic Hannity-Limbaugh team seemed most especially worried about the Marxist specter of (the abjectly corporatist) Hillary, smeared as a "socialist" by the talk radio mob since the early 1990s. Looking for evidence of radical leanings in the Democratic Party, the Republicans particularly enjoyed going after the fighting populist pro-labor candidate John Edwards and his "communist" notion of "two Americas" - the rich and the rest of us.
By mid-June of 2008, of course, Obama had secured the nomination and thereafter naturally absorbed the lion's share of the right's neo-McCarthyite obsessions and red-baiting energy. But imagine that the presidency was currently held by Hillary Clinton or, more impossibly, John Edwards. Both a president Clinton II or a president Edwards would in all likelihood be pushing ahead right now on a modest, all-too business-friendly health reform package on the same model as Obama's Guaranteed Choice plan. An Edwards White House (yes, impossible) might be more aggressively pursuing a public option than Obama or Hillary. It might also be using the White House to advance the already forgotten Employee Free Choice Act (kicked to Washington's curb with minimal protest from the president than one of my correspondents calls "Wall Street Barry"). A president Clinton II and even a president Edwards (who sat for years on the board of Wall Street hedge fund) would also likely have spent untold billions bailing out "too-big [and powerful]-to-fail" Wall Street firms and have advanced a moderately--sized economic stimulus program.
Does anyone seriously doubt that right-wing propaganda factory and the G.O.P. would nonetheless be going bonkers absurdly accusing a Clinton II or Edwards administration of "socialism"?
Imagine (completely impossible under "our" corporate-managed U.S. electoral system) a Kucinich or Nader administration. Beck would have to broadcast from a psych ward. Hannity and Limbaugh would be apoplectic with charges of Bolshevism, maybe even anarchism. The white right would be far beyond tea-bags and town hall harassments.
Of, course, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was anything but a radical. He was an initially hyper-cautious and moderate upper class reformer who voiced pride in his contribution to "saving the profits system" (his words) during the 1930s. He and his New Deal brain trust kept the southern white segregationist wing of his (Democratic) party on board by making sure that blacks (southern blacks especially) were largely excluded from the new social programs and protections of the middle and late 1930s. This hardly stopped the Depression-era Republican right from regularly FDR a socialist and even a communist on a regular basis.
All of this at least suggests that there might be something more than just the always relevant factor of race and racism alone behind the Republicans' latest escalated "socialism"-smearing campaign.
SUSPECTS OTHER THAN JUST RACE
It is true that the U.S. right's preposterous "socialism" charge seems much more shrill, insistent, and ubiquitous in the dawning Age of Obama than it did during the Clinton years. I'm certain racism is a big part of this, something that has been suggested to me by progressives who have infiltrated some of the tea-bag events. Wise is definitely on to something important here.
Crisis of the Republican Party
But there are other explanations than only racial backlash. An obvious part of the reason for the current intensification of preposterous red-baiting from the right is the simple fact that the Democrats now control the executive and legislative branches, the latter by a significant and nearly filibuster-proof margin. The abject failures of the Bush-Cheney administration and the related, ongoing crisis and remarkable unpopularity of the Republican Party are bound to send the right into new levels of paranoid hysteria, rife with fear and loathing about the perils to "freedom" and the "American way of life" - understood by them to revolve fundamentally around (a mythical notion of) "democratic" and "free-market" capitalism - posed by the "Democratic socialists."
This is different from the mid-1990s, when Republicans still held two of the federal government's three branches. The pathetic G.O.P. of the post-Bush II era has been reduced to pushing one of its timeworn, wolf-crying panic buttons ("socialism!") with special new force and frequency. The external threat button isn't working too well in the wake of the Cold War's end and the fiasco in Iraq and in light of the fact that Obama is actually escalating the U.S. war "on Al Qaeda" in South Asia. This would be the case if Hillary or (miraculously) Edwards (or for that matter Biden or Dodd or Richardson or Kucinich or Nader) had attained the presidency.
Progressive Wave and Expectations
Second, Obama rode into office on a real wave of popular progressive sentiment and massive voter rejection of the nakedly corporate and messianic-militarist Republicans. Obama is course betraying that sentiment for the most part, consistent with the rule of what Edward S. Herman and David Peterson call "the unelected dictatorship of money," "which "vets the nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties, reducing the options available to U.S. citizens to two candidates, neither of whom can change the foreign or domestic priorities of the imperial U.S. regime." As a result he is currently facing something of a welcome (non-racist and left-leaning) "progressive backlash" on his health care agenda, as Paul Krugman recently noted.  But the wave existed and seems (or seemed) to carry certain widespread hope for social-democratic government action on behalf of substantive progressive changes like guaranteed governmental healthcare, livable wages, carbon-emission reduction, housing relief, public works, and a post-Iraq War peace dividend. These are expectations that Obama, rightly described by Wise as "politically cautious" (I would go farther and agree with a 2007 New Yorker description of Obama as "deeply conservative"  and with Adolph Reed's 1996 description of the future president as "vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal" ), is unwilling and/or unable to fulfill. Still, they help create a different and more fearful environment for the G.O.P. than did the Clinton ascendancy.
The Clintons' rise in 1992-93 was less dramatic and less threatening to the right. It did not involve the new Democratic president winning more than 50 percent of the vote, much less seeming to stand atop a vast popular movement for "change." Bill Clinton snuck into the White House with a considerable assist from Ross Perot). It was not connected to any comparably massive repudiation of the Republican Party and was not (as was Obama's rise) preceded by and connected to a dramatic increase in the Democrats' numerical power in Congress. The crisis of the Republicans under the messianic-militarist George W. "Bush the Lesser" dwarfed the GOP's difficulties under George Bush Senior
The Obama Media Cult (Not Just a Far-Right Concoction)
Third, with all due respect to JFK and Reagan, there's never been anything quite like "BaRockstar Obama" when it comes to media adoration and popular, mass-marketed (yes) personality cult. Picking up on the widely noted "quasi-religious" dimensions of Obama's presidential run, Chicago attorney and author Tom Levinson observed in March of 2008 that "the Obama campaign" had "the distinct feel" of "a low-grade millennial movement." Obama's quest for the White House "is a new expression," Levinson wrote in the Chicago Tribune, "of an age-old millennial vision because it's believed that the ‘Change' preached by the candidate has the potential to transform American life - completely and soon" (Tom Levinson, "For Some, Obama's Mission is a Movement for the Ages," Chicago Tribune, March 9, 2008). More than a year before, Obama had educed such passionate support from voters that Slate.com's Timothy Noah set up "The Obama Messiah Watch," a regular link quoting from a flood of "gratuitously adoring" articles on the candidate. The corporate media (the wacky right was largely correct to accuse the "mainstream media" of having a "slobbering love affair" with candidate Obama) and the power of "new media" have a lot to do with this, along with the simple Obama's real telegenic charisma and related oratorical athleticism.
The more-than-occasionally cultish aspect of the Obama phenomenon was naturally bound to spark fears of undue centralized stated power and Dear Leader adoration, hallmark characteristics of what has been portrayed in the U.S. as "socialism" in the 20th and early 21st century.
De-legitimization of Neoliberal Ideology and Increased Support for (Actually) "Socialism"
Fourth, Obama's ascendancy has coincided with a financial crisis and related Great Recession that has in fact involved significant new government intervention in the economy. That meltdown has also produced an escalated and widespread popular rejection of "free market" economics. Forget for a moment that most of the government intervention occurring is about good old-fashioned state capitalism - socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest - and the reigning profits system has never really been about a "free market." The fact remains that "neoliberal" market ideology has been dealt a significant blow. The common sense of the nation has shifted away from "unregulated" capitalism and against the Reagan-Thatcher notion that any sort of significant government involvement in the nation's economic life is an inherent assault on "freedom" and "democracy."
As an honestly calculated U.S. unemployment rate moves well into the teens (even the milquetoast official rate is pushing 10 percent), moreover, "socialism" seems to have found a certain newfound popularity in the U.S An issue of the leading corporate weekly U.S. public affairs magazine Newsweek last February bore a provocative cover proclaiming that "We Are All Socialists Now." U.S. voters elected as president a man widely accused (quite absurdly) of being "a socialist." While Newsweek's overblown headline strained credulity, a recent poll by the reputable polling firm Rasmussen Reports found that 20 percent of Americans now "prefer socialism to capitalism." Just more than half (53 percent) of American adults now "believe capitalism is better than socialism. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better." Most hopeful of all for lefties, "adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided" on capitalism v. socialism, Rasmussen Reports learned: "37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided."
True, Rasmussen Reports never precisely defined the meaning of these terms. This left its survey-takers free to follow Newsweek in incorrectly understanding "socialism" (which for actual radicals like myself signifies workers' control and the democratic planning of economic life to meet human needs, not private profit) to mean just about any significant degree of government intervention in the economy. Still, those are remarkable opinion findings, intimately related to the transparent failure of American capitalism and the "Wall Street crap-shoot" (Kurt Vonnegut's term) at the end of the Bush II era and the beginning of the Obama administration.
Obama has come to power in a situation that has seemed potentially akin to the 1930s, when the mother of modern capitalist crises (the Great Depression) led to widespread popular questioning of the capitalist system and to a significant new level of government intervention (including some genuinely progressive policies like the Social Security, National Labor Relations, and Fair Labor Standards Acts) in U.S. economic and social life. This is very different from the Clinton era, which coincided with a prolonged economic expansion that picked up even unskilled wages at the end
So maybe some of the ridiculous red-baiting of Obama is about socialism to some degree. And (more certainly) capitalism and economics. Along with partisan party balances
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