Former President Jimmy Carter recently mentioned something that was so blatantly obvious that here in south Arkansas it was hard to understand why it was controversial. He publicly pointed out that some people oppose President Obama because they don’t believe a black man is qualified to be president. No one else of his stature had been willing to admit it.
The day after Mr. Obama was elected, there was an eerie silence at my workplace. Only those of us who supported him said anything about the election, we spoke only to each other, and we would stop our discussion the moment a known Obama hater came near or entered the room. But other than in strictly private conversations the election was never mentioned even in a casual way. Nothing like “Well, we have a new president “or “I sure am glad that campaign is finally over.” I’ve never before seen anything like it after a presidential election.
A local friend of mine complains often that none of her friends ever know what’s going on. Whenever she says something commendable to them about President Obama, they always say, “But he’s Black!” She tells me that her usual response is to say “He is?” She also told me what a friend of hers from Denton, TX, said to her after the Texas presidential primary: “I voted for him, but I don’t think he should be allowed to live in the White House.”
Just last week I was delivering a box of old newspapers to the local animal shelter, which is at the end of a long straight road. The road is lined with spacious lawns and nice houses set back well away from the pavement. One house, however, has had me worried since November. The occupants never removed their McCain-Palin yard sign. On this trip to the shelter I noticed the campaign sign had been moved closer to the road and another sign had been placed next to it: “Prayer – America’s Only Hope.”
President Obama is who he is, and there’s nothing he can do about it. One retired gentleman, whom I’ve known for over six years, clearly explained the problem to me before the November election: “I don’t think I could ever accept him as my president.” This was from a man who was well aware that George W. Bush was incompetent, irresponsible, and easily the worst president in this man’s lifetime. He strongly supported Hillary Clinton, whose positions on the issues were virtually identical to candidate Obama’s. However, when Obama got the Democratic nomination, he switched to Republican John McCain who supported Bush at least 90 % of the time and would have continued most of Bush’s disastrous policies. Eight months into the Obama presidency, this man claims to have never watched nor listened to President Obama on any televised appearance. He says he’s not interested. I don’t worry about people like him. He doesn’t accept Mr. Obama as his president, but he doesn’t hate him.
I am more concerned about those who maliciously say or write things that are patently untrue about Mr. Obama. Another retiree, whom I’ve also known for over six years and who was also aware of the catastrophic Bush-Cheney co-presidency, referred to then-Senator Obama during the campaign as “a black Muslim.” Only a few days ago, he said that he didn’t think a “Muslim-Marxist” was the right man for the job. Anyone who respects and understands the U. S. Constitution knows that there is no religious test for the office of president. Even if he were a Muslim, which we know he is not, it should not matter. You may not even like the Protestant church of his family’s choice, but it is none of your business.
Also, would a Marxist be so capitalistic as to continue the bank bailouts begun by the Bush administration? Maybe these people really wanted him to do nothing and allow the economy to completely collapse into the Second Great Depression. Then, they would have blamed him for that. Also, would a socialist-communist willingly offer to negotiate away the public option insurance on the health care issue, which would hold down the excessive costs and profits of private insurance companies?
The Obama opponents who recklessly speak or write lies, hatred, and intolerance are not the ones I’m truly scared of. Those people have found venues to release their anxieties and hostilities, like letters to the editor or the occasional Tea Party rallies. This summer many of them turned town hall meetings into examples of mob hysteria. These people are often misinformed and seemingly nuts, but they probably are not physically dangerous. Those I fear the most are the silent ones who agree with the lies and distortions that they hear or read. They keep their feelings bottled up within themselves. They can be incited by the loudmouths, and they are the ones most likely to explode into deadly violence.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published September 18, 2009, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.