In a recent article in the New Yorker, President Barack Obama contributed to the "conversation on race" that his Attorney General, Eric Holder, declared Americans too cowardly to experience. Of course, he put his remarks in the context of the Tea Party driven opposition to his expansive--and expensive-- administration.
The President as pictured in the New Yorker
In an interview with David Remnick, the President made the following observation:
“There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President. Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black President.”
Despite activity on the outrage meter driven by various conservative pundits, it is difficult to imagine what constitutes the controversy about that quote. Yes, there are plenty of Americans who would rather sit at home than vote for a black president. According to one Gallup Poll a few months before the election 2012, about 4% of those interviewed admitted that they would not vote for a black president.
And yes, many people would give him the benefit of the doubt because he was a black president. Gallup so far has been "too cowardly" to poll Americans on this question, but a cursory glance at MSNBC will provide enough impressionistic evidence to support the President's latter contention.
What Obama's right hand giveth, however, the left hand taketh away.
Alluding to the Tea Party driven opposition, the President remarked:
“You can be somebody who, for very legitimate reasons, worries about the power of the federal government—that it’s distant, that it’s bureaucratic, that it’s not accountable—and as a consequence you think that more power should reside in the hands of state governments. But what’s also true, obviously, is that philosophy is wrapped up in the history of states’ rights in the context of the civil-rights movement and the Civil War and Calhoun. There’s a pretty long history there. And so I think it’s important for progressives not to dismiss out of hand arguments against my Presidency or the Democratic Party or Bill Clinton or anybody just because there’s some overlap between those criticisms and the criticisms that traditionally were directed against those who were trying to bring about greater equality for African-Americans."
Obama notes that there is a "pretty long history" in which a political philosophy emphasizing states' rights was inextricably linked to a social philosophy of white racial supremacy.
It is a lack of historical perspective, however, that exactly characterizes the President's remarks as the nation's "historian-in-chief."
Allusions to states' rights in the 21st century different significantly from those same allusions in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In the 18th century, the original opponents of the Constitution of 1787 remembered as "The Anti-federalists" objected to the new government on several grounds. First, they recognized that the new Constitution created a truly national government that, in specifically limited and enumerated powers, could act directly on the American citizens. They feared that this threatened the sovereignty of the states and the liberties of the people of the states. Second, they suspected that the larger electoral districts for the new Congress put electoral office beyond the reach of ordinary men. They feared the rise of a political class of elites or even aristocrats.
These kinds of arguments were later embraced by the original Jeffersonian Republicans as they organized opposition to the administration of President George Washington and the economic policies of his Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Neither in the case of the "Anti-federalists" nor the Jeffersonian Republicans were the questions of slavery and racial supremacy paramount in their "states' rights" arguments.
That only occurred in the 19th century with the rise of the abolition movement and the controversy about the status of slavery in western territories of the United States. The American Civil War to a large degree settled these questions.
Granted, rhetoric based upon racist assumptions resurfaced during the era of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The issues on voting rights and segregation, too, have been long settled.
The Tea Party Movement is not about rolling back any one's civil rights. If constitutional conservatives had any such intentions, they would have enjoyed better prospects of success when Republicans actually controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. I do not recall any efforts to do so.
The Tea Party Movement is about fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets.
To argue otherwise based upon clumsy historical analogies is more than ignorant.
Is anyone surprised?