Obama, Bigotry, and Balance ... and Death Threats

By Ryan Rodrick Beiler 09-25-2009

There is some good conversation going around God's Politics partner blogs about what role race is playing in the current wave of opposition to Obama's policies, including Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" outburst and former President Jimmy Carter's response. Jim Wallis' post last week reminded us that, despite many principled disagreements with Obama, there is definitely a hard core of white racists in America. Friends of Justice head (and friend of Sojourners) Alan Bean offers some extensive analysis of this, including some truly disgusting propaganda images. And while Jim saw racism reflected in the disrespect shown by Rep. Wilson's outburst, another regular contributor, Eugene Cho, questions the fairness of that allegation:

Wilson certainly deserved to be called out for his disruptive and outrageous outburst but to publicly declare [think] that Wilson's outbursts were "based on racism" and rooted in fears of a black president was unfair and unfortunate.

While another GP partner blogger, Efrem Smith, suggests that yes,

You might not want to deal with it, but the reality could be that if you're the President and happen to be Black, you can't expect the same level of respect.

However, in the interest of fairness, Smith also reminds us in another post:

When George W. Bush was the President of the United States there were some liberals who labeled him as the anti-christ and some others even went as far as comparing him to Hitler. Now some conservatives and even some evangelicals are launching the same attacks at President Obama. ... Don't believe the hype or the hate. Neither Bush nor Obama are the anti-christ.

Like Smith, I personally remember the occasional, um, unhelpful sign or banner at anti-war rallies comparing Bush to Hitler. I believed then, as I do now, that any comparison of anyone to Hitler who is not Hitler is an insult to the real victims of real Nazi terror. Only Hitler is like Hitler, period. Also it makes the person making that comparison look really, really stupid.

UrbanFaith.com, yet another GP partner site, offered a similar reminder by

I'm taking this time to give liberals advance notice now, because it seems like most of them don't remember exactly how severe a media beating was regularly unleashed on ol' Dubya after all the weapons of mass destruction came up missing.

And don't play dumb, either. I can hear some of you already.

I never behaved THAT badly. My friends and I were never THAT belligerent and obnoxious.

Maybe, maybe not.

All I know is, driving around my hometown of Portland during 2006 and 2007 was, among other things, an exercise in reading snarky leftist bumper stickers like "Fire the Liar," "Somewhere In Texas There's a Village Without Its Idiot," and "When Clinton Lied, No One Died."

Setting aside the distinction between a snarky bumper stickers and an outburst by a member of Congress during a presidential speech to a joint session, I want to affirm these bloggers' expressions of fairness and balance -- especially when the cable news channels that claim those values are anything but. Because, be honest, if a member of Congress had shouted, "You lie!" during a speech by George W. Bush about the Iraq War, WMDs, torture, warrantless wiretapping, environmental policy, etc. -- would you have considered them a heel or a hero?

BUT, if you still can't shake the distinct impression that there's a qualitative difference between the vitriol aimed at Obama versus what was aimed at Bush, here is an under-reported fact (emphasis added):

In his new book, "In the President's Secret Service," author Ron Kessler writes that racists and white supremacists probably account for more than a third of the estimated 30 death threats that Obama allegedly receives every day, about four times as many as were directed at former President George W. Bush.

Lest you think this is an exaggeration with an agenda, note that Ron Kessler is the Washington correspondent for the conservative site Newsmax.com, and has in the past been accused of distorting Obama's relationship with Rev. Wright. This is no Obama coddler. In fact, Kessler asserts that race is a significant factor in these threats, but unsurprisingly took issue with Carter's recent statements:

"I think it's reprehensible for (Carter) to attribute racial motives to people who simply disagree with Barack Obama's policies," Kessler said. "Quite a few of the threats are racially motivated, which doesn't necessarily mean 'right wing.' It means they're racists. It means they're white supremacists. They're jackasses, but it doesn't necessarily mean they're politically tuned in to any particular philosophy. I don't know how they vote, but they're not necessarily involved in any political movement."

So perhaps, as Kessler asserts, these people are mostly freelance haters with unknown political affiliations. Perhaps. My point here is not to point a finger at a particular party -- or cable news network -- for whipping up that kind of animosity with inflammatory rhetoric. Though that's a topic worth exploring.

My point here is that as we should follow Jesus' teachings to love our enemies -- yes, even our political enemies -- it is important to remember that the hatred being aimed at our current president is quantifiably different than that unleashed on Bush -- 400 percent more death threats per day different. And I'm not sure if that counts the pastors praying for his death. In such an atmosphere, it's up to the rest of us to offer far more Christ-like prayers for those on all sides of these ideological divides.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners and a photographer whose work can be seen at www.ryanrodrickbeiler.com.

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