Saturday, March 01, 2008

Fear Of A Black Plan

After four years I figured it was about time for me to reaffirm my standing claim that Roy can truthfully tack "and the Mighty Reason Man concurs" onto the end of (very nearly) every post, so I went looking for something recent to link to. Turns out he posted just yesterday on fears of Obama's potential assasination - specifically, certain rightwing reactions to that fear, but I'll come back to that - something I've been thinking about lately.

The first time someone spoke out loud to me about the fear of Obama being killed was a few months ago in a conversation I had with my mother. At the time, I dismissed it as ridiculous - not the idea that some crackpot racist might take a shot at him, but the notion that this should in any way influence one's vote. It wasn't until recently that it finally dawned on me why this was such a concern of hers, and why her concerns are shared - out loud or not - with a significant number of women from her generation. What finally made everything click was the blossoming of my suspicion that, while of course she was concerned for Barack himself, who she's really concerned about is Michelle Obama, as well as their two daughters. Which makes sense. Mom was too young to have truly grasped the significance of JFK, RFK, and MLK at the time, even though she vividly remembers their assasinations, but she has watched their families deal with the aftermath ever since. Given the intense spotlight that the media placed on them, the pain that those families have lived with ever since is more personal to Americans that age than I think the younger generations realize. When she talks about her admiration for Caroline Kennedy, for instance, what's unspoken, I now believe, is her fear that she'll have to watch Obama's daughters go through the same thing. That also goes for Ethel Kennedy, or Coretta Scott King, in regard to Michelle Obama.

In the end, what finally convinced my mother that these fears should not be allowed to impact her support of Obama was an interview Michelle gave recently where she addressed such fears. I'm paraphrasing, but what she told me was "If Michelle herself has made the decision to live with the risk, than so can I."

* * *

Which, to digress for a moment, is one of the reasons I think Michelle Obama is going to prove largely immune to the kind of demonization that Hillary Clinton endured - despite the fact that they have had roughly similar professional careers, and Michelle is, if anything, edgier than Hillary was in the 90's. What I don't think occurs to most people to ask is why Hillary was targeted for the rightwing hate campaign of the 90's, rather than just Bill. My pet theory goes like this: the hatemongers had to be careful that their defamation of Bill did not have the side effect of making Hillary a sympathetic figure - someone your wife identifies with and so hushes you when you get too far out in your ranting about Bill. Most men, I think, don't much care about the First Lady one way or the other, but if you can get their wives to hate her, you remove the circuit breaker in a good number of household political conversations, the hysteria can ramp up uninterrupted, and eventually you can write books about her hanging dildoes and crackpipes on the White House Christmas tree and still show your face in public. Pop-psychology and gross generalization, yes, but tell me you've never witnessed variations of just that dynamic.

Michelle Obama, however, has a built-in advantage. Regardless of whether it's objectively true or not, the popular perception is and will remain that Obama is at higher risk for assasination than any other candidate in memory. Therefore, in agreeing to let him run (and anyone who has seen her on television has little doubt that had she not agreed, he wouldn't be in the race), she has shown the kind of courage that we praise in police spouses, firefighter spouses, and military wives. In watching Michelle, I think a lot of women ask themselves if they'd be willing to expose their families to that kind of potential devastation - and regardless of their answer, they come away with a much higher baseline level of respect for her.

The first major test of this, of course, is this nonsense about her being proud of her country for the first time blah blah. My guess is that despite the ludicrous level of media attention it received, we'll look back two months from know and realize that it rolled right off her back - if we even remember to look back in the first place.

* * *

And then there is the rightwing reaction to the potential danger to Obama - both overtly, as Roy highlights, and, in the very near future, covertly.

Roy quotes an Instapundit linkee:
"And yet it is more probable that an attempt on Obama will be made than at any time in the last few decades. The country has been infected with Bush hate for so long, and the popular culture has been so infested with dreams and threats and "works of art" imagining the death of Bush, that extending that level of political hate to Obama is trivial."

For the immediate future, I think your're going to see a reasonable number of rightwing hacks echoing this idea (complete with "hey man, i'm just letting you know what people are saying out there" links from Instapundit). Most seem to be attributing this to basic lunacy, but I see it more as laying the groundwork for their response to a potential assasination attempt. By getting this out there now, they can seem less like opportunistic vultures when they essentially blame the victim if it actually happens. After all, were the unthinkable to happen, the number one rhetorical priority would be to prevent him from becoming a martyr by creating a false distinction between Obama - who they'll then be forced to praise 'til the end of time - and the Democratic Party. Blaming the Democrats for the hate that inspired such an abominable act changes it from a crime to a self-inflicted wound, and therefore a reason to support Republicans. "Hey, I've been saying this all along, so you can't say I'm taking advantage of the situation."

But that's just a minor effort to deal with an abstract possibility. Once the general election kicks off, the fear of assasination is going to be a key line of just-under-the-surface attack on Obama.

It will happen like this. Once Obama actually has the nomination in hand, black excitement is going to go into the stratosphere. The last bits of hesitation will be shed as well-founded cynicism is replaced by belief that it really, actually, seriously could happen. That exitement, that hope, is going to be everywhere, and it will make it very easy for the hacks to pose the question: "What happens if this hope is murdered and African-Americans get their hearts broken again in such an excruciating manner?"

That's when people start talking about riots.

Because that's the other thing that people of my mom's generation remember about assasinations: the violence that engulfed almost every urban center in the country when Martin Luther King was killed.

Without necessarily putting them in this context, there are going to be a lot of images this summer of the riots of '68; and if that seems too distant, we'll get to see video from LA in the '92 riots. There are going to be a lot of people who won't need the connection to be made for them, they'll come up with it all on their own: imagine something on a scale of LA in '92 happening in all 100 cities that rioted in '68. This does not mean those people are racists; it is actually a pretty natural correlation, and entirely topical. But anytime buzz about the idea starts to die down, some minor story or controversy somewhere will just happen to put it back, not necessarily on the front page, but in the front section. You're going to hear Reginald Denny's name more than once this summer.

This will never be an explicit attack from mainstream Republican sources, but bet your ass it's going to be whispered in all the dark corners of the conservative movement, and quite a few of the only-somewhat-dim ones. Add to the mix rumors (which already exist in primordial form, but to which I will not link; a minute with google will find them) of black militants planning retaliatory attacks throughout the US in the event of an attempt on Obama's life, and you have a wickedly potent fear-based attack that leaves the right people's hands clean. It's a brilliant reversal of what the left is expecting: Don't vote for Obama, not because it means the blacks are taking over, but because at any moment for the next four years a single bullet would destroy every major urban center and start a war in our streets. The blacks have to be let down easy; he must be defeated by the ballot so that he can't be killed by the bullet.

The assasination talk is not going to go away. It will rise and fall throughout the campaign. I actually think that most mainstream sources are sensitive enough to accusations of racism to not allow themselves to get too far out ahead of the curve on wild speculation about what would happen in the event of an attempt on Obama. But there will most certainly be those that constantly try to leap ahead, who dangle incendiary stories in front of the media and dare them to bite, hoping to push the conversation into panic mode. Watch for those militant retaliation rumors to get picked up by Drudge.

That these attacks are probable is not a reason to renounce support for Obama; if you think it is, you might as well write off the possibility of a black man ever becoming President. But it is a reason to be vigilant, and be prepared to push back on this stuff the second it threatens to hit the mainstream.


Anonymous said...

The only thing I'd add is to suggest that while Michelle Obama is doubtless courageous, Hillary Clinton has been subject to the most appalling and scurillous attacks for SIXTEEN years, and she's still fighting.

As far as courage is concerned, I'd have to give the(my) judgement to the Clintons.

YMMV of course.

res ipsa loquitur said...

I think Michelle Obama is going to prove largely immune to the kind of demonization that Hillary Clinton endured

Not sure. I've heard people who call themselves liberals refer to her as "mouthy" and "divisive" after her "We'll have to see about that comment" re support for HRC should BHO not get the nomination.

Very Very Happy to see you back, btw.

Anonymous said...

well done. Two points.

They also went after Hillary because they couldn't go after Bill as effectively: he had charisma and he was smart as hell. As Obama has shown himself both popular and adept at repelling attacks, they are looking for any opening that they can use against his wife. Their instant response with her careless "proud" remark shows that they're monitoring everything closely so they can pounce. She seems like a smart, terrific lady, but she's ultimately not a professional politician, and they're conscienceless vultures.

The secret service is a high quality, professional outfit. The assassinations that happened in the 60s were people not under their protection. Presidents 42 and 43, two of the most reviled presidents in our nation's history, were not assassinated. That shows the secret service will be able to keep Obama safe against the many people who wish him harm.

Finally, I don't know where you've been, but I would love it if you posted more often.

TMRM said...

ad hom - agreed about hillary suffering unfair attacks forever, but i was referring to perception of the physical danger to obama.

res - those liberals were dudes, weren't they. i was referring primarily to women, and i think michelle comes into this with better respect among women than HRC in the nineties.

Travis - i agree in re: secret service. I was entirely referring to popular perception, not actual likelihood. in re: going after hillary cause they cant go after bill - gennifer flowers was in the news before bill was even inaugurated. indeed, it was his charisma (with the ladies) that they ended up using against him.


res ipsa loquitur said...

res - those liberals were dudes, weren't they.

Indeed they were, MRM. Indeed they were.