Monday, August 30, 2010

Obama: The Most Irreverent Man In America

This picture was on the front page of Sunday's NY Times:
It was also the inspiration for one of the craziest political rants I've been forced to listen to. One of my customers at work came up to the counter holding the Times. She started by mumbling "I wish I could just buy the front page..." She continued in a mildly agitated tone, "This is the most irreverent man in America!" I couldn't see the paper so I asked who she meant. "The President," she said.

I don't like to have political conversations with fellow employees on the job, let alone random customers I've never met. My usual response is silence. Unfortunately, some people see this silence as agreement or simply an excuse to sound off, unchallenged.

"This is a dead man!" she continued. She began pointing at the picture, beginning with the saluting soldier to Obama's left. "See him? Look at his eyes, he's looking at the coffin. Now look at Obama, staring straight ahead. He can't even acknowledge this man who died for his country!"

She then told me that she wanted to take the paper home so she could burn it in front of her son (Yay! Family night!). She ultimately left without buying it, due to it being the pricey Sunday edition. I got a slightly raised blood pressure and an amusing anecdote of the situation. What bothered me the most was her assumption that I naturally shared her righteous indignation, or that the photograph's "offenses" were perfectly clear.

I don't understand the fear and hatred people have of our President. This goes way beyond disagreeing with policy or having differing political views. I don't care if you're conservative or liberal if your ideas are firmly grounded in some rational thought or reason. The fury inspired by the completely normal picture above is just another sample of this growing outrage. It just confuses me. There are obviously extreme examples of people dehumanizing Obama, or resorting to the most base and offensive racial insults. You can find a few of these nuts at any large Tea Party rally.

But the conservative media has been legitimizing questions about Obama's religion and birthplace since before he was elected. By giving equal voice to fringe pundits that call into question his very patriotism and nationality, those ideas naturally bleed into a certain percentage of the popular culture. These people are quick to deny they have any racist motivations, and often call "reverse racism" on anyone who tries to label them as such.

I don't believe that all of Obama's political opponents are racist, but I do believe they exploit racism. I can't think of any other reason why a "birther" movement would carry any weight at all. Do they think there's no screening process for a man poised to become the next President? That birth certificates aren't a matter of public record? That Obama's parents forged a false one lest he someday run for office?

The sad truth is that some people simply can't conceive of a man whose father was Kenyan, whose grandfather was Muslim, whose middle name is Hussein, whose skin is brown, and see anything other than a foreigner. There are plenty of reasons to dislike Obama as President if you have conservative leanings. If you say he's a Kenyan, or a Muslim, or a Socialist/Communist, you automatically remove yourself from the realm of rational conversation.

I've gone off the rails from my original story. The woman at my store didn't mention anything other than Obama's failure to look at a soldier's coffin for the fraction of a second it took for a photograph to be taken. She didn't mention his birth country, or religious preferences, or political alignment. But it doesn't take a great stretch of the imagination to guess what her opinions about those subjects are, if a picture of the man doing nothing out of the ordinary inspires in her the desire to burn it.

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