Streetwise Professor

October 26, 2010

How Low Can He Go?

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 3:55 pm

Obama’s campaign rhetoric has become increasingly uglier as the day of reckoning nears.  The last couple of days have seen two pretty outrageous statements coming out of his mouth.

Outrageous statement Number 1:

He said Republicans had driven the economy into a ditch and then stood by and criticized while Democrats pulled it out. [Enough with that metaphor, already.  Geez, he’s beaten it to a bloody pulp.  It was trite the first time out of his mouth.  The thousandth time . . . oi.]  Now that progress has been made, he said, “we can’t have special interests sitting shotgun. We gotta have middle class families up in front. We don’t mind the Republicans joining us. They can come for the ride, but they gotta sit in back.”

How is this wrong?  Let me start counting the ways.

For one, he is not Constitutionally empowered to dictate who “sits” where, and what powers Republican legislators or governors exercise.  The Constitution determines the seating chart, and Obama has bupkus to say about that.  If the Republicans win control of the House and or the Senate, and win additional governorships, they have every right to exercise their powers under the Constitution.  That’s why we have a Constitution, and why we have elections.

For another, Obama implies that there is disjunction between “middle class families” on the one hand, and “Republicans” on the other.  Really?  Hardly.  I doubt that even a weaker claim, that middle class families are preponderantly Democrat, would withstand rigorous scrutiny.  This is, moreover, another example of Mr. Uniter’s divisiveness, and of playing the class warfare card.

For yet another, the “sit in back” metaphor is highly racially charged.  Can you imagine the hue and cry that would result had any Republican suggested that Democrats generally–let alone Obama, specifically–“sit in the back”?  Even if you ignore the racial angle, the metaphor implies that some Americans–and likely, the majority of those casting ballots in a week–are second class citizens.  This relegation of some Americans to inferior status is disgusting, especially coming from an individual who wraps himself in the mantle of civil rights.

Random asides, in order to reduce blood pressure: When I hear of the “back of the bus” metaphor, I remember an old Sanford and Son episode from the early ’70s.  I tried to find the script online, but couldn’t, but know that the dialog went something like this.  Lamont asked Fred (Redd Foxx) what he’d done in the military, and Fred replied something like: “When I was in the Air Force, they wanted me to be a tail gunner, but I wasn’t gonna seat in the back of no airplane.”  I also just found out that  teenagers sometimes say “Rosa Parks” to call a seat.   I think that’s something new.

After that needed comic relief, back to the decidedly unfunny president.

Outrageous statement Number 2:

“If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, ‘We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us,’ if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it’s gonna be harder and that’s why I think it’s so important that people focus on voting on November 2.

Such a post-racial uniter, isn’t he?  Let’s see: a twofer.  A blatant racial appeal and a bonus Nixonian categorization of some Americans as enemies.  Plus an assertion that government is essentially a spoils system to reward friends and punish enemies.

Yes, politics ain’t beanbag, but there certain lines of decorum and rhetoric that should not be crossed.  Obama didn’t just cross those lines with these remarks: he obliterated them.  All the more outrageous coming from someone who portrayed himself, from his very first, as someone dedicated to transcending partisan politics and rancorous division.  Remember this?:

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America – there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

Rings pretty hollow now, doesn’t it?  Was he lying for effect then, or has he just found these noble sentiment to be inconvenient today?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Obama appears to make you somewhat paranoid. His reference to Republicans sitting in the back is in the context of their driving the economy into the ditch. He’s saying don’t put them in charge again by electing them to Congress – a pretty predictable request during an election campaign one would have thought. The metaphor he’s using is that of a car. Where you get the whole Rosa Parks thing I do not know. Perhaps the person here who’s hyper-aware of race is you?

    Why should you think there’s an isomorphic identity between Republicans and the middle class? Or do you think this particular voting ‘bloc’ should be owned by that party?

    Which brings me on to his appeal to the Latino vote. It’s certainly not edifying – but he’s a politician in an election campaign for goodness sake. They’re all schizophrenic – wanting to be the leader of the nation but having to campaign as a partisan. Just to take one example amongst many from across the political spectrum: Margaret Thatcher as newly-elected PM quoted Francis of Assisi on the doorstep of No. 10, “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony…” Well, she hardly followed through on that, not least electorally.

    Given you write in such a clear-eyed fashion about Russia I’m still mystified by your irrational rage against Obama. There are obviously grounds for criticism but it’s the unrelenting, unbalanced and almost unscrupulous ad hominem nature of your attacks. There appears to be something about him that flicks some switch in you. But at least you appear to have thought better of calling him a Bolshevik.

    Comment by Gaw — October 27, 2010 @ 5:26 am

  2. I am a middle class democrat ( thinking about switching to Independents) and I am appalled at these statements. I do not remember time when our country was so divided thanks to our President. Isn’t he a Constitutional lawyer??!! Time and again he shows complete disregard to the Constitution. Next he’ll want to “change” the Constitution. I’ve had enough of “change”, I want my country back.

    Comment by voroBey — October 27, 2010 @ 11:35 am

  3. Yours is one possible interpretation of Obama’s “in the back” remark, and a fair one, but the metaphor is so charged that other interpretations are defensible too. If I am paranoid, I have a lot of company, because I was not alone in my read and my reaction. I was certainly not alone in my associating the remark to Rosa Parks, etc. It’s a not uncommon American reaction.

    And to evaluate this remark, it is useful to carry out the thought experiment of say, Sarah Palin making the same statement about Obama or the Dems. You have to know that such a remark would have been interpreted as racial code, and unleashed a fury of criticism and outrage. If the metaphor is unacceptable being aimed in one direction, it is because there is something fundamentally wrong with it . . . meaning it shouldn’t be aimed in the other direction either.

    I didn’t assert an isomorphism between middle class and Republicanism. Obama asserted a disjunction, and that’s definitely false; that’s what I objected to. Given that Republicans are now primarily the party of small business, rural areas, and exurbia, all primarily middle class strongholds, I would surmise that the overlap between those who identify themselves as conservative and/or Republican and those who are either self-identified as middle class, or who would meet some relatively objective definition thereof, is pretty extensive.

    And we’ll have a very strong read on that in 6 days. Note that Obama is campaigning almost exclusively in non-middle class enclaves, focusing on his base. That tells you a lot right there. He may claim he’s fighting for the middle class, but the middle class ain’t buying, and he apparently lacks confidence to campaign in middle class strongholds.

    I really have to take strong exception to the “it’s just campaigning” excuse for blatant racial appeals. It’s a red line that should not be crossed. Period. That Obama’s remark is also grossly hypocritical, and a repudiation and betrayal of the post-racial, uniter persona that was a big part of his victory, makes it all the worse. Quoting St. Francis aside, nobody ever saw Thatcher as a uniter or post-partisan, nor did she ever, ever portray herself that way.

    It’s funny you should find my Russian commentary “clear-eyed” and my attitude towards Obama irrational. My critiques of Russia and my critiques of Obama share the same intellectual roots–libertarian/classical liberal, anti-statist, and yes, American exceptionalist. If there is a sharper edge to my Obama criticism it is because whereas I can take a somewhat detached view of Russia, I don’t like what is happening to my country now and it cuts very close to home–literally.

    I don’t think what I write is ad hominem, and I don’t think it’s unscrupulous, because I say it flat out and in your face. You may disagree, which I have no problems with.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 27, 2010 @ 10:10 pm

  4. Gaw–further my point re the fact that I was not alone in my interpretation of the Obama “in the back” remark.:

    Incidentally, Obama has come in for some criticism for that new flourish, “you got to sit in the back seat.” His critics suggest it is reminiscent of the pre-Rosa Parks era, when blacks had to sit in the back of the bus. But as we all know, the only thing Obama does with buses is throw people under them. In a car, as blogger Tom Maguire notes, the guy who drives while others sit in the back is a chauffeur.

    And here:

    Dave Poff at RedState deplores the racialy divisive imagery, and I certainly agree that if any Republican ever suggested Dems need to sit in the back of anything all we would be hearing about is Rosa Parks and unreconstructed racist redneck Republicans.

    I didn’t go looking for the WSJ quote, BTW. I was just doing my usual night read of the WSJ oped page when I came upon that.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 27, 2010 @ 10:51 pm

  5. How could anyone be offended about being told they should have to sit in the back of a metaphorical car? It’s only possible if you totally alter the context and the meaning of what he said. And all that stuff about the Constitution was surely misdirected.

    I still don’t understand why Obama can’t appeal to the middle class and in doing so try to distance them from Republicans. This may not be a successful strategy but its kinda what politicians do in a democracy.

    As I said, I agree that Obama’s Latino comments weren’t edifying. But when his opponents are describing him as an Islamist Terrorist Bolshevik Fascist and also calling for Hispanics to be deported and worse (sampled from the comments below the piece you linked to) I think it’s a bit rich to complain about him using words like ‘enemy’ – pretty mild fare in comparison. And by the way, paranoia is paranoia even if it’s widely held. Applying the descriptions I just cited – one of which I’ve seen here – to a manifestly liberal politician (liberal used in its widest sense meaning secular, pluralist and democratic!) is rather obscene and betrays a lack of appreciation for the dreadful meaning of these terms.

    Comment by Gaw — October 28, 2010 @ 3:37 am

  6. Gaw. I think this is a GBS, two countries separated by a common language thing. Or just that you don’t understand the historical resonance of the metaphor to the American ear. I wouldn’t expect you to, but I think you should at least acknowledge that there are things that may sound unexceptional to people with one background, but which people with other backgrounds, histories, and associations take strong exception to. This is one of them. There’s a good reason why you don’t get it, but you don’t get it. That is undeniable.

    He can’t appeal to the middle class, to be blunt, because he is screwing them royally. Period. His is a coalition of the wealthy and the poor that is largely at odds with, and indeed despises, middle America. And middle America by and large understands that, and perceives his pro-middle class rhetoric as just so much more hypocrisy.

    Look at an article in today’s WSJ. It describes the tea party movement as primarily a middle class one. Leftists here in the US demonize it, but don’t understand it. They think of it as some reincarnation of the Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson social conservative movement. False, false, false. Anybody who says that hasn’t a fricking clue. It is a middle class, middle aged, largely libertarian movement focused on economics, and public expenditure and debt in particular. Obama created that movement, wholly inadvertently, and his claims of siding with the middle class are hollow. As they say, the only problem with that dog food is that the dogs don’t like it.

    Weren’t edifying? Please. Appeals to race are unacceptable, period. And it is interesting that the only people he has *ever* called enemies are other Americans. What’s more, I think that even you could be able to distinguish between marginal figures calling the President of the United States names and engaging in hyperbole, and the President of the United States calling citizens of his own country names, with a racial appeal mixed in for good measure.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 30, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

  7. I think we’ll have to agree to differ on most of this. But I just want to make one more point in relation to the back of the car metaphor (which I do understand – for what it’s worth, I studied 20th century US history at Cambridge). You seem to believe that Obama was deliberately deploying a segregation-related metaphor which put Republicans in the place occupied previously by Southern black people. I find it incredible that he should do this. It’s a bizarre reading that makes Obama a monster driven by racial vengeance and with no sense of impartial justice. I don’t think he’s like this, to say the least. But, hey, it seems a good number of Americans do.

    Anyway, I’ll continue to enjoy your incisive posts on the racket that is Russia (and, by the way, the flaws of politicans over there surely occupy a different scale to those even in our own two sorry countries…)

    Comment by Gaw — October 30, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

  8. “We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends”, I bet Mugabe, Putin and any thirld world “President Wabenzi/Strong Man” for life is pumping his fists and AK-47’s in the air with that statement. Now thats the Hope and Change I expected from Obama. It also explains the lawlessness, corruption and general thirld world economic malaise that America is experiencing at the moment. The United States of Argentina – Yes we can.

    Comment by Opinionated Bloviator — November 6, 2010 @ 2:00 am

  9. For yet another, the “sit in back” metaphor is highly racially charged.

    Only to the feeble minds of those who can’t tell a bus from a passenger car.

    Comment by Ostap Bender — November 8, 2010 @ 8:49 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress