In a recent piece, Andrew Sullivan observed:
It has long befuddled me – the way so many on the right view him not with disagreement or discernment, but with contempt. Contempt is a strong word; and it is built on some notion of his illegitimacy as president. They called Clinton illegitimate as well, of course, because of his plurality victory in 1992 (he never quite made it to 50 percent of the vote in 1996 either). But Obama? A clear electoral victory by a black candidate after one of the most brilliant underdog campaigns in our lifetimes. I suppose the right’s view that racism no longer exists in America defuses the racial barrier. But it’s telling, is it not, that very, very few Republicans have hailed the election of a bi-racial man as president, if only to celebrate the progress this country has made.
He ran a brilliant underdog campaign and beat Hillary Clinton who appeared all but unbeatable. He united the Democratic party behind him, built a powerful coalition and won a decent majority of the popular vote.
Why not fear of Obama’s charm? Or suspicion of his cunning? Why not coopt this oh-so-willing-to-be-coopted figure to move his policies to the right (as if the individual mandate, extension of Bush tax cuts, and escalation of the war in Afghanistan could get further right)?
No. Instead we have contempt. A president who can be shouted at during a State of the Union address; a president whose birth certificate, readily available, is still questioned; a president who is regarded by an unthinkable chunk of Republicans as a Muslim; a president who allegedly cannot speak a full sentence without a TelePrompter; or, in Glenn Reynolds’ immortal words, “a racist hatemonger.”
The right has constructed a Barack Obama on whom they can heap their resentment. The Obama against whom the right rails does not exist in the real world. He’s been boringly moderate in almost all his policies. Even health care reform was thought up in a right wing think tank. He’s cut taxes. He killed Osama Bin Laden and still the right screams against him as some sort of wild eyed socialist.
A reader of Sullivan’s suggested an interesting reason for the right’s contempt:
The Republican world falls apart at each of its ascendent moments. We see it again and again: the Right organizes, wins, shows its ugliest feathers, and is then rejected. The wound from each rejection is cauterized by the Limbaughesque smug satisfaction of being right all along! Smarter than their rejectors, who have been brainwashed, are privileged elitists, or are insufficiently informed by a biased media / educational / entertainment complex.
This is how they felt in 2008. They didn’t hate Obama because he’s black; they resented him because he was beloved. The nation had fallen in love, and it wasn’t with them. Who could overlook the Nixon-like contempt for the Other? If the rejection carries with it an identifying characteristic (a history of racism, elitism, fiscal mismanagement) it becomes ammunition to hurl back. Hence “racist hatemonger”, “he made it worse”, and so on. They resent being called racist, so Obama’s the racist. They resent their own Big Governing, so Obama is a socialist. They resent the stain of Bush’s 5-4 election, so the fix was in for Obama ’08.
It’s worth thinking about. The right loved George W. Bush; by the time he left office, he was held in almost universal contempt by most Americans. They loved him and the of us didn’t and like a scorned lover, they want to strike back.