Obama accused of 'playing race card to explain his failures'

Rush Limbaugh leads attack, calling US President's comments to New Yorker magazine 'deranged'

Column LAST UPDATED AT 08:45 ON Wed 22 Jan 2014
Charles Laurence

IS PRESIDENT Barack Obama playing the race card in a bid to explain away his failures and his lower-then-ever poll numbers?

Obama made his most direct comments yet on the issue which has dogged his presidency in the New Yorker, in the longest print interview he has given since reaching the White House in 2009.

“There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President,” Obama told David Remnick, the magazine's editor, who interviewed him in the Oval Office and on Air Force One on a trip to the West Coast.

“Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black President.”

Remnick writes that “Obama’s election was one of the great markers in the black freedom struggle. In the electoral realm, ironically, the country may be more racially divided than it has been in a generation. Obama lost among white voters in 2012 by a margin greater than any victor in American history.”  

Pollsters find that “older whites” who feel marginalised in both the global economy and in an increasingly “brown” America not only make up the hardcore of the right-wing Tea Party but led the tumble last year in approval for Obama from his own Democrat supporters.

“There is a historic connection between some of the arguments that we have politically and the history of race in our country, and sometimes it’s hard to disentangle those issues,” Obama went on.

In fact, according to Remnick, Obama went on and on. By the end of the article, Remnick was referring to Obama as “the Professor-in-Chief” for his predilection for speaking “in paragraphs” and for ponderously considering every angle of an issue.

But the Republican right is crowing that Obama has been reduced to blaming racism for his woes.

Rush Limbaugh, the rabble-rousing radio talk show host, declared it a “deranged” interview.

“So, what, white Americans have just figured out Obama's black in the last two years?” said Limbaugh, launching into a trademark tirade. “This is classic. This is really classic. It can't possibly be that people don’t like Obamacare… It has nothing to do with the fact that nobody can find a job, nothing to do with the fact the stimulus didn't work, nothing to do with the fact that he's engaged in crony capitalism, nothing to do with the fact that his green energy things have bombed out, nothing to do with the fact that he's never accepted accountability for anything and has always blamed it on Bush.”

Bloomberg News makes a similar point, although at lower volume.

“Obama’s second term has been marked by controversies including a partial government shutdown in October, revelations that the National Security Agency has gathered personal mobile phone data and the troubled roll-out of health-insurance expansion,” writes Brian Wingfield. “Obama’s approval rating among all voters is 39 per-cent and his disapproval rating is 53 per cent, according to a Gallup Poll..."

Wingfield quoted Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer saying that "poll after poll makes it very clear that Obamacare and other job-killing policies are the reason" for the president’s decline in popularity.

The Republicans have a point - but then so does Obama. There has always been a racial animus against Obama as a black president. His election proved that that animus now rules only a minority of Americans.

At the Daily Beast, Jamelle Bouie, who is black, points out that studies have shown an increase in the number of voters with “explicit anti-black attitudes” from 47.6 per cent in 2008 to 50.9 in 2012, most of them Republicans but some Democrats or independents.

“It’s not new for conservatives to cry that Obama is ‘playing the race card’,” he writes. “But in this instance, it’s silly. Not only is Obama not attributing his entire standing to race, but he’s not saying anything that hasn’t been confirmed by reams of research, to say nothing of common sense…. it’s ludicrous to think it [race] doesn’t play a part in today’s politics.” 

With three years to go, Obama makes it clear to the New Yorker editor that he is worried about what he will be remembered for. He points to Washington’s political gridlock as being the big reason, the “institutional” reason, for the threadbare presidential resume which has so disappointed his “base”. He does not want to be just “a name on a wall” in the history books, but he can’t point to a legacy.

“But I can tell you,” says Obama, “that I will measure myself at the end of my Presidency in large part by whether I began the process of rebuilding the middle class and the ladders into the middle class, and reversing the trend toward economic bifurcation in this society.”

That, given the reality of his own “pro-business” policies and personal ties to the big-money elites, is laughable.

One way or the other, race will be his legacy. Being the first black president earns a worthy place in the history books. It is Obama’s own fault that there is nothing much else to remember him for. · 

Disqus - noscript

Of course Obama is right. Race is still the biggest issue for the vast majority of Americans. And how can any President improve anything or make essential changes when confronted with the political grid-lock that Obama wakes up with every day?