Race and Anti-Obama ‘Hysteria’

Obama after speaking to the joint session of Congress.

The Republicans keep crooning their party’s tired old tune from the Great Depression: the free market, not “big government,” chases hard times away.

Never mind that a hefty helping of unfettered capitalism in the 1920s caused the Great Depression by concentrating more and more wealth into fewer and fewer hands.

Forget that in 1932, when joblessness and business failures were edging toward historic highs, the country turned to the federal government to lead us back to prosperity.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democrats said if the private sector couldn’t stimulate the economy, the government should. Most people were glad for the jobs and other help the New Deal gave them, and they voted accordingly.

So why is there so much distrust — if not downright hatred – for government, President Barack Obama and the Democrats?

Morehead, Ky., State University historian and author John Hennen doesn’t mince words: “The hysteria about Obama, although some of it may be related to philosophical objections to central authority, is largely rooted in race.”

Those are fighting words to most white folks who vote Republican.

Yet in FDR’s day, a majority of white folks loved federal programs like Social Security that made their lives better.

Most whites favored Medicare in the 1960s, too. But it was also in that fateful decade that a multitude of whites, especially in the old Confederate states, turned against Washington and the Democrats.

However, much of white America wasn’t fond of federal civil rights activism, namely landmark laws aimed at ending years of Jim Crow segregation. Many whites also opposed new federal anti-poverty programs which they believed — falsely — only benefited African Americans.

Seeing a chance to make political hay from disaffected whites, the Republicans abandoned their historic commitment to civil rights for the “Southern Strategy.” Crying “states rights!” — the old Dixie code word for slavery and Jim Crow — the new GOP reaped a bountiful harvest of “white backlash” voters.

For the past 50 years or so, Republican denunciations of “big government” have been mostly “dressed up appeals to white supremacy,” Hennen said.

The GOP is what the Democrats used to be: mainly the white folks party. The old Democratic “Solid South” is largely Republican Red.

To be sure, current Republicans – even neo-Confederates like Gov. Rick Perry of Texas – don’t overtly race-bait like Dixie’s Democratic demagogues of old did. They don’t have to; the tea party faithful and the rest of the “Obama’s-a-Kenyan-born-Islamo-Socialist” crowd that make up a growing chunk of the GOP’s base get the message.

Anyway, the Republicans keep hammering away at the debt, claiming it is the number one “job killer.” They say that “big government” – meaning people-helping programs, not the defense department — is Public Enemy Number One and that Uncle Sam can’t spend us out of the recession.

FDR used deficit spending to stimulate the economy and provide jobs. By the mid-30s, the country seemed headed out of the Depression.

As a result, Roosevelt slashed federal spending. In 1937, the economy sagged again.

Berry CraigNot until World War II was our economic recovery complete. But we financed the war with record deficit spending. The deficit was 30 percent of our gross domestic product in 1943, 23 percent in 1944 and 22 percent in 1945.

That fact has led some economists to conclude that had FDR employed more deficit spending, the Depression might have gone away sooner.

But what probably won’t go away any time soon is the GOP’s thinly veiled pandering to white prejudice, according to Hennen. The Great Emancipator must be spinning in his tomb.

Berry Craig

Published by the LA Progressive on September 9, 2011
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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.