At this weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, President Obama’s comic routine seemed to have some nasty implications about his political opponents. After reviewing the speech in depth, Byron York reads this between the lines:
Criticism directed at Obama about seemingly non-racial issues, from Ebola to the BP oil spill to climate change, is more severe for Obama than it would be for a white president because it is rooted in racial animus. That animus showed its face in more obvious ways in the birther and Obama-is-a-Muslim memes, but it's always there. Now, in his second term, Obama is finally free to air his resentments.
Obama does not come out and say this, but I think York’s interpretation here is fair. Since 2007, there have been attempts by the left to tie any disagreement with Obama to what York calls “racial animus.” It really seemed like a subtext running through Obama’s routine this weekend.
There is no doubt that the claims about Obama’s birth certificate and religion are ridiculous falsehoods that have emanated from the fringe. (As well as Hillary Clinton supporters.) In the heat of the 2008 primary campaign, Clinton herself even left the door ajar at one point on the question of Obama’s religion.
Even so, the general complaint is without merit. By any historical standard, Obama has not been treated worse than his predecessors. Consider:
-The Hamilton-Reynolds Affair. In the 1790s, Thomas Jefferson and/or James Monroe probably leaked information that tied Alexander Hamilton to a sex scandal after Hamilton had already left office. Hamilton’s wife Eliza was so offended by their behavior that she refused to see Monroe when he called on her in 1825, at the end of his presidency.
-The Election of 1800. Representatives of Thomas Jefferson accused John Adams of being a crypto-monarchist. And Adams’s associates accused Jefferson of being a radical atheist. And these two men had worked together to write the Declaration of Independence!
-Opposition to Andrew Jackson. The Whig party eventually took to comparing Jackson to a monarch. The Whig-controlled Senate actually censured him for removing bank deposits from the Second Bank of the United States.
-Abraham Lincoln. He was roundly and viciously criticized during his tenure, including by his own allies.
-The Bloody Shirt. The Republican party of the Gilded Age retained power in part by “waving the bloody shirt” -- tagging any and all Democrats as being a party to secession.
-“Frying the fat.” This was the infamous strategy of the GOP in the 1888 presidential election, after incumbent Grover Cleveland dared to suggest tariff reductions. The strategy was basically to scare the country into thinking that rationalizing the tax code would bring about economic doom.
-“Spasmodic, erratic, sensational, spectacular and arbitrary.” That’s what the Democratic platform of 1904 said about Theodore Roosevelt.
-Warren G. Harding … Half Black? This accusation was an explosive one made at the end of the 1920 campaign.