Did you know that President Obama ordered to have a bust of Winston Churchill removed from the Oval Office? That piece of information – phrased in those inflammatory terms – was sent to me by a reader who has had nothing but disdain for this president since his election.
This reader, and many others like him, still believes Obama was born in Kenya or Malaysia or somewhere other than Hawaii, where his birth records show he was born. The reader also believes Obama is a Muslim, not a Christian as Obama clearly states he is in his autobiography, and that Obama is a socialist (or a communist, or maybe a fascist), notwithstanding his valiant efforts to save capitalist icons like General Motors and Bank of America.
This reader, who disparagingly refers to the president as obummer, is convinced the country is being controlled by a rabid anti-American radical who will do anything to destroy what the reader regards as America’s greatness.
Mr. Obama has now served one-third of his four-year term. His performance to this point in his presidency has featured the normal, albeit regrettable, learning curve that all new presidents go through (there is, after all, no real training ground for the position), and he has definitely had his share of missteps and miscalculations.
But is he really showing anything like a hidden plan to destroy the country? Is anything he has done or championed so far out of the mainstream of reasonable options then available to qualify as grossly incompetent, let alone treasonous?
I would submit that any objective review of the president’s first sixteen months in office would reveal him to be a moderately effective national leader. He isn’t going to go down, based on what we’ve seen so far, as one of the country’s greatest presidents, but he isn’t headed for the ignominious status of a Buchanan or a Harding either.
So why the hatred for this particular president? Is it all about the color of his skin? Or does it go deeper?
Some of it may be based on latent racism, but I believe most of it emanates from a sense of what America is supposed to be. This image goes back to the immediate aftermath of World War II, when the United States had established itself as the leading democracy in the world, a true super-power to combat the perceived evil intentions of the Soviet Union.
Coupled with that status (and the responsibility that went with it) was the country’s emergence as an economic powerhouse. The end of the war allowed the engines of the capitalist system (that had, ironically, been ignited by the non-capitalist war-time economy that eschewed personal wealth and corporate profits for a larger national goal) to fire on all cylinders. The result was a consumer-driven economy that produced abundance for all (at least when measured against the struggling economies of war-ravaged Europe and Asia).
The 1950s were a time to feel good about being an American, at least if you were a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) or something close thereto (a second or third generation American with European roots would do).
Yes, it was that kind of country. Bigotry abounded, but it wasn’t an issue; it was just the way it was. Catholics and Jews weren’t allowed to join the country clubs or to ascend to top corporate positions. Blacks and Asians were treated even more shabbily. Hispanics were consigned to the “other side of the tracks,” as were Armenians (my people) and other ethnic minorities.
But, if you were part of the great majority of Americans, it was a good time to be an American. Everyone was making a good living, providing the newest gadgets (televisions, stereos, refrigerators) in the nicest new homes with the hope that things would only continue to get better.
And it was a bad time to be anti-American. Everyone was a patriot, because the country was fighting the great Cold War against communist imperialism. The pledge of allegiance was required of all students at the start of every school day, and it was even amended to include the phrase, “under God,” because surely everyone believed in God.
The economy hummed along without a whole lot of government interference. These were the days long before OSHA and environmental impact reports became de rigueur. Unions were largely ineffective, when they weren’t completely corrupt, and most corporate board rooms were controlled by profit-seeking men (women were nowhere to be seen) who cared first and foremost about the bottom line (employee benefits weren’t yet a significant cost factor).
The war-making machinery that had set the economy on track in the previous decade now turned into the “military-industrial complex,” as the retiring president dubbed it in 1960. It was the new engine for both economic expansion and the foreign policy that ultimately led to the disastrous war in Viet Nam. That war saw the first signs of disillusionment, and a period of significant “malaise” (so dubbed by a later president) followed.
Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 was truly a retro event, because Reagan brought back that feel-good feeling of the 1950s. Patriotic fervor swept the land once again, and this time Catholics and Jews (and women) were mostly welcome to the dance (blacks, Asians and Hispanics, not so much).
Reagan ushered in a novel idea that was quickly embraced: taxes were anti-American. No one should have his or her hard-earned money taken for government programs that supported those who didn’t work.
That concept, based entirely on a faulty understanding of fiscal policy, quickly caught on and became the rallying cry for a neo-conservative movement that has spawned right-wing radio, Fox News and, most recently, the tea bagger movement.
Obama is none of that. He is trying to govern a wholly different country in a wholly different time. The America of the 1950s is long gone; ditto the one from the 1980s. Some folks don’t want to accept that fact. Obama does.
And that’s why he is hated by people who are shocked that he doesn’t want a bust of Winston Churchill in the Oval Office.