originally published in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/San Bernardino Sun (CA)
Opinion, A15
July 23, 2010
Guest Columnist: Renford Reese, Ph.D.

Politics of Hate Undermine Our Democracy
In the age of political polarization, perpetual finger-pointing, and accusatory rhetoric, being a popular president in today’s time seems to be an impossible task. In a recent Gallup Poll, President Obama’s approval rating was at 46 percent. Some 81 percent of Democratic voters and 12 percent of Republican voters approve of the president’s performance. The visceral hate found in the disapproval of the president’s job performance is partially based on irrationality.

The controversial Tea Party billboard in Iowa showed a photo of Adolf Hitler with the caption “National Socialism.”
It showed Vladimir Lenin with the caption “Marxist Socialism” and Obama with the caption, “Democrat Socialism.”
Comparing Obama to Hitler and Lenin is irrational.

Conservatives refer to the president’s leadership as unabashedly socialist without a nuanced deconstruction of the
nature of American public policies. The word socialism means collectivism or community. During the Cold War, socialism and communism were propagandized by the U.S. to mean bad, dark, evil. Today, the definition of socialism has been appropriated and reinterpreted as meaning misguided.

The idea that the true American spirit is the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” phenomenon lacks sophistication.
Adam Smith’s capitalism, in its purest form, allows the “invisible hand” of the market to work its magic without interference from the government. So at any point there is government interference in domestic affairs, it can be construed as socialism.

In modern times, we have accepted the progressive tax system, which is socialist in nature. Federal, state, and local
governments give big businesses tax-breaks, which is a form of socialism. Farmers receive welfare by way of subsidies, which is socialistic. College students receive financial aid, which is socialistic. K-12 public education is compulsory; this is not the case in all countries. This educational feature in U.S. society is also socialistic. Unemployment benefits are socialistic—so too is Medicare and our social security system. The fact is that no developed country in the world functions without embracing some elements of socialism.

When Obama gave his special address on K-12 education, I heard a parent say she would not allow her children to listen to the president’s socialist propaganda, which encouraged students to be disciplined, focused, and committed in school. The president’s message broadly stated that school is important to future success. It did not matter to this woman that her children could have benefitted from these encouraging words from the president.

Although Obama passed historic health care reform legislation that protects ordinary citizens from the insensitive
treatment of insurance companies, there is someone that has a pre-existing condition and could not get insurance without this bill that still hates the president. Obama allotted a significant portion of the stimulus money to help those whose houses have been foreclosed on yet there is someone in this situation that hates the president. The president recently passed a historic financial reform bill that protects consumers from predatory lenders and other exploitative business practices yet there is a person that has lost everything because of these practices that still hates Obama. The president has worked tirelessly on multiple occasions to extend unemployment benefits to the unemployed; however, there are millions of those that directly benefit from the president’s advocacy on this issue who hate him anyway.

Of course people have the right to oppose the president’s policies, but irrationality is reflected when people that are directly benefitting from Obama’s agenda vehemently oppose him. These Obama-haters will not give him a slither of credit for making efforts to better their lives. Why? Because they are shortsighted, naive, and easily manipulated by a handful of rabble-rousers that want the president to fail by any means necessary.

Our democracy was designed for bargaining, negotiation, conciliation, and reconciliation. Our democracy was designed for informed citizens to elect independent-minded representatives that would reflect the will of the people. Republican lawmakers are undermining the spirit of our democracy because of their lack of independent-mindedness. When Republican senators Scott Brown, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins recently sided with Democrats on financial reform legislation, conservative talk show hosts characterized them as idiotic sell-outs.

Moreover, any Republican that tries to reach across the aisle and effectively participate in the democratic process of policymaking is lambasted and ridiculed. Senator Lindsay Graham has attempted to moderate his conservative stance on a number of hot button issues.
For these efforts, conservative radio host Mark Levin called Graham an “irrelevant weirdo that speaks gooberish.”

In Federalist Paper #10, Founding Father James Madison warned us against the threat of factions undermining our democracy. Today, a few guys with a microphone and access to the public airwaves are leading a dangerously counterproductive faction that is undermining our democracy.
Madison and his founding colleagues did not intend for a handful of non-accountable citizens to have this embarrassing level of control over our lawmakers.

In order for American citizens to heal the wounds of our broken democracy we must transcend the politics of hate and hold each rabble-rouser (on the Left and the Right) accountable for their divisive language. We must begin to elect lawmakers that are independent-minded. As this nation is immersed in multiple crises, now is not the time to embrace the “Us v. Them” perspective. This is the time to argue, debate, reconcile, and move forward collectively. This is the democratic formula that has made America great. This is the American way.

Renford Reese, Ph.D. is a professor of political science and the founder/director of the Colorful Flags program at Cal Poly Pomona University.
He is the author of “American Bravado” (2008), “Prison Race” (2006), and the widely discussed “American Paradox: Young Black Men” (2004).
See Reese’s work at: http://www.RenfordReese.com

Daphné’s comments: I met Renford as a brand new Ph.D. in 1999 and keep being impressed by the insight and intelligence of one of African-Americans most brilliant scholars, in Cornell West’s league for sure although I wonder what he’ll say about this;-)

More about Renford’s Colorful Flags Program