Amazing. Just … amazing.
Here we are, six years later, six years of mom jeans and golf dates and taking the girls for ice cream. And yet, some of us are still hung up on the perceived “otherness,” the “not like us”-ness, of Barack Obama.
The latest is Rudy Giuliani, speaking last week in New York at a fundraiser for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. “I do not believe,” said Giuliani, “and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”
In the entirely predictable firestorm that followed, Giuliani has tried out various defenses. He told The New York Times his remarks could not possibly be racist because the president had a white mother. It is a claim of such staggering obtuseness as to defy deconstruction and to which the only sensible response is to scream “Arghh!” while banging one’s head against a wall.
In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Giuliani wrote that he “didn’t intend to question President Obama’s motives or the content of his heart,” a lie easily refuted. Quote: “I do not believe that the president loves America.” End quote.
The Giuliani defense tour also pulled in to Fox “News,” where Giuliani claimed that while Obama frequently criticizes America, he expresses no love of country. But in the very first speech most Americans ever heard Obama give — at the 2004 Democratic Convention — he sang arias of American exceptionalism, noting that “in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” Since then, Obama has missed no opportunity to praise what he has called “the greatest country on Earth.”
Nor is Obama the only president to criticize America. Yet somehow, when Jimmy Carter cited a “crisis of the American spirit” in which “too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption,” his country love went unquestioned.
There’s a simple reason Giuliani is having such trouble defending what he said. What he said is indefensible. It was cloddish and, more than that, it was ugly.
The man once dubbed “America’s mayor” for his stirring response to the September 11 attacks now seems, on matters of race, at least, more like “America’s Batty Uncle.” Remember, this is the same Giuliani who, in a discussion of police violence in black neighborhoods, told Michael Eric Dyson, “The white police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other.”
Dyson is an author and academic. He is not known to have killed anyone.
Six years ago, there was wistful talk of a “post-racial America.” But today, we find ourselves in the most-racial America since the O.J. Simpson debacle. It’s not just income inequality, voter suppression and the killing of unarmed black boys. It’s also the ongoing inability of too many people to see African-Americans as part of the larger, American “us.”
Most of them no longer say it with racial slurs, but they say it just the same. They say it with birther lies and innuendo of terrorist ties. They say it by saying “subhuman mongrel.” They say it by questioning Obama’s faith. They say it as Rudy Giuliani said it last week. They say it because they have neither the guts to say nor the self-awareness to understand what’s really bothering them:
How did this bleeping N-word become president of the United States?
The day the towers fell, Giuliani seemed a heroic man. But he has since made himself a foolish and contemptible one, an avatar of white primacy struggling to contend with its own looming obsolescence.
And the question once famously put to Joe McCarthy seems to apply: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”
But what’s the point in asking? The answer is painfully clear.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr