WHAT IS IT about Barack Obama's race that makes some people act crazy, if not downright vicious?
The latest sign of unchecked insanity turned up in the recent anti-Obama diatribe of Princeton professor Cornel West. The president of the United States, said West, is "a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats."
Now isn't that a tad bit nasty and delusional?
But such rantings are not limited to West. Nor do they start with him.
Diane Fedele, a California local Republican leader, displayed her own meanness in 2008 when she included in her party's newsletter a picture that showed the face of Obama surrounded by watermelon, ribs and a bucket of fried chicken. The photo, which was shaped as a currency note, had the inscription "Obama Bucks" under his picture.
Associating black people with poverty programs is a shopworn tactic of bigots. The same year Fedele produced her pictorial, a joke circulated on the Internet that listed American presidents and the currency denominations that bore their faces. It read: "Washington, $1 dollar bill," "Jefferson, $2 dollar bill," "Lincoln, $5 dollar bill," "Hamilton, $10 dollar bill," "Jackson, $20 dollar bill." Then it said, "Obama, Food Stamps."
So it should have come as no surprise when Newt Gingrich, well-known for his slurs, took to the podium before a Republican crowd in Georgia recently and described President Obama as "the food-stamp president," trumpeting an old, bigoted line.
Fedele said she produced her newsletter photo because she was offended that Obama had at one point during the campaign called attention to his race. He was coming across as black. Duh!
West, on the other hand, finds Obama's blackness wanting. He charged that Obama is "most comfortable with upper-middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart . . . and very effective in getting what they want."
Not stopping there, West looked inside the president's head and declared that Obama "has a certain fear of free black men." Continuing his analysis, West opined that Obama grew up in "a white context" and "he's always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white."
Au contraire, say those on the other side. They look at that caramel-colored president and see the incarnation of all that they fear and loathe.
Hear Rush Limbaugh on Obama's race:
* "If Obama weren't black, he'd be a tour guide in Honolulu."
* Obama wouldn't
have given the order to take out the Somali pirates if he had known they were "actually young black Muslim teenagers."
* "Obama has
disowned his white half . . . he's decided to go all in on the black side."
* In "Obama's America, the
white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering."
* Obama is "more African in his
roots than he is American" and is "behaving like an African colonial despot."
* "Obama's entire economic
program is reparations."
Thus the debate among those who view everything through a racial prism: "Obama's too black!" "He's not black enough!"
It's absurd. In truth, it reveals more about those who indulge in this pastime than about the president of the United States, who seems absolutely comfortable in his own skin.
The antagonists are the ones who are warped.
Short of renouncing his race, buck-dancing on the White House lawn and singing the virtues of white supremacy, Obama will never please the likes of Limbaugh, Gingrich et al.
Likewise, authenticators of "blackness" like West will never give Obama a passing grade. Judging who's black enough is their shtick.
If they heard Obama had a helping of pig's feet and collard greens in the White House last night, they would knock him for not going back for seconds.
Both sides fail to understand realities of the presidency.
There simply is no black or white way to wage war against terrorism, address global warming, compete with China, bring peace to the Middle East or reduce the national debt. Just as there is no black or white way to think about abortion, gay marriage or the nuclear threat.
There are progressive vs. conservative approaches to tackling unemployment, poor schools, income inequality, and a host of other domestic and foreign problems. But those competing approaches are grounded in experience, values, and economic and social-policy perspectives, not skin color.
Ah, but looking at it that way isn't as much fun as viewing issues and people through a racial lens.