Obama Versus the Angry White Men

News & Politics

On Monday, two men were spotted carrying semi-automatic weapons outside the venue where President Barack Obama delivered his latest speech on healthcare reform. When asked why he stationed himself at the meeting with a gun, one of the men replied: "Because I can do it. In Arizona I still have some freedoms." These sightings add to a disturbing pattern of extremist gestures signalling disgust with the president, including a protester in Maryland holding up a sign that read "Death to Obama" and "Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids", and overtly racist vandalism and hate mail at the office of Georgia congressman David Scott.

Obama walks the thinnest of lines as he attempts to remain focused on policy while repelling a range of attacks coming from the right. From the beginning, he has publicly acknowledged that there is a legitimate debate to be had about the best means to fix the healthcare system, arguing that his plan provides optimum efficiency and stability for the greatest number of Americans. More recently, he has explicitly dismissed the dishonest and incendiary barbs of those who wish to paint him as an evil "death panel" conspirator.

On 15 August, in Colorado, Obama went as far as to affirm the naturally emotional component of recent exchanges, and highlight the propensity of news organisations to pay more attention to incidents of anger and radicalism than to incidents of polite exchange. But while he has hinted at the bubbling extremism that greets him at every turn, he refuses to directly address its content or speculate about its source.

In a recent piece published in the Observer, Michael Crowley argues that the extremism manifest in angry mobs and armed men at Obama's town hall meetings represents the latest phase in the evolution of the Angry White Male in American politics. According to Crowley, this political archetype was coined in the 1990s, when white men who voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 stormed to the Republican ticket for the 1994 midterm elections. During the Obama era, the angry white man appeared as Joe the Plumber during the presidential campaign, cried foul at the appointment of Sonya Sotomayor to the US supreme court and accused Obama of racism after his comments about the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates, all prior to the recent incidents surrounding the healthcare debate.

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