February 26 is the birth date of Wallace D. Fard, the founder of the Nation of Islam. Every year since 1981, when he designated it Saviours’ Day, Minister Louis Farrakhan has commemorated the occasion with a speech. For much of this year’s four-hour plus stemwinder, he alternatively praised and derided Barack Obama, who, for all his fatal naïveté, he said, is a fundamentally “good and beautiful man”—and a martyr in the making, who will almost certainly share the fate of another historic president from Illinois.
“Never,” Farrakhan said, “has a sitting president been spoken of in the manner that President Obama and his family have had to endure. Not just by the birthers and right-wing zealots, but those in high places. People with great influence have spoken against him in a manner that has never been accorded to even the worst of America’s white presidents.”
The litany of indignities he described—PhotoShopped pictures of Obama’s face superimposed onto an ape’s; accusations that he is an “angry” black man; a “humorous” e mail from the GOP Speaker of the Kansas state legislature that quoted Psalm 109’s prayer for the death of a leader (“let his days be few….may his children be fatherless and his wife a widow”) and jested, “At last — I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president! Look it up — it is word for word! Let us all bow our heads and pray. Brothers and Sisters, can I get an AMEN? AMEN!!!!!!”—went on for a full half hour. As he wound down, he assumed a tone of sweet reasonableness.”To show you that Farrakhan is not teaching hate,” he said, “this is a book that just came out a few days ago. It’s called The Obama Hate Machine: The Lies, Distortions, and Personal Attacks on the President and Who’s Behind Them. So don’t look at me like I’m doing something wrong. Two books came out,” he added, holding up another volume. “The New Hate, by Arthur Goldwag.”
I disagree with Farrakhan about most things, but when it comes to this president, I’m afraid he got it mostly right—about both his infuriating willingness to split the difference with people who have no intention of compromising with him and the unprecedented disrespect—the lies, racism, and sheer nastiness he has had to endure.
It seems only fitting that I have been asked to introduce Bill Press and host this salon on his book The Obama Hate Machine, an indispensable expose of the “largely personal, political, and mean-spirited” assault on America’s first black president. The host of the nationally syndicated radio program The Bill Press Show, a syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services, and an accredited member of the White House Press corps, Press has seen the hate machine close up and personal.
Obama’s policies aren’t just bad for America, his enemies declare—he is a Manchurian candidate, a foreign-born “plant” who is actively seeking to destroy the Republic. He isn’t just black; he hates white people. He is a Marxist/Fascist/Wahhabist/Terrorist/Muslim. He is a thug, an adulterer, an anti-imperialist. He is a false Messiah, a Pied Piper whose Hitler-like eloquence is leading the country to perdition—but at the same time, he is so tongue-tied and ignorant that he can’t say a word without the benefit of a teleprompter. He is a Harvard elitist who could have never matriculated at such a good school if it wasn’t for affirmative action. Weatherman Bill Ayers ghostwrote his books; ACORN ghostwrote his playbook.
If Obama is perhaps the most vilified president in history (by year three of his presidency, 67 books had been published that demonized him), the campaign against him is anything but spontaneous and grass roots, Press reveals. “The Koch Brothers and other corporate bigwigs wrote the checks. Republican politicians and Tea Party activists voiced the attacks. And cable television and newspapers provided a ready national platform. Together, they formed a vicious, well-funded, and amoral attack campaign virtually unprecedented in our history: an Obama Hate machine.”
As a writer with an interest in the historical roots of contemporary hatreds, I found the chapter “Presidents Under Fire,” which relates some of the extraordinary abuse that was hurled at Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, especially intriguing and look forward to hearing some of Press’s thoughts on why American voters are seemingly so susceptible to this kind of manipulation. But my first question is a topical one.
For all its successes in suppressing and frustrating whatever progressive agenda this “classic, genuine, albeit frustrating middle-of-the-roader” (Press’s own words) president might have enacted, Obama’s health care plan at least appears to have survived. Perhaps Obama will survive too, and win reelection next year. In that case, what do you suppose the Hate Machine will do to prevent him from fulfilling any more of his mandate? Will they find grounds to impeach him, as they did Clinton?
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]