Storm's a' Comin': Racism, Ruling Class Fights, "Uppity Blacks," and Assassinations

By Dennis Loo

The airwaves have been burning up lately with candidates and pundits referring to - or even advocating - the assassination of Barack Obama.


Before moving to analyze these statements, let's recount the highlights of those remarks, in chronological order:


March 6, 2008: Hillary Clinton in an interview with Time magazine, responding to growing calls that she pull out of the race, said: "Primary contests used to last a lot longer. We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A."


May 16, 2008: Mike Huckabee, the GOP presidential born again and also-ran, upon hearing a loud offstage noise, quipped to the NRA in Kentucky: "That was Barack Obama. He's getting ready to speak, and somebody aimed a gun at him and he, he dove for the floor."


A Buzzflash reader, commenting upon the Huckabee incident, expressed it elegantly:


"When Mike Huckabee joked that a loud sound at the NRA convention was Obama jumping at the sound of a gun, he wasn't making a mindless gaffe, he was expressing nostalgia. Huckabee knew that the following day, he would force his way into consideration as Vice President, and understood that as a result, he"d be in the limelight again. Huckabee is not stupid, and when he raised the specter of a black man running from a white man's gun, he understood his audience, their frustrations, their feelings about themselves. 

"These men remember a happier time, those bygone days when people in this country knew their place, and if some uppity "nigra" forgot it, well, a shot or two fired into the air would make him remember very quickly. If a person of color decided to press one claim or another, the result would be very similar to the scene that Mike Huckabee "joked" about. Stand on the front porch, produce the firearm, and shoot it: Get off my property, get out of my business, stay away from my daughter. It was a lovely and simple way to solve a conflict, and back then, the government knew better than to prevent a man from defending what was rightfully his. What's rightfully his?


"Well, [it's] a man's land, his family, and his right to own slaves. Less than 200 years ago, one-third of the South's population was in chains, and with such ratios, guns were necessary. Guns were necessary in case the Chained Ones got uppity, in case they forgot who they were. In case one of them ran for President."


May 16, 2008: the cover of a mid-week Georgia newspaper, the Roswell Beacon, depicts Obama as seen through a rifle's crosshairs.


May 23, 2008: Hillary Clinton repeats her RFK assassination reference while speaking to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader: "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California." 


Clinton's repetitive reference to RFK's killing came not long after she, her husband, and her campaign were collectively asserting that she was the Great White Hope and would draw the white vote in ways that Obama couldn't.


Hillary could have said on both occasions that presidential primaries have sometimes gone on into June and after, and there would have been no one to contradict her.


Referencing RFK's assassination over and over doesn't, therefore, make sense except as a poorly concealed death wish for the one person standing in her way. Clinton's attempt to rescue herself from that conclusion by claiming that she had Edward Kennedy on her mind at the time doesn't, of course, explain her March reference to RFK's death since her initial remarks were two months before Kennedy's brain tumor was detected.


May 25, 2008: Wretched former Washington Times New York Bureau Chief and current FOX commentator, Liz Trotter, jokes on FOX: " And now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama, uh Obama. Well, both, if we could."


Trotter, given a chance the next day to issue "a clarification," passed off her oh-so-amusing reference to wanting Obama dead as a product of a "colorful presidential season."




As in both meanings of sanguine: cheerfully optimistic and blood red? 


What's going on here?


Clinton's invoking of the RFK assassination, perhaps unconsciously, is actually apt in an unintended way. Kennedy was killed in the maelstrom of the 1960s era, just six weeks after Martin Luther King was assassinated.


Obama now comes forward as the soon to be Democratic nominee in a time of turmoil as well. The storms are under the surface this time within the U.S. - at least for now.


The muffled screams of someone being tortured, however, are coming from the house next door in this, on the surface, quiet suburban American dreamscape. 


The fact that both a woman and a black have been vying for the Democratic nomination - with each of them having a legitimate chance of becoming the next president in the same election cycle - is an unprecedented situation. Their mutual candidacies are no more a coincidence than the fact that this presidential race started far earlier than any, ever.


There's an urgent need, felt by both major parties, to distract and derail peoples" desires to censure and repudiate Bush and Cheney and the policies that they have spearheaded.


Obama clearly has fulfilled his role to date.


Clinton, on the other hand, has gone from the invincible front-runner to the black knight in Monty Python's classic film that keeps on fighting even though he's lost his arms and legs. 


The fact that she's the first woman to have a legitimate shot at the presidency is not and has not proven by itself to be enough of a departure from the emergent fascist norms of this time to draw millions to her.


Hillary is, in her heart of hearts, a centrist Democrat, which in today's terms means, among other things, openly declaring that she"ll "totally obliterate" Iran. Can you imagine even Bush saying something this bellicose on the public record? I can't.


Clinton's approach hasn't appealed to the millions who make up the Democrats" social base, and who are yearning for an alternative to the White House criminals in the way that the oratorically gifted, "change we can believe in" promising, Obama can.


But - and here's the rub - the very fact that the political leadership class must trot out a black man to try to rope millions back into the killing embrace of electoral politics and the two party system, millions who would otherwise be entertaining and acting upon more radical and realistic steps that could actually do something meaningful, means also that they are playing with fire on the other side, among the hoary, unreconstructed and unrepentant, racists and other ghosts and goblins of the extremist right: those who use the word "nigger" without apology and, as readily as they down their beers, crack "jokes" about violence meted out to their enemies, or, among the more well-to-do reactionaries, as easily as they tie their bowties.


For these people, the very idea that a black man could be president sends them into paroxysms of fury.


It's even too much for Hillary and Bill Clinton - the latter the former "first black president" - who have shown that they will do anything and say anything (and say it again in case you didn't get it the first time) to have a shot at being in the White House again.


White racism burns too brightly in America, especially when it has been getting stoked by the White House and its minions and loudmouths on Fox, in talk radio, and by the theocratic fascist movement.


They have been assiduously fanning the flames of bigotry, xenophobia, hatred of women, know nothingism, and all around reaction across the board.


The new fascist norms that Bush and Cheney and their enablers and fellow movement leaders have been forcefully, belligerently and rapidly instituting cannot be accomplished without also creating an atmosphere of fear and loathing in the country.


The president and vice-president have openly declared - after all - that they are accountable to no one and to no law and that they can, and will, do anything as long as they say the magic words "national security " and the "war on terror."


The Congress has - after all - repeatedly said that Bush and Cheney may continue to pass GO and COLLECT billions of dollars, wage unjust and immoral wars involving mass murder, that individuals can be picked up, abducted, held incommunicado and tortured, for an indefinite period of time, both citizen and non-citizen alike.


The White House and Congress have said - after all - that the NSA and CIA have the right to suspend due process, torture and murder people in custody, and to spy on literally all of us.


The airwaves are filled with open and thinly veiled threats of violence and murder against even the soon-to-be Democratic Party presidential nominee, and from even the other Democratic candidate!




The nature of these fascist norms are such that in order to hold the ship of state together and not see it spin out of control, the powers that be must play a two-sided game of high stakes. The powers that be are not monolithic. The leadership class has differences and splits within their ranks. They battle each other over who will be top dog.


On the one hand, emerging from the increasingly openly fascistic right wing within the GOP and its fascist social base, are thuggish calls for lynching (NRA president Charlton Heston called for Al Gore to be lynched in 2000) and other acts of savagery such as torture against their "unsaved" adversaries, those who will not, presumably, be gathered up by the Rapture.


On the other hand, you have the intense efforts by moderates/liberals and the DNC to corral the majority of people in this country into the confines of politics as usual, with nostrums of "change" and "hope" and Obama borrowing liberally from the phrases of groups such as World Can't Wait such as "we are the ones we"ve been waiting for" and "we can't wait," trying desperately to keep the lid on the boiling pot and prevent the masses of people from stepping outside the constrictive terms of electoral politics and engaging in popular, independent actions.


Obama's candidacy and his popularity are premised on the fact that the whole American empire is in a time of restructuring and rupture and therefore great danger.


Obama is not sitting on the verge of becoming the Democratic nominee principally because he is charming, smart and articulate. He has received, from the start, exceedingly generous attention by the mass media and the Democratic Party leadership's blessings. It has now become even more apparent than before to them that another privileged white male or even a privileged white female isn't going cut it for a majority of the people.


The Democrats have had to reach further, much further this time.


But they will not go to the point where the fundamental premises and nature of the empire that they share with the GOP are called into question. No one gets to this point in a race with a real chance of winning a nomination without being vetted by the individuals and organizations that actually run things in this country.


White supremacy has been, and continues to be, a central factor in the nature of American imperialism.


The solid social base for reaction that the Bush regime has been cultivating - the plutocrats and the white racists, the ones who think that Ann Coulter is hot - are fit to be tied over Obama's candidacy, and also, the fact that Hillary's a woman. For these people, there's Bush's Third Term Replacement: John "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" McCain.


Many people, especially black people, are alarmed by this talk of assassination, and fear for Obama's life.


Who can blame them?  


Exposing this utterly revolting, open talk of assassinating Obama is necessary and crucial.


But it's not just about Obama. Obama's just the tip of this rapidly melting iceberg.


You have a UC Berkeley Constitutional Law Professor - John Yoo - writing memos that give the President of the United States carte blanche to commit atrocities, including crushing the testicles of a young boy, as long as it's in the "national interest" as defined by "The Decider" himself. 


You have a Supreme Court Justice - Antonin Scalia - saying that "so-called torture" isn't cruel and unusual punishment.


You have scores of raids being carried out against immigrants, the unilateral invading by ICE of university dorm rooms of suspected "illegal" students, as happened recently to a University of California, San Diego student, dissident professors such as Norman Finkelstein (and Ward Churchill) being fired, banned from campus, and their books removed from university libraries, the driving mad of an American citizen in custody, Jose Padilla, and indefinite imprisonment of professors such as Sami Al-Arian, University of South Florida Professor of Computer Science, on trumped up charges.


You have Hillary trying to outdo Hundred Years War McCain in her saber rattling. 


Who's in charge of this madhouse?


Mad Men (and Women) are in charge of the asylum, except that these particular mad men and women aren't benign; they"re extremely malignant.


As David "the Octopus" Addington, Cheney's chief of staff, and one of the chief architects of the Bush regime's torture policies, has said: "We"re going to push and push and push until some larger force stops us."


These are the words of someone who has no regard for quaint niceties such as Constitutional rights.


These are the words of someone out to roll over you, and laugh about it in derision, if you let him.


As the movie Recount recalls, the 2000 presidential race came down to a fight between one adversary willing to do anything to win (W) and the other adversary (Gore) - the guy and his party who actually won the Florida vote - trying at all costs to remain civil, including paying the price of losing an election that they in fact won.


What was conspicuously missing from the Gore camp's assessment of this scene? They didn't seriously consider the fact that giving up the presidency to the GOP suit-wearing bullies wasn't merely a matter of the political fate of one man and his career. It wasn't merely a matter of the Democratic Party trying to preserve its (mistaken) sense of its dignity. It was a matter of turning over the highest office in the land to cheats, liars, and thugs and nullifying the majority's wishes.

What monstrous things have flowed from that fateful abdication since!

How characteristic this abdication has become of the Democrats! 

If Gore had called on his supporters to march on the U.S. Supreme Court to demonstrate and demand that all of the votes should be counted, would this have mattered?


How would this have transformed the political landscape?


What else might this have triggered?


Gore and his people weren't going to do that because they wouldn't, even if it means that their wins will be stolen, call on the mass participation of the people. Bush et al, by contrast, didn't hesitate to call forth their Brooks Brothers rioters to intimidate the Miami vote counters into stopping their counting of ballots.


So these are the two sides of this match. When Nancy Pelosi, before the 2006 election was held, declared, "impeachment is off the table," she was giving the Bush White House a green light to do anything it wanted, because she was guaranteeing that there would be no repercussions.


If this was professional wrestling, the audience would boo and hiss about how fixed it all was.


Does the fact that Obama's being attacked mean that he's our hero?


Obama, despite being the target of vicious, Nazi-lite pundits and thugs, is not the people's champion. Obama has made it clear and continues to make it clear that he is not doing what he's doing to undo the fundamental nature of American society. He has praised Reagan as someone who brought people together. He has stated that he likes the foreign policy of George Bush, Sr. and has no problems with Desert Storm. He has openly threatened military attack on Pakistan and Iran. He has refused to call for unconditional and complete withdrawal from Iraq. He has failed miserably to do anything that he has been legally and morally obliged to do: oppose and end torture and the other horrid policies that this White House has called into being.


What is this talk of assassinating Obama, coming from both the GOP, from his fellow Democrat, Hillary Clinton, and assorted other sources, designed to do? It's


  • an attempt to whip up and channel racist sentiment against blacks, stoking the fires of resentment and reaction to create a pogromist-like atmosphere, and
  • a warning to Obama that he better tread very carefully and that he better not forget whom he serves and that even if he does get to the White House, that he can be gunned down at any time if he gets out of line.


Those who think and hope that Obama is some kind of stealth candidate, that he actually wants to do something dramatic when he occupies the White House, should take note not only of what Obama has said repeatedly on the record, not only what he has done - and not done - as a Senator and as a Presidential candidate, but also what would happen to him or anyone else who ascends to the presidency under these conditions. 


Even if Obama were a liberal of the Edward Kennedy variety - which he isn't - what situation would he find himself in as the Chief Executive of the sole remaining superpower, the biggest and strongest imperialist empire to ever stalk the earth?


Edward Kennedy had two of his brothers assassinated, and neither of them were radicals, not even remotely.


It has come down to this: the 2008 Democratic candidate for president (and his replacement waiting anxiously in the wings) are at best the late 1980s GOP president. The Democratic Party today is GOP-lite.


Is this what you want? Is that all there is?


Another Path is Possible and Urgently Needed


In the 1960s wearing long hair or flashing the peace sign were ubiquitous symbols of people's opposition to what the government was doing and what the government stood for. They were declarations by individuals that they were against all of that and for a different way of being and seeing the world.


The spread of long hair and the peace symbol were part and parcel and an indispensable part of what made the Sixties the Sixties. It is impossible to imagine the Sixties without that whole panoply of forms of resistance, symbolic and material. (This was reflected as well in the music and the arts and so on.)


They were part of a society-wide reaction against the government and its policies and the larger zeitgeist of the 1950s American century.


There needs to be a society-wide sized repudiation of this government (and not just the Bush White House). We have virtually the entire leadership class in this country against us - public officials and mass media. They are not - they have already demonstrated this - going to do what should be done without being confronted with a social situation in which they are risking, by continuing to refuse to hold the Bush regime accountable, the possibility of tremendous social upheaval and even the possibility of something like a revolutionary situation.


What is such a society-wide repudiation going to look like? It's got to adopt a visible form in daily life on an endemic level in which millions, at least 1% of the population (3 million people) are in visible resistance, with their manifest stand and actions reflecting the most advanced and cutting edge of majority sentiment, the iceberg above water.


Wearing and spreading orange daily provides a crucial concrete manifestation of that society-wide repudiation.


Wear it. Spread it.

 Dennis Loo is an awards winning sociologist, co-editor of Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, Cal Poly Pomona Associate Professor of Sociology, WCW National Steering Committee Member, Declare It Now originator.


World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.