[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]
Look, we knew even before he won election in 2008 that Republicans were going to spend the next four years delegitimizing Barack Obama. After all, that was what the whole Birther thing was about, right?
Since then, of course, we've had a steady drumbeat of extremists parading various anti-Obama theories as a way to inject memes that further delegitimize Obama into the public bloodstream.
One of the points of this behavior is to assure "patriotic" right-wingers that they really aren't disrespecting the office of the presidency, and by extension the American people, in the process, because, you see, Obama isn't a "real" president. He's another fake president. You don't have to respect him. You can hate him all you like.
Of course, you would not be wrong to suspect that, for these folks, the only "legitimate" president is a Republican president. That's part of the game.
These sentiments are particularly pronounced in the South, and what you'll notice is that the memes delegitimizing Obama have a distinctly Southern flavor to them, especially when they come out of the mouths of Southerners like Newt Gingrich.
That is, they are rich with dog whistles, and they're all tailored to support a caricature of Obama as the reincarnation of the caricatures of black Southern politicians that was fabricated during the Reconstruction period and afterwards by apologists for the Klan and white supremacy: namely that of a cartoonishly lazy, grinning, chicken-eating, quarrelsome pack of crass opportunists.
Recall that Gingrich has a long record of this kind of garbage, including his suggestion that Obama is an "uppity" guy.
He built further on that suggestion the other night on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News show:
GINGRICH: [Obama] really is like the substitute [National Football League] referees in the sense that he’s not a real president. He doesn’t do anything that presidents do, he doesn’t worry about any of the things the presidents do, but he has the White House, he has enormous power, and he’ll go down in history as the president, and I suspect that he’s pretty contemptuous of the rest of us.Gingrich makes all the haters feel better. It's what good Southern propagandists do: Provide a nice soothing false patina for their seething racism.
... You have to wonder what he’s doing. I’m assuming that there’s some rhythm to Barack Obama that the rest of us don’t understand. Whether he needs large amounts of rest, whether he needs to go play basketball for a while or watch ESPN, I mean, I don’t quite know what his rhythm is, but this is a guy that is a brilliant performer as an orator, who may very well get reelected at the present date, and who, frankly, he happens to be a partial, part-time president.
... This is a man who in an age of false celebrity-hood is sort of the perfect president, because he’s a false president. He’s a guy that doesn’t do the president’s job.
I'm reminded of the scene depicting black legislators playing with the seat of power in South Carolina after the Civil War that appeared in D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation:
This scene has been effectively endorsed by high-school history courses ever since, and to this day it remains widely believed -- thanks also to descendants of Birth of a Nation such as Gone With the Wind -- that white Southerners overthrew the "black rule" imposed by Reconstruction due to its self-evident malfeasance and incompetence.
It's also a lie. As Stephen Budiansky once explained:
A bald fact: Generations would hear how the South suffered “tyranny” under Reconstruction. Conveniently forgotten was the way that word was universally defined by white Southerners at the time: as a synonym for letting black men vote at all. A “remonstrance” issued by South Carolina’s Democratic Central Committee in 1868, personally signed by the leading native white political figures of the state, declared that there was no greater outrage, no greater despotism, than the provision for universal male suffrage just enacted in the state’s new constitution. There was but one possible consequence: “A superior race is put under the rule of an inferior race.” They offered a stark warning: “We do not mean to threaten resistance by arms. But the white people of our State will never quietly submit to negro rule. This is a duty we owe to the proud Caucasian race, whose sovereignty on earth God has ordained.”Guys like Gingrich love to feed these old racist myths with dog whistles like this, cloaking it all in language seemingly devoid of racism -- but soaked throughout with exactly the kind of code words that old racists lap right up like PBR in a trough.
“No free people, ever,” declared a speaker at a convention of the state’s white establishment a few years later, had been subjected to the “domination of their own slaves,” and the applause was thunderous. “This is a white man’s government,” was the phrase echoed over and over in the prints of the Democratic press and the orations of politicians denouncing the “tyranny” to which the “oppressed” South was being subjected.
A bald fact: more than three thousand freedmen and their white Republican allies were murdered in the campaign of terrorist violence that overthrew the only representatively elected governments the Southern states would know for a hundred years to come. Among the dead were more than sixty state senators, judges, legislators, sheriffs, constables, mayors, county commissioners, and other officeholders whose only crime was to have been elected. They were lynched by bands of disguised men who dragged them from cabins by night, or fired on from ambushes on lonely roadsides, or lured into a barroom by a false friend and on a prearranged signal shot so many times that the corpse was nothing but shreds, or pulled off a train in broad daylight by a body of heavily-armed men resembling nothing so much as a Confederate cavalry company and forced to kneel in the stubble of an October field and shot in the head over and over again, at point blank.
So saturated is our collective memory with Gone With the Wind stock characters of thieving carpetbaggers, ignorant Negroes, and low scalawags, that it comes as a shock not so much to discover that there were men and women of courage, idealism, rectitude, and vision who risked everything to try to build a new society of equality and justice on the ruins of the Civil War, who fought to give lasting meaning to the sacrifices of that terrible struggle, who gave their fortunes, careers, happiness, and lives to make real the simple and long-delayed American promise that all men were created equal—it comes as a shock not so much to be confronted by their idealism and courage and uprightness as by the realization that they were convinced, up to the very last, that they would succeed. Confident in the rightness of their cause, backed by the military might of the United States government, secure in the ringing declarations, now the supreme law of the land embodied in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments of the Constitution, that slavery was not only dead but that equality and the right to vote were the patrimony now of all Americans, they could not imagine that their nation could win such a terrible war and lose the ensuing peace.
Lose, the nation undeniably did. In 1879, an exhausted Albion Tourgée, an Ohio-born man who as a state judge in North Carolina had fearlessly defended the rights of the common man, colored and white; who had defied Ku Klux threats and the sneers of the conservative bar when he empanelled African Americans on juries and fined lawyers for saying “nigger” in his courtroom, gave a rueful and weary interview to the New York Tribune:
In all except the actual results of the physical struggle, I consider the South to have been the real victors in the war. I am filled with admiration and amazement at the masterly way in which they have brought about these results. The way in which they have neutralized the results of the war and reversed the verdict of Appomattox is the grandest thing in American politics.
Amazement: because such an outcome was not inevitable or foreordained; because, in the end, Reconstruction did not fail, but was overthrown, with impunity and audacity, in one of the bloodiest, darkest, and still least known chapters of American history.