The conservative reaction to Barack Obama’s speech on the Zimmerman case was immediately hysterical, hyperbolic and all too predictable. Pundits on the right launched into quick attacks accusing Obama of promoting divisiveness and discord. The defenders of white privilege, who seem to believe racism is dead unless it is people of color attacking white people, doubled down on charges of “reverse racism” with clueless comments that could only come from people who are willfully ignorant of American history.
White victimhood has become the cause du jour for many on the political right and nowhere was it more evident than in a tweet from influential conservative blogger Dan Riehl who tweeted “If you ever had any doubts, Obama is the first Racist in Chief.” In the delusional white mind of Mr. Riehl no president in our history has ever been as racist as Mr. Obama whose apparent verbal hate crime is that he had the temerity to point out that 35 years ago he was a black teenager. Wow, has any President ever done anything so racist in the history of our nation? Well, actually yes. Worse even. Much worse.
Perhaps Mr. Riehl maybe has not heard of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James Polk or Zachary Taylor. All eight of these men owned black slaves while they were President. However, in Riehl’s world maybe there is nothing racist about owning people as chattel property based on the color of their skin. Maybe Mr. Riehl is also oblivious to presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren forcibly removing 15,000 American Indians from their homes in the Trail of Tears.
In addition, Dan Riehl is no doubt unaware that Woodrow Wilson screened the pro Ku Klux Klan movie “Birth of the Nation” at the White House and gave it enthusiastic reviews. Two thumbs up from the then Racist in Chief. Maybe Dan also forgot that FDR signed an executive order to put Japanese Americans in internment camps. I suppose Mr. Riehl has been so isolated from access to historical documents that he also never heard Richard Nixon on tape spewing racist venom.
And let us not leave out Dan Riehl’s presidential hero, Ronald Reagan who stereotyped black “welfare queens” to rally aggrieved racist white voters to embrace his campaign. Prior to becoming President, Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, calling them “humiliating” to the South. According to Lisa Mcgirr, in the book Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right, when Reagan campaigned for governor of California in 1966 he vowed to eliminate the state’s Fair Housing Act proclaiming that “if an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, he has a right to do so.”
Apparently Dan Riehl and many of his fellow white conservatives have never recognized the racism of past presidents because the racial animus has never been directed at pale-faced people like him. Yes, the founding fathers and the faces that grace Mr. Rushmore were racists.