Talking with some of my more conservative friends, I have discovered the common view that Obama is trying to "destroy America." This will happen, the thinking goes, by creating more dependency on more social welfare programs until these programs bankrupt the country. Then, they believe, Obama will be able to transition into some sort of socialist state.
The other day a reporter asked Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, whether he thought Obama is trying to "destroy America." Coburn's response:
"No, I don’t . . . He’s a very bright man. But think about his life. And think about what he was exposed to and what he saw in America. He’s only relating what his experience in life was. . . . His intent isn’t to destroy. It’s to create dependency because it worked so well for him. I don’t say that critically. Look at people for what they are. Don’t assume ulterior motives. I don’t think he doesn’t love our country. I think he does. As an African American male, coming through the progress of everything he experienced, he got tremendous benefit through a lot of these programs. So he believes in them. I just don’t believe they work overall and in the long run they don’t help our country. But he doesn’t know that because his life experience is something different. So it’s very important not to get mad at the man. And I understand, his philosophy — there’s nothing wrong with his philosophy other than it’s goofy and wrong [laughter] — but that doesn’t make him a bad person."
This comment was called to my attention by an outraged Yale friend of mine, a black doctor. He sees Coburn looking at a successful black man and assuming that a) he achieved his station in life through affirmative action, not talent and hard work, and b) he must have been on welfare, food stamps, or some such. My friend called it a case of "these mediocre oblivious white men slip(ping) into this overtly racist thinking."
The doctor emailed the quote to me and two other Yale friends. One of them, a black foundation director with a Stanford MBA, had this to say:
"The GOP is simply a modern day version of the KKK. You get shouted down for saying these sorts of things, but it's true. They are white supremacists. Coburn merely reflects the unmuzzled philosophy of the GOP. Fellas, they are extremists, plain and simple. I've been complaining about Obama's approach to the GOP since Day 1, because he's approached them as if they are rational people. They are not. They are religious and cultural extremists."
I'd say that comment uses a pretty broad brush. But I found it quite significant, because the person who said it, a man I have known for 25 years, is an extraordinarily intelligent, friendly, and just plain decent person, who has many white friends and colleagues. He is not one to see an anti-black conspiracy hiding behind every bush. But when he cuts to the essence of what he hears from the GOP, he hears racism. There's an enormous perception gap when it comes to what is or is not racist behavior, something we have to solve in order to move forward. Call this Exhibit 4,080.
Jesse Washington is a Senior Writer for ESPN's TheUndefeated.com