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All Presidents become targets in the modern world, which is to say the world of national politics within my own memory, the America beginning in my very early youth, the America at every stage of my life since. I have never known an America completely at peace with the democratic process. Violence has always lurked in the American Valley of Shadows. To this day, many of my generation remain alarmed and relieved that 1963 did not repeat itself in attempts on the lives of Presidents Ford and Reagan.
But this Presidency is different. The Secret Service has acknowledged that the level and seriousness of threats has multiplied since Barack Obama assumed office.
The ferocity of rhetoric has also soared to heights previously unimagined. It is not only the quantity and volume of often obscene shouts that have accelerated. The nature itself of the attacks has gone where nobody had walked during my lifetime.
John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and others were verbally attacked, sometimes in borderline absurdity. The attacks were almost always about some act or event, sometimes actual, mostly imagined. In the case of Bill Clinton, misdeeds surrounding a real estate deal faded into self-contradiction, resting finally on the tenuous accusation that a future President had conspired with his wife and a few friends to lose millions of their own financial holdings. The suicide of a close friend and the death of another in a plane accident were viewed by those living in the fringes as having been engineered by the Presidential family.
Finally, they got him in a extramarital tryst that he failed to acknowledge under oath. American voters reacted toward Republicans as most of us would to a voyeur who announces to the world what he has witnessed, while peeping into local bedroom windows at night.
But all of the accusations, the one true, the others drifting away like some bad odor in the wind, were based on some real or imagined act.
President Obama is also attacked for imagined acts. Benghazi, IRS, death panels, and so on, are accusations of something. But he and his family are targets of something more, something more ugly, something that involves a state of being. He is accused of being someone apart, unnatural, not normal, un-American, something not at all like us.
“Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.”
– Alex Jones, May 17, 2012
“Communist nurtured, subhuman mongrel…”
– Ted Nugent, January 17, 2014
“A terrorist fist jab?”
– E.D. Hill, Fox News, June 6, 2008
“…propaganda, starting with the President, that everybody should hate the police.”
– Rudy Giuliani, December 21, 2014
A couple of months ago, a good friend insisted, as we lunched together, that any observation of racism toward President Obama was likely an illusion, a bit of reverse race-baiting. It is a common observation in conservative circles. “I’m sure,” he conceded, “in a national population this large, we could find someone, somewhere, who hates Obama for being black.”
I suspect he was underestimating the virulence of his conservative comrades-in-arms.
The idea that the President is an illegitimate holder of office, despite winning two majority votes, has lapped like tall waves over a low bridge into official actions.
– screamed by US Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC)
during a Presidential Speech to Congress
September 9, 2009
A hostile head of state from a friendly ally has been invited to a major address without the customary courtesy of prior notification, a courtesy that would have been extended as a matter of course to any previous President. That has been followed by a public letter advising a hostile country in negotiation to avoid war that they should not trust any agreement signed by this President.
The convergence of action with rhetoric has a single thread. The message is unmistakable. Barack Obama is an impostor, not a real President. Formal propriety and official respect are to be held in abeyance until a legitimate President again is restored to office.
I was happy at the news that the cyanide soaked letter did not, after all, contain cyanide. Laboratory tests revealed only the presence of an abundance of human saliva. A sick gesture, but not lethal.
Like the Republican base, and the new majorities in Congress, the letter writer chose only to spit at our Commander-in-Chief.