Harris Interactive today released the results of a poll it conducted the first week in March with some sad, though not surprising, findings. The pollsters asked questions about Barack Obama’s identity, motives, and political philosophy. Reactions ranged from, “That crazy Kenyan Muslim is going to kill my grandma” to “That crazy Kenyan Muslim is going to kill my grandma because he’s a Socialist like Hitler.” Sigh.
I wrote a post back in America’s simpler times (February) titled: Poll shows most GOP voters actually caricatures of GOP voters. It appears little has changed. Here are the Harris poll’s findings, grouped in categories I find helpful. The numbers on the right represent the percentage of all responders who believe the statement is true.
Here’s the first group, which might generously be called “opinions on policy”:
He is a socialist (40%)
He wants to take away Americans’ right to own guns (38%)
He has done many things that are unconstitutional (29%)
He does what Wall Street and the bankers tell him to do (27%)
So, I call these “opinions on policy” because although they are completely divorced from reality — with the limited exception of the claim that he takes orders from Wall Street, which could be argued — these positions at least pretend to be about his actions and not his identity. My guess, however, is that no amount of evidence could convince someone who thinks Obama is a Socialist that he isn’t, and it seems clear to me that these positions are very closely related to misinformation about his identity. That leads us to group two, the identity group:
He is a Muslim (32%)
He is a racist (23%)
He is anti-American (23%)
He was not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president (25%)
He resents America’s heritage (27%)
These statements are simply propositions that people feel to be true. Again, no evidence marshaled to prove them wrong would be adequate. Some of the above statements masquerade as reality-based fact — we haven’t seen his birth certificate — but are better understood as a fearful I don’t recognize him as one of my own.
This last set can only be called the Bat Shit Crazy List. They represent the worst of both of the above lists — a sum-is-greater-than-its-parts paranoia, if you will:
He wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a one world government (29%)
He is a domestic enemy that the U.S. Constitutions speaks of (25%)
He wants to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers (23%)
He wants the terrorists to win (13%)
He is doing many of the things that Hitler did (20%)
He may be the Anti-Christ (14%)
Yep. Fourteen percent of adults who responded to the poll think Obama may be the Anti-Christ. That number rises to 24% when only Republicans are asked. If this poll’s methodology is sound, that means that 1 in 4 Republicans think Obama might be the Anti-Christ.
Results like this are one of the many reasons that dismissing the racist Tea Party actions over the weekend as “isolated incidents” misses the point. There is no magic number of times someone yells “nigger,” “faggot,” or “wetback” before a movement needs to be recognized as having fundamentally racist underpinnings. The numbers above show that even when racial slurs aren’t spoken aloud they are always present. And though there are certain legitimate grievances by some members of the Tea Party, it’s also important to remember that contemporary rhetoric about “Small Government” often contains the same hidden, dog-whistle meanings that Barry Goldwater’s “States Rights” platform did.
Melissa Harris-Lacewell wrote in The Nation [h/t DK] on Tuesday that it’s better to understand the Tea Partiers’ actions at the protest as an attack against the legitimacy of the Obama government, not simply as hateful actions towards marginalized groups. John Lewis and Barney Frank were attacked, she argues, not simply as a black or gay man but as a representative of the state. Her analysis breathes some much needed complexity into this conversation, but I think it’s important to remember that unhinged ideas about a politician’s policy and unhinged ideas about a politician’s identity can create a feedback loop that results in a product so divorced from reality that it is difficult even to understand from the outside.
The results of the Harris poll show just how related Obama’s identity — as well as the identity of all liberals, progressives, etc. — is with the idea that he and his administration are illegitimate. Pretending that “isolated incidents” of racism aren’t part of a systemic attempt by both fringe and mainstream elements of the Republican party to challenge Obama’s legitimacy to execute the office of the President is short-sighted and incorrect.