Eugene Cho

are we “otherizing” obama(& palin)?

Nicholas Kristof’s column in the NY Times, entitled The Push to ‘Otherize’ Obama is a worthwhile read.  While some of you may scoff, this isn’t my attempt to advocate for or against one candidate over another.  But in light of the “historic” nature of the primary and presidential elections:  Hilary Clinton [female candidate who garnered 18 million votes], Barack Obama [first Black-American Presidential nominee of a major party], and now, Sarah Palin [first Republican female VP candidate], I have been curious how folks in this country would respond to these candidates and the simple fact that they are mostly unlike what this country has seen before for the highest offices of the land.  And let’s not forget John McCain whose nomination is historic in itself as he is one of the oldest Presidential nominees.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching episodes of LOST on DVD but the labeling of “the Others” has been very fresh on my mind which is why this article really hit a chord with me.  Is it just politics?  Is it fear?  Is it part of the game?

Is it simply because they are not like “me” and thus, they must be different…and thus, the other?

It’s funny that even yesterday, I received yet again, another email from an acquaintance forwarding me one of those infamous forwards “proving” that Obama is really a Muslim.  Hmm.  Or how about the vicious nature of people hurling names and insults at Palin.  Go ahead and question their experience, records, speeches, policies, and the likes but maybe we should stop with the “otherizing” before we truly get lost [pun intended]. 

Read the article and share your thoughts.

Here’s a sad monument to the sleaziness of this presidential campaign: Almost one-third of voters “know” that Barack Obama is a Muslim or believe that he could be.

In short, the political campaign to transform Mr. Obama into a Muslim is succeeding. The real loser as that happens isn’t just Mr. Obama, but our entire political process.

A Pew Research Center survey released a few days ago found that only half of Americans correctly know that Mr. Obama is a Christian. Meanwhile, 13 percent of registered voters say that he is a Muslim, compared with 12 percent in June and 10 percent in March.

More ominously, a rising share — now 16 percent — say they aren’t sure about his religion because they’ve heard “different things” about it.

When I’ve traveled around the country, particularly to my childhood home in rural Oregon, I’ve been struck by the number of people who ask something like: That Obama — is he really a Christian? Isn’t he a Muslim or something? Didn’t he take his oath of office on the Koran?

In conservative Christian circles and on Christian radio stations, there are even widespread theories that Mr. Obama just may be the Antichrist. Seriously.

John Green, of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, says that about 10 percent of Americans believe we may be in the Book of Revelation’s “end times” and are on the lookout for the Antichrist. A constant barrage of e-mail and broadcasts suggest that Mr. Obama just may be it.

The online Red State Shop sells T-shirts, mugs and stickers exploiting the idea. Some shirts and stickers portray a large “O” with horns, above a caption: “The Anti-Christ.”

To his credit, Mr. McCain himself has never raised doubts about Mr. Obama’s religion. But a McCain commercial last month mimicked the words and imagery of the best-selling Christian “Left Behind” book series in ways that would have set off alarm bells among evangelicals nervous about the Antichrist.

Mr. McCain himself is not popular with evangelicals. But they will vote for him if they think the other guy may be on Satan’s side.

In fact, of course, Mr. Obama took his oath on the Bible, not — as the rumors have it — on the Koran. He is far more active in church than John McCain is.

(Just imagine for a moment if it were the black candidate in this election, rather than the white candidate, who was born in Central America, was an indifferent churchgoer, had graduated near the bottom of his university class, had dumped his first wife, had regularly displayed an explosive and profane temper, and had referred to the Pakistani-Iraqi border …)

What is happening, I think, is this: religious prejudice is becoming a proxy for racial prejudice. In public at least, it’s not acceptable to express reservations about a candidate’s skin color, so discomfort about race is sublimated into concerns about whether Mr. Obama is sufficiently Christian.

The result is this campaign to “otherize” Mr. Obama. Nobody needs to point out that he is black, but there’s a persistent effort to exaggerate other differences, to de-Americanize him.

Raising doubts about a candidate based on the religion of his grandfather is toxic and profoundly un-American, cracking the melting pot we emerged from. Someday people will look back at the innuendoes about Mr. Obama with the same disgust with which we regard the smears of Al Smith as a Catholic candidate in 1928.

I’m writing in part out of a sense of personal responsibility. Those who suggest that Mr. Obama is a Muslim — as if that in itself were wrong — regularly cite my own columns, especially an interview last year in which I asked him about Islam and his boyhood in Indonesia. In that interview, Mr. Obama praised the Arabic call to prayer as “one of the prettiest sounds on earth at sunset,” and he repeated the opening of it.

This should surprise no one: the call to prayer blasts from mosque loudspeakers five times a day, and Mr. Obama would have had to have been deaf not to learn the words as a child. But critics, like Jerome Corsi, whose book denouncing Mr. Obama, “The Obama Nation,” is No. 2 on the New York Times best-seller list, quote from that column to argue that Mr. Obama has mysterious ties to Islam. I feel a particular obligation not to let my own writing be twisted so as to inflame bigotry and xenophobia.

Journalists need to do more than call the play-by-play this election cycle. We also need to blow the whistle on such egregious fouls calculated to undermine the political process and magnify the ugliest prejudices that our nation has done so much to overcome.

Filed under: politics, , , ,

21 Responses

  1. Sue says:

    Eugene, I also read this article and it’s brilliant. I know the Obama haters are going to grill Kristof but I thought he nailed it on the head that many in this country have xenophobia or in this case, a fear of “the others.”

  2. gar says:

    For Senator Obama, he’s an easy target for “otherizing.” Besides being a “godless” Democrat, he is:

    -Black (technically mixed race, but for many folks, the “one drop rule” always applies)
    -Has a “funny” first name (despite it’s Semitc origins meaning “he who is blessed’), has “Hussein” as his middle name, and has a last name that sounds close to “Osama”
    -Had a biological father whose was Muslim (*gasp*… the enemy!)
    -Grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia (there’s not enough “real” Americans there)

    More people ought to read ( and start thinking for themselves, but Kristof is right about one thing – for some people, it doesn’t really matter if Obama is a Muslim or a Christian, a “real” American or not. They’re just looking for more reasons to justify their dislike of him with saying that they can’t stand the thought of voting for a PoC to be POTUS.

  3. gar says:

    ^oop, I laugh at my own typos. Oops to “whose”; it should be “who is”.

  4. Christine says:

    “Just imagine for a moment if it were the black candidate in this election, rather than the white candidate, who was born in Central America, was an indifferent churchgoer, had graduated near the bottom of his university class, had dumped his first wife, had regularly displayed an explosive and profane temper, and had referred to the Pakistani-Iraqi border …”

    It’s just so infuriating to think about…

  5. DK says:

    It’s just politics. But by saying that, I’m not excusing it. I’m calling for a change to the landscape of politics.

    It makes you sick and then people wonder why folks nothing gets done after the electison are over.

  6. Kacie says:

    I am voting for Obama, but I work at a mission organization in Dallas, TX, buckle of the Bible belt. I am shocked at how almost universally the educated, experienced and successful middle-aged folk at my office believe anything about Obama. I regularly received comments about him being a Muslim and hear worried whispers about his potential to be the antichrist. It is completely ridiculous. I’ve made it my goal to speak reasonable truth in response to the gossip. I don’t care if people don’t agree with Obama, but I hate the gossip and “otherizing”

  7. Kee says:

    Interesting article. But frankly speaking, I didn’t really find it all that insightful. “Otherizing” seems to be the core strategy of almost all political campaigns, don’t you think? Not saying it’s right, but the main goal of both these two current campaigns seems to be “otherizing” – paint the other candidate in such a way so as to make them appear as the “other”, as the one who does not have the solutions, as the one who is out of touch with the people. (Sometimes this is referred to as demonizing and/or caricaturizing.) Both campaigns are guilty of this. Of course, the NYT article rightly points out that this particular brand of “otherizing” is especially heinous because off the sheer lies being peddled and propagated, but again, this really is not something new.

    Thanks for all the great posts!

  8. Kee says:

    Hmm. I just realized that when I say that I didn’t find the article insightful, it might have come across as my being critical of the cho man. I hope nobody read it that way. My bad if anybody did. I was being somewhat critical of the article, but not of the post or the blogger. (Sorry, just hyper sensitive about stuff like this…been misunderstood/burned too many times in blogs/comments/emails.)

  9. Tom says:

    ‘America Not Quite At It’s Best’ The Economist September 20-26th

    AS RECENTLY as a few months ago, it seemed possible to hope that this year’s presidential election would be a civilised affair. Barack Obama and John McCain both represent much that is best about their respective parties. Mr Obama is intelligent, inspiring and appears by instinct to be a consensus-seeking pragmatist. John McCain has always stood for limited, principled government, and has distanced himself throughout his career from the religious ideologues that have warped Republicanism. An intelligent debate about issues of the utmost importance—how America should rebuild its standing in the world, how more Americans could share in the proceeds of growth—seemed an attainable proposition.

    It doesn’t seem so now. In the past two weeks, while banks have tottered and markets reeled, the contending Democrats and Republicans have squabbled and lied rather than debated. Mr McCain’s team has been nastier, accusing Mr Obama of sexism for calling the Republican vice-presidential candidate a pig, when he clearly did no such thing. Much nastier has been the assertion that Mr Obama once backed a bill that would give kindergarten children comprehensive sex education. Again, this was a distortion: the bill Mr Obama backed provided for age-appropriate sex education, and was intended to protect children from sex offenders.

    These kinds of slurs seem much more personal, and therefore unpleasant, than the more routine distortions seen on both sides. Team McCain accuses Mr Obama of planning to raise taxes for middle-income Americans (in fact, the Democrat’s plan raises them only for those earning more than $250,000); Mr Obama claims Mr McCain wants to fight in Iraq for 100 years (when the Republican merely agreed that he would gladly keep bases there for that long to help preserve the peace, as in Germany) and caricatures him far too readily as a Bush toady (when Mr McCain’s record as an independent senator has been anything but that).
    An issue of life and life

    The decision to descend into tactics such as the kindergarten slur shows that America is back in the territory of the “culture wars”, where the battle will be less about policy than about values and moral character. That is partly because Mr Obama’s campaign, perhaps foolishly, chose to make such a big deal of the virtues of their candidate’s character. Most people are more concerned about the alarming state of the economy than anything else; yet the Democrats spent far more time in Denver talking about Mr Obama’s family than his economic policy. The Republicans leapt in, partly because they have a candidate with a still more heroic life story; partly because economics is not Mr McCain’s strongest suit and his fiscal plan is pretty similar to Mr Bush’s; but mostly because painting Mr Obama as an arrogant, elitist, east-coast liberal is an easy way of revving up the Republican Party’s base and what Richard Nixon called the “silent majority” (see article).

    The decision to play this election, like that of 2004, as a fresh instalment of the culture wars is disappointing to those who thought Mr McCain was more principled than that. By choosing Sarah Palin as his running-mate he made a cynical tryst with a party base that he has never much liked and that has never much liked him. Mr McCain’s whole candidacy rests on his assertion that these are perilous times that require a strong and experienced commander-in-chief; but he has chosen, as the person who may be a 72-year-old heartbeat away from the presidency, someone who demonstrably knows very little about international affairs or the economy.

    What Mrs Palin does do, as a committed pro-lifer, is to ensure that the evangelical wing of the Republican party will turn out in their multitudes. Mr McCain has thus placed abortion, the most divisive cultural issue in America, at the centre of his campaign. His defenders claim that it is too big an issue to be ignored, that he has always opposed abortion, that culture wars are an inevitable part of American elections, and that it was only when he appointed Mrs Palin that the American public started to listen to him. All this is true: but the old Mr McCain, who derided the religious right as “agents of intolerance”, would not have stooped to that.

  10. Kari Byrd says:

    Or how about just imagine for a moment if it were the black candidate in this election, rather than one of the white candidates, had a pregnant teenage daughter who was marrying a self-proclaimed “redneck” who spoke profanity on his myspace page, went to four different colleges in six years, and had a spouse who was a member of an extremist political party that wanted your state to secede from the Union and whose motto was “Alaska first.” If this was Obama, the Christian Right would have a field day.

    And it bothers me so much that people say, “Well Sarah Palin is a Christian.” Obama talks very comfortably about his faith and even uses the evangelical language that they all love to hear. They are just choosing not to hear it.

    Again…disagree with policies. Fine. But don’t compare character or patriotism or faith because McCain/Palin (or should I say Palin/McCain?) certainly don’t come out ahead, even if that’s what the conservative base wants to believe with all of their might, despite the evidence.

  11. MW says:

    “I’m writing in part out of a sense of personal responsibility”

    The quote from the author says it all, he believes he may have contributed to the misperception, yet he tries to blames McCain and others. The author even offers a little anecdote about a question he was asked in rural Oregon to some how provide back up to his story. How many peoiple in RURAL OREGON do you think is going to read his NY Times article. He’s writing to an audience that will never read his article. He has to know this. SO WHY IS HE WRITING THIS? Pathectic and self serving…

  12. Well, that’s why people like us need to carry on the conversation, so that it can extend out to places like rural Oregon, where apparently there is still quite a bit of racial discontent (despite what people would like to think).

    Check out this story… Barack Obama hung in effigy on the campus of George Fox University, haven of peace-loving, tolerant Christians… in rural Oregon.

  13. […] they are not like“me” and thus, they must be different…and thus, the other … leading to the “otherizing” – in this case, […]

  14. […] because they are not like “me” and thus, they must be different…and thus, the other…leading to the “otherizing” – in this case, […]

  15. […] because they are not like“me” and thus, they must be different … and thus, the other – leading to the “otherizing”, in this case, of […]

  16. Nash says:

    I agree with your sentiments and want to commend you on your courage to swiftly denounce the symbol of “lynching” on Effigy Christian College’s campus. The connection between religion and social sacrifice has been explored by such thinkers as Rene Girard. I find such information quite helpful. However, I think that Girard falls short in truly making a connection to our own American history. I respect all the previous comments made. However, I think that lynching is more than xenophobic … such behavior represents a way to counter our own deficiencies – by lessening the strength and potency of “others.” We see it done in everyday lives. In my opinion, this is often at the root of many of our social ills such as gang violence or even the resentment we have those who are recent immigrants. If we stop someone else from reaching their full potential, maybe we have a shot at reaching our potential. That type of thinking is myopic at best!

  17. […] on the Other.  Here’s the original NY Times article: The Push to […]

  18. […] there things I dislike about her?  Yes but we don’t need to “otherize” her.  But, let’s be real: the question we should be asking is, “Do I like her as the next […]

  19. […] of the ”patriotism” of the respective candidates; I’m weary of the constant “otherizing” that’s going on that further increases the level of unwarranted fear and […]

  20. […] before we get an “Adopt a Conservative” initiative? And thus, the perpetuation of the “otherizing” and worse, “demonizing” of others. Which leads us to the big picture […]

  21. […] long before we get an “Adopt a Conservative” initiative? And thus, the perpetuation of the “otherizing” and worse, “demonizing” of others. Which leads us to the big picture […]

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"He must become greater; I must become less." - John 3:30 We have to remind ourselves of this truth every day lest we forget:

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