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They’re at it again

Peter Simmons

They’re at it again

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I have made the point privately and some months ago in this space that the election of an African American as United States president did not mean that country had reached a post-racial plateau.
Racism is alive and flourishing and the two top government officials were again treated with disrespect and disdain. Repeatedly in the Congress and media the world has witnessed shameful shenanigans against the first black president, which suggests there is a stream of racism from sea to shining sea provoking comments and actions which bring the country into disrepute.
The endless tirades against Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan father and white American mother, started with the baseless allegation that he was not an American citizen and should be thrown out of office. One of the unashamed leaders of this “birther” movement was loud-mouthed, wealthy entrepreneur Donald Trump.
Production of his authentic birth certificate deflated the allegation and removed it from the front pages. It did not, however, settle the issue in the minds of those who cannot accept the fact that in the first decade of the 21st century an educated, articulate, charismatic black man is president and commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful nation.
During a State Of The Union joint address to the Senate and House, a Republican Congressman rudely interrupted him from the floor with a crude, unprecedented rant. What scant regard this elected representative showed the historic head of state.
A key operative in Obama’s election was Eric Holder, the highly regarded son of Barbadian parents. He became the first black attorney general and head of the powerful Justice Department. The idea of having two Blacks in the two most prominent posts in the federal government did not sit well with many in the Grand Ole Party and their acolytes.
The antipathy against Holder reached its zenith last week when a congressional committee voted to hold him in contempt of Congress after the Obama administration used its executive privilege for the first time to withhold documents relating to a failed investigation into gun-running into Mexico.
The Republicans, who have the majority in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, used it to schedule a full vote in the House this week. Their leadership said submission of the documents would provide an opportunity to resolve the matter.
Throughout, Mr Holder behaved with commendable home-grown pride and resolve as the Republicans used the impasse to name the president as a participant in a federal cover-up. The Republican spokesman, the former party chairman Michael Steele, like the two principals, is also an African American.
He told the country: “The White House decision to invoke executive privilege implies that White House officials were either involved in the ‘fast and furious’ operation (the shipment of guns) or the cover-up that followed.” Presidents since Richard Nixon have used executive privilege to protect documents in Congressional disputes.
It emerged that there is doubt as to whether the president or attorney general had prior knowledge of the shipment of guns from Arizona into Mexico where they were alleged to have fallen into the hands of powerful, violent drug cartels.
A similar operation took place during George W. Bush’s presidency.
United States agents lost track of some shipments which were used during high-level crimes, none more so than the deadly shooting of a United States border patrol agent. The Republicans used this incident to fire up sentimentality across the country, accusing Holder of not even apologizing to the man’s family.
History is on the Democratic side. Traditionally, Congress has had great difficulty enforcing contempt citations and has relied on negotiated agreements and litigated settlements to obtain information. Most significantly, for the very first time in its history, the wicket has been rolled to cite the country’s top legal official for contempt.
This fact, alongside the baseless and refuted “birther” attempt to disqualify the president (another first), bespeak the unprecedented lengths to which the floundering Republicans are prepared to go to rid the country of the two top officials who are African Americans.
This is viscous, rabid partisan politics at its worst with an unmistakable streak of racism. Stoked by its reactionary racists in the media, the Republican Party’s hope is that something will stick to sully the character and reputation of Obama, whose lifestyle is above reproach, and force Holder to quit.
With Mitt Romney not catching the polls afire,looking more and more lacklustre and without a definitive, credible selling point to win over the undecided, Obama aggregated more Hispanic and other votes last week with his new “DreamAct” relating to not deporting certain undocumented non-Americans, giving them the right to ultimately qualify for citizenship.
Romney has not countered this master stroke. Keep watching his major promoter, Fox News, to see what he and the witch-hunting Republicans throw at Obama next. They need to come much better!
• Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat. Email [email protected]