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    How Obama Talks About Terrorism and Racism

    Let's keep this simple. The way Barack Obama talks about Islamic terrorism is exactly the way he talks about white racism. Exactly. The only difference lies not in what Obama actually says, but in how his critics respond.

    When Obama talks about racism in America, which he has learned to do only when necessary, he takes pains to separate the terrible and toxic ideology, racism, from the larger white culture. This makes sense. If you tell white people that they are inherently racist and that there's nothing they can do about that, you are telling them not to do anything about that. In fact, you are pushing them to be more racist. If racism is part of who they are, after all, why not embrace it?

    Obama has to work against the white racists who are actively claiming that it's all of white culture that's under attack whenever someone protests racism, that complaining about racist practices is an attack on whites themselves. The white racists of the world want nothing better than to erase any difference between being white and being a racist.

    Now, when Obama talks about Islamic terrorism, which is also an inevitable part of his job, he takes pains to separate the terrible and toxic ideology, terrorism, from the larger Islamic culture. This makes sense, unless you are completely stupid. If you tell Muslims that being terrorists is an inherent part of their religion, and that only terrorists are real Muslims, you are telling them to actively support terrorism. In fact, you are pushing them to become terrorists. If they can't be a good Muslim any other way, why not embrace it?

    Obama has to work against the Islamist terrorists who are actively claiming that it's Islam itself that's under attack whenever the United States fights against terrorism, that fighting terrorism is an attack on their religion itself. The Islamist terrorists of the world want nothing better than to erase any difference between being a Muslim and being a terrorist.

    In both cases, Obama is making the sane and sensible rhetorical move. He carves out a way for white people to be against racism, and for Muslims to be against terrorism. Doing it the other way would be incredibly self-defeating.

    Let me repeat that: Incredibly. Self. Defeating.

    Here's the major difference: when Obama speaks about racism, his critics on the right pretend that he DID NOT distinguish between being racist and being white. They claim he's attacking all white people.

    When Obama speaks about terrorism, his critics on the right attack him for distinguishing between being a Muslim and being a terrorist. They claim that he's soft on terrorism because he won't accuse Islam itself of being a terrorist religion.

    That's really the whole story. When Obama talks about racism, he is falsely accused of doing something counterproductive that he's not stupid enough to do. When Obama talks about terrorism, he is angrily denounced for not doing something counterproductive that he would be stupid to do. I wish I could still be amazed.



    Succinct, to the point, incredibly logical and seemingly obvious ... Which, as we all know, means your observations will most likely fall on deaf ears for all those whose cable boxes are hard-wired to Fox News.   Thanks for it anyway.  It's always a pleasure reading your thoughts.

    Makes sense to me.  Obama has to be so careful--acknowledging that racism exists without seeming to be the "black president".  It's a fine line and he draws it well, I think.  Which means he probably offends both sides at times.

    His careful use of the word "Muslim" without equating it to terrorists is equally admirable, but again he manages to offend the side that wants to believe all Muslims are terrorists.   He stays above the fray and is true to what he believes in both instances. 

    He knows he'll be called a Muslim-lover, or a Muslim and not a Christian--which is not such a terrible thing in any other universe but the one we live in today. 

    He also knows if he says anything in support of blacks, he'll be accused of favoring them over whites.  Or if he doesn't say enough to support blacks, he'll be accused of favoring whites over blacks.  He can't win--but he must have gone into it knowing that's the way it would be.

    Good piece, Doc.  It makes me admire his take on the presidency all the more.

    You've made such a great connection here.

    The problem is that the people who criticize Obama for not criticizing Islam are, typically speaking, the very same people who have already decided that "white culture is under attack" in America.  So what they actually want is rhetoric that will further radicalize the Islamic right the same way that so much of our rhetoric further radicalized the cultural right at home.  I was going to say this is ironic but, if memes function like genes, maybe this is simple survival and procreation at work?

    Dr. Cleveland - I agree wholeheartedly with your column.  But, I don't think President Obama is above reproach in the area of race relations.  There is tremendous frustration in white working-class and working-poor America which has been exploited by race baiters on talk radio and Fox.   Obama should have foreseen this and tried to focus the anger among poor and working whites against their true exploiters - big bank CEOs, job exporters, Republicans  But he's always been a uniter not a divider.

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