Monday, August 03, 2009

Wither the WASP?

Over the last couple of weeks, we have witnessed a strange spectacle. Despite the state of Hawaii's verification that Barack Obama was born there, people like Lou Dobbs and Liz Cheney have joined a gaggle of conspiracy theorists, who continue to question the veracity of the president's birth certificate: Barack Obama, they insist, was born in Kenya; and, therefore, he has no legitimate right to the presidency.

As Bill Maher pointed out in The Los Angeles Times, we've seen this movie before: "This flap might be a deluded right wing obsession that is a total waste of time, but so was Whitewater . . . [and] more recently we had the Swiftboat allegations against John Kerry. . ."

How does one explain this kind of zaniness? "That reaction," Frank Rich wrote in Sunday's New York Times, "is an example of how the inexorable transformation of America into a white-minority country in some 30 years -- by 2042 in the latest Census Bureau estimate -- is causing serious jitters, if not panic, in some white establishments."

Those establishments have been White, Anglo Saxon and Protestant; but they have been under siege for some time. There was the surge of immigration, beginning in the 1840's, first with the Irish, the Italians, and the Jews from Eastern Europe. They may have been white or Semitic; but Anglo Saxon and Protestant? In the twentieth century, there have been waves of Hispanic and Asian immigrants, all answering the call at the base of the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore."

For over two centuries, the "wretched refuse" have arrived and risen to prosperity -- but there were certain barriers they were supposed to respect. Now that they outnumber those who originally occupied positions of power, the "quality" are getting anxious, even a little paranoid. That was never more apparent than when such luminaries as Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich called Sonia Sotomayor -- President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court -- "a racist."

From time immemorial, minorities have forged political alliances to advance their agendas. But the people who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Obama's birth certificate refuse to recognize their growing minority status. They can't beat them; and they won't join them. As Mark Twain observed, "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt."

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