Ben Smith, Politico, April 26, 2011
Rev. Jesse Jackson told POLITICO today that the birther movement is part of a larger pattern of rollbacks against civil rights and and an attack on the legitimacy of the nation’s first African-American president–reserving special ire for developer Donald Trump and his renewed interest in the conspiracy theory.
“Any discussion of his birthplace is a code word,” said Jackson. “It calls upon ancient racial fears.”
Jackson also pointed to a broader pattern of hostility towards civil rights–pointing to a number of events, including the battle over public sector unions, a transportation policy that he says disadvantages poor minority city dwellers, and a renewed interest in policies like voter ID.
“This is the most personal attacks on any president ever,” said Jackson, who pursued the Democratic nomination in 1984 and 1988–but says the political climate has changed. “Whose personal religion has ever been challenged before? That has strong racial overtones.”
There is no doubt that there have been some tensions over race since Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States in 2008. There’ve been questionable depictions of Obama, unseemly watermelon jokes, embarrassing gaffes involving public officials, and even overt use of the N-word, all in either vague or direct reference to the president. Now pundit Tavis Smiley predicts that the 2012 election cycle will bring even more to the surface, predicting the “most racist in the history of this republic,” quite a statement considering the nation’s history of slavery and segregation.
The PBS host made the remarks to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, saying, “I said over a year ago that this was going to be, this presidential race, Lawrence, was going to be the ugliest, the nastiest, the most divisive, and the most racist . . . in the history of this republic. I did not know that race to the bottom would begin so quickly.”
He notes there have been more threats against Obama than any other president in the history of the country–“indeed presidents combined.”