Those who wonder if American racism has gone the way of dinosaurs should consider last week's misallocation of the term "Obamacare."
President Barack Obama managed to become the first black president in history. He's the first politician since 1956 to win at least 51 percent of the popular vote twice. By some accounts, he's the most powerful man in the world. As one man, he composes an entire branch of the federal government.
The president appears strong, intelligent, articulate and willing to take on challenges few others attempt. When he passed a law to overhaul the health care system—an accomplishment that would restructure one-sixth of the nation's economy—he did what no predecessor could, for better or worse.
Admire or dislike this president, he deserves credit for courage and rare ability to achieve political ends. Though he's often wrong, he exudes strength.
Yet, much of society does not treat him like a strong, capable man. Instead, they treat him as someone in need of dispensation from political tradition.
From Robert Redford to Oprah Winfrey to Chris Matthews to Harvey Weinstein—mentioning only a few recent examples—ardent supporters of Obama characterize his critics as "racist." They act as if past presidents enjoyed immunity from vitriolic opposition. Never mind the fact congressional opponents impeached two presidents and removed one from office. Forget that opponents of George W. Bush looked unceasingly for opportunities to impeach him and openly celebrated a movie that fantasized about his assassination. Forget all that, because presidential scrutiny was invented in 2008 by racists.
To suggest a man of Obama's intellect and achievement cannot handle intense criticism, traditionally meted out to presidents, is to say a black man can't handle it. To his credit, Obama doesn't play the race card to counter even his most ardent critics—a fraction of whom may truly harbor racist motives.
The race-card defense of Obama reached a new level of absurdity this week when MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry referred to the term "Obamacare" as a concoction of "wealthy white men who needed a way to put themselves above and apart from a black man. To render him inferior and unequal and to diminish his accomplishments."
The journalist's accusation can be taken as a prejudiced assumption about evil "white men" she can't even identify by name. In truth, "Obamacare" caught on because the bureaucratic title "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" is boring, hard to say, even harder to remember and doesn't fit headline slots. "Obamacare" provides a friendly, catchy, more marketable way to speak of the law. It came about when Obama's approval ratings were near record highs, so the name "Obama" was far from derogatory.
Throughout history, we have named laws—along with cities, states, monuments, buildings and schools—after politicians. When then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to overhaul health care, the media and public immediately coined "Hillarycare"—more than a decade before most Americans had heard of Barack Obama. When then-Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., initiated state insurance reform, the law was dubbed "Romneycare." A bill to create Colorado's health care exchange was called "Amycare" because State Rep. Amy Stephens, a Monument Republican, introduced it. Supporters and opponents used it. We have Jessica's Law, Dodd-Frank, McCain-Feingold, Kristen's Law, Donna West Law, the Brady Act, Ryan White Care Act, the Lindbergh Law and the Bush Tax Cuts. The list of laws named for men, women, children and politicians who inspired them is long and distinguished.
"Obamacare" is neither positive nor negative. If the law somehow becomes a whopping success, the moniker will rightly honor a man who inspired it. If it continues to flop, the name will allocate blame. That's just politics, not a smoke-filled room of racist white men.
Barack Obama deserves respect for becoming the first black president, not insulting attempts to shield him from treatment that has long been part of political life. To act as if he is politically delicate, because he's black, just might be racist.