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Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA) Opinions Section, A7, December 18, 2008 Guest Columnist: Renford Reese, Ph.D.

Obama's Win Reflects Nation's Good, Bad

Barack Obama’s historic victory is among the nation’s highest and lowest points.  It is a high point for obvious reasons.  Millions of people transcended race and coalesced to elect the nation’s first black president.  It is a low point because there are people adamantly resistant to having a black Commander-in-Chief.  His victory has spawned a fervent patriotism, which reflects the good, the bad, and the ugly in America.

The Good: According to a recent CNN poll, seventy-nine percent approve of Obama's performance so far during transition, with 18 percent disapproving. The poll indicates that 79 percent of the public thinks Obama will do a good job as president. The transition seems to be remarkably smooth and respectful.  President Bush and his wife Laura were wonderfully receptive on the Obamas first visit to the White House.  President Bush has made quite a few gracious comments about the significance of Obama’s victory.  This type of grace and respect reflects all that is good about America.

The Bad: At the same time Obama’s multiethnic coalition was energetically celebrating his victory, hate crimes were occurring across the nation.  After the election, there were the schoolchildren in Idaho chanting “Assassinate Obama,” racial epithets sprayed on cars and homes, cross burnings, and palpable anger from coast to coast.  After my November 9 commentary in this newspaper I received a typewriter-typed letter, which was a thinly masked threat to the life of the president-elect.  The letter stated that “You are happy now but you will not be for long because he will not serve his full term.  Then we will be happy.  Remember That!”  I immediately contacted the FBI who put me in contact with the secret service and I delivered the letter to them.  The tragedy of the election will be reflected in the dramatic increase in activities for the secret service.

The Ugly: While the world has become familiar with the ubiquitous Ugly American abroad progressives see the same characteristics in people at home: arrogant, hyper-patriotic, nationalistic, xenophobic, racially biased, always angry at and out to get the “other.”  There are those among us who continue to peddle hate. Camouflaged in a patriotic bravado, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity continue to spew a unique hatred for our president-elect to their unwitting followers. This calculated divisiveness could not be more unpatriotic. The hate-tinged daily commentaries encourage disunity and undermine the esprit de corps of the American ideal.

On Hannity’s December 8 radio show he stated that, “Our country has survived bad presidents before and will survive this one (Obama).”  He went on to say, “I don’t know what this guy is going to do.  I don’t know if he knows.”  How can we hate what we don’t know unless we are hateful?

Hannity’s ad for his radio show includes excerpts of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s incendiary comments about America. Hannity, however, seems to be totally oblivious to his commonality with Wright.  Wright preached the passionate truth as he saw it about America, which he probably thought was his patriotic duty.  Hannity preaches his passionate truth about America because he thinks it is his patriotic duty.  The hatefulness of each brand of their truths is destructive.

Of course, I do not know if the person that wrote the letter to me threatening Obama listens to Hannity.  Irrespective of whether they do or not, Hannity must know that his unremitting venom directed towards the president-elect can bring Obama harm. Especially during economic downturns, people look to rhetorical leaders to find a scapegoat.

There will be a point in the Obama administration when his actions will justify criticism—maybe even harsh criticism. It is our patriotic duty to make him accountable for his actions. But today, he has not made one policy, vetoed one bill, implemented one executive order, yet, hate by some is consistently being leveled towards him—this is unpatriotic.

As Americans, we must embrace the good, educate the bad, and rebel against the ugly in our society.  The recent poll stating that 79 percent of Americans think that Obama will do a good job as President means that we are on the right track.


--Renford Reese, Ph.D., is a professor in the political science department and director of the Colorful Flags program at Cal Poly Pomona.  He is the author of American Bravado (2008), Prison Race (2006), and the widely discussed American Paradox: Young Black Men (2004).  See his work at:

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