Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus

Sunday June 24th, 2012

By Barrie Dunsmore 

There are no circumstances under which a reporter has the right to interrupt or heckle the President of the United States when he is in the middle of making a speech in the White House Rose Garden- or anywhere else. None. Never.

Yet that is precisely what Neil Munro of the on-line web site the Daily Caller did, as  President Barack Obama was outlining his new immigration policy a week or so ago. In the middle of the president’s remarks, Munro began loudly demanding to know why he was favoring “foreigners over workers.” And when Mr. Obama tried to ignore him Munro yelled, “you have to take questions.”  


At any other time I know of, such a reporter would lose his job. Instead, the Daily Caller’s founder and boss Tucker Carlson staunchly defended his reporter. Carlson,(who made his reputation by being a preppy looking and seemingly much nicer right-winger than Rush Limbaugh,) even went so far as to say what Munro did was no different than what Sam Donaldson used to do when he covered Presidents Carter and Reagan for ABC News.


I know Sam Donaldson. For years I regularly covered presidents at home and abroad with him, and Neil Munro is no Donaldson.  Donaldson was aggressive. If the president was doing a photo-op, or walking to his helicopter or was anywhere in range, Sam would shout questions at him. Also Sam would often try to get one more question in at the end of a presidential news conference. But Sam Donaldson respected the office of the president, and would never have interrupted a presidential speech. As Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote this past week, Munro’s performance was an” outrageous and unprecedented affront to the office” of the presidency.


 Milbank is no Obama cheerleader but in a column this week he raised an issue which has become deeply disturbing – namely, “the belittling” of the president. And let’s not kid ourselves. It is this president, Barack Obama, who has been shown less respect by his political opponents that any president in the past century.


 I saw an MSNBC report a few nights ago that I had missed last weekend.
 Montana Republicans holding their convention in Missoula, somehow thought it was appropriate to put a farm- style outhouse, just outside the hall. It had bullet holes painted on it, along with a sign which said “Obama’s Presidential Library.” Inside was an alleged birth certificate for “Barack Hussein Obama” stamped Bull  S_ _ T.
There were also the purported phone numbers of Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, who you could call “For a Good Time.”


When asked about the propriety of all this, the Montana Republican Party Chairman Will Deschamps said it was a “sideshow” and” not something I’m going to agonize over.”  I am sure not. For either deliberately, or out of cowardice, far too often senior Republican officials have ignored the egregious abuse of the current president by their party’s members and supporters.

This has been particularly true in the case of the insidious campaign to make President Obama seem an illegitimate president because he supposedly was not born in this country - in spite of all the incontrovertible evidence that Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii. Just recently, presidential candidate Mitt Romney went out of his way to embrace buffoon/ tycoon Donald Trump who remains the loud,-mouthed, self-appointed leader of the so called “birthers.”  Why would Romney do that?  The only credible explanation is that he recognizes there is a racist element among the birthers and the extreme Republican right. Come November, he needs their support and fears to anger them by blowing off Trump.


Throughout the primary season, Obama was routinely called communist or Nazi , or portrayed as un-American by some of the very people running for the Republican presidential nomination- Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachman come to mind. Meanwhile during a State of the Union speech, as the president expressed concern that the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision would open the gates to the rich buying elections, Justice Samuel Alito explicitly mouthed the words “not true.” At another joint session of  Congress when Obama was trying to explain details of the Health Care bill, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-NC) shouted out” You Lie.” Absolutely nothing has been out-of-bounds for Obama’s critics.


 On September 25th, 2008 – roughly six weeks before Obama was elected- I spoke to the Vermont Human Rights Commission and Central Vermont Anti-Racism Study Circles. My subject was, “Race in the Presidential Campaign - Transcendent or Still Toxic?” I gave them a foreign correspondent’s detached view of the history of race in American politics, which has indeed been toxic. Still I concluded, “If Obama should win, it will be possible to argue that the issue of race has been transcended because the biggest taboo in American politics will have been broken. Race won’t cease to be a factor in presidential politics, but it will no longer be a dominant one. And let there be no doubt.- that will be a monumental event in the history of this country.”


I was wrong. Race in presidential politics was not transcended by the outcome of the 2008 election. It might even be said that Obama’s election stirred up racial resentments which had somewhat subsided in the years after the Civil Rights battles of the sixties. 
For a hundred years after the Civil War, there were many, many Americans who acted as though the South not the North had won that war. But in the half century since the 1960s Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, that number has gone down substantially. Yet there remains a hard core which apparently can not stand the idea of a black man as the principal resident of the White House. Perhaps considering the tortured history of race in America, that is to be expected. What should be neither expected nor tolerated is that one of the two major political parties in this country should overtly and covertly continue to play the race card.


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