Just Below the Surface


November 2008 answered once and for all the question of whether the country would ever elect an African American president, even as it opened up new questions about how race would shape President Barack Obama’s political success or failure—including his prospects for reelection in a campaign environment very different from the one he faced the first time around.

Throughout his presidency, Obama has had to contend with intense Republican opposition and a series of nasty, often farfetched attacks on his character and background. Many on the left see racism behind this antagonism. They point to racist signs at Tea Party rallies, racially charged language from GOP presidential candidates, and accusations by conservative opinion leaders, such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, that Obama hates “white culture” and is purposefully destroying the economy to avenge centuries of racial oppression.

In truth, the intense opposition to the president has less to do with race than with politics. Ideological division between our two parties has sharpened in recent decades, and the zero-sum game of politics, where one party’s failure is the other’s gain, favors choosing opposition over cooperation. GOP resistance to the president’s agenda, including policies Republicans once routinely endorsed, is not personal; it’s just business. Yes, opposition to the president on the right has been irrational and...

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About the Author

David Carroll Cochran is Professor of Politics at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, where he also directs the Archbishop Kucera Center for Catholic Intellectual and Spiritual Life. His most recent books are Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War (Orbis) and The Catholic Church in Ireland Today (Rowman & Littlefield).