First Lady Michelle Obama. Photo credit: Lawrence Jackson, official White House photo
NASCAR fans at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in south Florida turned into parodies of themselves on Sunday when they booed First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden.
The two were appearing at the Ford 400 as Grand Marshals promoting their Joining Forces project, an initiative to support returning veterans an their families, alongside Sgt. Andrew Barry, a former US Army sniper who served in Iraq and Afghanistan; though Barry was welcomed with cheers, a low rumbling boo rippled through the crowd when the announcer acknowledged Obama and Biden.
Both Obama and NASCAR have “downplayed” the incident, David Jackson at USA Today’s The Oval blog noted – from the looks of their official statements on the event, they ignored it completely – but the American media certainly hasn’t. Right-wing shock jock and professional hater Rush Limbaugh threw his hat into the ring on Monday when he claimed on his radio talkshow that NASCAR fans hate Obama’s “uppity-ism”. And let the race debate begin!
Limbaugh on Obama’s “uppity-ism”. Limbaugh may have said some other things during his broadcast on Monday – including claiming that NASCAR fans are angry about rising unemployment, the state of the economy, and government spending, and claiming that they “know in their hearts” that the Obamas don’t like them – but most media outlets are focusing on his claiming the Obamas were guilty of “uppity-ism”. As Jake Tapper, writing at ABC News’ The Note blog, noted, “‘Uppity’ means ‘presumptuous,’ and is a word with loaded racial connotations. Many in the African-American community associate the word with white racists suggesting an African American is being presumptuous by not knowing his or her proper, lesser, place.” He also, notably, called Michelle Obama “Mooch-elle” for allegedly wasting taxpayers’ money on vacations.
Al Sharpton responds; what role will race have in the election? Prominent black leader the Rev. Al Sharpton dismissed Limbaugh’s chattering as a “distraction”, and cautioned against overreaction, The New York Times’ The Caucus blog reported: “If you don’t react in extreme ways they look even more extreme,” he said. “If they’re out there calling the first lady names, and we’ve never seen a first lady treated this way, why get in the way of their desperation?” But Limbaugh’s comments prompted Jodi Kantor at The Caucus to ask, “Just how racially heated will the 2012 presidential election get?” While black members of the commentariat appear to be dismissing Limbaugh’s remarks, Kantor noted that the election is still a year away – it could get a lot worse.
An ugly scene. Booing the First Lady badly crosses a line, argued Steve Huntley in the Chicago Sun-Times, though the cheers drowned out the jeers. “It can be hard to draw the line between uncivil behavior and the raw, raucous, bitter, even hateful debate that is at the heart of democracy. Sometimes it’s like the Supreme Court’s famous definition of pornography: you know it when you see it. But the booing of the first lady is not a hard call. And while we may think the policies of a president are disastrous, the office of the presidency should be respected as it embodies our concept of self government.”
Was it expected? Limbaugh painted NASCAR fans as a uniform group of angry conservatives and others are hinting that Obama and Biden shouldn’t have expected a warm reception from Republican-leaning Southerners. But, the Christian Science Monitor pointed out, that’s not exactly true – 30 percent of NASCAR fans are Republicans, but a full 29 percent are Democrats; moreover, 20 percent are minorities. “Surprise, surprise – they’re not redneck beer-swillers who thrill to Dukes of Hazzard reruns. Or at least, not that many of them are.” So Obama and Biden might have expected a better reception; it could be worrying for the Obama re-election campaign that they didn’t get one.
Not just ‘redneck racism’. Though Kay Dilday, writing in The Guardian, incorrectly claims that NASCAR is “all red-state”, a sport “whose viewing audience is almost entirely made up of white Southerners”, she says that booing Michelle Obama wasn’t entirely about racism. “The Nascar folk who booed were a discourteous reminder of a more pervasive national ambivalence about strong women and the role they play in politics,” Dilday claimed. Conservatives just don’t like strong women in the first lady role.