"If it was laudatory to call Bill Clinton America's first black president, why can't we call Imam Obama America's first Muslim president?"To be fair, Dowd's use of "mocks" could be said to acknowledge it as a joke. But come on. She says:
Many people still have a confused view of Muslims, and the president seems unable to help navigate the country through its Islamophobia. It is a prejudice stoked by Rush Limbaugh....If you're going to worry that comments plant the wrong ideas in people's heads, you should be more careful about the ideas you plant. Dowd took a Limbaugh phrase out of context. (Hey! Remember last month, when we were hyper-sensitive about the problem of taking quotes out of context?) In context, it was, first, a question, and second, always only a comparison to the famous Toni Morrison characterization of Bill Clinton as the first black president:
Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas."Trope" — I love that. AKA stereotype.
And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President's body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and bodysearched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke?Ha. You know how I feel about "gainsay." It's the red flag of bullshit.
The message was clear "No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and--who knows?--maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us."(Shouldn't that be "all your expletives are belong to us"?)
Now, we all know that Bill Clinton is not actually black, so to say Obama is the first Muslim president in the way that Bill Clinton is the first black president actually implies that Obama is not a Muslim. As in: Christian faith notwithstanding, this is our first Muslim President. More Muslim than any actual Muslim person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime.
In context, please!
And answer the question: If it was laudatory to call Bill Clinton America's first black president, why doesn't the phrase "first Muslim president" work the same way?
There are some good answers to that question:
1. Back in 1998, when Morrison wrote her essay, Americans — or at least the Americans she was writing for — really did think it would be a fine thing to have a black president, but today, when Rush Limbaugh said that, Americans have a big problem with the idea of a Muslim president and Rush knows that.
2. Since we know Bill Clinton isn't black, calling him black creates no confusion. Calling Obama a Muslim, even as a trope, plays with — stokes — the doubts people have.
Bottom line: Am I criticizing Dowd? Only a little. She's stoking the misunderstandings of Rush Limbaugh that she knows NYT readers have. She doesn't care about giving him his due. But that's okay. He feeds on the things like this. I'm sure he'll have his fun on tomorrow's show. And it will give him license to spend a few more minutes massaging Obama-Muslim, Obama-Muslim, Obama-Muslim... into the listeners' confused mushy heads.