Schwarzenegger V. Obama

Today in the first session of a course, we somehow got on the topic of  “birthers,” the seeming apocalyptic panic the election of President Obama has induced in some citizens, the apparent fear that he was born in Africa, and the different standard applied to a prominent politician who was, indeed, born outside the U.S. (Schwarzenegger). Of course, we immediately acknowledged that California has no rule against a foreign-born person being elected governor.  But someone also noted that, for a brief, giddy moment after Schwarzengger was elected, many people started talking about an amendment to the Consitution that would allow him to run for president.

Without pleasure, we seemed to arrive at a consensus: Many Americans fear Obama’s ethnicity (African American), his color (“Black”), and his name (which they translate into “Muslim” or, as a woman said at a McCain rally, “Arab”),  but in the case of Schwarzengger, many of these same people think Arnold’s “foreign accent” is cute,  his alleged outsider-status (body-builder and actor, not a politician) as somehow pleasingly “rogue,” and his Governator schtick as . . . what? A lovely combination of (illusory) rough-and-tough action movies and American politics? Who knows?

At any rate, and as usual in the U.S., it seems to come down to race. Schwarzenegger was acceptable because he is white and European; Obama is not acceptable because he is Black and, in spite of (or, more correctly, in this nation of immigrants, because of) his name, because he is American. What a fabulous irony! The “foreigner” is more “American” than the native-born, duly elected President of the United States, and “Schwarzenegger” is a more “American” name than “Barack Hussein Obama.”

I’m indebted to a blogger named The Tin Man for this additional bit of irony:

“Out of curiosity, I typed etymology of schwarzenegger into Google and was led here. (God, I love the Web.) Looks like Dr. Weevil made the same assumption I made — I’d assumed that schwarzenegger redundantly meant ‘black black.’  But apparently, as someone points out in Dr. Weevil’s comments, it’s not schwarze/negger but schwarzen/egger, or ‘black plowman.'”

The play of language and politics here would be lovely if so many “birthers” and hate-mongers didn’t t seem, literally, deadly serious: A baptis minister–with a congregation–in the South is praying for Obama to die. Threats on the president’s life have increased by about 400%, according to sources on the Internet:

Someone in class noted, with a sense of despair, than some sites on the Internet have referred to the elder Obama daughter as “a crack whore.” A) You’re going after the children [as Rush Limbaugh went after Chelsea Clinton when she was a young teenager]? B) She’s 10 or 11 years old. C) “Crack whore”? What? That is to say, what? What are the limits to hate-speech? None. That’s one feature of hate-speech.

Sometimes there seems to be no bottom to stop the descent of language-and-politics in the United States of America.

With regard to the alleged “outsider” status not just of Schwarzenegger but of any politician who runs “against” the politicians in the capital, my overly simplistic “theory” is this: once you have declared you are running for the office of mayor or any office higher than that, you have probably already been in contact with a) campgain-professionals b) fundraising professionals and c) someone in a Party of some kind; therefore, before you have announced, you have become an insider–and especially if you are married to a Shriver/Kennedy, and have been a Hollywood hack.   “Cal-ee-for-nee-uh, here I come, right back where I started from.”


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