One nursery rhyme goes, "I do not like thee Dr. Fell for what reason I cannot tell. But I know it, and I know it well. I do not like thee Dr. Fell."
Certainly, John Sununu came close to symbolizing the sentiment. When he questioned whether President Barack Obama is an "American," he failed to specify whether it was his ideas or origin he was referring to. Mitt Romney chimed in by calling the president's view of the United States "foreign."
After nearly three-and-a-half years in office, Obama cannot shake this kind of unsupportive and nasty innuendo. But, it does say much about trends in the country and what fears people may possess. The United States is becoming less Northern European, more tolerant of non-traditional lifestyles, and certainly not resembling the idealic and bucolic nation of calendars. Like the populist of the 1890s, a rural world that many cherished has finally and irrevocably past. For these voters, Obama has assumed the role as a symbol of what they believe has gone wrong with America since World War II.
Writing in the 1960s, the late Marshall Frady crisply delineated the conflict.
"The American mystics - such as Norman Mailer - are unintelligible to the sturdy American Boy Scouts like Ronald Reagan and Billy Graham," he wrote. "Gerald Ford could never understand Bob Dylan or Allen Ginsberg."
The 60s, with its abstractions and shocks, launched a political struggle that has never ended. As William Faulkner observed, the past was not "even past."
Despite that Obama was born in 1961, does not exempt him from the charge that he was in the eyes of conservatives steeped in what they regard as an awful era. Bill Ayres, the radical, and all that Obama physically embodies for these critics is a past that not only isn't past, but one that is nightmarishly real. Their 60s is riots, disorder and bad life choices, not liberation. For these observers, Obama is the culmination of all their fears.
Now not all of this style of politics is limited to Republicans or the right Democrats who played the game with gusto. In the 1970s, Richard Nixon was described as an evil incarnate. During the 1980s, Reagan was depicted by some in leftist circles as a bumbling brain damaged skewerer of poor children. In 2000 and 2004, some threatened to leave the country if George W. Bush were elected. Books linked the Bushes with Nazis in the 1930s, only proving that the right does not have a monopoly on nonsense.
Indeed the left had an annoying tendency to personalize politics, making GOP presidents appear as villains - not simply leaders who thought differently. Moreover, in their heyday, they played the game of political correctness so ruthlessly that people could lose jobs for a verbal slip. In the late 1990s, the right adapted these tactics, perfected them and became as obnoxious, if not more so, than their adversaries.
This was not the first time the right seized on an idea developed by the left. During Watergate, H.R. Haldeman, fighting off charges of knowing about break-ins and dirty tricks, ran into Dick Tuck, a liberal operative, who was a master of political pranks. Haldeman looked up and said, "You guys started it," only to receive in reply, "but you guys drove it into the ground."
So it seems in 2012. The senseless vendetta against Bill Clinton and later Obama reflected the desire of the GOP to get even for past slights. Understandable perhaps, politically national, not so much. From the Birther issue to Obama's alleged radicalism, a description lost on the left, right wingers such as Michelle Bachmann have gone off the rails. Past wrongs do not justify the present attitude by right-wingers to refight the 1960s. Perhaps it might be helpful to heed Nixon's advice "when the going gets hot, keep the rhetoric cool."