The XX Factor

Since When Isn’t It OK to Insult the President?

Emily, I cringed last night when I saw the clip of Joe Wilson screaming “You lie!” during Obama’s speech. I’m on the record as thinking it was silly for people to pull their kids out of class rather than listen to Obama’s back-to-school speech. But do you really think the vitriol that Obama faces is worse than what President Bush faced? Insulting the president reached national-pastime status not long after Dec. 12, 2000, when President Bush was finally declared the winner of the 2000 election. (Not that it wasn’t a growth industry during the Clinton administration.)

Bush also faced protests at commencement speeches , and he was booed during the 2005 State of the Union address. Maybe those particular incidents weren’t as heated as what Obama has faced. But look at some other examples of Bush hatred: An artist collected pubic hair from volunteers for a “Not my Bush” exhibit. Newsbusters has this photo gallery of “Kill Bush” protest signs. Is “Death to Extremist Christian Terrorist Pig-Bush” not an insult? What about when Natalie Maine of Dixie Chicks called Bush a “dumb fuck”?

I do think it’s true that conservatives are more organized protesters than before, judging from the town halls and from the high attendance at the tea parties. But I think it’s a big leap, and perhaps unfair, to link it to Obama’s race. The rise of blogs and social networking sites makes it easy to seek out like-minded individuals (and sometimes ONLY like-minded individuals), and it makes it easier to organize. And perhaps people are miffed that they just spent eight years watching “their guy” get bashed and they’re going to give as good as they got. Yes, I’m guessing that among the thousands and thousands of people who’ve attended a tea party or asked a question at a town hall, there have been some racists. But it’s not fair to suggest that people wouldn’t be speaking out if Obama were white.

Photograph of George W. Bush by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images.