As a student of history and politics, I've learned that criticism of our elected officials is as American as apple pie.
People who think we are somehow more divided and antagonistic than ever before when it comes to politics should read about the presidential campaign of 1828 between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams, or the account of South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks nearly beating Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts to death in the Senate chamber. The technology has changed the speed and volume of the debate, but human nature remains the same.
I have found, however, that racial politics complicates that nugget of conventional wisdom.
One would expect a conservative constituent to disagree with a liberal politician and vice versa, and they have the right to openly express their disagreements in our land of liberty. I am proud of the free flow of information and commentary in our nation, and I willingly wore our country's uniform, as did my father before me, to protect that freedom.
I am also a proponent of modern technology and communications as a democratizing force, and an alternative to a mainstream media that has become increasingly inaccessible to certain points of view.
Add race to that mix, however, and it becomes much more volatile.
Somehow, a black conservative is performing an act of unspeakable evil by criticizing President Obama, the nation's first black president. Moreover, black conservatives are fair game for mean-spirited, racially charged comments from black and white liberals alike. Only in these circumstances is a white person allowed to call a black person a "house Negro" and be cheered for the comment.
I don't mention this to complain. It was my choice to stride boldly into the arena, and the criticism comes with the territory. Also, as I indicated in my book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom's Porch, there is great certainty and serenity in having the courage of your convictions:
You may not like or accept what I have to say, but I am certain of my right to say it because it’s not a privilege to be granted or revoked by the black orthodoxy, their white enablers or anyone else. I was conceived in the image of God, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” I am a free man in the Creator’s universe with a view of the world that is uniquely mine and mine to express as I think best.
Jesus Christ says, “[Y]ou will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” I didn’t fully grasp what that meant until after more than 50 years of living. The knowledge of the truth instills in a person clarity, confidence and serenity, allowing one to stand firm against the lies and attacks of the world without fear.
Courage is true freedom and I came to that place because of Jesus Christ. Only in Him, the Eternal Word and Truth Incarnate, am I free to be a contrarian black man.
A little more than a year ago, I wrote a piece for American Thinker that spoke directly to this aberrant behavior, and I present it here with a few additions from my book to reflect my thinking today. My intent was to strip away race as a reason for either defending or criticizing the president, and focus the reader's attention on the fundamental differences between conservatives and liberals, regardless of race. I hope you find it illuminating.
I've been a committed conservative and, with the exception of one year where I listed myself as an independent, a registered Republican since 1978. What makes that rather unremarkable statement more intriguing is that I'm an American who happens to be black.
Anyone who follows politics knows that puts me in rare and sometimes lonely company. Black voting percentages for the Republican nominee for President since 1964 are typically in the single digits, reaching 11% nationwide in 2004 and, perhaps more significantly, 16% in Ohio, helping George W. Bush take that state and the Presidency for a second term. There is no single demographic group in the nation that is more loyal and, in my opinion, more taken for granted by the beneficiaries of their votes than blacks.
Until February 10, 2007, most of my black friends and associates tolerated my status as a conservative and Republican, dismissing me as a novelty or something less flattering but essentially harmless. After that date, and especially after the Iowa caucuses in the 2008 Presidential election, I became an enemy and someone who needed to be silenced at all costs.
What changed? The emergence of Barack Hussein Obama as the first viable black candidate for the Presidency, an occasion that called for racial solidarity over ideological purity or party loyalty.
I know I didn't change. I saw in Barack Obama not a black man but another liberal Democrat out to convince Americans to surrender their liberty for the benevolent dictatorship of government. To me, he was no different than Al Gore in 2000 or John Kerry in 2004.
That said, the first time I wrote about him was after reading his book, The Audacity of Hope, and I was indeed hopeful that he might be different:
Yes, we are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but his words suggest he seeks to understand and doesn't instantly dismiss people like me in the self-righteous and condescending way liberals have adopted when addressing their conservative counterparts.
I was further impressed with his efforts to transcend the racial politics of past Democratic presidential contenders, especially the man who preceded him as the most successful black candidate for President, the Rev. Jesse Jackson. In a subsequent article, I wrote:
As a leader and manager in the military, the business world, government and the non-profit sector, I've learned that if we want people to follow us, we need to find a common goal toward which to strive, and we need to extend to them the presumption of good faith in the tone and tenor of our words and deeds. I think this is why Senator Barack Obama's campaign for President of the United States is making history.
As the campaign wore on, however, I began to realize that he was as much a prisoner of the Democratic Party as so many other black politicians before him, and I didn't disguise my disappointment:
How, then, do I square my generally positive feelings about Barack Obama the man, and the significance of his run for the Presidency to black Americans like me, with the fact that we agree on almost nothing when it comes to policy?
From that point forward, I was increasingly critical of Barack Obama and publicly declared my intention to vote for John McCain over him.
You would think I had donned a white robe and hood based on the reactions of my black friends. One even went so far as to say that Obama's blackness was reason enough for me and other blacks to vote for him. I shot back that when I ran against a long-time white incumbent for a state Senate seat in 2006, she and other blacks voted against me in droves so racial solidarity apparently only works one way.
I went on to evoke the old Zora Neale Hurston quote, "my skinfolk ain't necessarily my kinfolk," a phrase used often as a pejorative against blacks who don't toe the party line. In this case, I used it to shine the light on the naked hypocrisy of blacks who want unquestioned loyalty to Obama because he's black but call Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, the first black chairman of the GOP, a "house Negro."
Since his inauguration, the scope of President Obama's agenda and the speed with which he's attempting to implement it have brought out some of my most pointed criticism. I've come to realize his perception of America as an arrogant nation in need of forgiveness for its sins, his contempt for free enterprise, and his faith in government over individuals are irreconcilable differences, and we are destined to be permanently at odds barring some epiphany on his part or mine.
What usually follows my critiques is a chorus of angry questions and comments from other blacks who are quick to come to his defense and impugn my motives, intelligence, and even my ability to think independently. The latter point is ironic given that I'm not the one who's following the herd here, but I'm not writing this to defend myself.
Rather, I want to challenge these critics who seem to think I owe Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt because he's the first black President and I need to support him on that basis alone.
I believe with every fiber of my being that abortion is as great a moral stain on the consciousness of this nation as were slavery and institutionalized discrimination. The fact that, since 1973, it has killed more black people than all other causes of death in the black community combined is the cruelest of ironies.
Despite the fact most blacks agree with me, they are somehow able to overlook the legalized murder of voiceless, helpless children for convenience. I can't.
What do you expect me to say to a President who, regardless of color, is dedicated to removing all restrictions on abortion and considers it a right?
I believe that government is designed to defend our nation from foreign attack, provide for public safety, enforce the law and deliver equal justice for all. Beyond that, I do not want government to dictate to me how to raise my children, how much I can or can't earn, or the causes to which I can contribute.
I don't believe in enforced charity and I believe a government that does too much not only takes our freedom, but also our will to achieve and our desire to give, rendering us morally indolent.
Government says it will provide for us and we no longer have to provide for one another. This mindset has done great damage to the black community because government is a poor substitute for a father in the home, a neighbor with a helping hand, and the church down the street.
What do you expect me to say to a President who, regardless of color, believes in "spreading the wealth" and thinks people who work hard, play by the rules and are successful don't deserve to make more than what he thinks is "fair"?
I believe that America has done more to bring liberty and prosperity to the world than any other great nation in history, and all we ever asked for was the land to bury the more than 100,000 men and women who never made it home. I am a proud veteran who loves my country not because she is great but because she strives to be good.
What do you expect me to say to a President who travels the world apologizing not just for the perceived sins of the past eight years, but also for American wrongs that pale in comparison to the autocratic regimes to which he's apologizing?
I am a conservative. He is not.
I believe all human life is sacred and worthy of our protection. He does not.
I believe in individuals over government. He does not.
I believe America is a force for good in the world and has nothing for which to apologize. He does not.
I believe there is great wisdom in the lessons of history and I believe in prudence before making radical changes. Obama does not.
I believe there are truths which are eternal and not derived from man; therefore, they cannot be revoked, nor should they be ignored. He does not.
I believe the power of our nation is in its people exercising their liberties and not in government imposing its will on them. He does not.
President Obama is a typical Democrat. I cannot abide by the policies he and his fellow Democrats support.
What do you expect me to say?
Ron Miller is a conservative writer and commentator, author of the book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom’s Porch, and the president of Regular Folks United, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of individual liberty, free markets and our nation's founding principles. The nine-year plus veteran of the U.S. Air Force and married father of three writes columns for several online sites and print publications, and his own website, TeamRonMiller.com. Join him on Facebook and Twitter.