How the left misunderstands the far right
I disagree. Racism is certainly there, and sometimes blatantly manifests itself, but I don't think it's the main problem. The main problem is religious fundamentalism.
Consider, for example, how the same array of right-wing forces would be reacting if Hillary had become President. I think it would be pretty much the same as what they're directing against Obama. Before Obama emerged as a big force in the Democratic primaries, when Hillary was the most prominent personality on the left, she was demonized in similar ways to how Obama now is -- and this was when even the prospect of her becoming President was a hazy possibility a couple of years in the future. If she actually were President, it would be worse.
It's hard to see how Repent Amarillo has anything to do with racism -- it looks more like Dominion Theology in action. The right's anti-gay and anti-abortion obsessions are solidly rooted in religion, and the same is true of the energy it puts into opposing the theory of evolution. The "Oath Keepers" actually reject racist elements. The bogeyman of Communism was always damned as "Godless", and even slavery and segregation and Jim Crow were routinely defended in Biblical terms.
There are some exceptions -- the histrionic fear and rage about health-care reform isn't obviously based on religion, for example, but it isn't obviously linked to racism either. More to the point, where did all these herds of agitated people acquire the impulse to firmly believe things which are so utterly contradicted by easily-available evidence? Another word for that kind of belief is "faith".
The problem is one I've written about before: The American left is overwhelmingly secular and has a lot of trouble understanding religion and the religious mentality. Confronted with a religious phenomenon, it tries to re-interpret that phenomenon in terms of something else which is more familiar -- taking religion not as the actual motivator but as a cover for something else.
This is why, for example, most American leftists don't understand Islamic terrorism -- they think in terms of historic grievances, colonialism, Israel, and so forth, and can't grasp or can't believe that the real roots of the problem lie in Islamic religious doctrines. (When 9/11 happened, I was horrified, but I wasn't surprised -- because Islam was my field of academic specialization, I know about its doctrines in detail, and I had been expecting for years that jihadists would eventually carry out such a major attack on us.) Atheist writer Sam Harris has pointed out the exact problem I'm talking about here:
Why would someone as conspicuously devoid of personal grievances or psychological dysfunction as Osama bin Laden -- who is neither poor, uneducated, delusional, nor a prior victim of Western aggression -- devote himself to cave-dwelling machina- tions with the intention of killing innumerable men, women, and children he has never met? The answer to this question is obvious -- if only because it has been patiently articulated ad nauseam by bin Laden himself. The answer is that men like bin Laden actually believe what they say they believe. They believe in the literal truth of the Koran. Why did nineteen well-educated, middle-class men trade their lives in this world for the privilege of killing thousands of our neighbors? Because they believed they would go straight to paradise for doing so. It is rare to find the behavior of human beings so fully and satisfactorily explained. Why have we been reluctant to accept this explanation? (The End of Faith, pp.28-29)
As Harris has also noted, American fundamentalists ironically understand the jihadists better than American leftists do, because their ways of thinking are more similar.
In the same way, leftists tend to re-interpret the Christian Right (and the whole scatter of phenomena mentioned above in the fourth paragraph) in terms of things like racism or economic factors, which are more familiar and which they're more comfor- table talking about. I think people from other Western countries, which lack any powerful home-grown equivalent to our Christian Right, tend to misinterpret our political scene the same way, for the same reason.
But just as with bin Laden, sometimes people actually do believe exactly what they say they believe, and that's that.
The hysteria of the far-right response to the 2008 election must be seen in light of the fact that the fundamentalists have been losing the culture war for years, and they know it. But as long as Bush and the party dominated by the Christian Right were in power, they had hope that the power of the state (and future Supreme Court appointments) would favor their cause. When that was swept away, defeat stared them in the face.
Racism is certainly there, but if Obama were white, we'd still be seeing basically the same range of reactions on the far right.