First of all, I tried to make it clear that I wasn't talking about classic white-black racism, though elements of that are present, to be sure. My sense of the teabaggers is more complicated: they are primarily working-class, largely rural and elderly white people. They are freaked by the economy. They are also freaked by the government spending--TARP, the stimulus package etc.--that was necessary to avoid a financial collapse. (I'm not sure Keynes is taught in very many American high schools.) But most of all, they are freaked by an amorphous feeling that they America they imagined they were living in--Sarah Palin's fantasy America--is a different place now, changing for the worse, overrun by furriners of all sorts: Latinos, South Asians, East Asians, homosexuals...to say nothing of liberated, uppity blacks.
In that sense, Barack Obama is the apotheosis of all they fear. He is a child of what used to be called miscegenation--a mixed marriage. His father was a Muslim, his mother was sort of a hippy. She raised him in Hawaii, which is just barely American and in Indonesia (which is very suspicious). He is a liberal (even if a prohibitively moderate one). Worse, he's a completely urban sort. There is nothing resembling a log cabin in his background. We've had elite Presidents--the Roosevelts, the Bushes--but we have never really had an urban one. (New York Governor Al Smith, Tammany Hall's finest, was trounced in 1928--the last pure urban candidate.) This sort of populist paranoia is disgraceful, but as American as apple pie. The appropriately-named Know-Nothing Party of the 1840s was anti-immigrant. The Republican Party has pursued an implicitly racist "southern strategy" since the late 1960s.