It’s as unfair as anything that happens in politics, but there it is. There’s a kind of perfect internet storm now, between the Serena Williams outburst, the Kanye West outburst, and the wilding episode posted on the top of Drudge today. Just as Obama surely benefited from the desire of many whites to elect a black president, so he will be harmed by widely circulated media images of blacks that reinforce negative stereotypes. Serena and West are of course very rich and talented—but gentlemanly or ladylike or gracious they surely are not. The wilding image is what every white parent who sends his child to an integrated school or lives in an integrated neighborhood most fears. It is the precisely the kind of thing that doomed David Dinkins’ mayoralty in 1993, though no New York politician was a greater gentleman.
Obama is obviously not anything like Serena, or Kanye West, or the thugs on the bus. But they have more power to bring down his presidency than all the Joe Wilsons and Glenn Becks and teabaggers in the world. For those who (I count myself) supported Obama and have hopes that he will be able to carry out at least part of his agenda, it’s a bitter recognition. But I’d be very surprised if the stories linked above didn’t have a negative impact on our president’s popularity.