Of late, however, MMA's complaints have been far more mundane — e.g., Fox News host Sean Hannity pushing the notion that the Rod Blagojevich scandal is bad for Obama, and Hannity's colleague Brit Hume calling the New Deal (which Obama seems poised to emulate) a failure. These arguments may be dubious and pernicious. But they pale in comparison to Hannity devoting an entire pre-election broadcast to a quack documentary that cast Obama as a menacing cipher whose election would imperil America.
"One contributing factor, I think, is that everyone understands that the country is facing very serious economic times," says J. Jioni Palmer, MMA's national press secretary. "This is a very dire situation, and you kind of have to want to root for the president — because if you're rooting against the president, you're rooting against our collective interest as Americans. So he's clearly benefiting from a little bit of a honeymoon."
In that case — and with apologies for the ripped-off phrase — is this change we can believe in? Or is it just a temporary lull?
In fact, a decent case can be made that the most intense days of Obama hatred are behind us. During the campaign, one major source of Obama-phobia was the conviction that, despite all his campaign rhetoric, he was secretly an ultra-liberal (or socialist, or whatever) who'd run amok if elected. But thus far, Obama's big pre-presidential decisions — his cabinet picks, his public-policy pronouncements, even his controversial choice of Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation — have shown him, instead, to be what many of us expected all along: a centrist Democrat with a conciliatory bent and occasional liberal leanings, but not a havoc-wreaking radical.
There are, in all likelihood, die-hard Obama skeptics who believe he's still dissembling, and that he'll unleash his inner Marx once he takes office. But as time passes — and if Obama keeps acting like the moderate he clearly is — their ranks will diminish.
A similar dynamic should mitigate the distrust of anxious whites (and Latinos, and Asians) who assumed that a black president would govern differently — more blackly, somehow — than his predecessors. Here, too, vaguely imagined fears about the disaster to come are going to be mitigated, time and again, by factual evidence to the contrary. Yes, the hard-core racists will keep on hating. (It's a hard habit to break. Back in 1948, members of the States Rights' Party were so affronted by Harry Truman's cautious dalliance with civil rights that they lynched him in effigy at a Birmingham, Alabama, hotel and ran Strom Thurmond for president.) But others — like your uncle who's a nice guy and everything, but expects Obama to make reparations for slavery his top priority in 2009 — will gradually start to relax.
Finally, regarding the worrisome Clinton parallel: it's worth noting that Clinton's divisiveness stemmed, in large part, from questionable personal behavior (see Lewinsky, Monica). Prior to Clinton's election, there were signs he had trouble controlling his appetites; in contrast, Obama seems downright ascetic — which could serve him well with the faith-and-values crowd.
All that said, however, an even stronger argument can be made that extreme anti-Obama hate is here to stay — and may even get a whole lot worse.