Start with the accountability issue. Strange as it is to say, George W. Bush is still president, and will be until January 20. Then Obama gets the job — and then, when things go wrong, he's going to get the blame. If the economy keeps tanking, it's on him. If the Middle East erupts into all-out war, it's on him. And if another major terrorist attack hits the US, Obama's presidency will suffer immeasurably (complete with renewed conspiracy theorizing about Obama's secret Muslim birthplace and terroristic sympathies).
In addition, Obama confronts a mixture of real and possible problems that's downright toxic: abiding anger over illegal and non-white immigration; the impending end (in 2042, if the US Census Bureau is correct) of white-majority America; rising unemployment and the economic mess in general. This, the SPLC's Potok suggests, may be the biggest reason to expect that the anti-Obama backlash will resume in earnest.
Chip Berlet — who tracks right-wing hate groups at Somerville's Political Research Associates — has a similar take. Between the political status quo and Obama's groundbreaking racial/ethnic identity, he contends, there's a need for great vigilance on the part of the Secret Service and everyone else charged with protecting the president's safety.
"I've studied all the presidential administrations and dissenting right-wing activity in the 20th century," says Berlet. "And if I had to pick, I'd say this administration has the highest risk since the [Franklin D.] Roosevelt administration."
Roosevelt, of course, served just over three full terms— an alleged plutocratic plot to seize the presidency notwithstanding — and is currently remembered, despite the ongoing efforts of Fox News' Hume, as one of our greatest presidents. For the good of the nation, we can all hope that Obama leaves a similar legacy. But don't be surprised if — in the process — his harshest detractors go back to saying and doing things that make the rest of us recoil.
To read the "Don't Quote Me" blog, go to thePhoenix.com/medialog. Adam Reilly can be reached email@example.com.
Editor's Note: In previous versions of this article, Truman was said to have been lynched in effigy in 1949. and Roosevelt was said to have served four terms. Both the date, which is corrected as 1948, and Roosevelt's time in office, really just over three years, have both been corrected above.