Monday, December 21, 2015

Look away, Dixieland

Riviera Beach residents can now say,
"at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
and President Barack Obama Highway"

I imagine the folks of Riviera Beach had been wanting to take down Old Dixie Highway for a very long time.  This is a vestige of history that doesn't sit well with the predominantly black community of 30,000 residents near Palm Beach, Florida.  In its place is President Barack Obama Highway.

Florida has been phasing out the old Dixie Highway system.  It's kind of odd it stretched so far south, as there wasn't much connection between North and South Florida during the antebellum era, or even in the early 1900s when this highway system was inaugurated as a long corridor between the Midwest and Southern states.

Henry Flagler was the first to connect the two halves of Florida back in the 1890s with his East Coast Railway, connecting St. Augustine to Palm Beach.  It had less to do with rekindling Southern pride than it did exploiting the Atlantic coastline with resorts.  The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach was one of the jewels along the new rail line.  Still, development was slow.  The area was known more for its real estate scams than anything else.  Glenn Curtiss tried to develop the area around Miami in the 1920s, establishing a handful of communities, but went bankrupt in 1929.  It was only after WWII that persons began to outnumber alligators in South Florida.

Needless to say, some persons aren't happy about the name change.  The picture of the new highway has been circulated around the social media inspiring plenty of vitriol.   A lot of persons aren't ready to see Obama's name given to streets and highways, although this is far from the first in his honor.  Opa-Locka very quickly honored the new president by renaming Perviz Avenue in his honor on Presidents Day, 2009.  If you're curious how the town got that Arabic-sounding name, Glenn Curtiss was inspired by Arabian Nights when he laid out the streets in the 1920s.

The list of things named after Barack Obama is growing.  He has more than a dozen schools named after him, a quickly growing number of streets and highways, including one in Tanzania, and he even has a mountain named after him in Antigua and Barbuda.  It is something we will have to get used to because towns, cities and countries like honoring presidents, even if they seem to bear no relation to their locale.  Just look how long we had Mt. McKinley in Alaska, until Barack Obama signed an executive order returning our tallest peak to its original place name Denali.

However, some folks are simply never going to warm up to Barack Obama.  The idea of potentially living on a street named after him or sending their children to a school named after him is going to make their blood boil.   This is a part of his legacy they don't even want to consider.

It's just amazing how such a mild-mannered person who has rarely had a bad word to say about anyone could be so reviled by a large cross section of this country.  It's not like he has done anything in particular to offend them.  The Affordable Care Act, which Republicans derisively dubbed "Obamacare," benefits everyone, and has even been adopted in some "red states."

However, that doesn't stop persons like Marco Rubio from trying to gut it, although he put his family on "Obamacare."  The defiant senator seems to bear a peculiar grudge with Obama.  He is determined to overturn everything attached to the Obama administration, including renewed diplomatic ties with Cuba and the nuclear deal with Iran, which he has fumed over repeatedly.  If elected, he would probably try to expunge Obama from the Hall of Presidents in Disney World as well.

This kind of irrational hatred is hard to understand.  Maybe it is because many political pundits are comparing him to Obama, as he tries to follow a very similar path to the White House.  But, Marco is not alone in his contempt.  Just about every Republican candidate uses any occasion to assail the President.   Lindsey Graham is pretty much the lone voice on the GOP campaign trail questioning this "unhealthy dislike" for the President.

It's understandable to some degree, as any Republican associated with Obama's administration has a very angry base of voters to respond to.  Just ask Charlie Crist, who saw his good fortunes in the GOP quickly deteriorate when he embraced Obama back in 2009 after accepting Florida's portion of the Stimulus plan.  Crist had his eyes on the vacated Florida US Senate seat, but young Marco Rubio exploited this uncalled for show of affection to gain the Tea Party's favor and swipe the seat right out from under Crist, who had been a popular governor.  Charlie didn't give up.  He made an independent bid for the seat, but lost in the general election.  He later switched parties, also noting the "unhealthy dislike" for the President he experienced as his motivating force.

Of course, conservative pundits, and even Lindsey Graham, like to tell us that Democrats had a similar disdain for George W. Bush, but no one questioned Bush's citizenship or asked him to produce his long-form birth certificate or a number of other indignities that the current President has had to face from Republican opposition.   For the most part, our current President has taken it in stride, even poking fun when the occasion arose, unlike our previous president who could get quite surly when challenged in public.

While the hatred exhibited toward Obama is not unique in contemporary presidential history, very few presidents have had to endure such open hostility to the point that the White House security has had to beef up its efforts to protect him.  The Secret Service says the number of death threats directed at the President is overwhelming, the most seen since Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights bill into law.

If the folks of Riviera Beach want to do away with Old Dixie Highway and establish a new Barack Obama Highway, that's their call to make.  They have had to endure a lot over the years and don't need that malingering odor of Dixie hanging around.  This, of course, is something many conservatives will never understand, because in their mind Dixie symbolizes some inner call, a Rebel Yell if you like, which evokes a bygone era they hold dear to their hearts. In their minds, the election of Barack Obama shattered that image, and maybe this is why they show so much hatred toward him.

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