Former President Barack Obama took aim at “certain right-wing media venues” on Monday night for obsessing over cultural hot-button topics such as “critical race theory” in an effort to “monetize” white resentment over the nation’s changing demographics.
In a wide-ranging interview with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, America’s first Black president spent much of his time discussing how the issue of race relations affected his time both in and out of the White House.
Asked whether he felt he told “the story of race in America enough” while he was president, Obama said that when he “tried to describe why it is that we are still not fully reconciled with our history,” his words were often exploited by his political rivals to sow division among white voters.
The former president specifically pointed to the over-the-top reaction after he said a cop acted “stupidly” for arresting Black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his own home. Glenn Beck, a host at Fox News at the time, called Obama “a racist” who had “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” over the Gates comments.
“Not only did that cause a firestorm but subsequent polling showed that my support among white voters dropped more precipitously after that—what should have been a minor, trivial incident—than anything else during my presidency,” Obama said of the incident.
The 44th president went on to note how much of a role he believes conservative media plays in ginning up outrage among white Americans—and what their motivations are.
“I also think that there are certain right-wing media venues, for example, that monetize and capitalize on stoking the fear and resentment of a white population that is witnessing a changing America and seeing demographic changes,” he declared. “And do everything they can to give people a sense that their way of life is threatened and that people are trying to take advantage of them.”
The ex-president continued: “You would think with all the public policy debates that are taking place right now that the Republican Party would be engaged in a significant debate about how are we going to deal with the economy and what are we going to do about climate change and what are we going to do about—lo and behold, the single most important issue to them apparently right now is critical race theory!”
“Who knew that that was the threat to our republic?!” Obama snarked in conclusion.
In recent months, conservative media outlets and Fox News, in particular, have obsessively fear-mongered about the teaching of so-called critical race theory in schools. While critical race theory is an academic approach used in higher education to examine institutional racism in America, Fox News has used it as a catch-all term to decry any discussion of race and racism in schools.
Republicans, meanwhile, have taken advantage of that wall-to-wall coverage to make fighting the teaching of critical race theory one of the top items on their political agenda, proposing bills across the country designed to limit how teachers discuss race in the classroom.