State of the Union Not Immune From Racial Innuendo

One Year into Obama Presidency, Some Still Use Race to Define First Family

As pundits and politicians alike reflect and analyze President Obama's first State of the Union speech, one topic not included in the address has surfaced -- his race.

MSNBC host Chris Matthews' off-the-cuff comment that he "forgot he was black for an hour" during a post-speech analysis quickly raced around the Internet and was met with some incredulity and, from The New Republic's Michael Crowley, "Huh?"

Matthews quickly tried to clarify his comments on "The Rachel Maddow Show" by saying he was simply proud that race seemed to have no place in Wednesday's address, but the initial comment reflects the racial taunts and innuendos that have punctuated Obama's first year in office.

The offenses against the first black president have ranged from crude to subtle, and offenders have ranged from the unknown to elected officials. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, an Obama ally, had to apologize for what many considered to be insensitive, denigrating language while referring to Obama.

Poll numbers suggest most voters are not judging Obama's presidency based on the color of his skin, but the issue has continued to surface in Obama's presidency with disheartening regularity.

The president's image has been altered to look like an African witch doctor, his wife's to look like a gorilla. The idea of having a black family in the White House was initially so sensitive to some that even simple acts like a fist bump or a pat on the behind between husband and wife, were analyzed for possible racial undertones.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said he has seen evidence, albeit anecdotally, that Obama's race has become significantly less of a factor for most Americans since he took office, "in spite of an increase in vicious, mean comments from a small minority."

Poking fun at the president is an inevitable tradition, almost a national pastime. President George W. Bush was skewered by opponents who believed him to be unintelligent and inarticulate. And for years, President Clinton's libido was the prime target for late-night comedians.

But for many, criticism based solely on the color of Obama's skin crosses a line.

"Some of the attacks the president has taken have been unusually harsh for an American president," the Rev. Jesse Jackson told ABCNews.com.

Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report told ABCNews.com that he expects the vicious and racially charged insults to grow among the small minority who will always use the president's skin color as a way to lash out against his policies.

"You've always had the kooks. You're always going to have the kooks. I don't think that changes," Rothenberg said. "I think the people who focus on race and express animosity and antagonism toward him based on race won't go away."

Despite any inroads made in regard to Obama's own racial identity, poll numbers show a slipping confidence in progress for blacks overall.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found fewer Americans believe Obama has helped race relations than when he took office, dropping from 58 percent to 41 percent. That confidence fell 15 percentage points among whites, but more sharply -- 24 percent -- among blacks.

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