Category: Race in America.ii
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Friday night (April 25), I watched the Bill Moyers-Jeremiah Wright interview on PBS in full. A Few Quick Thoughts on the spectacle:

1. Evidently, Wright's appearance on Bill Moyer's Journal is only the beginning. Is this charm offensive part of a coordinated plan devised by, or cleared through, the Obama Campaign? If so, they must see themselves in a desperate place, for this is a high-risk gambit (if Team Obama is not behind this Wright roll-out, they must be fit to be tied). But my guess is that there is some coordination.

Somewhere, someone made a decision to explain (and justify) Reverend Wright in the "prophetic" tradition of American Christianity. Although I happen to think that argument has a trace of validity, I am convinced that the project to explicate this tradition to the electorate in the midst of a presidential campaign is much too ambitious. Even more problematic, the complicated person and ministry of Reverend Wright seems to go well beyond that not-so-simple framework.

2. Staged as an erudite conversation between two American intellectuals, Wright certainly found Bill Moyers Journal a friendly venue to begin his national crusade to redeem his image. The Reverend struck a toned-down pose, although he could not seem to help himself when he fell into some preacher-type mimicry when deriding some of his (and Barack Obama's) less enlightened critics. But mostly Wright looked grandfatherly, scholarly, buttoned-down and close-cropped (even his signature chin whiskers were so closely trimmed as to be nearly invisible). He was the picture of a reasonable and not-at-all frightening man.

3. Of course, no one will be surprised that Moyers was the perfect shill: asking presumably "tough questions" while subtly framing them with friendly assumptions.

4. Nevertheless, even with every advantage that Bill Moyers and PBS could project upon the Reverend, he still came up a bit short. There was still something not-quite-right about the Prophet Jeremiah. Almost every question and answer from this hour of discussion (the transcript in full here) provides a problematic window into the inner workings of Barack Obama's minister, his church, and the religious and political culture he inhabited for twenty years. I predict that the pastor's defense of Louis Farrakhan will draw a lot of attention. Leaving that rich soil to others, I will concentrate for a moment on a less obvious statement chock-full of revealing assumptions.

Consider this telling exchange:

BILL MOYERS: What does it say to you that millions [of] Americans, according to polls, still think Barack Obama is a Muslim?

REVEREND WRIGHT: It says to me that corporate media and miseducation or misinformation or disinformation, I think we started calling it during the Nixon years, still reigns supreme. Thirty some percent of Americans still think there are weapons of mass destruction. That you tell a lie long enough that people start believing it. What does the media do? "Barack Hussein Obama! Barack Hussein Obama! Barack Hussein. It sounds like Osama, Obama. That Arabic is a language. So that's why many people still think he's a Muslim. He went to a madrasah. What's a madrasah? I don't know, but I know it was one of those Muslim schools that teaches terrorism. The kind of I don't want to think, just tell me what to think mentality is why so many Americans still think that.

1. As for the Bill Moyers question, see "number three" above.

2. The "corporate media" as an agent of "miseducation or misinformation or disinformation."

Only "whackadoodles" (see the transcript for the joke) say "corporate media." Why? It takes a nearly lethal level of paranoia to see the mainstream media as an intentional instrument to keep the black man (or the brown man or the gentile man or the Arab man) down.

The fact that newsrooms are owned by big corporations is merely a convenient but irrelevant distraction. There has always been a tension between news divisions and corporate--and news has traditionally won out. We have talked about the mainstream media at length here, but in a nutshell the national press corps leans liberal, metropolitan, and "tolerant" in worldview. In general, they are elitist antiheroes. The mainstream media en masse tends to be incredibly skeptical about corporate America and any other institution that connotes conservative values, and the press corps carries a collective bias toward exposing perceived injustices against the lowly, improprieties on the part of the powerful, and scandals among the well-heeled.

Of course, the mainstream media is an agent of "miseducation or misinformation or disinformation," which is unfortunate and invidious, but the tragedy of our modern world is much broader than Reverend Wright seems to understand and much less conspiratorial. True, we are in a mess--but our serious dilemma is not the product of Nixonian-like (whatever that really means) collusion between the government and the corporations to keep us ill-informed and compliant.

3. "What does the media do? "'Barack Hussein Obama! Barack Hussein Obama! Barack Hussein.'"

Say What? What TV has this guy been watching? One of the most amazing stories of this election has actually been the vigilance with which the mainstream media has carefully avoided mentioning Barack Obama's middle name. Using his middle name somehow equals racism and dirty politics in this election cycle. This statement gets to the state of mind of Wright, viewing all evidence through a prism of predetermined conclusions.

4. "So that's why many people still think he's a Muslim. He went to a madrasah. What's a madrasah? I don't know, [affected voice] but I know it was one of those Muslim schools that teaches terrorism [end of mimicry]. The kind of I don't want to think, just tell me what to think mentality is why so many Americans still think that."

Americans are dumb and easily deceived.

In essence, on display in that last statement, Wright combines the scary paranoid style of American radicalism with the offensive patronizing style of the American intelligentsia. Not an appealing "two-for."

What's ahead? My guess is that his stand-up gig at the National Press Club on Monday and his upcoming speaking engagement at the NAACP (where they are going to expect the preacher) gets even worse.

What are these guys thinking?
Writing on, Rich Karlgaard asserts that the Barack Obama address this week was "A Speech For The Ages."

Karlgaard writes:

"As a Republican who will vote for John McCain in November, I watched Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech with awe."

"On Tuesday Obama, whose momentum was evaporating in the heat of his pastor scandal and poor Pennsylvania poll numbers, did what he had to do.

"He did more than that, actually. He stepped to the plate and swung for the fences. Obama gave the best, straightest talk on American race relations ever heard from a national politician."

Karlgaard chastises conservatives for reacting through partisan lenses, seeing only the flaws (and sometimes inventing ones that are not there) in the monumentally forceful oration. He is right to the extent that the Speech seemed to polarize political partisans (along, not surprisingly, partisan lines) into either praising the speech as one for the ages (Gettysburg-like for some) or castigating it as a vapid, disingenuous act of political desperation.

Conservatives should admit that the Speech had elements of uncommon greatness. It occurs to me that those who ignore the sublime elements in the address are likely blinded by their desire for it to be a disaster.

Having said that, Obama boosters should admit that the inherently campaign-centered pronouncement had its limitations.

He showed brilliant eloquence in addressing and framing vexing questions in a breathtakingly honest and insightful way, but what about the answers? If LBJ liberalism was truly the remedy for America's problems, they would have been solved for forty years now.

He needs some new ideas...

In effect, candidate Obama gave two speeches:

One in which he soared to unique rhetorical heights, articulating a nuanced (and ultimately optimistic) comprehension of racial misunderstanding and mistrust in American.

This element was incredibly compelling (and we seem to know now that he had been crafting that speech for some time--which makes sense; components of it certainly seemed well considered).

On Tuesday, I read it before I watched it--and I loved it. Then some of the instantaneous analysis and reaction from the conservative bloggers started rolling in--and I wondered if it was not quite as good as I first thought. Later, after repeatedly re-reading the text and watching a replay on C-SPAN, I decided it was just as powerful as I initially believed--with one caveat:

It does drag when he gets to solutions.

Once again, what is he advocating? While marvelous and exhilarating in part, the Speech proved, in the end, unsatisfying.

Where was the beef?

Let us be honest with ourselves. We were all impressed with his direct talk on race. Why? Because that brand of frank talk is so rare when we discuss race in this nation. On the other hand, it is not actually hard to utter a few obvious truths--it is merely dangerous.

Generally, we are not receptive to honest assessments and complicated thinking in re race and history and culture. Honest men publicly take on race at their own peril. Ask Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, or Clarence Thomas.

Moreover, if Obama is so brave and honest, why not talk about Jena, Louisiana, with the same honesty and understanding for all parties? Or his own appeal? He seemed to have little reluctance in speaking about his white grandmother. Can we expect the same objective analysis regarding Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in the days to come?

The Speech was good. But it was a highly charged political affair designed to save a candidacy. There were elements, if delivered in a less vulnerable predicament, which might have initiated a constructive discussion on a vital topic. But, in the context of the moment, the Speech compares better with a Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon desperately fighting to preserve viability in the furious chaos of a media feeding frenzy. The great speeches are never delivered in the midst of a political campaign under fire. Try to name one.

Disappointingly, Obama may have had a great speech on race in him, but he gave it up to save himself.
Category: Race in America.ii
Posted by: Tocqueville
The Editors of National Review argue that Barack Obama deployed his formidable talents to try to minimize and excuse Rev. Wright’s rants. Available here.
In response to my analysis of the Address, my previously quoted learned friend weighs in:

I disagree with Steele. Obama is not merely someone for whom we are settling. It may be true that Obama would not be in the same spot if he were white, but that is tantamount to saying Bill Clinton could not have succeeded if he had not been from Arkansas. I cannot conceive of an un-Southern Clinton any more than I can conceive of an un-Black Obama.

Having said that, lineage is a fundamental part of his makeup. I also think that his ancestry gives him a unique perspective from which to govern. Although whites do not like to hear this, most of us are so far removed from black culture that we sometimes tend to see blacks as two-dimensional characters. Their experiences and cultural assumptions are so different from ours that we have a hard time achieving true empathy with them. We really cannot imagine being in their shoes.

We can hope that Barack, as someone who has lived in both worlds and speaks the language of both cultures, can address the concerns of both groups with empathy. Of course, there I go again with my sincerity and honesty talk.

In my view, Steele is completely wrong in his assertion that Obama has had to trade away his individuality and complexity to play the role of racial peacemaker. In fact, I think Obama's main appeal (even before the speech yesterday) has been his willingness to confront difficult but vital issues head-on—and then discuss them with nuance.

For example: please consider this speech he gave in 2006 concerning the role of religion in American public life. I have never seen a more thoughtful, honest, and nuanced discussion of the topic by anyone in politics.

An Aside: ironically, this consistent ability to examine tough issues with keen insight and uncommon courage often drives his opponents to fits of rhetorical hyperbole.

I agree that Obama did not offer solutions for the problems he identified, but that seems a bit onerous for a single address. Solving over two hundred years of racial problems in a campaign speech may be too much to expect, even for Obama. It is significant and admirable, however, in a political realm where these issues are NEVER confronted honestly, where the other side is routinely dismissed as hateful or un-American, that Barack faced race squarely and with vulnerability—and attempted to start a meaningful conversation.

For the record, I agree with your suggestion that we all need to reject the idea that there are certain things that just may not be discussed. Bumper sticker arguments and racially charged rhetorical landmines are poison to our political culture. We need not agree on all the vital issues of our time, but we should be willing to have civil conversations about everything.

In re his "boilerplate" comments concerning health care, job loss, and getting out of Iraq: these are the issues of the day. Americans have been apathetic about politics because politicians have not been addressing the issues closest to home. If Obama succeeds, it will be because he tackles these issues and forces a conversation about them.
~~A Learned Friend of the Bosque Boys
If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.
Geraldine Ferraro

What a vulgar thing to say. The incontestable fact that the thoroughly repugnant statement is manifestly true seems entirely beside the point.

There is mendacity in this house.

UPDATE: a hearty Texas welcome to Instapundit readers. For more on Obama and race: The Fire Next Time and 21st Century Race Man.
We are on the precipice of electing the least-accomplished president (in terms of resume) in the 220-year history of the United States. As I have said before, Barack Obama is a man about whom we know almost nothing--but upon whom we find it easy to project our most optimistic collective aspirations. He is part philosopher king and part American Idol.

But what if we lose our nerve between now and the First Tuesday in November? What if we awake from our trance at some point during the hard-fought days of October and suddenly ask ourselves: "What in the Hell are we doing?"

Could that happen? I think so. Bill Clinton was absolutely right. Electing Obama is "rolling the dice." We know almost nothing about him other than we like him. This phenomena is not completely unprecedented in American politics—but, as I say, it is hard to think of an instance in which we (the people) have elected a lesser-known, less-experienced president than he. Of course, inexperience does not necessarily disqualify a person (it is my hunch that he would actually be okay, in a big picture, long term sense). But personal history and preparation ought to be a consideration, and it is possible that we just might get cold feet at some point.

Of course, I understand Obama-mania. I too am charmed and intrigued by the man from the Land of Lincoln.

He is tall and handsome. He is a stemwinder. He is a good family man. He appears extraordinarily virtuous. Evidently, we share the same religious orientation.

But let us be honest. Race is key to his meteoric rise to fame and political fortune. We are about to elect this most unlikely person to the highest office in the land not in spite of his race--but because of it. The election of Barack Obama would be a great point of national pride. If we as a people can elect a person of color to the highest, most cherished, and most respected of all national offices, we finally fulfill, in a demonstrably practical way, our national creed and sacred aspiration: a land of the free in which all men are created equal.

So, what is the problem? What scares me the most about Obama winning the nomination? Aside from his league-leading liberal voting record?

What if he loses?

There is a very real possibility that he will lose in the general election (on this, I am increasingly persuaded that his elevation is no sure thing). As I indicated above, when decision time comes, many Americans are going to develop legitimately serious doubts concerning this person about whom we know so little. What if he loses? What will that do to us?

There are myriad good reasons to vote for John McCain over Barack Obama. A McCain win in November would actually be the most logical choice on so many levels considering our present reality. Having said that, if Obama loses this upcoming general election to a white candidate, there will be many Americans who will believe in their heart of hearts that he lost because of his race. This will be bad for all of us. Very bad.

I am convinced that we are ready for a woman president. I am convinced that we are ready for an African American president. But I think we all owe it to ourselves to place before the electorate a person who is fully qualified and vetted. I worry that sending up an inexperienced Barack Obama as this first opportunity for most Americans to vote for a black man for president is a reckless move.

A more studied alternative? Why not let this relatively young man take his turn as understudy and emerge from a Clinton administration at fifty-four (still incredibly youthful in political years) and undeniably seasoned and better prepared to assume the most influential office in the world.

Moving so heedlessly at this point strikes me as risky cultural business. The Democratic Party seems intent on daring us to question the bona fides of this candidate. And, if we do, we all understand the racial minefield that we will face.

If Barack Obama secures the nomination, this is likely to be a very ugly election.
For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.
~~Michelle Obama

We are on the precipice of electing the least-qualified and, based on experience and resume, the most unlikely president in the 220-year history of the United States. Barack Obama is a man about whom we know almost nothing--but upon whom we find it easy to project our most optimistic collective aspirations. He is part philosopher king and part American Idol.

The most important element in the Obama fairytale?

Race. Yes. He is handsome. He is tall. He is a mesmerizer. He is a good family man. He is evidently extraordinarily virtuous. But let us be honest. We are about to elect this darkest of dark horses not in spite of his race--but because of it.

For a whole host of white folks in America (many of whom are conservative) Obama personifies racial reconciliation. To be even more precise, for many, he represents a form of racial redemption, even reparation. If we as a people can elect a person of color to the highest, most cherished, and most respected office in the land, we finally fulfill, in a demonstrably practical way, our national creed: all men created equal.

In a way, I agree with Michelle Obama that this is a generation of Americans of whom we should be rightfully proud; they desperately want to bury the ghosts of the past. However, this fact should come as no surprise to any fair-minded observer; this collective desire for racial salvation has been a long time coming, and the manifestations of this "hunger" have been all around us for decades.

An Aside: Americans are a good people on so many levels. Some other time we can discuss the basic goodness of America at length. In short, I am slightly offended and greatly saddened by Michelle Obama's facile declaration.

What is our racial future?

Historian Joseph Ellis recently asserted with some judgmental sadness that the founders, for all their glorious vision, could not imagine a biracial society. In truth, history has not proven them wrong. They thought the transition from a slave culture to a racially harmonious society impossible. For the most part, they believed (see Jefferson for the most famous example of this thinking) that African Americans could never forgive white America for "thousands of provocations" during the long dark period of violent subjugation. Jefferson feared black-on-white reprisals and a "race war." Even more importantly, Jefferson and his generation could not foresee a day in which whites ever fully accepted blacks as equal citizens. Jefferson (and later Lincoln) predicted a humiliating and ultimately unsatisfactory second-class citizenship status in a white-controlled world for the sons and grandsons of freed slaves.

Were they wrong? How long after emancipation did white America hold back full citizenship from black America? Has black America forgiven white America for the injustices of the past?

Michelle Obama's comments betray this remaining fissure in the American family. While a huge segment (perhaps a vast majority) of white America desires a new day of racial equality and common cause, too many black opinion makers continue to dwell on the inequities of the recent past. Barack Obama's decision to embrace the black side of his inheritance and virtually ignore the white family that raised him is also significant. Of course, it is important to note, as many commentators have done already, that persons with "black blood," historically, have not had the luxury of choosing which race to embrace.

On the other hand, what the founders may not have considered, and what Barack Obama seems to personify (if not always articulate), is the future of America as a multi-racial and mixed-race society rather than a bi-racial one.
Not long ago, South Carolina representative, Democratic Party heavyweight, and prominent African American, James Clyburn, famously cautioned ex-president Bill Clinton to "chill out" concerning race.

Senator Patrick Leahy, Barack Obama supporter and liberal stalwart, characterized President Clinton's recent comments as "glib cheap shots," finding Mr. Clinton's actions "beneath the dignity of a former president."

Is Mr. Clinton's political barnstorming tour "conduct unbecoming of an ex-president"?

Maybe. But what an hilarious turn of events on a number of levels.

1. Wow! Pat Leahy thinks this is conduct unbecoming of an ex-president? Too bad he was not as discriminating concerning Mr. Clinton's conduct as a serving president. We could have used a bit of his new-found moral compass back in the winter of 1998 and 1999.

2. What is beneath the dignity of a former DEMOCRATIC president? These comments make Pat Leahy uncomfortable? What did he think when ex-president Jimmy Carter called the current president the worst president in history? (Googling for a Leahy repudiation of President Carter. Nothing so far. Will continue to look and report back with any discoveries...).

This is politics. John Lewis and Andy Young (Hillary supporters) don't see anything inappropriate thus far. For Joseph Lowery (Obama supporter), the criticism of Obama smacks of racism. Leahy cries foul. Clinton friends say welcome to the big leagues, rookie. This is politics.

More importantly, Bill may well be doing us a great national favor. He has done it before.

Back in the post-Clarence Thomas era, in which the mere whisper of sexual harassment equaled scandal and ruination, Bill Clinton stemmed the momentum of the sexual harassment juggernaut. Of course, he had not planned to moderate the feminist fever sweeping the political universe in 1998 when revelations of his misconduct with a White House intern threatened his presidency. Nevertheless, he fought to retain his office with every weapon at his disposal (intimidation, stonewalling, and mendacity). Along the way, he found it necessary to water down considerably the newly fashioned stigma of sexual harassment.

Undoubtedly, as a society, we benefited immensely from our raised awareness of powerful men abusing their female subordinates. Moreover, we very much needed to address this indignity, and we continue to do well holding people in authority to higher standards in this area. On the other hand, Democrats and feminists, for purely political purposes, had fanned the issue into an overheated mess poised to do great damage to society.

However, to save their embattled president, the most strident voices went silent on sexual harassment and rallied around Clinton. And the great sexual harassment scare of the 1990s abated somewhat. On the whole, this was a positive development.

Now Bill is making the case that we can and must engage with African Americans in the full-contact sport of American politics. Presumably, Barack Obama will not be the last viable African American candidate for president. Therefore, it is not in our interest to perpetuate a political climate in which we must treat a black man running for office with kid gloves.

No one should have to fight off charges of racism for believing that LBJ was key to civil rights. No one should have their words distorted into "race-baiting" (as Bill Clinton's were) at the fairly mundane charge that a political assertion made by an opponent was a "fairy tale." Moreover, a "moratorium" on discussing admitted cocaine use on the part of an opponent, simply because of his race, is a ludicrous measure of political correctness that has no place in a free society.

This is all treacherous territory, and Bill is wading in where mere mortals fear to tread. Why? Because he is one of the few people in the world who has the political capital to navigate this minefield. Why else? Because he must. Just as he did in the Lewinsky scandal, he is providing a needed corrective to a set of rules that are neither practical nor reasonable. And, similarly, as in the Monica moment, he is taking a hard path out of desperation and self interest--not for the good of America.

Nevertheless, on the whole, it is a positive development.

One last comment: for all the conservative talk radio hosts gleefully rubbing their hands together, yelling into the microphone, and fulminating over Bill's “dastardly use of racial code words," please SHUT UP! Think about what you are saying. This is the very same cudgel that has been wielded against us and a whole host of innocuous comments for decades. Once again conservative Clinton hatred and schadenfreude makes us irrational.

Shut up, stand back, and let Bill Clinton work through all this. We will all benefit from his journey.
Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose,
freedom aint worth nothing--but it's free

Kris Kristofferson

From the Washington Post:

"[I]n Los Angeles earlier this month, [John K.] Tanner [voting section chief within the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ] said that voter identification laws primarily affect elderly people because they are less likely to have photo IDs, and that such laws are less likely to affect minorities because they tend to die earlier. A few days earlier, Tanner also suggested to the Georgia NAACP that poor people are likely to have photo IDs because check-cashing businesses require them."

Article in full here.

The problem for John Tanner, a thirty-one-year veteran of the Justice Department, is that he has a whole lot to lose. If he was not aware before yesterday, he must be painfully cognizant now, his freedom of speech is limited by the complicated web of racial politics, Washington double-speak, and political correctness that makes up the current climate of American democratic governance.

Tuesday, Tanner spent an afternoon on Capitol Hill apologizing.

The serially inappropriate Dana Milbank observes:

"There is nothing quite so abject, profuse and groveling as an apology offered by a man who fears he is about to lose his job. But even Tanner's ritualistic self-abasement did not put Democrats on the subcommittee in a forgiving mood."

Column in full here.

Congressman Artur Davis (Democrat from Alabama): "You engaged in analysis without knowing the numbers. If you are basing your conclusions on stereotypes rather than facts, then it suggests to some of us that someone else can do this job better than you can."

Congressman Bobby Scott (Democrat from Virginia) called Tanner's statement "bizarre."

Bizarre? Really? Stereotypes rather than facts? What are the real facts here? Perhaps these nuggets of conventional wisdom are absolutely false--but I have heard them for years, usually to prove the existence of systemic racism in America.

Minorities are just as healthy as whites and enjoy similar life expectancies? This is good news. It certainly makes nationalized healthcare less urgent.

As for the check-cashing, is the stereotype that poor people don't use banks or that minorities are more often poor? Either way, again, these are both articles of faith I first heard years ago in my sociology and political science courses, designed to enlighten, educate and broaden my understanding of the “oppressed classes.”

I welcome an honest conversation regarding the DOJ and its track record for protecting voting rights in America. However, when the discussion must necessarily begin with a near-tearful, slobbering apology on the part of the "white guy in charge of looking out for the rights of minorities," at the feet of a Democratically controlled congressional panel intent on embarrassing the current administration and scoring political points, my expectations for something productive emanating from this spectacle are pretty low.
Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.
W.E.B. DuBois, 1903

More than a century later, the problem of race in America continues to present the most daunting, toxic, and seemingly intractable cultural dilemma of our age. I am convinced that we cannot go on as we are.

We are irreversibly pointed toward a re-evaluation of racial politics in America. In the simplest terms, our current cultural standard rests on according preferences to descendants of victims of past racial discrimination and abominations at the expense of other Americans increasingly less different from the protected class and more and more unconnected to the sins of the fathers. Such a system cannot survive the coming reconciliation with basic principles of American justice and equality.

In brief, here is what I believe:

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