Thursday, March 20, 2008

It's a good thing Obama is going to bring racial understanding to America...

... because after a few more weeks of his explaining race we're going to have race riots in the inner cities again. On Tuesday, after dismissing Rev. Wright's incendiary comments as simply a part of "the black community in its entirety", Obama claimed that

... race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Rev. Wright made in his offending sermons about America -- to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

Three paragraphs earlier Obama offered up an example of stereotyping that amplified the negative:
[M]y white grandmother -- a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
Many people reacted negatively to Obama injecting his grandmother into this speech in such a negative light. Even if Obama didn't mean to throw his grandmother under a bus, enough concern was expressed that Obama and his campaign felt that he had to publicly explain what he meant. However, I'm willing to bet that the explanation is going to prove more costly to him than the original comment.

Today Obama tried to explain himself during an interview on a Philadelphia radio station, WIP:

The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity. She doesn't. But she is a typical white person who, uh, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know there's a reaction that's been been bred into our experiences that don't go away and that sometimes come out in the wrong way and that's just the nature of race in our society. We have to break through it...
This statement makes no sense. If his grandmother reflexively has negative reactions to people of another race for no other reason than race, then she does in fact harbor racial animosity.

Throwing Granny under the bus (again) isn't the worst part of his comment, though. The worst part is his overly simplified stereotype of the "typical white person" as a racist. One wonders if the Stuff White People Like blog has shaped Obama's views of white people. No, that can't be it, as that blog has a very recent origin. Or perhaps "to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality” is just something that the typical black person does.


I've been thinking a bit more about Obama's “A More Perfect Union” speech. Initially I had only heard snippets from the speech, and later heard and read more when the commentary started to appear. This morning I finally read the whole speech myself. Personally I thought the speech had two major flaws beyond the Grandmother Incident discussed above.

The first problem is that he never explained why he made the judgment call to keep attending such a militant church if he had aspirations of appealing to a broader (i.e., whiter) audience. He's made judgment a central theme of his campaign as a way to dismiss concerns about his lack of experience. Therefore he needs to explain why he judged that attending that church and listening to that rhetoric wasn't going to repel the average voter, whom he needs to win the election. Further, Obama should explain why he had made the judgment call over the last year to claim he really didn't know anything about this aspect of the church only to completely reverse himself yesterday. Did he think that the press wouldn't notice that he'd been bending the truth for the last year?

The second problem though is even worse. Obama wasn't 'just' giving a speech on race relations in the US last Tuesday. He was also making a pitch for his own personal interests - to wit "Elect me!"
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism....

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some otherdistraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time."
Obama then lists a litany of problems that need fixing. As he recites his litany of woe it becomes clear that he means the only way to adequately address these problems is to elect him to the Office of President. So, we can either vote for division, conflict and cynicism, or we can vote for Obama. He isn't presenting himself as a candidate for office, he's presenting himself as a messiah. At best he's offering up a false dichotomy, though cleverly concealed. At worst, he's the Second Coming, these are the End Times, and we'll all be hearing the Trump and the Shout 'ere long.

Regardless, his broader message about race in the US would be more convincing if the entirety of the speech didn't nakedly serve Obama's self-interest. He disguised it well, but ultimately this speech isn't about Race in the USA, it's just another rhetorical device for getting Obama elected.

One final point: Obama’s starry-eyed supporters are simply obnoxious. Consider this Andrew Sullivan post. Andrew includes a story about how people listened to Obama, and that they wanted to see Obama, that they wanted to understand him, and praise Him, and annoint Him with oils. Then Sullivan ends with the most sanctimonious line I believe he has ever devised:
We are the ones we've been waiting for.
Lord, please spare us from self-congratulatory English twits!

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