Tuesday, 29 April 2008

The Obama paradox

Sully on Obama’s conversion to speaking truth to power douchebags:

It’s extremely depressing that the first major national black politician who takes on the victimology of Sharpton and Jackson is greeted by the right with the kind of cynicism you see at Malkin or the Corner or Reynolds. It reveals, I think, the deeper truth: the Republican right only wants a black Republican to do this. They are not as interested in getting beyond the racial question, in changing the hopes and dreams of black America, as they are in exploiting it for partisan advantage. Their response to the first major black candidate for president tackling the old racial politics? “We don’t believe him.”

To my mind, the “cynicism” is warranted (and, by the way, it’s a cheap shot to lump Glenn Reynolds—who has spoken very positively of other black Democrats, like Harold Ford—in with the Corner crowd and the odious Michelle Malkin) because, fundamentally, the question is which Obama is genuine. He’s spent two decades in Jeremiah Wright’s pews, and there are two plausible interpretations of that: he sat there all that time thinking “bullshit, bullshit, bullshit” while Wright preached his nonsense about CIA conspiracies to infect blacks with AIDS and spread crack in the inner cities and was being politically expedient in using that as a platform for reaching out to a black community skeptical of his African-American bona fides as a half-white, half-black-but-not-black-American politician, or he’s being politically expedient now reaching out to whites and Hispanics who are rather more troubled by Wright’s bullshit (and the related bullshit spread by Sharpton and Jackson) than he genuinely is. Neither interpretation squares well with the Sullivanesque interpretation of Obama as the Great Black Hope who will unite all the races in the quest for the one ring to rule them all, or at least a quick exit from Iraq or something.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Obama is a bad person or isn’t telling the truth now; hell, even if he is a liar on this one issue he’s still an order of magnitude more genuine a person than Hillary Clinton, who skillfully combines all of her husband’s artistry for compulsive dishonesty with none of the used-car-salesman charm that made it at least vaguely palatable. But it’s somewhat harder to square Obama the presidential candidate with Obama the inner-city politician than it is to square, say, Ford, who never had to pander as much to the black establishment (in large part because of his father’s coattails) before becoming a DLC-style centrist in Washington.

Update: Timothy Sandefur makes largely the same points, but far more eloquently (particularly with 100% fewer uses of the word “bullshit”), while Johnathan Pierce at Samizdata critiques another part of Sullivan’s argument.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.
[Permalink] 1. Jennifer wrote @ Thu, 1 May 2008, 2:19 pm CDT:

I would guess for Obama it is the former. His joining the church was politically expedient at that time; however, now it is very costly to him and thus why he threw Wright under the bus and backed over him. I think Michelle Obama could have very well been in agreement with Wright’s perspective regarding the government, HIV, etc. In any case, I do not think we have heard the last of the Reverend…perhaps he will enlighten us as to which sermons Barack did hear and whether Barack was there to hear the post-9/11 sermon…


Yes, I get the feeling we’re in for “all Jeremiah, all the time” for a while. I’ll bring the popcorn.


Or, there’s a third option – Wright didn’t spew all that B.S. all the time in the pulpit. Have you actually sat through 20 years of Wright sermons to see if that’s what he was talking all that time? Hmm. If not, then drink from a big ole cup of SFTU, Chris.

FWIW, I’ve been in the pews under a pastor who spoke genuinely biblical sermons most of the time, but was rabidly fundamentalist in personal conversations. You can hear both. It doesn’t surprise me. What surprises me is that there’s this belief that pastors (like anyone else?) speak consistently all the time.

Before everyone goes down the Wright hole, let’s do some proper research, m’kay.

SOT, Ford is a joke and a disappointment, IMHO. He combines the worst of DLC pandering with the worst of southern politics. This is especially ironic given how he was trashed by racist politics in his campaign. You’d think he’d be a little more sensitive to the topic.


AWS: I didn’t say he preached B.S. “all the time.” But I find it hard to believe that it was such an infrequent feature of Wright’s preaching that Obama was unaware of it until it showed up on YouTube. Pat Robertson doesn’t preach nonsense all the time either, but I dare say that a white politician running for president who was in his congregation for two decades might be expected to answer some questions about whether or not he agreed with Robertson’s views and people might reasonably inquire whether there were other spiritual advisors/mentors that would be more appropriate—see James Joyner’s post on this topic today, which I think is very apropos—particularly if that politician were trying to portray himself as a bridge-builder and a conciliatory figure. Look at the shit GOP candidates have gotten for speaking at Bob Jones and the questions about John McCain’s relationship with John Hagee, neither of which constitute such close ties as those Obama has (or had) with Wright and Trinity UCC.

Mind you, I’ve defended at least some of Wright’s complaints about American society previously, and there are certainly good reasons why African Americans might continue to harbor grievances about slavery, Jim Crow, and even to a lesser extent the inability of the Civil Rights Movement to deliver on its efforts to improve social as well as political equality for blacks, the last of which has less to do with the CRM itself but the political context in which it operated and continues to operate.

On Ford’s campaign, I call BS unless you have something more convincing than the silly “Playboy bunny” ad. Certainly Ford has not received anywhere near the level of racist vitriol from white Tennesseans as his white, Jewish successor, Steve Cohen, has received from blacks in his own district. And I’m not sure what you mean by “DLC pandering” or “southern politics” in reference to Ford, but admittedly I haven’t paid too close attention to his activities since leaving Congress (I saw him on MSNBC a couple of weeks ago I think but otherwise he’s off my radar).

Comments are now closed on this post.