Obama, Wright, Poverty, and Race

Shelby Steele the conservative who happens to be black (as opposed to black conservative) commentator has argued that Obama is a “bargainer”. That is Obama will not bring up to whites the history of slavery, Jim Crow, ideas of reparation payments, or the police killing Sean Bell and being acquitted in exchange for votes.

This point is actually echoed by on the hard left (the counterpunch left) in a piece here by Alex Cockburn.

I live in an age of declining US hegemony where still the “dove” candidate only says he will respond with appropriate force to Iran rather than “obliterate” them for a completely hypothetical attack on Israel (with nukes they don’t actually have). The obliterate comment was spoken by that crazy left-winger Clinton. Obliterating a country btw, is publicly declaring that one will seek to kill civilians, also known as a war crime. Or you could sing about it I guess like the other candidate, to the tune of a Beach Boys song.

Similarly when it comes to the US patriotism, national mythos card. What this episode with Rev. Wright has revealed is that the conservatives are not simply for a black candidate who wipes the slate clean and echoes the city on a hill America sentiment but s/he also must be a conservative.

The sin of Obama for the National Review-Sean Hannity-Hugh Hewitt crowd is that he had the audacity to even hear the “heresy” of rhetoric critical of core elements of the American Manifest Destiny Dream. (Never mind those criticisms came from within Christianity–seriously don’t ever let yourself consider that possibility).

It’s not enough that has cut himself from Wright and clearly doesn’t fall into the (so-called) Sharpton-Jesse Jackson mode of political discourse. Never mind his deep patriotism and nationalism (somewhat misplaced at times for me)–because its liberal nationalism not conservative.

What will only be sufficient for that crowd is that Obama go all the way and say that he was so wrong ever to step foot in the church, to not leave after hearing one sermon that was in any way sharp or critical or “rough” (in the language Obama used when describing the style to Wright). He, Obama, dared to hear heresy and while we have no proof he believes it–in fact we have enormous evidence to the contrary that he doesn’t–he did at least listen to it and dared to minimize and/or purposefully ignore it.

That’s why I was of two minds on the Wright thing. I’m glad someone managed to have a moment through the echo chamber to say some things that no politician will ever or can ever say. On the other it certainly has hurt Obama, and for me he’s the least worst of the three not very good candidates we have running. I frankly can’t even contemplate the possibility of the other two.

But to the larger point, would Obama be able to change (to any degree) racial relations in the US–or rather would his election change perceptions?

A parallel example is the argument that the election of Obama would change opinion of the US around the world. It certainly would in the short term, there would be some euphoria, similar I think on race in the US.

Where Obama’s presidency could I think change perceptions is (along the lines of John McWhorter) in the black middle class (and maybe Asian and Latino Americans youths as well). It would signify that if you accept the basic American dream/middle class patriotic mythos as opposed to what McWhorter calls “therapeudic alienation”, then you can achieve greatness and still to a decent degree maintain cultural uniqueness–i.e. not have to become totally white culturally. The second half of that equation being relatively new–as opposed to say Colin Powell (or Condi?) who signified you can gain power/influence by culturally becoming viewed as essentially white (whether you are or not is a separate question I suppose).

But as with the foreign policy/world image issue, it’s real and there, but highly circumscribed and limited. Racism will not change at the level of the poor which is at the level of saying the US has a history of sin and needs confession of that sin, grief, and reconciliation (there’s Jeremiah Wright again). Obama is a politician and will never and could never go there. He could never be elected if he did.

The question is not (after awhile) the image as the policies. That issue holds whether for young men of color from Pakistan or the Baltimore ghetto.

To finish off the parallel, just as Obama will not really be able to do too much in the way of changing US hegemonic foreign policy, so he will not I imagine with actual poverty. He may be able to make some strides but not nearly as far I would like to see him go. The strides he could make domestically are middle class related (middle class progressivism versus upper class conservatism) and a certain liberalizing/re-defining of US national security in the 21st century. But he’s not going peace and justice route in either arena. I mean he has taken an unswerving hard-line stance against Hamas (which I disagree btw) and yet he is after all still “The Candidate of Hamas” after all.

Or as Ann Coulter described Obama, The Manchurian Candidate. Although as Keith Olbermann pointed out last night, The Manchurian Candidate is probably not the best analogy to bring up when the movie as you will recall (the original staring Angela Landsbury and Frank Sinatra) was about a US war-hero/POW who had been brainwashed while in captivity by the Chinese. Bringing up a war hero who was a POW in SouthEast Asia become president references probably not the best idea currently given uh, John McCain’s actual life history [not the brainwashed part obviously]. As opposed to say Obama’s secret America-hating terrorist left-wing, crypto-Muslim, Mein-Kampf-lite writing, Jew-despising, elitism.

Historical amnesia/Self parody yet again in wingnut conservative land.

Update I:  For a similar (probably better) take, Daniel Larison here.

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