Consummate dilettantism!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Obama Wins South Carolina; Racist America, Eh?

This is bad. If Obama wins the Democratic nomination, he'll surely win the general election.

Go Hillary!

Oh, and I predicted this from the beginning. I said, in spite all of this "Obama can't win in a racist America"-nonsense, "Obama's blackness will more help than hinder him." I reasoned this (correctly, I might add) because of the facts that (1) there are far more whites unconsciously willing to especially support a black candidate to prove their lack of racism than whites truly unwilling to support a black candidate because of racism, and (2) that general identity politics will lead blacks to support Obama disproportionally.

According to the AP, 4 out of 5 blacks in S.C. voted for Obama. Half of the primary voters were black. And this is supposedly the most racist state in America. This is identity politics at its worst. (As Jennifer Rubin argues, identity politics does not explain Obama's broad base of support, but my point still stands.)

Additionally, I do think that if Obama were white, there would not be the level of enthusiasm for him there now is. There's something about an "articulate" half-black candidate that absolutely tickles white Americans. There he is, a black candidate; we're not racist after all! But it's more than that. I know because I myself felt the exact same reaction on first seeing and hearing Obama. The combination together is astonishing. Obama's blackness essentially causes one to think more about him as a candidate, and perhaps support him as a default; he is distinguished positively. When the candidates are essentially identical (I have no qualms about this; all of the Democratic contenders have the same policy proposals), Obama's being black lends to an immediate "why not Obama?" reaction. It's difficult to explain, but I've felt it, and I'm sure many others have. We've been instilled in our society to seek out and support and make note of outstanding blacks, for better or for worse. I am seconded here by the excellent Hillel Halkin, writing in the New York Sun. Halkin, older than I, is not conditioned in this manner as I am, and it is thus easier for him to write these words:
Even before the recent brouhaha about Barack Obama's membership in a church whose minister is openly pro-Farrakhan and anti-Israel, I found the thought of his becoming the next president of America unnerving — and not just because his rhetoric, general outlook, and location in the Democratic Party did not encourage one to think that he would tend if elected to be a particularly strong backer of Israel.

Perhaps I've grown cynical and jaded, but I've never been able to understand what the excitement generated by Mr. Obama in his supporters is all about.

Although he is constantly being called by them "dynamic" and "charismatic," every time I've watched him on TV has made me feel that I was looking at a stick-figure politician who spoke entirely in clich├ęs. That his trite phrases were laced with verbal stimulants like "hope" and "change" hardly made them any less tired-sounding to my ears, even if they seemed to work like a shot of adrenalin on millions of Americans.

(Why so many millions of people in a country that has changed more in the last 50 years than any other society in history in a similar period should want still more change is something I have trouble fathoming too, but that's a subject for a different column.)

Politicians are rarely spontaneous animals and can't usually afford to be, but I've rarely seen one who strikes me as more calculated or programmed than Mr. Obama. Watch his eyes when he raises his arms and lifts his voice with emotion at a dramatic moment in a speech; they remain cool and appraising, as if they were standing back from the rest of him to rate himself and his audience. You can see him assessing his effect on his listeners as he speaks. In my book, that's working a crowd, not charisma. I don't deny that it's impressive that less than 50 years after the fall of racial segregation, America seems capable of electing its first black president. (Who is, of course, half-white. It's a curious fact about liberal America that it continues to accept the old white supremacist notion that any amount of African blood in a man makes him "black" — but that's a subject for another column, too.)

This is something America can justifiably feel proud of. And indeed it does feel proud of it — to the point, one suspects, that the only racism at work in Mr. Obama's campaign is the kind that is in his favor. To ask a politically incorrect question: If the junior senator from Illinois, with two years of undistinguished service in the Senate behind him, were white, could he ever have succeeded in making himself a serious presidential contender? Who would have taken the slightest interest in him?
I should also like to add that this post is highly politically incorrect. Such discussion cannot be brought up in polite conversation, and that is shameful. I am certainly no racist (that I have to add this is itself a sign of the times), and do fully agree with Halkin that Obama's running as a candidate and his widespread support in a country that was in many ways quite racist 50 years ago are very, very positive things. However, these things should be irrelevant to Obama's candidacy. His voting record is as liberal as they come. He is indeed quite charismatic, but so are Huckabee and Edwards and McCain. Besides, "charisma" does not translate into "presidentiality", not by a long shot.

This is not to say that Obama does not have a powerfully addictive sense of optimism and youth and charisma. He does indeed embody "change." But again, many politicians do, and when you hear people talking about Obama as "articulate" (who ever speaks of white candidates as "articulate?"), you have to wonder if what I've written is true at least to some degree. I don't mean to suggest that Obama's popularity is solely due to his blackness; far from it. What I'm saying is that this astonishing degree of support for Obama, especially among the young, is certainly helped along by his being black and charismatic at the same time.

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