During the 2008 political campaign, then-Senator Barack Obama called for a national discussion on race. Later, Attorney General Eric Holder called us a nation of cowards for not having such discussions:
He said that Americans are afraid to talk about race, adding that “certain subjects are off-limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one’s character.”
So let’s try to honor these doubtless well-intended requests.
It’s entirely possible that President Obama has poisoned the well for at least a generation. It has nothing to do with the fact that he is black; it is because he is grossly ill-fitted for the job and may well be the worst U.S. president thus far. To enumerate even his most egregious blunders would make for a very long article and I won’t bother. There are not enough good things to fill a short paragraph, aside from the possibility that he has united enough conservatives and frustrated enough leftists to make possible some changes we can believe in.
Some probably disagree, but I think President Obama’s race was the deciding factor in his election. Had he been Caucasian, Asian, or Hispanic, he probably would not have got the Democratic Party nomination, much less been elected president. President Hillary Clinton would likely be sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office.
Should race count? No, but it does, more now than before President Obama came on the scene. Race, gender, ethnicity, and religion have, of course, long been significant. John Morton Blum, whose introductory American history course I took in college fifty years ago, told a story about Theodore Roosevelt, “the Republican Roosevelt,” and repeated it in his book of that title:
The dinner, the story goes, celebrated Roosevelt’s appointment in 1906 of Oscar Straus as Secretary of Commerce and Labor. The President explained his choice. He had selected Straus without regard to race, color, creed or party. His concern had been only to find the best qualified man in the United States. This Jacob Schiff would confirm. Schiff, presiding at the celebration, good-naturedly senescent, wealthy, respectable, and, regrettably for Roosevelt, now quite deaf nodded, “Dot’s right, Mr. President,” he acknowledged. “You came to me and said, ‘Chake, who is der best Jew I an appoint Segretary of Commerce?’ William Loeb, Roosevelt’s secretary, persuaded the newspapermen to suppress the exchange.
Blum goes on to say, “Doubtless apocryphal, this story nevertheless contains the stuff of authenticity”; TR was acutely aware of the “importance of self-conscious groups in American society.” There have been many changes in American society since 1906.