Work and Days

A Look Back at the Obama Week

Does Success Breed Anger?

Michelle Obama has two Ivy League degrees, private school for her children, a third-of-a-million-dollar salary, a large home, and a U.S. Senator as husband and would-be President—and says she has hitherto not been proud of the United States.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright has created a huge following in his Trinity Church, merchandises his lectures, enjoys nationwide recognition, and by all accounts is both well paid and popular—and chants “God Damn America.”

Recently the father of the multimillionaire celebrity tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, Richard Williams, pronounced, “Well, I’m black and I’m prejudiced, very prejudiced…The white man hated me all my life and I hate him…I’m not even an American, it just so happens that I was born in America.”

Is there a connection between success and furor at the United States? There are many ways to explain these baffling announcements, and those like them in the African-American community, sometimes offered up from the likes of a Harry Belafonte to prominent rap stars: (1) are these sentiments any different from those of a wealthy Michael Moore, Sean Penn, or Tim Robbins? (2) Does one’s racial fides become suspect the more wealthy and successful one becomes—and thus requires periodic proof of authenticity in the mode of easy anti-Americanism? (3) Does the more a Michelle Obama or Richard Williams or Jeremiah Wright succeed in America, the more one’s aspirations for even greater success accelerate at a geometric rather than arithmetic rate, creating expectations that can never be met—and hence scapegoating to explain the frustration?

More Conversations on Race?

I think that it is the last thing we need now in this country. Sadly, I don’t believe Sen. Obama or any other politician has either the wisdom or courage to resolve all of these competing hatreds and the particular contexts that their perpetrators always evoke in self-serving fashion. And it would perhaps be better that they did not even try.

Obama, after all, skipped unpleasant themes that are essential to any discourse on race. First, the United States is not a white/black dichotomy anymore. Millions like Obama himself are biracial. There are as many Asian and Hispanic Americans together as African-Americans. And the result is that racism, being an entirely human phenomenon, is now often the property of a variety of races, who form baffling coalitions that cannot be reduced by Wright to simple white/black formulas.

More important, we are in the fifth decade since Civil Rights legislation. The problem of African-American parity cannot any longer be explained entirely by white racism. Inordinate illegitimacy, drug use, incarceration, high-school drop-out rates, and crime in the African-American community are part of any conversation of race—and of concern to millions of Americans who are not white and have their own extenuating private stories of poverty, bias, and ordeal.

Instead we should simply insist on a universal code of public decency and kindness. Americans should not voice racist sentiments in the public domain, or by our purse and attendance empower those who do. And if we are found wanting in that regard, we will be judged so by absolute standards that are unchanging. And they will not provide exemption by citing the bad that others do, or the good that we think we’ve done in the past, or the extenuating contexts in which our hatred was voiced.

By that measure Sen. Obama’s failure to resign from his church and disassociate from the Rev. Wright and his own inspirational speech to allay racial tensions, caused more problems than they solved.

Such a judgment may seem harsh. Yet it is not mine, but instead can be seen among the people themselves of all races. They remain appalled by Rev. Wright and Obama’s tepid reaction to him—to the point of abandoning a candidate whose eloquence, astuteness, and likeability are otherwise unrivaled in modern political history.

Rice and Thomas

I was suprised that almost no one has commented on Wright’s slurs against Justice Thomas (“Clarence Colon” ) and Secretary Rice (Con-damn-nesia”). Neither Obama nor any prominent African-American voiced outrage. Why? The two most powerful African-Amerians in public service are an apparent embarrassment to their own communities, due to their ties to conservatives. In other words, in the Ward Churchillian mode, one is not necessarily as much African-American by race as by ideology;thus a half-white Obama of African heritage, who experienced far less prejudice than the older, darker, and African-American Thomas, is the more authentic African-American because of his leftist Chicago politics and his patronage of the fiery Wright

This has real repercussions for future racial relations. Since the liberal left has been able to dictate to the African-American population that a particular leftwing philosophy is essential to one’s genuine (as opposed to false) identity.

What is Next?

I think the contentious Democratic race continues to the end, Clinton winning the majority of the remaining states, establishing momentum, claiming she’s won most of the plebiscites (rather than caucuses), and the most important states—and losing the nomination. Then with the renewed Obamomania breaking back out over the summer, at least 25% of Democratic voters will defect to McCain. The ensuing controversy and drama of the election will be the degree to which McCain attempts or does not attempt to distance himself from very effective Wright/Obama infomercials aired by anti-Obama coalitions. And given that Wright is a megalomaniac, who like a moth to a flame, always seeks the light, expect him to sound off once or twice before November, either voicing more hatred of whites and the United States or trying to hint that he and Obama are closer than we think.

A Forgotten Artifact…

of the Wright mess have been the continued progress in Iraq, the dissolution of the anti-war movement, and the radical shift in Democratic rhetoric from “we’ve lost” and “the surge failed” to even victory was not worth the aggegrate costs.