Work and Days

From Rev. Wright to the Sherrod Affair

I’ve been incommunicado on vacation during the Shirley Sherrod matter, and just reentered the depressing world of the 24-hour news cycle. Before the latest spat, I wrote a column last week that racial relations had soured. So I wasn’t surprised when I was catching up today on last week’s furor.

Here are some random suggestions to outraged liberals how to cool off the right-wing talk radio/Fox News/ Andrew Breitbart nexus: simply advise the administration not to talk about racial identity being essential rather than incidental to one’s essence. Does anyone grasp that this obsession with racial identity in an increasingly multiracial society is outright insanity, both politically and culturally? It is not as if we should be so bored with war, recession, national security leaks, and a world on the brink to turn to race relations.

Let me go back a few months, and elaborate how we got here in just 18 months to national hysteria that now breaks out at any given moment over any given otherwise minor incident.

1) Rev. Wright Was No Niebuhr. No one put a gun to Rev. Wright’s head when he went off on Italians, Jews, and whites in a spate of 19th-century racial quackery. What was unusual about the Wright buffoonery was not just his street-corner venom (a 7 on the Farrakhan and old Al Sharpton scale), but two little remarked on phenomena. One, the Trinity Church congregation in the video background seemed to give him a standing ovation at his most hateful moments — and it shocked America that such a villain could find so many willing listeners. And in both his book, The Audacity of Hope, and in the pre-public discovery of Wright, the would-be president of the United States had seemed to think Wright was not only a spiritual font, but some sort of modernist philosopher, an undiscovered Chicago Niebuhr of sorts. That was the issue — that the hateful Wright was winning audiences and influential devotees and well may have continued to do so before his exposure — not just the Hannity/Beck hype every night.

2) Van Jones Is Always Back. He popped up as perennial victim to piggyback on the Sherrod matter in the New York Times. We have had a few months of peace from Jones, and it could hardly continue. He has now evolved into a bespectacled Ivy-League version of Al Sharpton. Please spare us the wounded fawn routine about how his truther signature misrepresented his views and how he was Becked over his once overtly stated communist sympathies. Van Jones was not a victim of racial demagoguery, but a political embarrassment for the sort of student lounge bombast that this middle-class opportunist had previously found conducive to his career. Suggesting that whites have a greater propensity for steering poison into the black community, or declaring that only white kids shoot up schools, was a sort of shtick that had in the past won attention. Jones’ ensuing problem was the well known paradox of controversy getting you to the notice of an administration while ensuring you can’t really serve. How odd that a veritable racialist like Jones has now achieved a sort of iconic status through public humiliation that was never possible by virtue of anything of importance he actually accomplished.

3) From “Cowards” to “Wise Latina” — We Get it Already. Had Eric Holder not accused the nation of being cowards, had the president not appealed to voters in a recent video on the basis of race, had the president not intervened to stereotype the police in a minor matter at Harvard, had the Supreme Court justice not suggested racial background can make a better judge, had both the attorney general and the president not implied, before reading the bill, that 70% of Arizonans were intent on racially stereotyping, we would not quite be where we are — in which a bankrupt country in the middle of two wars is obsessed over the NAACP calling the tea party veritable racists and the dropping of charges against a fringe crack-pot group like the New Black Panther Party.

I say “quite,” because Mr. Obama’s campaign itself had always been characterized by one too many racial Macaca moments to suggest that the media image of a healer was quite right — from Rev. Wright, to typical white person, to the clingers of Pennsylvania, to Michelle’s various editorials on a downright mean country to never been before proud, etc. I realize to review this well-trodden ground is to earn a bullseye on the left-wing NY-DC list or its successor to come, but the truth is that the administration deliberately gambled that by playing identity politics they could galvanize the base vote (it worked when over 95% of African-Americans voted along racial lines) without offending centrist devotees. But they did not quite comprehend the ugly nature of the genie they had unleashed. And now we are reduced to suicidal calls from the left to appoint more administration officials solely on the basis of race, and to become even more overt in racial referencing.

4) Been There, Done That. The white independent voter is not hooked on Rush, Hannity, or Beck, and he is leaving Obama in droves (well over 50% now disapprove of Obama). Why? We are now in relationship to 2008, as 1938 was once to 1929 — lots of programs, still no jobs. The debt not just bothers, but embarrasses, us all. The reset button “he did it” foreign policy is unseemly, like the perpetual error-prone shortstop who complains about the pebbles on the playing field left from yesterday’s game. Independents, without any help from Beck, Drudge, and Hannity, are tired of the play of the race card for wanting the federal immigration law to apply to everyone regardless of race. The voters are tired of a nonstop 2008 campaign mode in which the president keeps demonizing everyone from surgeons to wealthy people, while asking these various groups to pay more taxes to fund various redistributive plans — in pursuit of an agenda (stimulus, more taxes, amnesty, cap and trade) that polls about 45% (and this from a president who in 2005-6 ridiculed Bush for pushing Social Security reform in the face of negative polls).

And all that said, independent white voters, many of whom voted for Obama, sense that something like Van Jones, or “cowards,” or the Prof. Gates matter, or the recent Sherrod non-story, or “wise Latina” will turn up about every three weeks from now on out. They suspect that it will, not just because the staffers at Fox will find it or even hype it, but because there will always with this administration be something to find. Just as the left was always able to dig up some over-zealous Christian evangelical in the Bush administration (because there were apparently a lot of them), so too the right will find a lot of racial promoters because, quite simply, there are a lot of them in this administration.

Ms. Sherrod was done a disservice in having her comments edited in a fashion that did not represent what she was trying to say. Yes, but it is also not a wise thing to go before the NAACP to offer a confessional about how one has evolved from seeing oppression in terms of white culpability, to understanding it in terms of the culpability of those “who have.” In other words, the role of minor federal agricultural officials is not confessionals to lobbying organizations about the unfairness of present American culture. One is free to do it, but one is almost asking to be quoted out of context in doing so. (The antithesis would be something like a border-dwelling federal official, who had lost a relative to Mexican smugglers, speaking before a zealous close-the-borders, mostly white group about how he came to no longer see the problem in terms of brown people, but now largely in terms of poor people, white and brown alike. Now that would be an insane thing to do, and a Republican administration, battling selectively edited videos on the Daily Kos and Huffington Post, would have fired him).

5) Homeopathy. So here we are. After lighting a tactical burn, the administration is panicked how easily the racial flames fed on the dry grass to reach firestorm stage. Instead of calling for water, they seem overwhelmed by the conflagration. So now we hear calls for more black appointments and more talk of race, as if more of the pernicious disease of racial identity will cure the disease rather than the medicine of just shutting up, fixing the economy, winning the war, and curbing spending.

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