Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Little More to the Wright

Once again, I find really smart people agreeing with me. OK, maybe not agreeing with me per se, but writing things that I have already written, just, you know, (vastly) more widely-read and articulate.

Today's winner is the former "Butcher of Broadway" Frank Rich in the Sunday Times, in an op-ed titled "The All-White Elephant in the Room."
it is disingenuous to pretend that there isn’t a double standard operating here. If we’re to judge black candidates on their most controversial associates — and how quickly, sternly and completely they disown them — we must judge white politicians by the same yardstick.


There is not just a double standard for black and white politicians at play in too much of the news media and political establishment, but there is also a glaring double standard for our political parties. The Clintons and Mr. Obama are always held accountable for their racial stands, as they should be, but the elephant in the room of our politics is rarely acknowledged: In the 21st century, the so-called party of Lincoln does not have a single African-American among its collective 247 senators and representatives in Washington. Yes, there are appointees like Clarence Thomas and Condi Rice, but, as we learned during the Mark Foley scandal, even gay men may hold more G.O.P. positions of power than blacks.

A near half-century after the civil rights acts of the 1960s, this is quite an achievement.


An all-white Congressional delegation doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the legacy of race cards that have been dealt since the birth of the Southern strategy in the Nixon era. No one knows this better than Mr. McCain, whose own adopted daughter of color was the subject of a vicious smear in his party’s South Carolina primary of 2000.


Mr. McCain is graded on a curve because the G.O.P. bar is set so low.


if there’s any coherent message to be gleaned from the hypocrisy whipped up by Hurricane Jeremiah, it’s that this nation’s perennially promised candid conversation on race has yet to begin.
I wish I could promise that this will be my last post about Jeremiah Wright, but I can't as long as the blowhards in the media insist on making this an issue. Thus, I will highlight any major media figure who participates in the proper kind of pushback.

In other words, Obama should not have needed to apologize or reject or denounce Wright. Not that I want to adopt anything that Saint Ronnie of the Ray-Gun may have foisted upon our political establishment, but his 11th Commandment applies here: we have got to stop eating our own. Obama's message should have been STFU about my preacher until you denounce your pet squad of hate-spewing Christo-fascist bigots.

Of course, Hillary triangulating herself into pretzel knots to win those elusive Rethugli-bot Lite votes hasn't helped the blue end of the spectrum rally to the defense of their standard-bearer.

Except, of course, Obama can't say any of that because we can always depend on the cable news bobbleheads to regurgitate GOP talking points undigested (from C&L):
Duffy: There’s no question they’ll come after him any way they can. And everyone who supports Obama will get a version of this too. They’ll be asked to account for it, they’ll be asked to put some distance between them. McCain himself will probably say something like “I’m not going to make Rev. Wright’s views an issue,” but he’s made it already clear that he disagrees with him, so I think you can expect the entire Republican establishment to make this issue #1—unless something better comes along.

Matthews: Can a brilliant politician – Barack included, perhaps, perhaps – turn this around? Can he show that he’s different? So different from the Rev. Wright that he should be elected President?

Morehead: I think he’s already shown that. He’s already said before that he does not believe what Wright said, he was at church—was not at church that day. But obviously, he’s someone who says, “I want to bring the country together, let’s get beyond this issue of being divisive. Let’s talk about what we have more in common than what we have in terms of our differences,” So I think he’s going to be able to use this as a way to bring the country together, as opposed to using this as a division the Republicans and McCain are trying to use this for.

Matthews: Does everyone agree with that? That he can turn this around or he’s just going to have to cut his losses?

Genardo: I don’t. I interviewed him the other day and I don’t think he distanced himself far enough from his pastor, actually telling me all the great things he had done on the South Side of Chicago. Rev. Wright, that is. I don’t know, politically, you’d think he’d have to come out and really condemn his remarks and I know we already got him—got rid of him on his faith and values team, but is that enough? I don’t think so.
What would be enough? As the ever-brilliant and incisive Amanda Marcotte said the first time the Wright non-issue issue exploded: "America will not rest until Obama says Jesus had blue eyes."

Because it is about race. It will always be about race. It is but one facet of America's Original Sin, a stain on our national soul that cannot be expunged, and for forty years the GOP has used it (as the Democrats did before them) to maintain their failing grip on power. Remember, this issue is ginned-up by slick College-Rethugligoon-trained operators who - abetted by bloated, self-important media dunderheads like Chris Matthews - love to fire up the bigots in "The Base." Wind 'em up and watch 'em go... all the way to electoral victory.

The slick operators also love the idea of the "crazy black preacher" because not only does it overtly tap the fear buttons of white voters, but the mental image of the "angry black man" also covertly facilitates a verbal shorthand for talking about race in dog-whistle code language that keeps it masked from polite society, but is nevertheless understood by those who want to hear it.

Such methods once again resurrect Nixon's odious Southern Strategy. I don't mean via direct appeals to the overtly racist parts of the Rethugli-bot coalition, the 'Minutemen' or neo-Nazis or KKK or any other domestic terror groups; they are already on board with the fundamental tenet of any political right-wing in any country - protect and reinforce existing power structures. I refer instead to those who are afraid of ostracisation from our modern, more evolved and supposedly post-racial society, to those who still quietly blame all our modern problems on the Civil Rights Era and "those people." They romanticize a simpler, whiter past - like "The 1950's" or "Gone With The Wind."

The slick operators of the GOP gleefully tap into a deep-seated, secret desire of this portion of "The Base" to once again have the freedom to enjoy the sensation of the word "nigger" crossing their lips just one more time.

We all know people like this. Chances are, many of them are our relatives or co-workers. GOP operatives know they are out there. Obama knows they are out there. Media dunderheads know they are out there and romanticize them as heartland, salt-of-the-earth types, the Real Americans. Which is why they and the Party that represents them and the nominee of that Party all get graded on a curve when it comes to race relations.

Ahh, the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The racial component will remain undeniable for both sides, but for very different and morally divergent reasons. On that score, Gary Kamiya at wrote what has become probably the central opinion piece in my conversion from Obama doubter to Obama supporter. The title of his essay is "It's OK to vote for Obama because he's black." He wrote it in February of this year, before most of us had ever even heard of Jeremiah Wright.
whites' race-driven enthusiasm for Obama is an almost unreservedly positive thing -- both because electing a black president is a good thing in its own right, and because of what that enthusiasm says about race relations in America today.

Yes, there can be a touch of bathos and self-congratulation in white Obama-mania. But so what? Great historical shifts are often accompanied by such feelings. Besides, sincerity and sentimentality are not mutually exclusive. Barack is no Magic Negro. The truth is, the more white voters find out about Obama, the more they like him.


Having a black president would give the country a deeper comfort level in talking about racial issues. It would help Americans of all races break out of the sterile guilt/victim dialogue, or the fear of falling into it, that too often inhibits real communication. It could radically change our entire racial landscape, in ways we can't even predict.


Many dismiss the Obama phenomenon as a mere "cult of personality." It is in some ways a cult, but not one of personality -- it's a cult of racial healing, of racial transcendence. For many whites, voting for Obama is a kind of appeal to one's better self, and the better self of the country. It is, in a way, a promise. It could even be seen as a kind of prayer.


there's every reason to believe that if elected he will be a good president -- and maybe a great one. And every day that Obama is in office, even the bad ones, we'll be able to tell ourselves: We elected a black man president of this country. That thought, with all that it says about where we came from as a nation and where we hope to be going, will be a light that no one can put out.

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