Tag Archives: Race

Wednesday Morning Quarterback

Despite an unhealthy obsession with Brett Favre, I usually enjoy reading Peter King’s MMQB column for Sports Illustrated. This week, he included a segment on football players’ responses to the presidential election. Pretty moving stuff, and I’d recommend giving it a read even if you’re not into sports. But now, the fans have spoken (from King’s mailbag):

“This is the last time I ever read your column, Peter. I got so sick of reading Michael Silver’s liberal opinions that I stopped reading him. You have finally pushed me too far. Electing a black man president is a good thing. Electing Barack Obama president, a closet socialist with questionable ties to terrorists, felons, and racists, well, it’s just a sad day for our country. I am permanently through with your column and watching any TV show you are on. Goodbye, Comrade.”



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Congratulations, Senator

I listened to Douglas Wilder – Virginia’s first black governor – discuss Obama’s win on the radio this morning. I was almost moved to tears. At this point, I have no idea what an Obama Administration will look like. But I’m very proud of the fact that my country has elected an African-American president. Other than that, I really don’t know what to say.

I also liked this, from Elizabeth Nolan Brown:

America just elected its first black president, in an election season that saw women getting closer than ever to the presidency and vice-presidency. A few people have already lamented the nation’s self-congratulatory tone about this, but fuck that. Now is the time for the nation to be self-congratulatory. Even many ardent Republican partisans have admitted to being disappointed and angry and yet also proud right now, and I think that’s great.

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Black Like Me

National Review’s Jay Nordlinger:

For years, many of us thought that the first black president would be a conservative: someone in the Clarence Thomas mold, against race preferences, strong for assimilation, etc. We thought the same of the first woman, too: She would be a conservative in the Margaret Thatcher mold (though thoroughly American, of course). But 2008 has put those assumptions to the test, bringing, as it has, both Obama and Hillary Clinton to the fore.

I hear this a lot from Republicans, and I’ve always found it vaguely plausible (James Fallows – a liberal – was evidently of the same opinion). I also believe that the number of people who would really like to vote for our first black president exceeds the number of outright racists in this country by a wide margin. A conservative black presidential candidate would undoubtedly confirm many of our rosiest assumptions about the state of race relations in America, and I have no doubt that he (or she?) would perform creditably at the ballot box.

But where would Republicans find a plausibly black presidential candidate? It’s not that black conservatives don’t exist (read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece on Bill Cosby if you don’t believe me). But for whatever reason, they don’t seem to gravitate towards the Republican Party. I’m sure it’s not for lack of any common ground, either. How many times have we heard that the cultural conservatism of black churches is a potential “in” for Republican politicians?

So why is failed senatorial candidate Michael Steele the closest Republicans have come to finding their own Barack Obama? I won’t pretend to dissect the conservative movement’s complex racial history, but I can’t help but think that the continued veneration of crypto-racist figures like Jesse Helms makes it extremely difficult for Black Americans to enthusiastically support the Republican Party. I remember reading National Review’s Helms post-mortem with the expectation that someone – anyone – would take a critical look at the man’s awful history on racial issues. Instead, we get Jonah Goldberg writing about Helms’ “alleged” racist tendencies. Why is Colin Powell unwilling to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt when it comes to anti-Muslim smears? Why is the Republican hierarchy completely devoid of African-American political talent? A few ritual denunciations of some truly odious figures would go a long way towards rectifying this sort of thing.

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Filed under Conservatism, Culture, Presidential Politics, Race

Lil’ Barack

Gene Expression highlights Barack Obama’s response to “The Bell Curve,” Charles Murray’s infamous tome on IQ and race. The whole thing is well-worth reading, but two excerpts really jumped out at me. First, Obama’s aggressive take to the book’s central thesis (emphasis mine):

Now, it shouldn’t take a genius to figure out that with early intervention such problems can be prevented. But Mr. Murray isn’t interested in prevention. He’s interested in pushing a very particular policy agenda, specifically, the elimination of affirmative action and welfare programs aimed at the poor. With one finger out to the political wind, Mr. Murray has apparently decided that white America is ready for a return to good old-fashioned racism so long as it’s artfully packaged and can admit for exceptions like Colin Powell. It’s easy to see the basis for Mr. Murray’s calculations. After watching their income stagnate or decline over the past decade, the majority of Americans are in an ugly mood and deeply resent any advantages, real or perceived, that minorities may enjoy.

Second, Barack’s proposed solution to the racial achievement gap (again, emphasis mine):

I happen to think Mr. Murray’s wrong, not just in his estimation of black people, but in his estimation of the broader American public. But I do think Mr. Murray’s right about the growing distance between the races. The violence and despair of the inner city are real. So’s the problem of street crime. The longer we allow these problems to fester, the easier it becomes for white America to see all blacks as menacing and for black America to see all whites as racist. To close that gap, we’re going to have to do more than denounce Mr. Murray’s book. We’re going to have to take concrete and deliberate action. For blacks, that means taking greater responsibility for the state of our own communities. Too many of us use white racism as an excuse for self-defeating behavior. Too many of our young people think education is a white thing and that the values of hard work and discipline and self-respect are somehow outdated.

Obama may have refined his message since 1994, but his core themes haven’t changed much. He attributes residual racism to economic stagnation, which is extremely reminiscent of his comment earlier this year about how voters “cling” to guns and religion because politicians fail to address their economic concerns. His emphasis on personal responsibility also echoes his rhetorical nods to social problems within the black community in both his convention speech and his response to the Reverend Wright controversy. Here’s Obama on social responsibility in the wake of Wright:

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Obama’s transactional view of politics – we give you social programs, you clean up your act – strikes me as both eminently reasonable and totally unrealistic. It’s an attractive rhetorical package, and it effectively co-opts the conservative message of personal responsibility (Obama admits as much in the Wright speech, calling it a “conservative notion”), but it’s basically wishful thinking. People don’t embark on a journey of self-improvement because they’re receiving goods and services from the government unless the assistance is conditions-based, and even then there’s no guarantee.

To be fair, one could argue that an African-American president wielding the bully pulpit to emphasize social responsibility would have some impact on cultural norms. That’s a lot more likely to work than government bribery, but I’m still not entirely convinced.

UPDATE: Ta-Nehisi Coates has some similar thoughts.

UPDATE II: For what it’s worth, Murray wrote one of the more thoughtful responses to Obama’s big race speech at National Review.

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Filed under Presidential Politics, Race