I used to be disgusted
now I try to be amused
–Elvis Costello, The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes
In Slate’s unfortunately named “Big Idea” column, Jacob Weisberg, waving about the latest NY Times/CBS poll (PDF) like Joe McCarthy brandishing his list of names, campaigns for title of this season’s most conspicuously contrite white (a la Steve Sailer’s “Uncle Tim” sweepstakes) by pointing out that Racist White America is not singing along enthusiastically or harmoniously enough with the Obama fantasia (unlike the lockstep support and vicious turn against the Clintons of Black America, which is either an allowable double-standard or a post-racial phenomenon noticed only by, presumably, Racist Whites) and the unfortunate consequence of a McCain administration will not be the result of an unqualified candidate but of an unqualified people:
What with the Bush legacy of reckless war and economic mismanagement, 2008 is a year that favors the generic Democratic candidate over the generic Republican one. Yet Barack Obama, with every natural and structural advantage in the presidential race, is running only neck-and-neck against John McCain, a sub-par Republican nominee with a list of liabilities longer than a Joe Biden monologue. Obama has built a crack political operation, raised record sums, and inspired millions with his eloquence and vision. McCain has struggled with a fractious campaign team, lacks clarity and discipline, and remains a stranger to charisma. Yet at the moment, the two of them appear to be tied. What gives?
The “natural and structural” advantages are Obama’s “charisma”, celebrity, a tight campaign organization and a busload of money. We remain unconscionably non-responsive to the superficialities, and it must be you-know-what. John McCain may very well be the greater evil in this race, but to conclude that there’s no contest here, between a junior senator of no achievement beyond leveraging a well-received, high-profile speech into a presidential nomination (assuming we’re still capable of distinguishing between political maneuvering and actual governing) and a veteran senator and former congressman who nearly captured his party’s nomination eight years ago is like being the only pothead in the room and berating everyone else for not finding your new lava lamp mesmerizing.
If Barack Obama was willing to risk power to contrast himself with our current catastrophic drift in foreign policy this “all else being equal” argument might carry some weight. A more principled campaign, if one were still possible, would. The unfortunate fact is that the American public is only too willing to forget about Iraq as long as the “surge is working” narrative can be made plausible through the two-minute drill of their brief daily encounters with the news cycle–and Obama is playing directly to that. So Weisberg’s ilk is astounded that Interventionist Lite, offered by the Racial Candidate Lite, doesn’t automatically trump the wrinkly old white guy, and the wrinkly old white folks feel more comfortable with one of their own. The harder our priestly media class has to work to uncover “racism” the shriller they get.
The real tragedy is this is all leading, somehow, to a McCain presidency. We have bigger fish to fry than the red herring of Obama’s false promise of a “post-racial” future that is precisely the opposite of what he, and his class, desire, even if they thought it possible. His is a backward-looking appeal to racial guilt and the solidification of our current racial spoils system disguised as a march forward to reconciliation. It all increasingly seems destined to leave race relations rawer than ever, as evidenced by such as Weisberg’s childlike hope resolving in a tantrum of melodramatic despair (see below).
What Obama’s campaign is managing to do is convince people, with good reason, that racial resentment will be a feature of American life for a very long time. Of course, that was precisely the gist of Obama’s grand speech on race, in the appalling presumption of an obscenely privileged man berating the nation that privileges him for its “original sin” of slavery–only in America is Barack Obama’s campaign possible, and no need to worry Black America, it will never be enough. No one will ever ask you to forgive whites for their collective, historical guilt or relinquish your cherished romance of collective suffering, much less take note of the fact that no African population has ever had the power, freedom or opportunity that has been afforded African Americans. And why would Black America give up this advantage? I ask without irony or condemnation. It is mere human nature and no people in similar circumstances can be expected to behave differently. But I would be so very proud of a nation that at least made an effort to preserve its democratic republic and traditions, by, if ever so gently, acknowledging this reality.
Only in America is Barack Obama possible, indeed; no other nation is decadent enough to indulge in such absurdities. The pessimism and resentment infusing the Obama campaign is remarkable in light of the rhetoric. But the real tragedy is that the current crisis in America is no time for it. Obama seems destined to fail, largely because he has no business being president. It simply won’t be enough to point out that the current executive has no business being president either, so therefore we must be bigots for rejecting this one.
It’s unfortunate that so many Democrats decided they needn’t take their bright, shiny new candidate for a test-drive before nominating him, but if he is capable of repairing the damage of the Bush administration it will only be by some astounding, fortuitous coincidence. No argument is offered that he is capable, just reprobation for any who dare ask.
Barack Obama wants to be president because he wants to be president. John McCain, God help us, has some more specific ideas about what he will do with the office. It’s unfortunate that the Democrats’ answer to arguably the most disastrous administration in American history is a precocious political wonder they Hope will require little Change in the way things are done. But I’ll let Weisberg sum up the fatuity of it all:
Many have discoursed on what an Obama victory could mean for America. We would finally be able to see our legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism in the rearview mirror. Our kids would grow up thinking of prejudice as a nonfactor in their lives. The rest of the world would embrace a less fearful and more open post-post-9/11 America. But does it not follow that an Obama defeat would signify the opposite? If Obama loses, our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth. His defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to. In this event, the world’s judgment will be severe and inescapable: The United States had its day but, in the end, couldn’t put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race.
“Crazy irrationality over race” indeed.
The first half of that remarkable paragraph is just the sort of appalling magical thinking that brings well deserved scorn upon the Obama campaign, which can be summed up thus: “here is a black candidate; reject him and you’re a bigot.” We are further chastised that the “the whole world is watching” expectantly. This bludgeon of an argument, so clumsily and creepily brandished in the unfortunate locale of Berlin, is rightly rejected. It’s a cheap trick and a disappointing response from the Democrats to the Bush catastrophe. But then that’s the point really; this is a bipartisan tragedy, and before the neocons broke out into the open field after 9/11 they patiently ground out the short yardage through administrations Democratic and Republican alike, and they have never been without blockers from the liberal interventionist line.
Another problem with the Great Gesture thinking regarding Obama is that it is contradicted repeatedly by the candidate, again, openly stated in his much lauded and little studied speech on race. There is a thinly veiled threat beneath it all, as evidenced by Weisberg’s near panic about “the world’s judgement” and “the United States had its day”. It may very well be we’ve had our day, but I submit that the bizarre phenomenon of Barack Obama is evidence of that decline, not our only hope of escape. Of course this is what makes it so depressingly just another aspect of our masturbatory national pastime of self-flattery. Barack is here to make us feel better about ourselves without really trying to better ourselves. No wonder Oprah loves him.
Weisberg marvels at white “America’s curious sense of racial grievance”, citing the fact that twenty-six percent of white Americans answered that they have at one time or other “felt discriminated against”; presumably he will only be satisfied when the one hundred percent of them that are overtly discriminated against via a complex of federal and state law and regulation (that Barack Obama enthusiastically supports) are cowed into answering in the negative, or accepting the increasingly fanciful arguments that discrimination is not discrimination when it is codified into law and directed against the majority (how this will all work when whites constitute a plurality is anyone’s guess, but judging by the subject herein, I wouldn’t place any bets on that demographic shift bringing us into the sunlit open of a “post-racial” future where all claims are put to rest). I used to be disgusted…