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Let's Not Get Carried Away

To read the Corner today was to be reminded that some are immune to the grace and hope and civility that Reagan summoned at his best; the anger and bitterness is so palpably fueled by fear and racism it really does mark a moment of revelation to me. ~Andrew Sullivan

No one will confuse me for a friend of The Corner, but whatever disagreements I have with them the responses I saw today in reaction to Obama’s speech were not only well within reasonable bounds, but also some of them were making good sense in their criticism of some of the details and policy substance of the speech.  There were also severalpeople who responded mostly favourably to the speech–Charles Murray was not on his own.  It is becoming depressingly common for Obama supporters to trot out accusations of racism whenever someone frowns in their hero’s direction.  Frankly, if they really believe what the man says, this is unworthy of the candidate they are promoting.  If an Obama presidency means four years of his fans’ hectoring everyone else about their racial hang-ups (because Obama is smart enough not to do this), it is unlikely that Obama will ever win the election. 

Also, Sullivan didn’t need readers to update him that Obama’s speech would be received poorly, would be viewed as condescension and would be ridiculed widely on the right.  This is not because of “fear and racism,” but on the contrary reveals the degree to which what George Will called the “exquisite” sensitivity we have all been conditioned to possess has completely consumed the modern conservative movement to the point where many mainstream conservatives are, if anything, more preciously p.c. than university speech code enforcers.  In an expression of “turnabout is fair play,” rather than denounce these anti-racism witch hunts in principle as ludicrous thought policing, many conservatives have decided that it is fine to play this game so long as a Democratic ox is being gored.  

I am more sanguine about Obama’s Wright problem, in part because I was not aggrieved by Rep. Paul’s association with that newsletter business, and because I generally regard most anti-racism crusades as a lot of hyperventilating by professional activists and hacks.  It still puzzles me how angry and even hateful words are regarded as virtual stoning offenses, but warmongering is a mainstream, respectable, even “responsible” thing to do.  For the most part, the former are awful but do no real harm, while the latter leads to the slaughter of thousands, but it is the former that disqualifies someone while the latter is virtually a requirement to wield executive power. 

The telling point is that most of Wright’s critics on the right were primarily offended by his “anti-Americanism,” a term that they deploy so frequently that one wonders if even they know what they mean by it any longer.  It was his offenses against their sense of what nationalism requires that have bothered them the most.  Meanwhile, the reaction in Middle America generally will often be similar to the one this reader reported: mockery and disbelief.  Imagine that you are someone living in the middle of the country and have been lectured to your entire life about the prejudices that you need to overcome, and then you hear that Obama, the great reconciler, has ties to someone who possesses what you have been conditioned your entire life to believe is the absolute worst sort of sentiment, and then add to that the recognition that Obama’s actual politics are far removed from yours and then guess what the response will be to his speech addressing this issue.  The very resentments that Obama was explaining in his speech, for which he demonstrated at least some understanding, were inevitably going to be summoned up by any major speech he gave on this question; it is a pity that his supporters cannot make some similar display of understanding.  For my part, I have given Obama the benefit of the doubt on this, probably to the annoyance of many of my readers–should the same courtesy not be extended to his critics?

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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