Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Calling Obama’s Bluff

Shelby Steele offers some interesting thoughts on the distinction between Barack Obama’s cultural cache and his political message. Steele argues that Obama’s promise of absolution for white guilt and relief of black anger explains most of his appeal. It’s not a terrible thing that people want to move beyond the sledgehammer racial politics of Jesse Jackson and say "enough already." Much evil might have been avoided had this desire manifested itself sooner. But Jesse Jackson’s got a legitimate gripe with Mr. Obama because of the way that Obama has played this hand. The irony is that white guilt has to be alive and well for Obama’s promise to assuage it to be appealing. If we were really past the "Age of Jackson" then Obama would be forced to talk more openly about the mess that is his political thinking. He’d be forced to answer questions very similar to those John Kerry had to answer in 2004. Instead he is fawned over and celebrated as a healer . . . because, clearly, something in America needs healing. Just ask Obama. So now the election appears to be about cultural appeal. And there is no contest between him and John McCain when it comes to cultural appeal. Trouble is that there’s also no contest (and this time the difference is not in Obama’s favor) when it comes to experience and political understanding. When it comes to the real work of politics, Obama comes up a little short.

Jesse may not think that his protege has the testicular fortitude necessary for a full-on political charge exploiting white guilt--he may seem to be giving up the leverage he needs to secure victories. But sometimes the student can be wiser than the professor and a much more astute practicioner of his teachings. Obama has observed the small-time jackpots Jackson has greedily called his own and he is not impressed. Perhaps Obama can get a bigger jackpot if he uses this trump card more sparingly. It’s straight out of Machiavelli. But this means that he can no more disavow Jackson’s politics than he can the Rev. Wright. Obama learned to play the game better than the Clintons because he could play it better than the Jacksons and the Wrights of this world. If McCain wants to get in this game he needs to call Obama’s bluff and force him to show the cards in his political hand.

Discussions - 5 Comments

This was another brilliant and incisive essay on race and the soul of America by Steele. Again he holds up to the light (and therefore discussion) the sub- or super-political factors in American politics: culture, history, and (as Sumner would put it) folkways, mores, taboos.

I especially appreciate this assessment: "Mr. Obama's trick is to take politics off the table by moving so politically close to his opponent that only culture is left to separate them." It seems that when Democratic politicians have gained the most power, it has been when they've worked a slight of hand with politics. That is, when they have presented their policies, their programs (even their politicians) as so eminently good and necessary that no Americans would (or need) question, debate, quarrel, or divide over them. At least no progressive, compassionate cosmopolitian Americans.

Think the New Deal, the "second bill of rights," Civil Rights, the Great Society (and all their variations-on-a-theme). What kind of retrograde grouch would dispute or "play politics" with these boons? What kind of American wouldn't welcome them, and a national network of professional public administrators to carry it out? Who wants to return to dealing with advantage-seeking, partisan, rancorous, cantankerous citizens and politicians? Or their restricted government and freewheeling campaigns?

As the Persian emperor said, Can't we all just get along?

Talking points memo to Ponzi: Instead of one of your tributes to motherhood, we need you to write something negative today on Obama. Try to link him to Jesse Jackson. Our neocon readers hate Jackson, so anything you can do to connect the two in terms of strategery will work. It does not matter if they have no history together, or that anyone under 25 could care less about Jesse Jackson. We have to make them care. Flaming hatred of Jesse Jackson will spill over into hatred of Obama. Use phrases like 'white guilt' and then suggest that nothing in the US needs healing or that WE don't engage in identity politics. Call anyone who thinks they are above identity politics a "messiah". Even try to insinuate that Obama is so machiavellian that he is engaging in identity politics by NOT engaging in identity politics. Be sure to mention Reverend Wright and John Kerry or the Clintons too. Yours truly: the RNC.

About America's need for racial "healing." Yes, sure. And how Obama's leftist policies will advance that is far from clear. Electing a center-right black president could help the process, possibly. Electing a left-wing president of any kind will make the problem worse. Another question: How important is racial healing in comparison with the other challenges the country faces? I would suggest it's not even near the top of the list. I would also question whether it's even possible in the short term. And four years is the short term.

Hold it.

You suggest there's no contest here in cultural appeal. I think otherwise; I have more faith in the robust common sense of my fellow Americans. And let me describe it for you rather visually.

You run an ad, on one side of the screen is "Barrack Hussein" with a dopey face and his multiicultural African/Arab garb, ---------------------------- on the other side is a very Irish American appearing John McCain, with a face that you can't quite tell whether he's in a good mood or he's privately sending you up, but he's in his flight gear, and he's holding that distinctive helmet that fighter pilots have, and over that you run a header saying: "You make the choice."

I think, hands down, America makes the right choice, and McCain ends up winning rather handily.

Heretofore, the issue hasn't been presented so sharply, so starkly, or as I would say, so cleanly.

The challenge for McCain is to make the issue that sharp, the challenge for Obama is to so blur everything, that America, in a general cluelessnes, chooses a guy who isn't really an American, {not in the technical sense mind you, but in his heart}.

I think McCain is going to win, and I think the false messiah is going to blow up. And I think Hillary and Bill, {and their many roadies and groupies} are going to love it.

McCain has more cultural appeal IF Obama is shown for what he is. The fact that some of our own people are conceding Obama's superior cultural appeal (to Americans as a whole) is evidence that much more must be done to correctly define Obama.

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