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May 05, 2008

Dishonestly Reinventing Obama

Is there no end to the dishonesty and race mongering surrounding Barack Obama's candidacy for President? Not long ago, the would-be 'candidate for change' called for an honest dialog on race: one where both sides actually listened to each other, where each side made a good faith effort to examine each other's words rationally and dispassionately, even if what was said provoked discomfort or anger:

...if we are ever going to get past race, get past employing double standards, get past making knee-jerk judgments about each other, part of what we need to get past is this business of looking the other way when something is said that seems wrong.

After thinking about it, I still think that the 'typical white person' remark, in reference to Mr. Obama's grandmother, was objectively wrong. I still believe it does amount to subtle race baiting of a particularly pernicious kind, because according to the rules of the day it cannot be addressed or even responded to without exactly the response I got: "Leave him alone."

But I think that is misguided, because I was not attacking Mr. Obama, but calling out the conflict between what he had called for, and what he did. As someone who is running for President, I think his public actions and statements are fair game, so long as he is not attacked personally, and I did not do so. Furthermore, I believe that full equality demands the same standard be honestly and fairly applied, and I am (in this instance) treating Mr. Obama no differently than I would treat any other candidate. I have two problems with Mr. Obama's dismissal of his grandmother as a 'typical white person'. The first is that it conflicts with his memoirs...

...My second objection to Mr. Obama's characterization of his grandmother is that, as Morgan Freeman so eloquently stated, labeling people by skin color only perpetuates the very problems he claims he is trying to get beyond...

He could well have said that his grandmother reacted as 'a typical person' (i.e., we all sometimes make unconscious judgments on the basis of skin color). I think that would have been the first really honest and courageous statement Barack Obama has made about race. But he didn't do that. He was caught in the trap he accuses others of: the trap of unconscious bias. Does that make him a racist?

Of course not. I think it makes him human.

The problem with Obama's so-called honest dialog on race is that one side - Mr. Obama's - insists on playing the game with a stacked deck of cards. Barack Obama has deliberately courted comparisons with another seminal black leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If this is the standard Mr. Obama wishes to be measured against, he might care to pay close attention to the most famous of King's speeches.

In that speech Dr. King mentions the word "justice" no less than ten times. This is interesting, because our conception of justice has changed rather radically since 1968. Justice has, from the 15th century, traditionally been depicted blindfolded. This is no accident. The blindfold is meant to remind us that the administration of justice should be meted out impartially, taking into account neither the socioeconomic status nor the identity of the litigants. In other words, a just outcome should encompass neither fear nor favor. As King so eloquently put it, his dream was not of an America where whites and blacks gave in to their feelings about race relations, nor one where Americans viewed every transaction through the highly subjective prism of race. King dreamed of an America where a single unifying standard - integrity - would one day come to guide our dealings with each other:

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

So how did Dr. King's dream of a race-neutral America become so badly twisted? When did our conception of justice begin to include the notion that it is just to hold some citizens less accountable because of the color of their skin? When did the dream change from equal treatment to preferential treatment?

Michelle Obama: Barack has hit boiling point

Barack Obama is struggling to contain his anger and frustration over the constant barrage of questions about his character and judgment, his wife has revealed.

"Barack has been characterised as many things that have nothing to do with who he is."


Ooooh. That's certainly never happened to a political candidate before. All this scrutiny... dear Lord, you'd think the man was running for President of the United States or something.

So Barack Obama can't take a little of what he views as unjust criticism before the race is even half-way done? He's dangerously near the boiling point. One wonders what George Bush thinks about this after eight years of unrelenting criticism?

If only a major newspaper or two would give Mr. Obama a fair shake! How dare they ask questions about a candidate for the Presidency?

Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt admits the obvious - the Times early coverage of the most recent installment of the Jeremiah Wright story was a joke:

While The Times was aggressive with its coverage on the Web, it was slow to fully engage the Wright story in print and angered some readers by putting opinion about it on the front page — a review by the television critic of his appearances on PBS, at an N.A.A.C.P. convention and at the National Press Club — before ever reporting in any depth what he actually said, how it squared with reality and what it might mean as Democrats ponder Obama as their potential nominee.

Carol Hebb of Narberth, Pa., spoke for many when she wrote that she found the newspaper’s initial coverage “very strange.” If editors did not think Wright’s remarks were newsworthy enough to be on the front page, she asked, why did they put the review by Alessandra Stanley there? “I was very surprised that her piece was not accompanied by a ‘factual’ article reporting the content of Mr. Wright’s comments more completely and perhaps adding some meaningful context.”

...

Peter Weltner of San Francisco wrote that he wished The Times had examined what he said were falsehoods in Wright’s remarks — like the claim that blacks and whites learn with different parts of their brains — instead of “merely guessing why Mr. Wright said it.”

I’m with Hebb and Weltner. For a newspaper that showed great enterprise on the subject last year — breaking the story that Obama had disinvited Wright to deliver the invocation at the announcement of his presidential campaign, and publishing a deep examination of their relationship before most Americans had heard of Wright — it was a performance strangely lacking in energy at a potential turning point in the election.

Poor Barack! Isn't anyone willing to embrace embrace his healing politics of hope?

Conduct a thought experiment: Imagine that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor to presidential candidate Barack Obama and preacher with controversial views, was not an outspoken black man but a white woman who penned her controversial ideas in a scholarly journal. If Wright's views were the only thing that mattered, his race, sex and public style ought to make no difference. Assuming she held the same views and shared a lengthy history with the presidential candidate, a white female scholar ought to damage Obama's popularity in the same way the pastor has done recently.

Actually, let's make it a real parallel, because in order for the comparison to be valid, there has to be some parallelism. You can't change the facts so the candidate and advisor are of different races and the advisor makes her remarks privately (thus raising legitimate doubt the candidate would have known of her views) and then ask, "Would people still be asking the same questions?" The scenarios represent two different fact patterns. An honest comparison is one in which the facts run exactly parallel, but only race is reversed:

Conduct a thought experiment: Imagine that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor to presidential candidate Barack Obama and preacher with controversial views, was not an outspoken black man but a white woman who penned her controversial racist ideas about blacks... and not in a scholarly journal, but imagine she voiced them repeatedly, and publicly. Now imagine that Barack Obama were a white candidate. This is the exact parallel to the Obama-Wright situation: a political candidate of one race, whose spiritual advisor - not a political contributor, not someone at whose college the candidate gave a speech one time - of the same race, publicly and repeatedly voiced racist views, in the candidate's hearing, without his leaving or objecting.

If Wright's views were the only thing that mattered, his race, sex and public style ought to make no difference. Assuming she held the same views and shared a lengthy history with the presidential candidate, a white female scholar ought to damage Obama's popularity in the same way the pastor has done recently.

Actually, we have an historical parallel, though the association was not direct, intimate, or long-lived as it was in Obama's case: George Bush and the Bob Jones brouhaha. In the wake of then-Governor Bush's speech at that university, he was tarred as a racist simply for giving a speech at a school which had an objectionable rule not of his making.

Applying the reasoning of Obama's supporters, Bob Jones University "did not speak for then-governor Bush". After all, he said so. Assuming race does not matter and all candidates should be treated equally and fairly without respect to skin color, this argument alone should have been sufficient to end all inquiry and media attention into the matter.

Of course, it was not:

Reeling from criticism that he failed to condemn the school's ban on interracial dating and school leaders who have expressed anti-Catholic views, Bush sent a letter of apology, released Sunday, to Cardinal John O'Connor, Archbishop of New York. O'Connor is a nationally recognized Roman Catholic leader.

"I should have been more clear in disassociating myself from anti-Catholic sentiments and racial prejudice," Bush's letter read. "It was a missed opportunity, causing needless offense, which I deeply regret."

George Bush apologized. Bob Jones ended the offensive policy and admitted that they were wrong. Rev. Jeremiah Wright has done neither. Initially Barack Obama refused to distance himself from his spiritual advisor and said he was (contrary to media accounts that he had already distanced himself from Wright due to his controversial views) unaware of his toxic sentiments on race and America. And now Mr. Obama is "angry" ... that he has been found out, and that some people refuse to forget what he would like conveniently forgotten.

Obama has been "subjected" to precisely the same treatment then-governor George Bush was eight years ago, but on far stronger grounds. A twenty year-long association with a man one claims as a 'spiritual guide' provides ample grounds for questioning whether two people share the same philosophy. Merely stopping to make a campaign speech at a university hardly carries the same weight, and yet it was assumed that Bob Jones University "spoke" for Bush. The onus was on him to denounce the university, the burden of proof on him to show he did not share their odious views on race. That Obama would demand to be treated differently shows an arrogance that is literally breathtaking.

That his supporters are so blatently throwing the race card shows this country has a long, long way to go towards establishing that "honest dialog" Mr. Obama mentioned.

It was not his opponents who tarnished Barack Obama. Oh no: he took care of that matter all by himself.

Posted by Cassandra at May 5, 2008 06:01 AM

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Comments

OK, Cass. I'll do a post about this too, and we'll compare notes.

Posted by: Grim at May 5, 2008 12:48 PM

Oh good!

I always like hearing what you have to say (even though I can already tell you disagree with me :)

Posted by: Cassandra at May 5, 2008 12:59 PM

Posted by: Grim at May 5, 2008 01:37 PM

Wright is just following his American dream, a 10,000 sq. ft Home
in a snow white neighbor hood on an uppity Goff course that I’m
sure none of the folks at his Church play on…He drives a Porsche
and a Mercedes-Benz ,Which by the way were made possible by the
fine folks of the Rev’s church…As an old Indian Chief would say
Buffalo man speak with forked tongue. Grim says he was a Marine
well so was Lee Harvey Oswald. Wright is nothing but an old
fashioned flim flam man who turned his church into a cash cow.
as for his rants what about the words of Martin Luther King and
Jesus, If I have it right both preached total forgiveness, but as
long as the money rolls in who gives a rats ass if you screw your
friends, greed is good….

Posted by: Gator at May 5, 2008 03:03 PM

Lee Harvey Oswald? That's not terribly convincing.

I've seen something like this before, among Native Americans. You'll get genuine patriotism: love of country, love of the land, love of the flag, pride in service. You'll also get genuine wrath at the history and the way their tribe has suffered. There's a sort of what Christopher Hitchens calls chauvanism about the particular quality of being, say, Oglala Lakota; and an anger, bitter because it is borne partly of shame, at the state of the Oglala Lakota; but nevertheless a willingness to serve and a pride in having fought well for America. It's all wrapped up, and both the anger and the patriotism are intense.

With Wright, we know exactly what he thinks and exactly how he feels, and we can engage that directly. If he says blacks learn with different parts of the brain, we don't have to say, "Well, I feel differently" -- we can test it, and prove it wrong if it's wrong (I'm not familiar with anyone having actually run the test).

Anything he says openly can be combatted if it is wrong. The fight for ideas is a hazeled field. The worst impulse is the one that says, "Let us lie about what we believe so as not to have to fight for it." The second worst is the one that says "Those ideas are off limits, because they are ugly." If he loves this vision, if he feels it in his heart, then let him fight for it. I don't mind a fight. What I mind is a coward.

Posted by: Grim at May 5, 2008 08:58 PM

"It was not his opponents who tarnished Barack Obama. Oh no: he took care of that matter all by himself."

And hopefully it will be his undoing.

Posted by: camojack at May 6, 2008 12:27 AM

Wright is what he is, as phony as a 3 dollar bill.
Martin never preached hate,never. This clown does
it all the time.He is riding into the lily white
country club on the backs of his Church members
and their pocket books. He may love his vision
and he may feel it but all the same he is not
a true man of god for he does not preach
or practice total forgivness.He will never see
the top of the mountain as Martin did.As I said
before "GREED IS GOOD"...

Posted by: Gator at May 6, 2008 11:42 PM

If [Wright] says blacks learn with different parts of the brain, we don't have to say, "Well, I feel differently" -- we can test it, and prove it wrong if it's wrong... - Grim

Uhhhh. No we can't. Well, not if it's a white person doing the research. That would be racist.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 7, 2008 09:41 AM

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