Monday, April 28, 2008

Millstone

I make no bones that I am a completely committed Clinton partisan, more strongly for her with every passing day and new attack. I'm also a committed Democrat, firmly entrenched on the liberal side of the political divide. The implosion of the Obama campaign saddens me because of the loss of what could have been a political figure as fully transformative as what we originally glimpsed in this person. The last few days of news for Obama mark the end of his political career. I think he still has an even chance to take the party's nomination, but that is the end of his rise.

I have been discussing Obama's campaign with the spousal unit the last few days, reflecting on what I wrote in Blowback Ahead, and we've pondered just what we have been watching unfold over the last year. Hubby does not believe that Obama (or most of his top campaign advisors) really believe he's losing votes due to racism or that working class white voters are doing anything except voting their class interest, and thinks it's not very productive to try to discern deep philosophical stances from the cut throat world of campaign politics. It is enough to note that we can see claims of racism being deployed as a deliberate strategy, an utterly cynical exploitation of CDS (Hillary will do anything to win!) in a way that no one else is situated to do, and which would not have been to the advantage of any other candidate.

From a political analysis standpoint, I concede the argument, though I find there is evidence of certain class prejudices on Obama's part that cannot help but put forth derogatory socio-economic stereotypes simply because nice liberal creative class, humanities educated people like Obama, the Blogger Boyz, most of the Democratic Party leadership and legions of symbolic analysts like me have had that message drummed into our heads for all of our lives. "You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons. " (Blazing Saddles)

That wasn't the interesting part of the discussion. What is the coalition that Obama has put together? A doughnut of the Democratic Party. One part of the ring is the extreme liberal (and not so liberal) intellectual elites and to the other is the African American community - the high priests of the party and the most tenacious and loyal of the rank and file. This is a substantial coalition, with a plurality of votes. As I said in Radical Politics, though I am impatient with my own political faction, the Stevensonians, there is no way to have a modern, effective liberal party unless you have all the players in the coalition - technocrats, working class, populists, all ethnicities, and quite a range of political temperaments. You can't have anti-democrats. Thus, every candidate running for the Democratic Party nomination needs to run as a coalition builder.

Obama originally positioned himself as the ultimate coalition builder, one who could not just unite the party, but also bring over left-leaning Republicans and Independents. While it is easy to be cynical about such things, I take this as the expression of his best impulses and inclinations, and grant him the same initial acceptance that I would want for my own candidate. I am sincere that we need to see the loss of this promise - the promise made by the candidate and the political promise embodied in him - as something tragic for the Democratic Party.

What happened to the potential on display at the 2004 convention? A decision both explicable and execrable - to accuse another Democrat of being racist. With that claim, Obama placed himself in a box that is becoming a coffin for more than just his campaign. His coalition was never enough to secure him the nomination unless he turned out super majorities within those groups. He did not have to do much with the wine track voters who enjoyed their fauxgressive rejection of Hillary, enthralled with the talking heads and blogger insider gossip. But with the AA vote, the challenge for Obama was to overcome Hillary's substantial appeal to that group. This was uniquely a problem with Hillary, as none of the other candidates enjoyed that kind of support. The weapon he chose was to smear the Clintons as racists.

Who would have thought this would be the tool employed, given the early themes of the Obama campaign? It wasn't just warm-fuzzies and unity ponies. The spousal unit was an early Obama supporter, and thought there was something really valuable to way in which Obama used a rhetoric of struggle and completion to recast race relations and the Democratic task of fulfilling the dream. I have seen it put cynically (hell, I have put it cynically myself) that Obama was just promising the (mostly white) comfortable class of the party that he wouldn't insist on looking at those nasty claims of justice if they would just elect a black dude and redeem their souls. Sure, we could, but it is better, and perhaps sustains a spark of hope in the savage rhetoric of the last few weeks, to see him as sincerely arguing the role of Joshua as our proper charge. In this reading, we have a narrative of struggle that succeeded, we have made it over the hump, we are walking into the promised land. The sacrifices of Moses are to be honored in the fulfillment of his task, and that we gratefully and joyously celebrate what we have achieved. The worst is past, we have come through the wilderness, and we will not lose our people again.

To have remained within that argument, even in the absence of more substantive and wonky offerings, would have provided a powerful and necessary force to the Democrats' claim upon the body politic. It would have built up the coalition by insisting on its common cause. The older arguments about race, as exemplified by the preaching of people like Wright, would have been rejected without being demonized. As Maya Angelou said a decade and more before - our passage has been paid for.

Instead, he chose a high stakes political strategy to maximize his constituent turnout in an attempt to remove his chief rival with a devastating and unanticipated blow, and has ended up more firmly enmeshed in one of the most divisive rhetorical modes imaginable on the left. The price Obama is paying for having reached for crude racial politics is to be joined at the hip to Wright and others like him. The speech Obama gave after the first big revelations about Wright was his last attempt to reclaim that original rhetoric, and it failed because there were no deeds to back up his words. Without deeds, there is nothing upon which to moor the call for transcendence. Today, in his brief, weary appeal to what he has written for 20 years, Obama merely ended up highlighting the shortcoming of that appeal - writing and talking are fine, but at some point you must act and embody your words. It would have meant rejecting the rhetoric of resentment presented by Wright. It would have meant refusing to use politics in that mode to build up margins. He is paying for launching the racism attacks because now he has no ground on which to stand to defend himself against older modes of race thinking and their corrosive, divisive politics. The longer the race goes on, the more he is caught in the net.

Obama is a smart man. Why did he not see this outcome? The hubby and I agreed - because there is nothing beneath the rhetoric upon which to ground it. Jesse Jackson, twenty years ago, could see and know what would happen with that language. He also knew that you had to stand for something, even when that something gave some people the heebie-jeebies. Jackson had an agenda of domestic social justice and equality and a radical transvaluation of values in foreign policy. Agree or disagree, there was never a doubt what Jackson stood for. His coalition was AAs and non-AA working class voters.

In political terms, Obama made a risky bet that has not paid off. He deliberately went negative in a way no Democrat in recent times would think to do. The New Hampshire and Nevada wins had almost ended the bump from Iowa, and something shocking had to be done, something powerful enough that it could throw Clinton out of the race before she built up momentum. Using the best state he had, Obama went for a super majority of AA votes and he got it. It was not enough.

How could he not project what the effect of that move would be on Clinton's coalition, that they would rally to her (as they had in New Hampshire) and that undecideds would break in favor of her? A very bad political miscalculation. If she could be removed quickly and not provide pushback to the argument, the strategy could be dropped and sent down the memory hole. Had it not been for CDS, it is doubtful the strategy would have been attempted. Without CDS, there was no possibility of it succeeding.

Once begun, the strategy could not be abandoned because of white attrition. Masked somewhat by the red state caucus votes and the lack of critical stories on Obama himself, it reemerged with a vengeance in Ohio and Texas, making it imperative that the campaign struggle to retain every AA vote to overcome working class backlash, which meant expanding the argument from his opponent to his opponent's supporters as well. The longer the campaign goes on, the more this strategy hurts Obama.

This raises a certain irony that for decades, the AA vote has been taken for granted by the party, simply swept up by the winner as just reward for being the nominee. This time, it is the infamous Reagan Democrats who are being taken as a given. Obama's arrogant claim that he would (of course) get all of Hillary's voters while she probably couldn't get his was originally a reference to the independents and Republican crossovers who were allegedly going to defect by droves, allowing Obama to position himself to the right of Clinton. And, now, he is fighting to retain his biggest voting block by trying to poison the ground that lies between him and the rest of the party. Sadly, I do not feel confident that AAs will simply vote Democratic, regardless of the nominee, not after this campaign.

What should have been his great strength, the coalition of wine track Dems and AA Dems, has turned into a millstone, with Obama's circle of support forcing him underwater due to their growing derision for and fear of the rest of the party - women, working class, Hispanics, elderly. The tragedy, even more for the party than for Obama, is that he might have been able to do precisely what he had originally claimed had he been able to transcend his own biases and actually do as he said he would, eschewing racking up margins and becoming the deed of his own ideals. What that would have taken would have been a willingness to risk a loss in order to win something larger than himself.

To be a Democrat, not an Obamacan.

Anglachel

33 comments:

Joseph said...

Thanks for this. You've identified the problem perfectly.

Just as the Iraq war was the most disastrous decision ever made by a sitting president, smearing the Clintons (and their supporters) as "racists" was the most dsastrous decision ever made by a political candidate.

The smears continue to this day. I've just now seen new examples on the prog-blogs.

This situation continues despite Obama campaign manager David Plouffe's assertion that those few who would choose a candidate based on race long ago registered Republican.

Commenters on DU and Kos routinely presume that racism is the only reason why anyone would vote for Hillary Clinton. They seem genuinely unable to understand why Clinton supporters remain unseduced by the vote-my-way-or-I'll-call-you-a-bigot argument.

I can understand why Obama chose this strategy. A few months back, he desperately needed the black vote. He must have been rankled by the articles one used to see, which discussed his limited appeal to black voters.

But the tactic he chose did far more harm than good in the long run. His dangerous strategy turned this former Obama voter into a staunch opponent. And I am not the only one.

Thanks, too, for reminding me why I will never regret my vote for Jesse Jackson in 1988: Jackson appealed to the working class. Obama plays to the brie-and-chablis crowd -- to the pseudo-radicals who wear $100-a-pop "Affliction" t-shirts.

makana44 said...

I beg to differ that this would necessarily mark the end of Senator Obama's political career. Eight years is a long time. If he bows out of this race with grace, if he proactively works to mend the rift in the party his candidacy spawned, if he campaigns energetically on behalf of nominee Clinton, and if he thereafter distinguishes himself in the Senate...his potential to emerge as a transformative political figure remains great. His gift of great oratory is profound. How much more were incontrovertible substance and merit there to support it.

I would agree however, that Senator Obama's career as a political wunderkind for whom all fruit effortlessly drops from the tree, would likely end. Best for all concerned. Were he to be ready (and wife Michelle willing) to make the ascent again in 2016, I would argue his potential could be even greater then than now. The vision of 16-years of unbroken Democratic presidency – first by a brilliant woman followed by a brilliant African American male - that once had many of us feeling giddy, could still come to pass.

gendergappers said...

I'm hearing from many people that they see BO in the arrogant posturing of Rev Wright when he was answering questions.

The question used to be: did he have the right stuff to be a president but now it's fear that he has the Wright stuff.

lakelobos said...

As usual, this post is thoughtful and to the point.

My perspective of Obama is somewhat different than the post, but only somewhat.

I started by sending Obama money to welcome the new face and the young candidate. Then, Obama started to turn to the right. He mentioned privatizing social security, had no coherent health care policy, etc. The unity shtick sounded silly to me. I don't want to unite with the GOP; the slogan hope is laughable. Progressive talk about the future progress; of course we have hope.

Even before the race card was raised, Obama was an empty vessel with huge amount of arrogance.

The race card is not a campaign tactic; it's a deep conviction. I sincerely believe that Obama believes that if you don't believe in his greatness, it must be caused by racism.

Obama also exploits the hate card (against Clinton) with enthusiasm and vigor. Hate is political cancer; it kills the body infested with it.

Thus, race and hate are inherent to Obama's thinking and not just a tactic.

I hope he is gone as soon as possible.

Pat Johnson said...

Anglachel, you should be commended asyou are a very good writer. You are able to spell out your point of view with much clarity.

k said...

(I've come over from SG.)
I watching "Blazing Saddles" just the other day, and when Gene Wilder said that line, I burst out laughing, thinking about the primary. So, obviously you are reading my mind. I will get out the tinfoil shortly.
Joseph said that the Iraq war was the worst mistake made by a sitting president. Bush was never acting as the president; he was acting on behalf of his daddy and his buddies.
The big question is whether whoever loses the nomination will suck it up and work on behalf of the party. Otherwise I'm moving to Sweden. Or maybe Norway.

Shainzona said...

Here's what Andrew Sullivan said in a Salon article on "What Obama should do about Wright".

"But Wright was clearly in his speech Monday advocating racial conflict and division. He is also clearly obsessed with the politics
of the boomer era, its racial and cultural divides, and seeks to increase those divides, not overcome them."

I am a "boomer" and am PROUD of the things I did in my life to overcome racial and cultural divides.

Now, not only am I a woman but a boomer woman who did NOTHING to improve the world.

Andrew Sullivan and Barack Obama can go to hell.

And remember how many of us "boomers" there are out there!!!

orionATL said...

anglachel,

this is a very nicely done analysis.

"the spousal unit" - that is funny.

i have been thinking now for the last few days of the "in memoriam" i would write for senator obama's national political career:


IN MEMORIAM

The National Political Career of Senator Barack H. Obama.

b. 2007

d. 2008

Career rose by the sword of race

and died by the sword of race

DONA NOBIS PACEM



note: it is my sense that obama's mastiffs, axelrod and plouffe, have much to answer for for employing a "race" strategy. the campaign they have guided seems to me to have included a strong strain of the ruthless, amoral campaign strategies employed by karl christian rove.

DownriverDem said...

It may not be totally about race, but where I live it is part of it. I live in the midwest. Many white men will not vote for Obama. They consider this their last stand for white power. They know change is coming, but they don't want it now if they can help it. All the racists aren't dead yet.
I just want a Dem in the White House. What do we do now? Obama has the delegates because of such a strong showing in the caucus states. Obama supporters are naive. Obama will not win in November.
So again I ask, what do we do now?

sancho said...

Great post, as always. It is not so much the Reagan Democrats are being taken for granted as that they are actually in play this primary season. I don't think they were that essential to the primary seasons of '00 and '04. There the Dem "elites" or the "creative class" got to decide early and then the bandwagon rolled to the convention. Putting the Reagan dems in play has exposed the false piety and the politcal naivete of the so-called dem. creative classes. And of course so has Hillary's energization of women voters--a clear tidal wave that the media assumes but does not want to talk about. It has been shocking to me to see how indifferent the "creative class" is to "working class" voter interests. I have been chagrined to realize that the many of "limo liberal" tags of the past used by Right Wingers actually have some validity. What the Obama campaign has exposed, to me anyway, is that "African Americans" are the "pet" issue of the "creative class." By supporting a black American for president, they seem to think that America's history of racism (and their own exalted social position that results from it) can somehow be eradicated or equalized with a few votes. Insofar as black Americans also suffer from the same economic inequities that afflict "Reagan democrats," the creative class is actually indifferent to Af-Am interests. Barack seems to excite their "skin color" piety. This is one reason they don't give a dman about the health care issue--the key issue for Demcorats since 1992 (as Krugman has pointed out) and it goes back to LBJ and FDR too. Solving that would do more to help more Americans than any bill I can think of. Instead of discussing issues, though, the creative class's veneration of Obama allows the mostly white creative class to project their guilt and elitism on to him at the expense of women and working class whites (and ultimately blacks too). In Obama, they are clebrating their pwn political naivete as political wisdom. And disenfranchinsing millions of American in the process as they walk through the looking glass into Republican land. Ironically (but as is often the case) the very ones crying racism are also the perpetrataors (unknowingly for the most part) of racist practices. They are also its biggest benficiaries as the creative class sits on or near the top of the American success mountain and judges everyone but themselves from on high. The sanctimony of being over-educated and not truly to have earned one's place is what I hear in the Blooger Boyz noise. In a way, it is more depressing than Florida 2000 b/c those disenfrnachisers at least knew what they were doing as they did it. Either that, or the Blogger Boyz are just Republicans too self-deluded to admit it.

Thanks again, Anglachel. This is my first comment here. You've been a true inspiration and a voice of reason these past months.

gendergappers said...

ORIO-

I think the ex-Bill Clinton staffers on BO's campaign should also get credit for thinking up the racial gambit. They knew just how that would play to draw AA's away from "the first black president" & HRC.

DOWNRIVER - you asked what we do now. We do NOT give up, HRC isn't and we DO give our money and any effort we can make to call for the campaign. I've gone back to friends that I convinced to contribute once and convinced them to keep contributing and for them to be actively convincing their friends to get involved.

In the end, it will be the faith of women in women who will win the day for HRC - AND FOR OURSELVES.

Anna said...

There has been a lot of talk in the past of how the Democratic Party has taken the black vote for granted. I had excused the poor turnout in black areas in terms of their disadvantaged state: with Obama it has been shown that they can do much better. Essentially because of their disaffection, they have taken the Democratic Party for granted. This is essentially to cut off their noses to spit their face: if they had voted for Democrats at the same rate in the past we and they might have avoided many of the Republican disatrous policies.

Chinaberry Turtle said...

Hi Anna,

I think the same complaint could be made of women, even older white women: not voting as a unified block before now.

Personally, I've got no desire to "make up" w/ the likes of Josh Marshall and all the other punk-ass wine track liberals. But I **DO** feel really bad about the rift that's developing between black voters on the one hand and white working class and older women on the other hand. Josh Marshall can go f**k himself; but this latter rift we really need to figure out how to heal. Because that's where the core of the Democratic party is all about.

The last thing we want is for this whole thing to turn into a blacks vs. older white women & working class fight. Stay focused on who pitted us against each other: Axelrod, Obama, Josh Marshall, and the rest of the wine track liberal elites.

jackyt said...

...the creative class is actually indifferent to Af-Am interests.

I would argue that Obama reflects this indifference.

He has no record of accomplishment, (as far as I can find), of making a positive difference for the residents of South Chicago. I never heard a word from him as African Americans suffered through the devastation of Katrina and its (still continuing) aftermath. And he was deliberately AWOL during the Jenna 6 situation.

If this Wright controversy continues much longer, Obama's biggest problem may be the defection of many AAs who catch on to the fact that the Clintons have a much more solid record of delivering on their concerns than does Obama.

janiscortese said...

It seems like the weirdness for me of Obama's association with Wright is the way he seems to have used Wright like he used that shoulder brush-off after the debates: like a cookbook way to build a black identity for himself. He has such a tin ear for identity politics because he ... well, it might be an inflammatory thing to say, but he isn't black. He's recreated himself consciously as a "black" man, or as a white liberal's idea of a black man, in order to gain cred in the AA community, and in order to remain as white as possible while appealing to white liberals as a black man.

And now that he's done that, he's forced to do the opposite thing, again in service of his own political ambitions: to slide out of that identity at will. He created himself as post-racial for his own ambitions, after he had previously spent the past 20 years creating himself an artificial black identity, and now he's trying to peel that off just as facilely as he slipped it on, and for the same reasons: his own ambitions. He made himself black for ambition, and now he's disavowing this created blackness for ambition. No black American could just slide out of their blackness like that, because they didn't make a conscious decision to be black. They were born embedded into it.

It's a thorny issue; it's like Maya Angelou said about being an old female versus being a woman. Making oneself a woman as opposed to an old female is an active thing, and being actively black is not the same as just having dark skin and African ancestry. (And I'm acutely aware of the fact that I'm a white woman saying this, so thump me on the nose if I deserve it.)

But, to me, it seems he went for the cookbook way of building an active black identity -- sitting in the pews of a church he obviously felt no real connection to, riffing off of hip-hop lyrics, etc. He didn't gain an active black identity the same way that so many other leaders did, like Shirley Chisolm or Jesse Jackson or even Oprah Winfrey, by working their butts off for their people.

Obama made himself as black as he could while not lifting a finger for the people he wanted to identify with. He never committed to his blackness and chose the laziest possible path to achieve it. He slid into it as a choice, and now he's sliding out of it as a choice. If he wanted to commit to his blackness, he would have had to get real dirt under his nails and have real programs and successes to point to, things he's done for the AA community, people who actually benefited from his actions. That would be an active black identity, and not something he could just slide out of like an overcoat. It's not something he would have wanted to slide out of, either; when you work your ass off for something, you prize it and aren't going to chuck it out the window (or under the bus) for anything.

I don't know if that's behind Sharpton's recent comments, but it does seem to fit well with the fact that this black community leader who does have a much more active, accomplished black identity is now going, "Stop sucking up to the white people, damn it!" over Barack's tin-eared comments about violence in New York when no one has so much as thrown a spitball at anyone else. (I think Obama's trying to subtly address white fears of violence in Denver and alleviate them, but he blew it if that was his intent.) It feels like, using Sharpton as an iconic black leader, the awareness that Obama's blackness was a mere cloak that he feels free to slide into and out of at his convenience (and for the benefit of a white liberal audience) is settling in. One more tone-deaf gaffe like that, and Sharpton may well move into, "Who the hell is this guy, anyhow? What the hell did he ever do for us?" And with reason.

I don't think any of this would have happened quite this way had Obama simply been ... well, black. I'm probably being too optimistic, but I recall very clearly when people were freaking PANTING over the possibility of Colin Powell, and how much my working-class white older brother LOVED Powell and was waxing eloquent over how great he'd be. I think we ARE ready for a black president, and I want one. The problem is that Obama isn't actually black, and that created a mismatch between how he presented himself to different communities, how he presented the opposition, what he did when the mismatch was pointed out, and how the whole thing came apart. His black identity came apart at the seams because it was always a masking-tape jerry-rigged thing. His blackness was just never real.

The problem is that, had he simply been black, I don't think the wine-track liberal elite of Dean/Pelosi/etc. would have seized on him as a possible Heir Apparent to Beat the Bitch. On a limbic-system level, they recognized his pretend black identity as less threatening (to them) than an active black identity based on real accomplishments. And they judged that he would be black enough to appeal to the AA community and "post-racial" enough to appeal to whites and remain in debt to their (white elite) favor. But that identity wasn't near strong enough to stand up to the scrutiny of a presidential primary -- and it would come apart like wet kleenex in a general election.

Shainzona said...

janiscortese: BINGO!

janiscortese said...

Shain, I should have a blog. Only I'm too damned lazy to do it. I'll just keep whining on someone else's. :-) (Sorry, Ang.)

Alice said...

I think Obama is a man at war with himself. He is a white man, who looks black. So he decides to be black, but he doesn't feel black. He does everythink he should to be black. He got himself a black preacher who believes in black supremacy, he got himself a black wife, he moved to a city where he became really black...on the surface. His district was black but he lives a rather affluent white/some black section. I wonder if he ever dated a black woman before Michelle. Did he even date before Michelle? He is surely a man who has no core beliefs. He would throw Michelle under the bus if the time comes where it would be necessary. He has no judgement or loyalty. It is a sad sight.

Chinaberry Turtle said...

I think janis' analysis has a lot of merit. It's definitely worth thinking about. But I do get a little nervous when people suggest he married his wife for "black identity" purposes. That starts to sound pretty callous.

I dunno. I would never impute bad intentions to someone's selection of a spouse w/o hard facts to back it up. As far as I am aware, Obama has been a good father & husband. Regardless of his many other problems, we should be careful about taking that away from him based on pure speculation.

cutepeachpanda said...

Alice, yes, Obama had a serious relationship with a white woman before meeting Michelle. As you can probably guess, Obama broke up with her because he thought he would lose his black identity if he married this woman. This is truly sad and this woman, whoever she is, was lucky she got away from a man this insecure about himself that he left her because of her race. I realize that Shelby Steele is a conservative but I really want to read his book about Obama now:

After he graduated from Columbia University, Barack Obama fell in love with a white woman. They were extremely close for nearly a year. Barack was welcomed into this woman’s family. But during a weekend at the family’s vacation home, Obama came to the realization that if he married this woman he would end up living in “mainstream” white society, and would lose the black identity he had been searching for.

[Shelby Steel writes]: And so he began to push her away. They fought one night outside a theater after seeing an “angry” black play. She couldn’t understand why “black people were so angry all the time.” In the car afterward she cried, saying she would be black if she could, but she couldn’t. She could only be herself, and wasn’t that enough….He [Obama]confesses that when he thinks of what she said that night, “it somehow makes me ashamed….Little wonder. He rejected her because of her race.

In search of a black identity, Obama went to Chicago to work in a poor black Southside neighborhood as a community organizer. He joined a local Afrocentric church with a militant preacher, Jeremiah Wright, who became a mentor and a close friend–and perhaps a father figure–to the young Barack.

Eventually, Barack would follow his father to Harvard and would travel to Kenya in search of his African heritage. Ann had built up a heroic mythology about Barack Obama, Sr.; but when the young man finally met his relatives in Kenya, he learned that his father hadn’t been the heroic figure Ann described. Instead his long-lost father turned out to have been a failed civil servant, a drunk, a bigamist, and a wife abuser.

[Shelby Steele again]: …Obama is…the kind of man who can close down the best part of himself to belong to this black church and this black identity. This is the sort of habit that, over time, can leave a person without much of a self.

Strong convictions seem to be anathema to Barack Obama because he is a bound man. He has fit himself into the world by often taken his own experience out of account. If he takes his actual experience into account, he will lose the black identity—the cultural specificity, the sense of groundedness and belonging—that he has worked so hard to secure. So he simply cannot acknowledge the full truth of his own experience. He is bound against himself.

...read the entire entry at The Confluence: http://riverdaughter.wordpress.com/2008/04/08/barack-obama%E2%80%99s-double-bind/

sonya said...

janiscortese, daaaaaamn! I agree with a lot of what you say.

Obama tries to be all things to all people, which is ultimately self-destructive. He's not alone in this because there are a lot of black people dealing with the same issues that he is, especially those of us who have grown up and come of age in all-white environments. The big difference is, of course, that he's running for president and having his identity questioned and challenged on a national stage.

"If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive." -- Audre Lorde

janiscortese said...

China and sonya, I'm reeeeeeeeally nervous about saying some of the things I say, because I'm not black and don't know what that feels like from the inside. But I can analogize to being a woman ... and it does seem to me that a lot of the best black leaders haven't simply "been black" but have seen blackness as an honor to be achieved as much as it is a skin color.

but I am still acutely aware of the fact that I'm way outside my zone of personal knowledge on this one.

sonya said...

My last comment on this subject:

There are as many ways of being black as there are black people.

Shelby Steele has his own identity issues and has no business trying to psychoanalyze anybody.

cutepeachpanda said...

For those of you who don't know, Shelby Steele is an African American conservative and currently a research fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

I would take anything a conservative says about Obama or Clinton with a grain of salt. And I wouldn't be surprised if Steele also holds some self-hatred since he opposes programs like affirmative action. But considering that I'm getting my news from FOX now since the "liberal" stations are in the tank for Obama, I think we can appreciate several valid facts that they bring up once in a while. I don't believe a lot of what Obama has written about himself in his autobiography, so reading his life story from another perspective is often helpful in understanding some of the decisions he's made in his life and how he might really feel about being bi-racial and abandoned by his father. For example, I never knew he dated a white woman before reading that post and I didn't know his mother made the mistake of building up Obama Sr. as a hero rather than telling Obama the truth before he travelled to Kenya.

sonya said...

Anglachel,

Excellent post, as always.

Obama did himself a grave disservice by not seeking the counsel of Jesse Jackson, Sr. on how to run a post racial campaign and opting instead for the bone-headed counsel of Axelrod and Jesse Jr.

Jesse Sr. asked people of all colors to unite in a rainbow coalition and never called anyone a racist because of their opposition to his candidacy.

Chinaberry Turtle said...

hey janis - didn't mean to knock you. A commenter right after you speculated about his selection of spouse. I'm a little nervous about that.

However, what I do like is, as cutepeachpanda has provided, a set of facts about Obama's past from which I can judge whether they fit into the kind of identity theory that you're describing. Also, the participation of cutepeachpanda in this discussion makes me feel a little more comfortable (she's explained her racial background in other threads before).

One thing I personally know about, however, is dead-beat dads. That Obama would worship his dead-beat dad, and go on a vision quest to somehow glorify him, rather than be content with, and find comfort in, those who loved and nurtured him throughout his life, is really freakin' horrendous. And yes, I am personally qualified to pass judgment in that regard.

And no - it doesn't matter that his mom built up his dad as some good guy. Every decent mom will do that for her child w/ respect to the dead-beat dad. But one day, the truth will dawn on that boy (where has that fucker been?), and that's where his mettle will be tested. Does he stand w/ the woman who fed him, clothed him, and sacrificed for him, or does he stand w/ the disgraceful dead-beat dad who skimped out on the most important duty any man can ever have?

You gotta love and respect those who paid their dues to bring you up. Not some dipshit sperm-donor who left when the going got tough.

janiscortese said...

I know what you mean, China -- and I am a bit ticked off at the implication (of course no one can see inside another's inner mind) that Obama pursued his father so desperately while turning his back on the two women who raised him. It's too close to the whole issue of blaming the woman for not coping perfectly enough when a man left town.

I also agree with you about his marriage. That's not the sort of thing I want to say. I'm not fond of Michelle Obama, but I don't know her, and I don't think her "proud of America" comment was anything but an attempt to avoid being seen as supporting the candidacy of a competitor through the implied compliment to her husband.

I'm guessing she's about my age, and if she'd said, "I've only been proud of America very few times in my adult life," she would inevitably have been asked when those times were -- and I have no doubt that they were during the Clinton administration. That could have been as an implied attaboy to Clinton -- and as a result, Hillary. She attempted to avoid that and ended up with her foot in her mouth. I don't hold it against her much.

cutepeachpanda said...

I agree with ChinaberryTurtle. My father is also a dead beat. Unlike Obama, I saw him more than once. The last time I saw him was probably at the age of 14 or 15. I don't agree that building up any dead beat parent is a good idea. Children deserve to know the truth. My mom didn't come up with lies for my father not being there so that I wouldn't have any desire to find and forgive him when I became an adult.

The only people Obama should dedicate a book to are his real parents - his mother and her Indonesian husband who helped pay for his private school education in Indonesia and his grandparents for taking care of him in Hawaii and sending to the best schools in the country. Obama has a lot of issues he needs to work out if that is still possible. I'm not a psychologist but he needs to figure why he has all of this resentment, confusion, and anger before he runs for president.

Chinaberry Turtle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anglachel said...

Not to rain on the narrative parade here, but has anyone considered the possibility that Barack's mother went into the relationship just wanting to get laid and get a kid, never planned to keep the Mr. around, and waved bye-bye without a scrap of remorse? It may be the tale of a determinedly single mother even more than that of a dead-beat dad. Perhaps this was a mutual deal. We have no way to judge.

But I'm going to ask that this topic be dropped or else moved to some other blog as it has nothing to do with the post, which is the effect of current campaign politics on the future of the Democratic Party.

I have nothing to say about Obama's private life except to wish him happiness, health and a long life surrounded by his kids and grandkids.

Anglachel

postalguy said...

With regards to makana44, it should be STRONGLY remembered that Obama (presuming he doesn't get to move into the White House) will have to deal with the fact that he will have to run for re-election in 2010. While Illinois voters might have been willing to support this run for the White House, those same voters will have to consider if SENATOR Obama has served them very well in his FIRST Senate term, in which he will have spent nearly ONE FULL YEAR as a part-time Senator. Now, it's possible he could pull it off but, given some of the issues which have haunted him in the past few weeks, he may face some competition in the primary election (think an Illinois version of the Lamont-Lieberman campaign) with a very good shot at having to face a much stronger Republican opponent (and one who's actually "home-grown" rather than "imported") in a general election. If Obama thinks that Hillary's given him a hard time in this campaign, it will be nothing compared to a re-election bid in 2010.
(One could also make similar comments about Hillary, but if she doesn't make it to the White House this year, she still has four years of her second term to serve. Her biggest problem in 2012 will be to decide if she wants a third Senate term or try another White House bid.)

cutepeachpanda said...

postalguy: Let's hope that it will be Obama to face a tough re-election senate bid and not Hillary. I agree that his re-election to senate will be tougher than he realizes. Now that all of his dirty laundry is being aired in national public for the first time, I'm sure the IL GOP would love to destroy him with Wright, Rezko, and Ayers. It will depend on his opposition. Maybe he'll get an opponent tougher than Alan Keyes next time.

Canaan said...

I think Charles Rangel would agree with you. Rangel supports Hillary, but encouraged Obama to run to position for the future. Then Obama cried race over Hillary's comments that she wanted to be like LBJ on civil rights (as opposed to, say Reagan, who would have vetoed the Civil Rights Act!)

Rangel said the controversy over LBJ's role was 'absolutely stupid.' Now I think Rangel meant Obama's race strategy was 'absolutely stupid' -- not just crying race, but pushing to be the frontrunner in 2008. If there's a smarter politician than Bill Clinton, it's Charles Rangel.