Originally Posted December 22, 2006
Hillary, Obama and the National Psyche
I meant to link yesterday to an interesting piece by Dick Meyer over at CBS News, in which he muses on the emotional projections of the voters and wonders what it can mean for the Democrats. As ever, with Meyer, his stuff gets you thinking.
I sense most voters who don’t have books by Herbert Marcuse, Michael Moore and Al Franken on their shelves feel profoundly conflicted about choosing either Hillary or Barack to be president.
Sen. Clinton’s psychological quest is just too obvious and determinative for most us. What exactly drives her we cannot know, which itself is frustrating. Is it redemption? Or resurrection?…Does she have a messianic thing going on? Did she ever have a desire to completely escape public scrutiny and dissection altogether?
Sen. Obama is a Rorschach test. I see hope! I see brains! I see a whole new kind of politician! I see an amazing life story! I see an orator! I see a natural! I see a hero!
Americans also have race issues, though it’s not clear exactly how they play out…Does the national political press have a soft spot for African-American political superstars? Or is it that Americans really do have an enduring and serious wish to make a huge change in race relations in this country by electing a black president? Or is Harold Ford’s defeat in the Tennessee Senate race this year a bad omen? I’m not at all convinced that all this has been worked through yet.
I think this used to be called Reality Therapy.
When I read this, I thought about a member of my birth-family – last of them to remain fervently Democrat while most of us have stepped either center or center-right. Throughout the 1990′s and for at least the first few years of the 21st century, this woman looooooved Hillary Clinton, unabashedly, unreservedly. That changed before the last election. She still voted for Hillary, of course, but not with enthusiasm, and she was willing to admit that for all the hype and kissy-face press, Clinton’s first term as a NY Senator was really not much to phone home about.
Now, she is very hot for Barack Obama – the greatest living person currently residing in the United States. Okay, he hasn’t really done much, but man, he’s articulate. And he’s sunny. And he’s hopeful. Just like Bill Clinton, who everyone always did like better than Hill!
I think it is abundantly clear that the nation still has race issues. But I think the startlingly swift ascent of Barak Obama is only partly about race. Some of it’s about Hillary, too.
I think this family member of mine loves Barack Obama for two reasons: First, he’s not Hillary. Obama’s candidacy gives her an alternative to Hillary Clinton, for whom my relative and so many others have felt almost “compelled” to vote. Hillary is supposed to be the first Female POTUS, after all, and my relative and her pals have been trained like Pavlovian dogs to make sure that happens – to get that WH for her, no questions asked. Even now – though rather disillusioned – this woman will speak no bad word regarding Hillary, although she will speak no praise, either. Barack Obama saves her from having to vote for someone that — really — she no longer likes very much. And he lets her feel “good” about herself as she does it, too. Why?
Well, for the second reason she loves Obama; he is black. Wow — a chance to vote for someone who his not Hillary AND to “feel kinda good about myself” at the same time! This is a win-win! Obama’s blackness gives my relative permission to vote for him over Hillary, because women have achieved lots of things (and heck, Hillary was already a co-president) but blacks in America are still being kept from full participation in some venues. A vote for Obama helps to correct that, and that renders such a vote “noble.” A vote for Obama sets this relative of mine free from Hillary, and (and I know I’m going to get creamed for saying it) from white guilt, too.
When Jesse Jackson ran for president in the 1980′s my relative threw all of her support behind him and said “he’s the only one making sense.” When there was talk of Colin Powell possibly running for president, she said she’d vote for him – no matter if he was an “Independent or even a Republican” – because “he’s the only honorable person in politics.” Now, she loves Obama. In the 1970′s she “loved” Shirley Chisholm. Do we see a pattern here?
I don’t think she is a racist, by the way, any more than I am, except as perhaps most white people are capable of being racists, these days. It’s not the old-fashioned Jim Crow racism; the civil rights movements of the 1950′s and 60′s went a long way toward raising the consciousness of “white” America, and I truly believe that Martin Luther King’s dream of a person being judged by “the content of their character” is in some ways, a vision almost achieved. But, sadly, only almost.
These days, I think white folks still harbor some racism, but it is expressed less as discrimination or hate and more as an over-appreciation — that condescending old “soft bigotry of low-expectations” — for any outstanding quality in a prominent person of color. You never hear someone say that a white person is “so articulate!” But you hear it said all the time about Barack Obama, or Condi Rice or even Alan Keyes.
Now, consider Alan Keyes – he is a very smart man who is a walking thesaurus, capable of constructing whole perfect paragraphs on the fly. He’s the very definition of “articulate” and would be whether he was white, black, yellow, red or whatever. But does anyone seriously think that his being well-spoken and energetic makes him a viable candidate for the White House?*
I admit, after George W. Bush, an articulate man or woman in the WH would be refreshing. But he or she has to be able to do more than speak well like Barack Obama, or stare into all of our eyes with a semi-hypnotic bit of magic eye-popping, or whatever Hillary’s eye-popping thing is about.
As Meyer says, Obama is a blank slate. Hillary is a weird mystery. We have to know more.
Back in 2004, I felt like the press was blocking my view of John Kerry, asking me to hire someone without really letting me interview him or take his full measure. I’m wondering if the press will allow us to really see either one of these candidates fully, or if all this hype is just prep for an eventual Hillary/Obama ticket that no person would dream of voting against for fear of being called a sexist or a racist. If politics is reduced to nothing but labels and name-calling, then such a ticket would be perfect, right? It’s the “noble-person’s choice!”
I like what Larry Miller says in a particularly moving, troubling and ultimately sad essay in his new book Spoiled Rotten America; Outrages of Everyday Life, (which I plugged here):
In the movie “Glory,” about the first black regiment of the Civil War, Matthew Broderick, Shaw, has been speaking honestly with Denzel Washington, Trip, and after a quiet beat, Shaw says:
“I suppose it stinks, doesn’t it?”
And Trip says, “Oh, yeah. And we all covered up in it, too. Ain’t nobody clean. Be nice to get clean, though.”
And Shaw says, “How do we do that?”
And Trip says, “Ante up and pitch in.”
The Left is right and wrong on race: Sure, more programs and money and more apologies and more help. Fine. Except that it hasn’t helped, wholly, has it, and it won’t help, wholly, will it, and it can’t help, can it?
And the Right is right and wrong on race: “Come on in, the water’s fine! It’s the greatest pool in the world, you know and everyone’s welcome. What do you mean you can’t swim? Well, you better learn, ‘Bye!”
The left needs to stop saying “Everything’s rotten, and always was.” It’s not.
The Right needs to stop saying, “Everything’s fine, and always was.” It’s not.
The candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are going to force – and hopefully help – the country to finally confront bigotries old and new. If the nation can start to really dialogue about racism and sexism honestly and openly, unconstrained by political correctness or by the knee-jerk fingerpointing and labeling that has managed to muddy up and obfuscate any real discussion on those issues for a few decades, that will be a very good thing, for all of us.
I wonder if we’re ready. I ask that knowing full well that I will probably be called every sort of variation of “racist” for daring to even suggest that racism or white guilt or bigotry plays any part in the current media circus. And, of course, for suggesting that Barack Obama’s thin resume demands that we learn more.
Okay, call me anything you like. But when you’re done calling me names, how about we start really talking?
[* Some who read that paragraph seem to think I am saying that Alan Keyes should be allowed into the White House because he is articulate...or something...I'm not sure what the emails are raving about. Read it again, please. I do not think Alan Keyes should be in the WH. Good heavens.]
Related: Ed Morrissey writes:Obama would make a lousy President, but not because of his supposed identity issues. His policy choices are lockstep liberal, and his rhetoric is superficial, even if expertly delivered. He will remain a top-drawer political figure because of his genuine nature and his likability. Obama will remain enough of an outsider to produce pithy analyses of the Capitol Hill environment, and he will represent the liberal constituencies of Illinois well. Even if he doesn’t win the White House, he may help to end the ridiculous practice of identity politics over the next couple of decades — and if he does, that will be legacy enough for any man or woman of this era.
Let’s quit focusing on skin color and middle names, and start focusing on policy.