Hillary, Obama and the Nat’l Psyche – Repost

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.

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  • gcotharn

    For the first time in history, a black person has won a Presidential Primary. That’s a big, compelling story – yet it’s not being played up in this morning’s media. Why?

    Could the media be downplaying the historic event in order to help Hillary?

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  • http://www.marchhareshouse.blogspot.com March Hare

    Ms. Goodman’s article is interesting, although it’s a year old. But ~her~ prejudice is quite clear: “For the first time in history, a female candidate is the most experienced, the most ready-on-Day-One option for the Oval Office.”

    Huh? What experience? How ready?

    At least Ms. Goodman is consistent. Just a few weeks ago, she derided the GOP as having “amateurs” for candidates with the Dem candidates being “more experienced.” I’m sorry–Obama, Clinton, and Edwards MORE experienced than Romney, Huckabee, Giuliani, or McClain? Is Ms. Goodman willfully or naively obtuse???

  • Sigmund Carl and Alfred

    You are right, the Captain is right and everybody else who FEEL the way they do about Obama is right.

    That said, feelings never have and never will determine the outcome of an election. Those are determined by BELIEFS.

    Anchoress, it was you who noted that an American president serves all the people, not just his base. It was also you who said that we need serious people in Washington.

    Your words were prescient.

    Obama is tapping into something very ethereal- the frustration of average Americans have with corruption and ‘business as usual’ in Washington. Prior to Obama’s ascendancy, DC Dems were to be found everywhere. Now, there is not a single candidate that wants to be seen with Pelosi or Reid or even be in the same state they might be.

    Lieberman’s endorsement of McCain is significant because that too represents a change in the status quo. There is something very ethereal and compelling for both Dems and GOP voters, because that is NOT business as usual. The condemnations of Lieberman by some Dems and those in the GOP who are ignoring McCain, are halfhearted and hollow.

    The American voter is fighting back. Pat Roberton couldn’t deliver for Rudy and Oprah delivered new and previously disengaged voters for Obama. That is no small matter.

    Obama spoke out against absentee fathers and habitual welfare takers- and he did it in a church and he assaulted Jesse Jackson’s turf. People listened and applauded.

    John McCain was a Chris Dodd, an also ran, until people started listening to what he had to say and how he said it. Now McCain is viable because he’s reaching out way beyond his base- and people are recognizing what he has been doing for a long time.

    As I noted in an earlier comment, Obama isn’t my cup of tea, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean I’ll discount him. He and McCain are tapping into generations of deep seated frustrations of the American voter.

    Hillary, Romney, Edwards and Huckabee are all repackaged ideologies and self serving fools that sicken us all, no matter the wrapping paper of bow. They are the fruitcakes that keep getting passed around, year after year.

    We can do better than every single one of the candidates offered up by both parties- every single one of the candidates offered up by both parties know it.

    The times, they are a changing.

  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    I’d be real interested to see how Obama’s win plays with black voters.

    It seemed that they had been sticking with Hillary (mostly because she seemed to be inevitable), but now that Obama has won Iowa, will they coalesce around him, taking a HUGE chunk of the Dem base with them? And if Hillary attacks Obama now, will they see it as a racial attack, so that, even if she ultimately does win the nomination, black voters will not vote for her?

  • http://www.pal2pal.com/BLOGEE/ Terrye

    I can not explain what it is, but there really is something special about Obama. He soars. He transcends. Juan Williams made the point on Special Report tonight that it will be Hillary’s job to bring him down to earth.

  • http://www.pal2pal.com/BLOGEE/ Terrye


    I think you are wrong to put Huckabee in that category. He is getting a lot of support from young people, not all of whom are Evangelical. They do not think of him as an establishment candidate.

    I live in Indiana and we are not going to be having a primary anytime soon, but the only yard signs I have seen around here are Huckabee’s.

  • TheAnchoress

    Terrye, if Obama “soars” and Hillary, as we know “plods” that brings to mind a nugget from Chesterton. in his book, Orthodoxy which I quoted here -

    SERIOUSNESS is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice, It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally, but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity. Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.

  • topshelf

    I think your commentary on why Americans are voting for Obama is correct. especially the soft bigotry of low expectations and that it makes white feel good about themselves. As a black woman this is what makes me feel very uncomfortable about Obama’s candidacy. Electing a black man won’t erase generations of inequality and racism. And it doesn’t automatically make someone a non-racist person.

    There is sooo much hype surrounding Obama that it scares the bejesus out of me. He has not experience. And frankly, i don’t think he’ll win. And you know what? I don’t want to hold hands with republicans!! There is no political utopia. Therefore a lot of folks are going to be disappointed if Obama is elected and doesn’t deliver it. And if that happens, how will help/hurt race relations???

    Again, I am an educated, professional black woman. I am socially liberal and fiscally moderate. And I intend to vote for Hillary. I know exactly what I’m getting. and i believe that she’ll be a tough opponent to republicans and conservatives.

  • http://www.pal2pal.com/BLOGEE/ Terrye


    I am not about to vote for Obama, but there really is something about him that reminds me of Reagan. I think he makes people believe in the future rather than fear it. That is seductive.

  • Joseph

    Hi, Anchoress! Haven’t been by for a while because I’ve been taking advantage of a run of good luck. But I couldn’t resist peeking in to see what you thought of Iowa. I can’t speak for others, but Obama appeals to me as appearing to be as an honest, moral man. As far as I can see Hillary Clinton is amoral, as is Bill, as Presidents have largely been since 1960. Not totally, both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter made the cut, but the rest, particularly once we know the insider history of their administrations or their private lives, do not.

    As to Obama’s intelligence, I believe he did teach law before going into politics, but he doesn’t seem to have absorbed conventional political behavior of pretending to be as capable as Superman [or Wonder Woman], as knowledgable as the Encyclopedia Britanica, and as wise as Soloman. Perhaps Dick Meyer and the people who are puzzling over Obama are simply not used to seeing a candidate who is not pretending to be larger than life.

    As far as angels flying, I think for our purposes that it is sufficent for the candidate to be on the side of the angels and not flying with them.

  • http://oraculations.blogspot.com veit2

    I’d like to point out something to you based on what you say. You mention somebody voting for every Black to come along is somehow not biased. You also seem to have reached the conclusion that White People are the racists in this country. You obviously have never worked around a black work force or a majority black work force. Blacks are the most viciously racist group in our society. Most hate Mexicans, Jews, and Asians and they have no problem voicing their contempt both to their faces and in private. Most of the men are sexist to the extreme. Why did I remain there? The money was out of sight good. I finally had enough saved up, paid off my insane debts so I could leave, and while I am now functioning at a much higher level job, the Blacks are just as racist, just as sexist.

    Anyone who has worked in a majority Black work force will echo what I have said. It is true that when you “get upstairs” nobody mentions their prejudices, except at lunch and then only to each other. What do we white guys do? We just wink at each other or glance back and forth, because there is no way a Black can be accused of racism.

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