Dick Meyer, writing over at NPR (when we all know he should be out there promoting his excellent book, Why We Hate Us) says we as a nation – regardless of our political affiliations or which way we’re voting – should feel proud, tonight, to watch an African American be declared the official presidential nominee of a major political party.
I would hope that as voters listen to Obama’s acceptance speech and watch his campaign, they will do so with pride no matter how they ultimately vote. And I would hope that voters will take a second look at their hearts and assumptions, their pride and their prejudices, as they weigh their votes.
It is natural and reasonable to expect more of the voters than the parties.
The article is not bad, and you should read the whole thing – as you may tell from his final line, he takes the Dems to task for not seeming prouder of this moment, and he grouses a bit about the GOP and makes some standard observations about race which – forgive me, Dick, I loves ya – sound a little stale, especially this part:
If Obama were not black, if he were the same man (man, not woman) in white skin, he would most certainly be far ahead in the polls.
Once upon a time I might have believed that. In another candidate I might still believe it, but I do not know if I believe it at this time, regarding this candidate.
I think Meyer could have made that point better, had Obama been running against Huckabee, or Romney or someone else on the right, but it does not quite work when pitting Obama against McCain.
Some people seem to forget that John McCain, for all that he is an “old guy” and a bit boring, is also a known entity and a man who has long-been respected by many centrists, independents and even Democrats. It seems to me just a little sloppy to assume that Obama’s numbers should be “huge” against a man as substantial as McCain, or that people who have liked and respected McCain for years would suddenly push him aside and commence swooning over Obama, if they only were not such racists.
You’d have to be pretty intellectually dishonest not to acknowledge that some of Obama’s polling problems are racial, but I frankly believe that his race is, if not the least of his problems, then certainly lower on the list, than many think.
The man won a landslide in Iowa, of all places – that already said a great deal about America’s growth on the issue of race – and the whole country was intrigued at that point and wanted to see more of Obama.
So, what happened? The whole country did not just suddenly become “more racist” than it was five months ago – but we’ve seen more of the man, himself, since then, and perhaps that is what has cut into lead everyone thinks he “should have” at this point.
It is also – again, perhaps – what has giving the Dem convention such a glum vibe, up to now.
Aside from coming off as elitist, presumptuous (that seal was a very bad idea, and so was Berlin) and thin-skinned, Obama has flip-flopped on issues that meant something to people, like the FISA, the campaign finance, etc. His campaign of change suddenly looks like any other campaign. He said he’d debate McCain “anytime, anywhere” and then refused pretty much every debate suggestion McCain made. People noticed – it did not reassure them that Obama believes he can hold his own, and we need to know that a president believes that.
This is an important election and everyone knows it. I think many people who were at first excited (or at least intrigued, as I was) about Obama have begun to feel that he is too inexperienced, too protected by an undeniably adoring press who won’t ask him a difficult question, and that he’s just a tad too slippery, as well. I think we’re a nation tired of slippery.
None of those things have to do with his race, they have to do with the man he is, the people he throws under the bus, and the fact that off-teleprompter he is almost as painful to listen to as Bush. And that’s saying something. I listened to Obama talking yesterday about health care and I got the same feeling I often get with Bush – “come on, spit it out!”
The next president doesn’t have to be glib – which is a good thing, because neither of these candidates are – but who the hell wants to listen to more stuttering and stammering and looong awkward pauses? I don’t. I love President Bush, but I won’t miss the stammers.
But back to race; I believe the issue is – as a whole – more interesting to boomers than to anyone else. As I wrote (I thought sympathetically) here, it is difficult to have come through 1968, and that whole exciting era of feminism, black empowerment, etc and not be particularly conscious of – or even fixated on – issues of race and gender in the political arena, today.
But I also think that much of the country – more than the “identity-fixated” press realizes – has moved on from those things, and they’re not primarily thinking of Barack Obama as a “black” man or Hillary as a “woman” – and that, I suggest, is what we should be proud about; not that we’re “still fixated, but in a ‘positive’ way,” but that these things have become so much less meaningful, altogether.
Barack’s race is not at the forefront of my consciousness, and I think that’s true for many Americans, and yes, that’s something the nation can be proud of – but I don’t know if other Americans, particularly those invested in identity politics (or addicted to the ease with which flinging a “racist” or “sexist” or other label can end a debate) will accept even the possibility that this might be true.
Recently an emailer, taking the lazy way out, rather than actually exchanging ideas, wrote to me that I was a self-hating woman because I don’t love Hillary, and that I am “afraid of strong women.”
I found that to be so much bullcrap, and said so. I am a strong and extremely capable woman and I was raised by strong, smart, capable and clever Irish/German women. My earliest heroes were Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and the journalist Nancy Dickerson; I just don’t happen to much like Hillary – but even disliking her, I’ve defended her now and again. Then a few weeks ago a I was told that I “hate Barack Obama because he’s black!” and found myself being called a “racist.”
But now, having watched him for a few months, I simply don’t see the presidential thrust. I don’t see him making me feel safe. I worry about the people he’s associated with in the past – because that does matter – but more than that, I worry about how his team is threatening media that run ads he does not like, or how he is trying to not simply dodge questions, but silence the questioners, even if it means using the Justice Department to do so. I also worry about his tendency toward the grandiose displays. These things matter, and they have nothing to do with race.
(By the way, when this idiot called me a racist, I wrote in response:
I hope, I hope, I HOPE that Obama nominates a gay guy or girl to his ticket, so I can immediately be called “a homophobe,” too – then I’ll have made the gynophobic-racist-homophobe trifecta!”)
It is always too easy to focus on race or gender or sexuality and say “it’s because of this one thing that that is happening, or not happening.” All the “isms” may be part of a list of factors, but not the defining ones.
Are the the Dems are downplaying Obama’s race, or just clueing in to the fact that people are tired of considering it at all, or of being threatened with the handy labels that get thrown about – putting a halt to real conversation and sending everyone scurrying for rhetorical safety – if one does not fall in line.
Perhaps instead of patting ourselves on the back and feeling “proud” because an African American is finally a serious contender for the White House, Americans should fixate less on race, wave off the anesthesia of “feeling good” about themselves, and stay alert to the fact that some of the basic freedoms we have been told were “under threat” by the Bush administration – like the right to free speech and free assembly – seem much more truly threatened these days.
And neither racism nor cowboyism has anything to do with it.
Rick at Brutally Honest has more thoughts on this subject.