Friends of the Gormogons Jonah Goldberg & Steve Hayes have some very perspicacious comments on how great it is to have elected a black president—even not having voted for him and hoping that his policy agenda goes down in flames. Jonah writes:
I am proud of and excited by the fact that we have inaugurated the first black president of the United States. He wasn’t my first choice, but he is nonetheless my president. And if ever there were a wonderful consolation prize in politics, shattering the race barrier in the White House is surely it.
Conservatives who try too hard to belittle the importance of this milestone are mistaken on several fronts. First, this is simply a wonderful—and wonderfully American—story. Any political movement that is joyless about what this represents risks succumbing to bitter political crankery.
And Steve adds:
Among the crowd were three black males — and given the similarity of their looks, I took them to be three generations of the same family.
I saw a grandfather old enough to have experienced the sting of real discrimination, a father old enough to know it and a grandson perhaps not even old enough to understand it. I caught only snippets of their conversation — from everyday chatter about the mundane to what sounded like a more meaningful discussion of race. Really, though, I didn’t need to hear what they were saying. Just their presence — on this, for this occasion — was deeply moving.
So, too, was the view I had about two hours later. My seat was #45 in the Section Two (green) on the West Front of the Capitol. I was directly behind the military band — so close that I could read their sheet music — and maybe forty feet from the podium. (And perhaps forty rows in front of Oprah Winfrey, who obviously didn’t know the right people.) Given all that was in front of me — the band, the podium, row after row of congressmen and senators, the Capitol itself — it was ten minutes before I turned around. The view of the mall from the Capitol — which really is on a hill — was breathtaking. It certainly felt like a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
Read both in full. They engage in an argument—a discussion, really, not a dispute—over what Obama’s election may mean for racial politics in America which is well worth thinking about. However, what I’d like to add is what an overwhelming relief the election of a black president is. America’s original sin, it has been noted ad infinitum nauseumque, was slavery, and its poison remained in our national bloodstream into the Jim Crow 1960s. Having exorcised institutional discrimination with a wicked vengeance (to the point where Jesse Jackson can cite some ginned-up statistics or some out-of-context tape about black jellybeans, and cha-ching), and culturally made race prejudice all but inexpressible, we’re probably near or at the farthest point that politics can actually take us.
Not to say it shouldn’t continue to be stigmatized, but what bigotry remains is probably ineradicable—given the numbers of bigots among blacks, hispanics, Asians, American Indians, etc., it’s probably fair to say that white bigots are fellow captives of the universal human tendency to hate and fear the other tribe over the hill. White bigots, at this point, may be like those who believe Elvis is still with us: impervious to reason or persuasion. Given that we’ve legally prohibited acting on that bigotry in hiring, lending, etc., it’s not obvious what more can be done. Human nature will always be with us, and therefore, so will bigotry, alas. New Soviet Men or the Herrenvolk are not in the offing, and people seem to have learned that lesson, thank God.
No compassionate person can fail to sympathize with someone who’s felt the sting of bigotry—or any other manifestation of hatred or injustice. But trying to legislate universal love among men is a non-starter. (Or so I’d hope.)
Having reached this point, then, America has elected a black president. (We likely would have in ’96 if Alma Powell had been with the program. Of course, as a Republican, Gen. Powell wouldn’t have counted. His immigrant parents would have made him somehow inauthentic, alien to the real Black Experience.) Will this mean the end of racial problems? Probably not. A race-conscious society is going to have race-related issues, some of which will become problems. Will this mean the end of racial quotas, affirmative action, and the like? Maybe eventually, but I doubt it’ll be any time soon. Will it mean a revolution in black America’s thinking? The end of the hip-hop outlaw (what scholars call the “Bad N—r” archetype in black folk literature) as preeminent role model? The end of stigmatizing “acting white?” The realization that there’s no opportunity closed to black Americans? The fragmentation of the black vote out of the Democratic ghetto (following ethnic Catholics post-JFK)? Maybe. But culture evolves slowly, and it’d be a sucker bet to count on any of that happening in the next four—or even ten—years.
What I think the election of a black man—even an African-American, in the literal sense, rather than the descendant of American blacks—betokens, however, is a long-overdue and hugely welcome pause in racial attitudinizing. We can all exhale. Blacks can puff out their chests in pride that one of their coethnics is the most powerful man in the world. Whites can expect to hear the “America is a racist country” libel less—or have a blindingly obvious counter-argument. Other ethnic groups may become persuaded that if a black American can become president, their own coethnics, not having faced a fraction of the oppression of black Americans, may have a greater shot than they’d previously thought.
The race industry, in all its black, white, and intermediate hues, won’t go away any time soon. But its pleas will be cast in a much colder, clearer, realistic light. What is the state of race relations in America? It seems to be pretty damn good by any historic (or global) standard. But let’s look at it, as calmly and objectively as we can.
The one group that’s likely to be obstreperous and problematic is white liberals (particularly of the Baby Boom generation and older), for whom blacks—and particularly President Obama—serve mascots through which they demonstrate their own virtue. They need dark-skinned people to save, to show that they’re not Mr. Charlie. They’re the Great & Good, and they need an enemy and an object of their infinite beneficence. So they’re going to have a hard, hard time letting go of the cult of St. Barack of Punahou. Juan Williams, in the article that Ghettoputer cites below, underestimates this factor, I think. The emotional investment that white liberals—especially journalists and academics—have in Obama is so big that I don’t believe they’ll be able to rationally disengage and treat him as just another pol.
If he does not succeed—indeed, if he is not the greatest president of our lifetimes—they will necessarily ascribe it to the ancient enemy: evil white racists. Imaginary evil white racists—because if evil white racists are powerful enough to destroy the President of the United States, they’re damn well powerful enough to keep a black man out of the Oval Office in the first place. If the press cocoon Obama in positive coverage, the irony is, of course, that they will likely contribute (perhaps decisively) to his failure by denying him the real-world feedback he’ll need to govern successfully.
What does Obama’s presidency mean for race relations? Something good—very good, I think, by the mere fact of it—but something the most profound effects of which may take a generation or more to be manifested. Obama himself could slow the effects by advocating increasing race-based “solutions” to problems, but even were he to, I don’t think it could conceivably refute the brute fact that he, Mr. Race & Inheritance, was the President.
So in the meantime, Americans of all colors should—for whatever reason they’ve got—enjoy the good feeling of seeing a black man taking the ultimate seat of power and popularity in a land where Africans were once chattel. Jonah, Steve, and the Gormogons are all just old enough that when we were born, it would have been impossible for the most saintly, brilliant, and charismatic black man in America to be elected president. But it’s come to pass (even if Obama has, unfortunately, been painted as the most SB&CBMiA, building unrealistic expectations of him), and even our post-Civil-Rights-Act generation feels the weight of some really awful history lift—from all Americans.
Recent immigrants may not understand this, but for those of us whose families have been here long enough to be deeply entangled in that most American of quandries—“the Race Question,” as it was portentously put—it’s a huge relief and joy. Black Americans in particular are rightly elated, and it’s a damn well-earned elation. Anyone who says otherwise is oblivious to American history. Even those of us who are profoundly opposed to race-conscious solutions have always had a bit of a “yeah, but” for blacks (and to a slightly lesser degree, Indians) simply because their historic plight was so manifestly unjust and, more importantly, had such profound and deleterious effects (not just on blacks—even many good, well-meaning whites’ attitudes became deeply deformed as well). Race neutrality must be the ultimate goal in the American Republic—and will be the ultimate guarantor of black success—but pleas for special treatment for the descendants of slaves have always had a unique resonance. We can all hope that President Obama’s election may well mean those pleas may become less frequent and impassioned and their resonance fainter.
Obama’s election, then, is powerful evidence that the real narrative of America is not the legacy of slavery, but the ability of this great, sloppy, fractious, maddening, creedal nation to overcome something as massive and evil as that. And that ought to make you smile.
Don’t ask impertinent questions like that jackass Adept Lu.