Arts & Culture

The Ethnic Particularism of Barack Obama

The solutions offered by conservative commentators to Barack Obama’s existential crisis have been conspicuous in their shallowness. Unlike Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Victor Davis Hanson is no fake scholar; Hanson has intellectual heft. Yet he proposed that "all Obama would have … Read More

By / March 19, 2008

The solutions offered by conservative commentators to Barack Obama’s existential crisis have been conspicuous in their shallowness. Unlike Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Victor Davis Hanson is no fake scholar; Hanson has intellectual heft. Yet he proposed that "all Obama would have to do is apologize, quit the church, and begin talking about the issues." How about admitting himself to rehab, or, even better, expiating on Oprah? (I read on the Los Angeles Times’ blog that Oprah, wise woman that she is, had long ago quit Trinity United Church of Christ for reasons that evaded Obama, her protégé.) No, I give Obama credit. His reaction to the nation-wide reaction to Rev. Wright’s fulminating—everywhere on full display—was anything but shallow. It was, however, profoundly disturbing. Obama began his “More Perfect Union” oration with perfunctory praise for the American founding, before moving on to the issue that looms largest for him and for Rev. Wright: the sin of slavery. Accused of decontextualizing the message uttered by Obama’s mentor, rightist critics of the Rev. Wright have been subjected to a coruscating critique—Wright’s vile, vociferous, overwhelming hatred of whites did not, apparently, reflect the man’s mission. I hereby accuse the man who may become president of reducing the greatest revolution in history—politically and philosophically—to the eternal Mark of Cain all whites must seemingly bear: slavery. Obama situated his own mission firmly on the civil war and civil rights continuum—in this respect, he would be continuing “the long march of those who came before us.” This is not the universal philosophical route carved by the American Founders, the followers of the Lockean tradition of natural rights. Obama may be more gentrified than the vulgar Rev. Wright. However, by harking back to slavery, he has expressed the very particularism that is so disturbing about his mentor’s mindset.
Leveled at innocent white Americans, race is like stigmata. Lest modern-day whites fail to welt up and bleed at the mention of slavery, Obama, like other custodians of consensus in our culture, hammered home that he is “married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters.” White Americans who’ve come out in droves for Obama deserve better. So does Obama’s (white) grandma. He tells us he loves her with all his rather intense being. But he considers that she too is marred by racism for “once confessing her fear of black men who passed by her on the street.” It is a fear rooted in fact, but Obama conflates it with racism. FBI and Justice surveys repeatedly show that, as Patrick J. Buchanan has written, “violent interracial assault, rape and murder [are] to be found not in the white community, but the African-American community. In almost all interracial attacks, whites are the victims, not the victimizers.” It is, moreover, not racist to consider aggregate group characteristics—provided they are substantiated by hard evidence, not hunches—in how one invests precious scarce resources, to wit, one’s life and property. Science relies on the ability to generalize to the larger population observations drawn from a representative sample. People make prudent decision in their daily lives based on probabilities and generalities. Obama’s grandmother was no different. Had she failed to treat individual blacks on their merit, he’d be justified in labeling her a racist. More material, if Obama brands his own grandmother a racist for failing to suppress a visceral reaction borne of the reality of crime, one hates to think of how he’d view ordinary Americans who “transgress” in this manner. In Obama’s America, you had better button up about the “color of crime.”
In this context, Obama’s indirect swipe at Geraldine Ferraro rates a mention. The former vice presidential candidate suggested that the Senator would not be where he is if he were white. Indulgently, Obama has taken this to mean that Ferraro implied his “candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action.” Wrong. Ferraro was pointing to the coolness of being black in America and the considerable leverage that identity affords those who cultivate it. What better proof of that than Obama’s cult like following? Obama’s “More Perfect Union” address perfectly demonstrates that he has embraced this politicized racial identity, because to do so is smart; because in America, black is beautiful. Obama continued in this fashion to expound on the defining issue that distorts his perspective as it does Rev. Wright’s: the alleged “racial injustice in this country.” “[S]o many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today,” he intoned, “can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.” My family tree was truncated by an event far more fatal than was slavery: the Holocaust. I do not carry this legacy with me. I blame only those who planned and executed the Final Solution, mostly long dead. Members of my family have never ascribed their misfortunes and misdeeds to that contemporary calamity. They’ve owned their failings. Ditto most Jews I know. Speaking of whom, Obama further minimized Wright’s wickedness by postulating that many of us “have heard remarks from [our] pastors, priests, or rabbis with which [we] strongly disagreed.” I have never attended a synagogue in which the rabbi boiled with racial bile as does Rev. Wright. In fact, my favorite rabbi, my father, Rabbi Ben Isaacson, was an anti-apartheid activist. Obama did concede that “the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial.” But since he stopped there, allowing only that some of Wright’s vitriol was “wrong, distorted and divisive,” let me dilate on what’s missing from Obama’s formulation: what Americans need to take away from Rev. Wright’s words is not this or the other political message. Some of the pastor’s statements have a core of truth; others are purely phantasmagoric. Wright’s words are not isolated expressions; they constitute a worldview, a belief system—a rank racist belief system. Americans need to ponder this: How and why did Obama become spiritually enmeshed with an impious pastor who adheres to such a philosophy? Obama’s Speech From Slavery explains it all.

Tagged with: