September 3, 2011

Obamamania in perspective

Brent Staples reviews Randall Kennedy's book on Obama for the NYT:
Every campaign enlists its own meta-language. As Randall Kennedy reminds us in his provocative and richly insightful new book, “The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency,” the Obama forces disseminated several messages intended to soothe the racially freighted fears of the white electorate. On one channel, they reassured voters that he was not an alien, but a normal American patriot. They also made clear that he was a “safe,” conciliatory black man who would never raise his voice in anger or make common cause with people, living or dead, who used race as a platform for grievance. On yet another wavelength, the candidate proffered his bona fides as a black man to ­African-Americans who were initially wary of his unusual upbringing, his white family ties and his predominantly white political support. 
The press viewed this courtship of black voters as largely beside the point for a “post-racial” campaign that had bigger fish to fry on the white side of the street. Kennedy, who teaches law at Harvard, is having none of that. He argues with considerable force that the candidate deliberately set out to blacken himself in the public mind — while taking care not to go too far — and would have lost the election had he not done so. He sees Obama’s courtship of black voters not as tertiary, but as the main event and as the perfect vantage from which to view the campaign and the presidency. 
“The Persistence of the Color Line” consists of an introduction and eight inter­related essays that offer a fresh view of events that had prematurely taken on the cast of settled history. One essay, “The Race Card in the Campaign of 2008,” lays out an exacting standard for determining when the charge of race baiting is appropriate and applies it to several statements that were labeled as racist, or at least nearly so, during the last presidential campaign. Kennedy praises the Republican nominee, John McCain (he “imposed upon himself a code of conduct that precluded taking full advantage of his opponent’s racial vulnerability”), and redeems the former Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, who was run out of the Clinton campaign essentially for saying what was indisputably true: Obama’s blackness mattered to his stature as a candidate. Without it, he would never have appealed so strongly “to the emotions of millions of white Americans who yearned for a moment of racial ­redemption.” 
... He sees [Rev. Jeremiah] Wright’s critique of America as excessive, but notes that it is, at bottom, more integral to the African-American worldview than was generally acknowledged during the episode. 
The messianic glow that surrounded Obama’s candidacy — Kennedy and others call it “Obamamania” — precluded closer scrutiny of his pronouncements, especially those having to do with race. The widely held notion that the now-famous race speech, “A More Perfect Union,” ranked with the Gettysburg Address or “I Have a Dream” strikes Kennedy as delusional. The speech, he writes, was little more than a carefully calibrated attempt to defuse the public relations crisis precipitated by the Wright affair. Far from frank, it understated the extent of the country’s racial divisions and sought to blame blacks and whites equally for them, when in fact, Kennedy writes, “black America and white America are not equally culpable. White America enslaved and Jim Crowed black America (not the other way around).” The speech was in keeping with the candidate’s wildly successful race strategy, which involved making white voters feel better about themselves whenever possible.
The cornerstone essay, “Obama Courts Black America,” is a breath of fresh air on many counts, not least of all because it offers a fully realized portrait of the black political opinion — left, right, center, high and low — that was brought to bear during the campaign. This is the most comprehensive document I’ve yet read on the near street fight that erupted over the question of how Obama should identify himself racially. There were those who viewed him as “too white” to be legitimately seen as black; those who had no problem with his origins; those who viewed the attempt to portray him as “mixed race” as a way of trying to “whiten” him for popular consumption; and those who accused Obama of throwing his white mother under the bus when it became clear that he regarded himself as African-American. 
Tallying votes, Kennedy reckons that it would have been political suicide for Obama to identify himself as anything other than black. This would have undermined his standing among African-Americans, whose overwhelming support he needed to win, and gained him nothing among those whites who were determined to punish him for his skin color, no matter how he described himself. 

Of course Obamamania was always all about race. Look, the guy was a state legislator as of 2004, and not even speaker, majority leader, or a whip in the Illinois legislature. He was chairman of the state senate's health and human services committee, which isn't bad, but it's not automatic Presidential Timber. Four years later, he gets elected President.  If his daddy hadn't been black, he would no more have become President than if the previous guy'd daddy had been Mr. Tree.

Let's say that as of 2004, Obama was about the 10th most important person in one of the 50 state legislatures in the country. With 50 governors, 100 U.S. Senators, and 435 Representatives, that means he was probably not in the top 1,000 politicians in the country four years before winning the Presidential election. Four years before getting elected President, Bush II was governor, Clinton was governor, Bush I was Veep, Reagan was ex-governor, Carter was governor, Ford was House minority leader, Nixon was ex-Veep, LBJ was Senate majority leader, JFK was U.S. Senator, Eisenhower was former supreme commander, and Truman was U.S. Senator.

43 comments:

albert magnus said...

Its not just his father. If Obama had married a white woman he would not be president.

Anonymous said...

What other Presidential candidate could have voted "present" as many times as he, even at the state legislative level, and not been pummeled by the press and his opponents for such voting behavior?

Rev. Right said...

"... He sees [Rev. Jeremiah] Wright’s critique of America as excessive, but notes that it is, at bottom, more integral to the African-American worldview than was generally acknowledged during the episode. "

Or than is generally acknowledged or even suspected by much of White America to this day.

Anonymous said...

Note how slippery Kennedy's rhetoric is, when he talks about "“black America and white America." Yes, the people responsible for slavery and Jim Crow were white, so that becomes "white America," making all white Americans guilty by association.

Obama at least recognizes the obvious point, that a typical white American had nothing to do with Slavery or Jim Crow, has never been involved with it, and doesn't agree with it.

I mean, I don't hold Randall Kennedy responsible for all the armed robberies committed by black people in my metro area this month. You would think he could do me the courtesy of not holding me responsible for some things other white people did decades or centuries ago.

Anonymous said...

In fact, the most impressive aspect of Obama's otherwise unimpressive life is the skill with which he manipulated his racial identity. Had he been white, he would have been laughed out of the country to offer such a meager resume. Had his name been Roosevelt Bowie, he would have been laughed out of the country, while being considered uppity to even consider himself presidential material. But his blackness appealed to blacks, of course, and his Africaness made whites hope he wasn't a member of that zietgeist of delusion, fantasy, hatred and fragility that is black culture.

Jeff said...

People make a mistake when they look at Obama and think that he got to be president on his own. It is a mistake to assume that he did it by himself, like The Little Engine That Could.

Obama attracted the attention of some powerful backers around 2004, and they pushed him to the top.

Who those backers are and what they got out of the deal are not often discussed.

Anonymous said...

To understand how important it was for Obama to be "black enough'" all you had to do was listen to Obama speak to black audiences during the campaign: he would put on a (wholly unconvincing) black preacher accent and delivery (probably cribbed from Rev. Wright) solely for those occasions. To be fair, Hillary tried the same schtick, but it came across as condescending and patently fake (which it was).

slumber_j said...

I'd give Truman ex-VPOTUS, but in general that's all true. Obama's ascent is a very odd chapter in US history. How did it come to be?

Reg Cæsar said...

Obama's ascent is a very odd chapter in US history. How did it come to be? --Slumber J

Jerzy Kosiński would have had the answer to that.

If Obama had married a white woman he would not be president. --Albert Magnus

Nor if he had married a black man.

Obama attracted the attention of some powerful backers... Who those backers are and what they got out of the deal are not often discussed... --Jeff

... en inglés, Kemosabe.

Obama may do for the Presidency what Tom Bradley, Harold Washington and David Dinkins did for their cities' mayoralties-- give the office back to whites.

Anonymous said...

Ford was VP too.

Anonymous said...

And Johnson was VP too.

Ray Sawhill said...

Slightly OT, but ... Am I the only person who couldn't finish reading that excerpt from the Brent Staples review? It's sooooooo badly written ... My eye and brain kept stumbling over goofs and maladroitnesses. Eventually I gave up trying to make any sense of what he was saying.

Anonymous said...

Obamamania certainly got Obama nominated--Hilary had more name recognition and political experience. Bush II, McCain and Palin however got Obama elected.

Any Democrat could have waltzed into the White House after Bush II. Republicans only compounded their comedy of errors backing the problematic McCain-Palin ticket.

Interesting how Obama's dead, absentee "daddy" is entirely responsible for his ascendancy to U.S. president, but Bush II's living, former President of a father and the WASP network is not even worth mentioning.

How many people can coast on father's money, connections, and booze until age 40, then go "Welp, I'm going to be President now"?

Christopher Paul said...

He sees [Rev. Jeremiah] Wright’s critique of America as excessive, but notes that it is, at bottom, more integral to the African-American worldview than was generally acknowledged during the episode. "

John Derbyshire pointed out the same thing at the time.

Anonymous said...

In 2004, Obama was running for Senate, basically unopposed, and gave a big "future star" speech at the convention. So he had moved into the top 500.

The point stands--if he were white, he'd be John Edwards at best.

--Discordiax

Anonymous said...

Obama is a carefully crafted product designed to appeal to two specific audiences : blacks and white women, a stranglehold on these two groups all but assuring him of victory.

He is a tool that was gainfully used by his 'supporters'; witness the money thrown at those 'robber bankers', or his total inaction on immigration matters. You could say he is a 'one-trick pony' who has served his purpose and will be left hanging in the wind in 2012.

The process of turning the US into
a diversified oligarchy, where whites are but one large minority, is too far underway to be stopped, IMHO. I see presidential elections as become less and less relevant, real power having irrevocably shifted to "Those who cannot be named"

Conatus said...

As a minority in the U. S. you get double standard rights. You can organize on the basis of race, say the NAACP, and criticize whites who would dare to even discuss organizing on the basis of race to advance their political purposes.

Randall Kennedy does not agree with double standard rights for minorities. In a 1997 Atlantic Monthly article, 'My Race Problem and Ours' he said,
" I find it difficult to accept that it is wrong for whites to mobilize themselves on a racial basis solely for purposes of white advancement but morally permissible for blacks to mobilize themselves on a racial basis solely for purposes of black advancement."
I think he should be quoted more often as I see this double standard as the crux of the problem when it comes to race relations.

Kylie said...

"People make a mistake when they look at Obama and think that he got to be president on his own. It is a mistake to assume that he did it by himself, like The Little Engine That Could."

Exactly. I'm unaware of anything Obama has ever done on his own.

His black skin and big money backers are what got him into the White House.

Those, and the veneer of civilization that rubbed off from years of immersion in--and approbation from--affluent white society.

Anonymous said...

It was less important that Obama is black than the fact that Jews found his blackness politically and symbolically useful in baiting white guilt, playing on white hope, and furthering white disenfranchisement. Thanks to PC, majority of white people are resigned to a diversocratic future where they will be replaced by other peoples. Though many white people don't like this prospect, they still prefer it to being reminded that they are 'racists'.
It's like a samurai may not want to slit open his belly, but he prefers that than to be labeled a a dishonorable and unworthy chicken.
So, most white people now accept a future where they will lose power. So, it's no longer a matter of a white-ruled America vs. a non-white-ruled America. It's between a non-white America is that is relatively nice to white people and a non-white America that is hostile to white people. Stupid white people wet their pants over Obama cuz he seemed to be saying, "I'll tax your white ass a bit more but I won't kick your white ass."
When WFB was rhapsodizing about MLK in the 80s, I knew white people had thrown in the towel. In this light, we can understand why even GOP has been pushing for open borders with Mexico. Given a diversocratic future, wouldn't it be better to have more Mex than Blax?
Anyway, without Jewish power and PC, Obama would be nothing today.

Anonymous said...

First they gave us Jackie Robinson and now we have Michael Vick. Then they gave us Nat King Cole and now we have 50 cents. They gave us MLK and now we have Al Sharpton. So, since they gave us Obama, will some crazyass mofo be president in 30 yrs?

Jim O said...

Not be hypercritical, but Ford wasn't elected President. he was elected Vice President by Congress, took office when Nixon quit, and failed to win election in his own right.

But your point is a valid one. Obama never ran anything as complicated as a lemonade stand before his election. Of course, many of us pointed this out at the time, but you can't talk sense to the enraptured.

Kylie said...

"As a minority in the U. S. you get double standard rights...I see this double standard as the crux of the problem when it comes to race relations."

No, that's not the problem. The problem is that race relations are a national issue for the U.S. when they should be solely an international issue.

jody said...

i think it's now taken as given that all europeans are guilty of every bad thing that a european person ever did. at least in the US, anyway. i sense this in a genuinely palpable way whenever the topic is even close to coming up. the people on my mom's side of the family 200 years ago were poor farmers in indiana, who barely had enough money to live, and some of them fought for the union in the civil war. the people on my dad's side were not even in the US until 1900.

basically what these means today is that i'm a racist cracker MFer who is in every african's way merely by existing. if worthless white guys like me would just eat shit and die, everything would be a lot better. i don't exaggerate much, when it comes to the attitudes of many africans in the US, or liberals in positions of power. every euro american is the enemy, to be destroyed.

the other groups, of course, are never held to such an impossible measure. each person is to be taken as an individual who is not even remotely representative of the group in general.

it gets dramatically more lopsided after you begin to account for just how much the europeans help all the other groups everyday, versus the positively miniscule reciprocal help they receive. any good things europeans do are to be discounted automatically and always. that the other groups don't help each other and are actually antagonistic towards each other is to be ignored as well.

Broken Clock said...

I remember watching the 2004 Democratic Convention the night Obama gave the keynote. Theresa Heinz-Kerry also spoke. At the end of the night a reporter asked a group of mostly black delegates from Mississippi(?) what moved them most that night. They all mentioned Theresa, not Obama.

That raises several questions in my mind. Were these delegates simply trying to avoid the obvious answer? Were they unimpressed with Obama's speech, unimpressed by his failure to cater to black sensibilities, or unimpressed by the fact that he was Barry Halfwhite?

Solyndra is only the beginning of the Obama Scandals. I await the coming expose on the Obama years, possibly by an insider, giving us the real story on how Obama rose to power, who pushed him along, and the multitude of scandals during his tenure. It will be the book of the century, and whoever writes it will make a name for himself.

Broken Clock said...

"Not be hypercritical, but Ford wasn't elected President. he was elected Vice President by Congress"

I think the point really is that 4 years prior to becoming president (no matter how they became president) they did occupy or had occupied positions that might reasonably be considered stepping stones to the most powerful office in the world.

But a state legislator? Maybe, possibly, if you're the speaker or majority leader. But not some second-rate member who's never even passed a significant bill and has a habit of voting "present."

Whiskey said...

Anon is quite correct, in saying that Obama is the product of Blacks and White women, and to that I would add Hollywood, crony capitalists (Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Goldman-Sachs, GE), and hard-left bitter aristocrats (Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn).

And yes Obama's purpose is to destroy America and turn it into a diversified oligarchy, and he has been very successful. In a deep depression, no mention of gaining jobs by deporting Illegals, instead California passed the Dream Act giving illegals in-state or free tuition.

You cannot over-emphasize enough how White women played a deep part in the rise of Obama and his politics. Delayed marriage, single motherhood, hyper-consumerist consumption and status politics make White professional women hard-core supporters of the Obama alliance. The best thing possible would be for every professional White woman to get married, have kids, and own clear and free their own homes.

Napoleon gave peasants a small bit of property, at a masterstroke turning hard-left rabble rousing peasants into mulishly suspicious conservatives. No one is more conservative than the small landowner. A more imaginative Republican would offer a "new Homestead Act" allowing underwater foreclosed properties to bought free and clear on the cheap (~$70K or so) with government assistance and particularly targeting White professional women.

Anonymous said...

What contemporary scientific psychology--note especially the work of the late H. J. Eysenck--has revealed to date regarding the significant degree of heredity in key personality traits, if juxtaposed to the facts of life of President Obama, would make for very useful biographical sketch work. The President does come across as though he was pervasively manipulative to an extent that is disquieting vis a vis the psychopathic characteristics of his Kenyan father and the emotional challenges of his mother, as well.
Of course, his own choices and intentions are key to it all. What have they been?

Anonymous said...

"He sees [Rev. Jeremiah] Wright’s critique of America as excessive, but notes that it is, at bottom, more integral to the African-American worldview than was generally acknowledged during the episode. "

Most non-black Americans have absolutely no idea what is said from the pulpit and from the pews of the average black church. It matters not if the church is in South Carolina or in California.

Truth said...

Barry is not president because of his black father, but because of his white mother.

Hary Baldwin said...

So, since they gave us Obama, will some crazyass mofo be president in 30 yrs?

Yes, President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, porn star and five-time ultimate smackdown wrestling champion!!!!

Mike Hunt said...

@anonymous 9/4/11 1222a 1225a

The post was talking about FOUR years before becoming President. Ford and LBJ were VP for less than four years.

@slumber_j, the same goes for Truman.

Anonymous said...

It was never about obama being "black" but about him being the "magic negro"...

Candidate jesse jackson was black but he was never ever the magic negro.

White atheists agnostics & judeochristians all belong to the magic negro cult. God is dead but the magic negro's virility conquers all.

What a bunch of assholes!

Broken Clock said...

Maybe we should all look on the bright side: this is one big group therapy session giving America the chance to get over our collective sense of white guilt. Also a chance for at least a few SWPLs with graduate degrees to realize that their political judgement ain't worth shit. Four years of Obama should just about do it.

As a bonus, Obama only had two years to do any serious damage before losing control of the House.

As another bonus, he'll leave the White House very young, only 51 years old, the youngest ex-president since probably Teddy Roosevelt, and will have plenty of time to make an ass of himself and reveal the attitudes that motivated one of the worst presidents in American history. He's a typical black/African pol, so we know four things about him: 1) he's angry; 2) he's corrupt; 3) he blames white people for everything; and 4) he won't be able to keep his mouth shut for long. He'll make Jimmuh Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore look positively statesmenlike by comparison.

Luke Lea said...

"The process of turning the US into
a diversified oligarchy, . ."

Nice phrase, but it's not just "those who cannot be named." It is, well, the whole oligarchy, basically the 10,000 wealthiest families in America ($25 million and up) who fund both political parties and conceal their incomes using shell corporations and secret bank and brokerage accounts in places like Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands.

In other words they are not patriots, not citizens of the world, but ordinary tax cheats on an extraordinary scale; and they belong to an international community of people like them from all over the world.

David Kay Johnson, former chief financial reporter for NYT, estimated a few years back that the American donor class (his phrase btw) avoids paying roughly $300 billion in taxes it legally owes the people of the United States and that it does it not just once but every dad gum year. (It goes without saying that all their "help" is illegal.)

They say Sarah Palin is a loose cannon. Maybe that's what we need.

Anonymous said...

But his blackness appealed to blacks, of course, and his Africaness made whites hope he wasn't a member of that zietgeist of delusion, fantasy, hatred and fragility that is black culture.

Boy oh boy oh boy oh boy, did whites "hope" wrong on that one.

And now they're paying the price...

Anonymous said...

JFK and Bush II had pretty thin resumes too, to be fair.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it true that most of the big black riots since the 60s took place in northern or more liberalish states.
Think of Philadelphia, Watts, Chicago, Detroit, Newark, Gary, etc. This is ironic since white people of such states always nagged on Southern States for not being nice to Negroes. If Negroes in the upper or far western states are so happy, how come they are rioting more than blacks in places like Mississippi or Texas?

NOTA said...

This is a pretty small sample size, though. In 2008, I think the Democrat was almost certain to win, thanks to both Bush's disastrous record and the financial meltdown. Maybe a better set to compare Obama wit would be nominees of both parties--but he's still an outlier among the Mondales and Gores and Kerrys and Doles. Where Obama would fit better is in the set of VP nominees--though even there, he's light on experience. He's not impossibly less qualified than a Palin, Edwards, or Ferrarro.

One way of thinking about 2008 is that the more normal way for things to shake out would have been for Hillary to win the nomination and to choose Obama for VP. Among other things, that would have left Obama with a shot at the big job in eight years, when he'd still be plenty young enough. Some combination of race, Hillary's lack of personal appeal and charisma, and really effective campaigning and fundraising by Obams vey narrowly turned that around. I could see a few months before the election that the Democrat was almost guaranteed to win, and the big donors and power players among democrats must have been able to see that earlier than I could--that realization might have convinced some people to back Obama who, in another year, would have backed Hillary as the more electable candidate.

The other thing to notice is that the second and third place people in nomination battles are often not all that impressive. Edwards, with no more qualifications than Obams, came in third in the Democratic battle; Mike Huckabee (at least a state governor, but not a terribly impressive guy as far as I've seen) was in third place on the Republican side. Politics is a really messy, noisy process, and people at that level ca end up in power. (Indeed, we often end up with surprisingly unimpressive people in power at all levels of government, like all the state and intelligence officials who apparently got confused by the whole Shia/Sunni thing.

smead jolley said...

A more imaginative Republican would offer a "new Homestead Act" allowing underwater foreclosed properties to bought free and clear on the cheap (~$70K or so) with government assistance and particularly targeting White professional women.

Are you saying white professional women would have to live in the areas where these foreclosed properties primarily are? I like the idea.

Anonymous said...

Several posts comment on the President's verbally adroit manipulation of race. I'm not aware that race seemed to observers of him as he grew up as anything really significant in his life. He seemed to be able at times to pull mention of race out of his sleeve to get something he wanted, but on a day to day basis, there's no evidence I've found that his skin pigmentation was very salient in Hawaii or in Indonesia or anywhere else up through his high school graduation.

David said...

"He sees Obama's courtship of black voters not as tertiary, but as the main event."

Of course he does.

NOTA said...

I think the Obama/Edwards comparison is pretty illuminating, because it involves two guys in the same race. Obama and Edwards are both good looking, relatively young guys with pretty interesting personal histories. Both are very good speakers. Obama has a more prestigious legal background, but Edwards was quite successful making money practicing law. Neither had a whole lot of relevant experience toward being president--one term in the Senate and an unsuccessful VP run vs. several years in the IL state legislature as a pretty undistinguished member followed by about half a term in the Senate.

So maybe that's some evidence for what benefit Obama got from his race, though it's hard to really untangle all the individual plusses and minuses for each candidate. (Some people wouldn't vote for Obama because he was black; others were excited to vote for him because he was black.). Maybe the difference amounted to the difference between being a pretty good candidate for VP or coming in third, vs winning the nomination.

I very much suspect that the main benefit Obama got from his race was the ability to silence certain questions or lines of thought/argument/accusation. Its always seemed to me like a shocking amount of the 2008 election was about what questions and ideas and comments were out of bounds due to race, sex, or age being, in some sense, things one ought not to think too hard about.

Anonymous said...

In 2004 Obama made the 'vote for him this time, me next time' speech at the Democratic Presidential Convention. I don't know who anointed him, but he was the Dems 2008 candidate from 2004 on.

McCain's 2008 decision to hire a campaign manager who told him in advance he wouldn't fight Obama? A a pretty strong hint that McCain was bought. Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, like a trout in the milk. Look at McCain's face. This man married money? That took an effort.