Friday, September 21, 2007

It's Lose-Lose for Obama

THE DEAD HAND OF THE PAST. I'm not saying it's a deliberate setup, but the last thing Obama needed in his presidential candidacy was the "Jena 6" flap. No matter how he chooses to treat the case, he will fare the worse for it.

This is no Rosa Parks moment. While it seems clear that injustices have been done, the facts of the situation reflect discredit on every side. Yes, white people have behaved badly -- so badly that most Americans won't even be able to relate it to their own experience. It's as if this part of Louisiana belongs more to the realm of backwoods horror movies than to the nation whose last two secretaries of state have been black. Popular perception is likely to be that the local neanderthals need a good smacking around, not that the rest of the country needs to be immersed in another nationally orchestrated guilt trip. Nooses dangling from a 'white folks' tree? No. Sorry. That's not us. That's just some kind of sick throwback to a time we really have overcome. An anachronism so yellowed in its stereotypes that it's not a symbol of anything, just a repellent exception.

But the other side -- the aggrieved, victimized black side -- is just as replete with stereotypes, including thuggish acts by young black males, an absentee father who shows up only when his troubled son has been transformed by the media into a famous victim, a chance for a young man, Mychal Bell, to escape into a better life via a sports scholarship --a chance thrown away for multiple instances of violent behavior. We are not talking about the persecution of the innocent here; we are talking at most about excessive punishment for indisputably bad behavior.

What we have, in sum, is a whole bunch of unattractive people whose worst impulses were sparked into criminality by the perennially easy excuse of race. Sad, yes. Cause for a nostalgic reenactment of the most stirring scenes from "Eyes on the Prize"? No. In this context, sixties-style marches seem every bit as anachronistic as the nooses on that now-slain tree.

If Obama takes the bait being dangled before him by Sharpton and Jackson and charges into the fray like an outraged civil rights leader of old, he will cease to be what he has seemed thus far to many middle-of-the-road voters, a presidential candidate who is an American first and a black man second. This would be a fatal shift in perception. It's not that Americans can't understand the rationale for black first, American second. They can and most likely do. It's that they probably won't elect a President of the United States who puts 13 percent of the population above the other 87 percent in his priorities.

On the other hand, if Obama tries to distance himself from the most extreme rhetoric of the Sharptons et al, he will risk losing the reflexive black vote that constitutes the most monolithically reliable bloc of the Democrat Party. The "not black enough" charge has always been out there waiting, whether or not Jesse Jackson actually voiced it in so many words. What Obama can't overcome without the active support of traditional African-American leadership is that he is not really an African-American. He is, by accident of birth, half-African, and first-generation at that. He cannot claim the legacy of slavery in his ancestry and  the forgiveness for every conceivable misstep that entails, the forgiveness that enables Marion Berry, William Jefferson, and Alcee Hastings to keep getting elected to high office despite abundant evidence of corruption, incompetence, and outright criminality. He will always be suspect and always subject to the whims of the aging black power structure.

The saddest part of Obama's Hobson's choice is what it says about that aging black power structure. In forcing his hand this way, they seem to be saying that they don't really want a black President of the United States. They'd prefer to see him lose out to the cynical and ruthless juggernaut of the Hillary campaign. Why? I don't presume to know. All I can do is speculate. Is it envy of his ability to reach the broader audience that has always remained stubbornly beyond their grasp? Or is it a species of racism outsiders know little of that divides African-Americans from Africans in deep and mysterious ways? Or is it, more nefariously, the most cynical political calculation of all, that the election of the first black President will deal a mortal blow to the culture of victimology which insists that black people can only succeed in this country through affirmative action and the dozens of other race-based privileges which have made a mockery of the color-blind society Martin Luther King envisioned in his ennobling dream?

I don't agree with Obama's politics. But I'd hate to see his opportunity to prove the eternal viability of the American Dream sabotaged by those who prefer government compensations for permanent second-class status to the dignity and pride of true equality.

Play the Jena 6 game very very carefully, Mr. Obama. There are a lot of us, conservatives included, who don't want you to lose this campaign because you're black.

UPDATE. We have a comment from a fine blogger, Baldilocks. Go see what she has to say about everything. Also, one of the InstaPunk bloggers has an op-ed piece in today's Providence Journal. It's about Glenn Reynolds's favorite subject: Why journalists really better oughta start paying attention to the blogosphere. (Or go to, click 'opinion,' then 'contributors,' then 'Robert Laird.') Who'd a thunk it? Certainly not us.

And thanks to Instapundit for the link.

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