Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Obama and our post-modern race problem

Shelby Steele has an interesting column on "Obama and our post-modern race problem." A quote providing the meat of it:

...Mr. Obama always knew that his greatest appeal was not as a leader but as a cultural symbol. He always wore the bargainer's mask—winning the loyalty and gratitude of whites by flattering them with his racial trust: I will presume that you are not a racist if you will not hold my race against me. Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and yes, Tiger Woods have all been superb bargainers, eliciting almost reverential support among whites for all that they were not—not angry or militant, not political, not using their moral authority as blacks to exact a wage from white guilt.

But this mask comes at a high price. When blacks become humanly visible, when their true beliefs are known, their mask shatters and their symbiotic bond with whites is broken.

The above reminds me of one of my favorite essays ever, Edith Efron's "Native Son" on Clarence Thomas. If you have not read it, then you should set aside what you are doing and go read it now. Period.

Going back to Steele, while his analysis on how Obama's "bargainer" approach has influenced his entire approach to politics, there is one paragraph with which I do have a serious quibble:

Our new race problem—the sophistication of seeing what isn't there rather than what is—has surprised us with a president who hides his lack of economic understanding behind a drama of scale. Hundreds of billions moving into trillions. Dramatic, history-making numbers. But where is the economic logic behind a stimulus package that doesn't fully click in for a number of years? How is every stimulus dollar spent actually going to stimulate? Why bailouts to institutions that only hoard the money? How is vast government spending simultaneously a kind of prudence that will not "add to the deficit?" How can such spending not trigger smothering levels of taxation?

I agree with Steele on the underlying merits of Obama's economic policies, of course. At the same time, the real issue here does not seem to be how Obama's racial background has uniquely influenced him, but rather that he is doing what nearly any other Democratic politician would do in his place. Tragically, nor do the Democrats have any real monopoly here on economic ignorance. Need I remind anyone that Mike Huckabee seems equally clueless about the pernicious effects of government spending, and that plenty of Repubilcans voted for the bailouts? Part of the problem is that Obama faces the same bad incentives that nearly all other politicians do. Steele's piece would be stronger if he teased this out more.

1 comment:

  1. Increasing the size and scope of government gives Obama more power/influence/etc. It is not that Obama or Huckabee are "clueless"; they know exactly what they are doing.

    I'm sure Obama convinced himself that big government is moral so he can sleep at night, but the stiumulus bill was not accidently signed by a naif who didn't know better.