Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Stage Three of Dying

The Obama Bargain
March 18, 2008; Page A23

Geraldine Ferraro may have had sinister motives when she said that Barack Obama would not be "in his position" as a frontrunner but for his race. Possibly she was acting as Hillary Clinton's surrogate. Or maybe she was simply befuddled by this new reality -- in which blackness could constitute a political advantage.

Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama, June 4, 2007.
But whatever her motives, she was right: "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position." Barack Obama is, of course, a very talented politician with a first-rate political organization at his back. But it does not detract from his merit to say that his race is also a large part of his prominence. And it is undeniable that something extremely powerful in the body politic, a force quite apart from the man himself, has pulled Obama forward. This force is about race and nothing else.

The novelty of Barack Obama is more his cross-racial appeal than his talent. Jesse Jackson displayed considerable political talent in his presidential runs back in the 1980s. But there was a distinct limit to his white support. Mr. Obama's broad appeal to whites makes him the first plausible black presidential candidate in American history. And it was Mr. Obama's genius to understand this. Though he likes to claim that his race was a liability to be overcome, he also surely knew that his race could give him just the edge he needed -- an edge that would never be available to a white, not even a white woman.

How to turn one's blackness to advantage?

The answer is that one "bargains." Bargaining is a mask that blacks can wear in the American mainstream, one that enables them to put whites at their ease. This mask diffuses the anxiety that goes along with being white in a multiracial society. Bargainers make the subliminal promise to whites not to shame them with America's history of racism, on the condition that they will not hold the bargainer's race against him. And whites love this bargain -- and feel affection for the bargainer -- because it gives them racial innocence in a society where whites live under constant threat of being stigmatized as racist. So the bargainer presents himself as an opportunity for whites to experience racial innocence.

This is how Mr. Obama has turned his blackness into his great political advantage, and also into a kind of personal charisma. Bargainers are conduits of white innocence, and they are as popular as the need for white innocence is strong. Mr. Obama's extraordinary dash to the forefront of American politics is less a measure of the man than of the hunger in white America for racial innocence.

His actual policy positions are little more than Democratic Party boilerplate and hardly a tick different from Hillary's positions. He espouses no galvanizing political idea. He is unable to say what he means by "change" or "hope" or "the future." And he has failed to say how he would actually be a "unifier." By the evidence of his slight political record (130 "present" votes in the Illinois state legislature, little achievement in the U.S. Senate) Barack Obama stacks up as something of a mediocrity. None of this matters much.

Race helps Mr. Obama in another way -- it lifts his political campaign to the level of allegory, making it the stuff of a far higher drama than budget deficits and education reform. His dark skin, with its powerful evocations of America's tortured racial past, frames the political contest as a morality play. Will his victory mean America's redemption from its racist past? Will his defeat show an America morally unevolved? Is his campaign a story of black overcoming, an echo of the civil rights movement? Or is it a passing-of-the-torch story, of one generation displacing another?

Because he is black, there is a sense that profound questions stand to be resolved in the unfolding of his political destiny. And, as the Clintons have discovered, it is hard in the real world to run against a candidate of destiny. For many Americans -- black and white -- Barack Obama is simply too good (and too rare) an opportunity to pass up. For whites, here is the opportunity to document their deliverance from the shames of their forbearers. And for blacks, here is the chance to document the end of inferiority. So the Clintons have found themselves running more against America's very highest possibilities than against a man. And the press, normally happy to dispel every political pretension, has all but quivered before Mr. Obama. They, too, have feared being on the wrong side of destiny.

And yet, in the end, Barack Obama's candidacy is not qualitatively different from Al Sharpton's or Jesse Jackson's. Like these more irascible of his forbearers, Mr. Obama's run at the presidency is based more on the manipulation of white guilt than on substance. Messrs. Sharpton and Jackson were "challengers," not bargainers. They intimidated whites and demanded, in the name of historical justice, that they be brought forward. Mr. Obama flatters whites, grants them racial innocence, and hopes to ascend on the back of their gratitude. Two sides of the same coin.

But bargainers have an Achilles heel. They succeed as conduits of white innocence only as long as they are largely invisible as complex human beings. They hope to become icons that can be identified with rather than seen, and their individual complexity gets in the way of this. So bargainers are always laboring to stay invisible. (We don't know the real politics or convictions of Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan or Oprah Winfrey, bargainers all.) Mr. Obama has said of himself, "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views . . ." And so, human visibility is Mr. Obama's Achilles heel. If we see the real man, his contradictions and bents of character, he will be ruined as an icon, as a "blank screen."

Thus, nothing could be more dangerous to Mr. Obama's political aspirations than the revelation that he, the son of a white woman, sat Sunday after Sunday -- for 20 years -- in an Afrocentric, black nationalist church in which his own mother, not to mention other whites, could never feel comfortable. His pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is a challenger who goes far past Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in his anti-American outrage ("God damn America").

How does one "transcend" race in this church? The fact is that Barack Obama has fellow-traveled with a hate-filled, anti-American black nationalism all his adult life, failing to stand and challenge an ideology that would have no place for his own mother. And what portent of presidential judgment is it to have exposed his two daughters for their entire lives to what is, at the very least, a subtext of anti-white vitriol?

What could he have been thinking? Of course he wasn't thinking. He was driven by insecurity, by a need to "be black" despite his biracial background. And so fellow-traveling with a little race hatred seemed a small price to pay for a more secure racial identity. And anyway, wasn't this hatred more rhetorical than real?

But now the floodlight of a presidential campaign has trained on this usually hidden corner of contemporary black life: a mindless indulgence in a rhetorical anti-Americanism as a way of bonding and of asserting one's blackness. Yet Jeremiah Wright, splashed across America's television screens, has shown us that there is no real difference between rhetorical hatred and real hatred.

No matter his ultimate political fate, there is already enough pathos in Barack Obama to make him a cautionary tale. His public persona thrives on a manipulation of whites (bargaining), and his private sense of racial identity demands both self-betrayal and duplicity. His is the story of a man who flew so high, yet neglected to become himself.

Mr. Steele, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the author of "A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win" (Free Press, 2007).


Blogger Jerry'O said...

First this:

Don Wycliff, editor of the Chicago Tribune, reviewed Steele's book and disagreed with his analysis of Barack noting that:

"[as] I read his essay, I found myself thinking that Steele was trapped in a time warp, that his knowledge of the currents of thought and attitude among black people stopped sometime around 1990. Less charitably, I found myself thinking that the egregious Al Sharpton is not the only one with an investment in a static view of American race relations....It apparently never occurs to Steele that for a man a generation younger than himself the terms of blackness might be different, that the “totalitarian” demands he [Steele] encountered in the ’60s might no longer prevail, that Barack Obama’s mixed-race experience might actually be different than Shelby Steele’s."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My own bit:

Let’s see... Bargaining..? Trade-offs..? Relieving white guilt..? Wants to ‘be black’..? Wait! You’re calling Obama an Oreo!!!

Oh, God!!! Is this a tired old accusation, or what?... The above review is dead on! Not Shelby... Basically, Shelby Steele’s take is just a revamped version of the ol’ uncle Tom Oreo name callin’ thang... That’s it. For all his intellectualizing and pseudo psychological neo Freud-o babble about ‘trade-offs’, it just boils down one black guy calling another black guy a house nigga’... and it’s so, so tired and boring... He reminds me of the children I grew up with (yes, a father remembers...), except he’s still angry... Whatever...

Steele talks about Barak’s charisma as if it’s entirely a contrivance. In fact, lots of people who want Obama to just “go away already!”, talk like that; like it’s all an image he’s somehow positioned himself in, to manipulate... This isn’t that surprising because hey, that’s what campaigns and politics is all about, right? Show business, right; focus groups and PR and positioning and shit? But we are all aware of this by now... And we’re not under some funky contextual spell, and Barak isn’t stirring toads into a magic iron urn and mumbling spells of hypnotic delights to delusional wide-eyed blind optimists, towards which he’s positioned himself as some savior.

Interesting note: Charisma is based on the word charism... Originally, is was a term used by monks to describe a quality given to a person by god, in order to validate that person’s presence in a place.

Doesn’t that just piss off the gatekeepers and how!

Yeah, admittedly, some of what is happening is about the context which Barak is positioned in. But he didn’t do it himself. He may be providing Jungian hooks on which we are hanging all kinds of archetypes... None of them, from his direct causation or manipulation. But he is a famous young black politician running for president in the United States, for chrissake!

Now, if he were an eloquent and poetic black boxer protesting the war, it wouldn’t be so surprising... Well, not these days anyway...

So, why should all that archetype hanging surprise us? Sheesh...

This doesn’t make him manipulative, psychologically strange, nor the new hope to his supporters... it just means that on (whatever truthful and real) hook he’s got, those archetypes, today anyway, hang quite well...

Maybe, just maybe his charisma is because, within today’s context, he may be the right person (when compared to the current alternatives) to help us heal some of this pessimism, masquerading as realism.

Maybe this exchange on your blog is all it’s all about...

But does it really have to sink to some house nigga thang..?

My name is Barak Obama...

Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful...

7:10 PM  
Blogger Tony Forkush said...

Before I slumber, oh these long long days, I just want to say how grateful I am to be an active particpant in one of the great dialogues in my political life. And there is so much more to come. I simply cannot ever remember a time in my life when, not unlike a jazz musician, I have been provoked into going to deeper and deeper places on my instrument and outer and outer signatures of time and rhythm. Truly, I feel like we are all entwined in some kind of new sound, some new form of discourse that has never existed before. And we are all playing the notes as fast as we can.
What a remarkable and amazing gift.
To you Senator!

10:50 PM  
Blogger Michael Pascoe said...

Let me give you my take on all of this. It will be long, so you might want to read it in parts. I’m sticking my neck out because many will think me a kook, but here goes.

Human beings are run by emotion. As much as we pride ourselves of our intellect, it is all driven by our inner subconscious thoughts. We have buttons that can be pushed. We think we can control ourselves, but when they get pushed, we act instead of think. When an outsider sees this they say, “Why do you let someone do that to you? You are control of your own emotions.” Oh, yeah.

What does that have to do with Barack Obama? I’m getting to that.

Those who control us are also subjected to human emotions. They are controlled by their emotional need to make as much money as possible. They forgo logic and intelligence in the pursuit of this goal. They will step on anyone in their way, even slaughtering their fellow brothers and sisters as the sacrificial lambs we are. This brotherhood is our fellow countrymen who would sell us out to make a buck.

They also know that we our governed by our emotions of hate and fear. They manipulate it because they are masters at getting what they want. They are not bigots. It goes beyond that. But, they know that we all have a hidden prejudice. They are the antagonizers that stir up the pot , then step aside and watch the cacophony that they have created.

This preamble is on purpose. I want to make it clear that prejudice is not their motivation.

That being said, let me get to the crux of what I am leading up to. I hope I am wrong, but I was not on the Red Sox or Patriots. And what is going to happen is much bigger than sports. When I say the Bush Administration, I am only talking about a brand name. Bush has nothing, I repeat, nothing to do with anything that is going on. He is a puppet who needs to stay in power to keep in motion the “plan” that was created years ago by friends of Papa Bush. Like I said, it’s not just him. It’s the true rulers of this world. Tupac knew it, John Lennon knew it. That’s why they were taken out.

The Aryans are gearing up for a race war and the “powers that be” will take advantage of that to stay in power. John McCain is not their guy. He is not Conservative enough. It must be Puppet Bush. He has to stay in power so that they can continue fucking this planet up.

Here is the plan. Barack Obama will be used as a springboard for that war. A war to be waged here in the United States.

All of this revelation about Obama is being spewed by the media to fan the flames of hate and fear. They want to divide us more than we are. They know that we will use our subconscious and not our logic minds and react.

We are approaching up to the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. An assignation that I personally witness on television as a seven year old. The Democrats were without a candidate and scrambled at the convention until we got Hubert Humphrey. Hubert Humphrey? What where we thinking?! The results, Richard Nixon became president, the Vietnam War continued, and America drifted farther apart from each other.

This was just a dress rehearsal of things to come.

Some white, trailer trash person, will be so upset and filled with prejudice, he is going to be the “lone gunman” and assassinate Barrack Obama. Riots will occur, martial law will be enacted, and total chaos will be our lot. And the results will be Bush will remain our president, the Iraq war will continue, and America will have drifted so far apart, we will never be one country again.

God Bless America! Prove me wrong and prevent this disaster. As John Lennon said, “Just give peace a chance.” Let’s become brothers and sisters and live our lives as one.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Jerry'O said...

Gee-whiz... What happened to the guy that just posted that other sappy sentimental real-love-on-Earth posting? Yikes!

I believe it’s like that too, all conspiratorial-corporate and stuff. But the emphasis still has to be on taking action; and not on a probability of defeat. The problem with conspiracies (theory or practice) is that they deflate the notion that any progress at all is possible... and that ain’t simply so...

Sooner or later the real monsters rear their ugly heads and it becomes pretty obvious who the lesser of all the available evils are, at least... and it’s pretty obvious who is or ain’t on, say, Cheney’s team.

The problem with most conspiracy theory (playing both sides against the middle and you is the middle) is that it can make you think that all of it is just an exercise in futility... You start thinking, hey, there’s no difference between these guys, so screw it...

And folks, that’s exactly what it’s designed to do... that’s why moneyed interests loves conspiracy theory... It stagnates the idea that any action, or choosing any side, can only lead to the same ol’, same ol failures...

As the saying goes-- Sooner or later, you have to choose sides.

I think Odama said that too...

That’s not a typo; I really do mean Edward James Olmos in Battlestar Galactica...

I really am a believer in Cylons... I mean, wow, Cheney?.. Ann Coulter?.. and that Dana Perino, chick... What up wit dat...?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And David Mamet... I love David as a artist, but he’s very much a prime example of exactly the kind of cynicism that’s pervaded the boomer culture. All I was writing about earlier... What’s there not to love about most of his work, and I love “TRUE AND FALSE”; but as for his cynicism...

Let’s just say I hope to God, that in the next life his soul has to be married an entire lifetime to Marianne Williamson...

That Oprah shit’ll fix his ass good...

2:33 PM  
Blogger Michael Pascoe said...

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in peace. I just sense something is coming and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be pleasant. Conspiracy theories set us free. It makes us think. The true conspiracy is when the information is stifled. A healthy dialogue, no matter how crazy, is good for the people.

The current administration loves to rank disputes against them as conspiracy theories. I think it would be great when someone disagrees with me, I can just call them a conspiracy theorist. “Mr. Officer. I was not speeding. That is just a conspiracy theory of yours.” What do you think would happen? You guessed it. It’s easy to call something a conspiracy theory than it is to answer the questions at hand. That’ what these nuts are doing. That’s why we must always bring up whatever nutty thing that comes to mind so we can get to the truth. . . whatever that might be.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Jerry'O said...

Hey, Michael... I really didn't mean that as a dig at you... Like I said, I think like that too... and I also said "theory and practice", to acknowledge the reality of it all...

I was just being cautionary, that's all.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Michael Pascoe said...

No problem. I feel that I know you from somewhere, but I can't place it. I now live in Vegas so I guess it must have been year ago when we had hair and was able to see our pee pee when we go wee wee.

Sorry, it's late. I must go to bed.

11:59 PM  

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