Saturday, March 22, 2008

Conservatives on race - A good guy

Earlier, I slammed Pat Buchanan for really not getting the African American experience. Other than being grotesquely bullheaded, it's an intellectually unsophisticated essay, with no attempt whatsoever at subtlety or grace. In the interest of balance, I am highlighting a much more enlightened piece from the Financial Times, by Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard. I've never read The Weekly Standard; all I know about it is that it was founded by William Kristol, who has not impressed me with his column at The NY Times. But Caldwell is an eloquent and nuanced writer who rarely writes exactly what I expect him to. This is one of the best essays about Obama's speech that I have read, from any source or ideological position. It's almost too subtle - I had to read it twice before I really got it.

One of Obama's goals in this speech, he writes, was "to strip his speech of customary euphemisms." This is necessary, according to Caldwell, because those euphemisms obscure intentions and deflect criticisms. But the dangerous euphemisms come from the white people in the power structure, which does not foster trust between the races:

If the historic enemies of your people suddenly began talking about you in what can fairly be called a secret code, how inclined would you be to trust in their protestations of generosity?


Kudos to Caldwell for pointing out in a newspaper like the Financial Times what almost any postmodern academic would take as obvious: one of the purposes of the language of the power structure is to perpetuate that power structure. Barack Obama knows that as well as anybody. It is part of his genius ability as a politician that he can break through the obfuscation that has defined discussion of race in this country for so long. He is rewarded, thank God, in part by an honest and appreciative appraisal from someone who has very little in common with him ideologically. What they do have in common is an interest in moving forward:

This is the core of the problem Mr Obama aims to address. Bringing subterranean racial narratives into the light of day, where they can be debated openly, is a risk. Although the early news coverage of his speech has been positive, polls appear show that what Americans most want from Mr Obama is a simple demonstration that he is not like Rev Wright.

That is not exactly what they got. But they did get something better: the offer of a more intimate relationship among the races, a less instrumental use of them by US politicians and a breaking of the monopoly on interracial dialogue that has until now been held by elite censors. Americans ought to take him up on it.


The power of ideas. Sometimes it is a slow power, sometimes subtlety takes a long time to work. But work it does.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed. I am still simmering for various reasons on the general and probably willfully ignorant obtuseness of the so-called power structure regarding racial and social grievances of the "lower" classes. It's true that Republicans have capitalized on racial grievances but there are many Democrats whose idea of multiculturalism is a trip to a third world country to buy the handiwork of artisans and display it in their home while ignoring the impact of their lifestyle and polices on people living in their midst. Neither does much to advance the progress of mutual understanding. Perhaps this is what the younger generation understands, and admires, about Obama's difference.

Anonymous said...

See also Peggy Noonan, Reagan's speechwriter, crediting Obama in the WSJ for not talking down to the Amercian people - and eschewing the applause lines that thin out coverage of what the speaker actually says on the nightly news.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120604775960652829.html

Asp said...

See also Peggy Noonan, Reagan's speechwriter, crediting Obama in the WSJ for not talking down to the Amercian people - and eschewing the applause lines that thin out coverage of what the speaker actually says on the nightly news.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120604775960652829.html