Barack Obama made a fine speech yesterday but to paraphrase Bill Clinton on racial matters, he made it because of a “mugging” and he shouldn’t have had to have made it. The entire incident is a text book case of how the political class operates today and how woefully unprincipled many of them are both on an institutional and individual level. The news cycle is very quick these days and which issue has legs usually depends on the lack of “real” news-a major speech by someone in power, a celebrity/political sex scandal, explosions or a fast moving automobile in traffic, you get the idea. Not to say there isn’t enough chatter about all issues, at any given moment you could probably find a discussion on Canadian tariff policy on cable, but the news cycle is swift and if you get caught up in one you can easily be Spitzed.
Barack Obama’s “problem” with his middle class place of worship, the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, began in earnest with bluster from Fox News’s Offensive Noseguard Sean Hannity. Hannity’s researchers found some inflammatory rhetoric from a few years ago and off went running the usual suspects, including moral watchdog Bill Kristol who played it cool by saying Barack’s problem was not that he hangs out with radical Black Nationalist’s, which was Hannity and Tucker Carlson’s line, but that Obama is too much of a politician and Americans want more than that, this from the guy who supported George Bush. After the media storm front crashed down upon us the liberal types started the hand wringing at the New York Times, National Public Radio, and other sober bastions of normalcy. There line in general was that there is no place for such rhetoric in the United States where calm and balanced debate is the norm. Bull.
Contrary to what the political class is saying, discussion of race in the United States is a raucous affair. At the workplace, at the bar, on call in radio, at school, at Thanksgiving dinner all types of people are having wide open, vulgar, racially insensitive, amusing, ignorant and insightful conversations about how the “other” lives. Debate out here with the hoople is honest, often ill informed and visceral. In everyday discussion people get annoyed, irritated and angry. Debate for the most part is a contact sport where bruises and scratches occur and most people have fairly stable positions that have been hardened over the years of investment. This is not to say that minds are not changed in this dialectic but rough point counterpoint is more the norm than a meeting of the minds.
That’s why the brouhaha over Obama’s former preacher is a red herring. Unless a complete tara-ra-goon-de-ay most people know that Black Nationalism is a major theme in discussion of race today. It’s a major theme in Hip Hop, in the academe, in literature and in the Black Church. It’s usually combined with a bit of self help; pick yourself up by your bootstraps rhetoric, a historical analysis of racial injustice and an appeal for social justice. It also has a little whitey bashing. Big deal. We all know this and to act as if it doesn’t happen, and worse needs to be denounced, is dangerous. It is actually a call for censorship. We all do not aspire to speak with the $8 words of William F. Buckley or speak in the mild tones of Tom Brokaw. Real debate makes people uncomfortable; it challenges the premise of your argument and hopefully in the long hall alters our views. In the 1960’s Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael demanded Black Power and made Martin Luther King look the moderate even though for the most part he was regarded as a trouble maker by the establishment. Without the pressure of social movements, both Right and Left, the center holds and nothing changes. Social movements are not led by the NPR types in the world.
Barack Obama is no radical and we all know it. He chose a moderate Black Church because he wanted some connection with his history. He is of both the white and black world and he has heard the honest discussion on both sides. Depending on where you work and live most of us have actually heard the honest debate. That’s actually a good thing. Let’s keep up that debate not try to be contained to the hushed tones of NPR. Otherwise nothing will change.