Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Speech

For the rest of the Presidential Campaign, it some one refers to “The Speech” with the definite article and no other reference they are talking about Senator Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech on race. It is nothing against the Senator to point out that the the racist comments by Rev Wright that made the speech necessary are not improving the tone of the campaign. As an example of oratory it will, I’m sure, remain one of the best of the century, especially considering he did not use his favorite pulpit style. Click and enjoy a master at work.

Politically the speech undoubtedly is doing much to repair the damage that Rev. Wrights comments caused in Democratic Party ranks generally and Senator Obama’s base specifically. He seems to be recovering any ground lost in the race for the Democratic Nomination. But at least for now, he has dropped several points relative to Senator McCain in the polls for the general election.

I think the speech is also likely to give a reason for the disaffected conservatives who are unenthusiastic about Senator McCain to vote, if not exactly for McCain, against the Democratic candidate. Some Clinton supporters may find it gives a reason to their initial dislike for Obama and they may sit out the election, vote for Nadar, or even Senator McCain. It seems very doubtful it will promote the hope of greater racial healing senator Obama would like.

In a somewhat angry post Jay Anderson of
Catholics in the Public Square provides a good example.

Anderson quotes Senator Obama as trying to explain why white’s views on race caused many (traditionally Democratic voters) to support the “Reagan Coalition”

... In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding...
(The emphasis is Anderson’s)

Anderson comments:

So, in those 3 paragraphs cited above, Obama regurgitates the tired old leftist meme that the only thing that could possibly explain traditional Democrat voters supporting Ronald Reagan - thereby forging the "Reagan Coalition" - was because Reagan "made us comfortable in our prejudices".

I have heard that sort of explanation by persons of left leaning tendency to explaining behavior of right leaning persons. If they had listened to them they would have known the explanation, at best, lacks substance. Unfortunately Anderson sees the error of Obama’s comments as so obvious to him and his readers that he does not elaborate.

Catholics in the Public Square is a conserative Catholic site that has regularly accused the leading Republican candidates of not being sufficiently pro-life or conservative. They frequently get comments from readers who plan to sit out the election because they do not see McCain as sufficiently pro-life or conserative.

One of Senator Obama's examples was school busing in Boston during the 1970's that helped create Reagan Democrats, which is a good point to see why Obamas comments miss the point and provoke such anger.

In the early 50’s a Mr. Brown of Topeka Kansas was very upset that his daughter had to be bussed across town because of her race when there was a equally good school just down the street. He sued the School board. In the famous case of “Brown vs School Board” the Supreme Court decided in his favor and ordered that the schools be desegregated “with all deliberate speed”.

This was explained in the white community as overturning the previous Supreme Court decision in Plessey vs Ferguson which had imposed the “separate but equal” doctrine that the Topeka School Board had relied on in setting up segregated schools. It was pointed out that in his dissent to Plessey Justice Harlan stated the “the constitution is color blind.” Many in the white community came away with the idea that in overturning Plessey the Court said that the Constitution is color blind and that basing decisions on where children go to school based on race is unconstitutional. This interpretation was well received in the second to fourth generation immigrant communities that Senator Obama was talking about at the beginning of the quote. They were in full agreement with Mr. Brown that busing a child across town because of their race was wrong, and even if they were not inclined to use the word - racist.

This is not what the court ruled. The court did not reject basing decisions on race, just that “separate but equal” was an unacceptable way base decisions on race. And going beyond what would be necessary to resolve Mr. Brown’s grievance, that integrated classrooms was a desirable thing in itself. It provided no reason to say that bussing children across town based on race to promote integregration was unacceptable.

So in Boston, relying on what the Court actually ruled, a judge ordered the Boston schools not just be officially desegragated but have integrated schools with a constant ratio of races accross all classrooms. However because of the geographic size and housing patterns in Boston this could only be done by bussing children all over town based on their race. The order was enforced with such vigor that it’s proponents did not even question the (in extreme cases) that having a child on a school bus (segregated because it was moving students of one race to another part of town) for four hours a day may more than wipe any putative good that would come from an integrated classroom.

The reason that the Boston school bussing helped create Reagan Coalition was the perceived self-righteous hypocrisy and dishonesty of the Democratic leadership in apparently doing just what the Topeka School Board did, busing children across town based on their race. And doing so in a manner that seemed they were more concenred about statistical equivlance than children. They considered that if it was wrong in one case (and believed that Mr. Brown was right) it is equally wrong in the other. If it was racist in one case it was racist in the other. They would have voted against Jim Crow also.

This is just one example, but since the 1970’s the programs supported in the name affirmative action and fighting racism ran counter to the arguments used to convince the white community to support the Civil Rights movement in the 50’s and 60’s. Martin Luther King's famous quote that a child should be judged on the content of her character and not the color of her skin resounded well in white communities that had been immigrants in the recent past, they were often judged on their nationality rather than the content of there character and did not like it. But the forced integration plans like Boston seemed to be judging people on their race, not the content of their character, and the leadership of the Democratic party seemed to be calling them racists for supporting the very arguments the Civil Rights movement used to sell the Civil Rights movement to the white community. It should also be noted that the demographics that contributed to the Reagan Democrats are providing strong support to Senator Clinton.

If Senator Obama does not realize this, his attempt at a national discussion on race will be throwing gasoline on simering fire, and his campaign and possible election will most likely promote “A Less Perfect Union!”

I’m not sure how Anderson was planning to vote, but it sure seems Senator Obama has given Anderson and friends a reason, holding their noses if necessary, to vote for Senator McCain (that is vote against Senator Obama).


El Jefe Maximo said...

We have to think Obama for suggesting a national conversation on race: I'm sure nobody would have ever guessed we'd need one. Maybe he's a great orator: I must say his speeches read much less impressively than they sound.

I wish I didn't think we're going to have more than a couple of years to get bored with him.

hank_F_M said...


A national discussion with only preapproved and politicaly correct comments is bound to set a new standard for boring.

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