Notes from Underground


Meditations upon the solemn Investiture



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The problem with most people's cynicism is that it's usually directed only at their enemies. It's easy enough to suspect a political leader of venal motives when you oppose what he represents, and easy enough to recognize him as insincere and self-serving when the causes he claims to serve are misguided at best, sinister at worst.

That is well and good as far as it goes. But crusty and cranky as a man may consider himself to be, his jadedness too often proves to be a fraudulent veneer. For when a different would-be leader comes along, whose causes he actually supports, he drops his cynicism like a bad habit and immediately dons those long-eschewed rose-colored glasses. When the new leader's enemies decry his faults, our man's first impulse is to defend him; his own ideological myopia obliterates his ability to reason and discern. We then discover that our crusty cynic is indeed only thinly crusted, and merely a shallow-minded partisan, one who sees only the best in those of his "tribe," and only the worst in anyone who has a different ideological outlook.

It is a truism that most politicians are dodgy customers; the very word "politician" has long connoted sleaze and untrustworthiness. Seeing the flaws only in politicians you aren't inclined to support is akin to seeing the speck in your neighbor's eye. Far fewer people recognize the mote that swims in their own eye when they excuse or dismiss the flaws in their own pet politicians. George W. Bush apologists (few though they may be these days) have recently taken the line that his low popularity at the time of his exit from office is a sign of his greatness as a statesmen — he did what he thought was right, they say, even if it was unpopular. Of course, most of the same apologists point to Ronald Reagan's overwhelming popularity during his presidency as a sign of his greatness. So — is a president great because the people love him, or because they hate him? The answer depends on whatever happens to be the convenient argument to make.

Bush supporters in their most passionate spasms of defensive indignation do not even approach the hysterical hype that has greeted the dawning of the Age of Obama. It's tempting to say that the supporters of the 44th president are in for a disappointment, since he will almost certainly not achieve world peace, end global poverty, install an equitable playoff system for college football, and have us all holding hands and singing "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" in perfect harmony. I'm willing to wager that when Barack Obama leaves office, the country and the world won't be significantly different from how they are right now. Not significantly better, anyway. Yet it seems that, even given that eventuality, Obamites will still be able to hold their heads high. Like the fanatical and undiscerning members of every Cult of Personality throughout history, they will comfort themselves with the notion of their Dear Leader's idealism and good intentions. And just like the Bushites, they will claim that things really are substantially better, owing to Obama's benevolent rule. They will no doubt ascribe his shortcomings and failures to the fact that the prospect of "change," even "change you can believe in," frightens people, and that it created a reactionary backlash. Once he is actually under fire, instead of being fawned over, Obama will become a holy martyr for the truth; the strength of his witness will be increased, in the eyes of his sycophants, by the amount of resistance he encounters.

Of course, what will be most interesting to observe is how Obama's presidency affects the perception, among many blacks, of America as a racist country. Many conservative commentators are already pressing the point: if white Americans hate black people so much, how did Obama get elected in the first place? That very question threatens the ideological construct of perpetual Negro victimhood espoused by many black activists in America, the same ones who rallied behind such fraudulent "victims" as Michael Vick, the so-called Jena 6, O.J. Simpson, and Tawana Brawley. After all, if a black man can become the most powerful man in the world, is affirmative action really needed? Can black Americans credibly lay claim to being an oppressed minority when one of their own kind sits in the White House?

Those challenges are well-nigh alarming in their implications for any future agitation for special "rights" and goodies from the government, and one would expect a quick and severe rebuttal from those who stand to lose influence or power because of the changed circumstances. Yet so far, any such defensive rhetoric has been relatively absent.

Perhaps Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and their ilk are still too busy basking in the glow of a great tribal victory to shore up their ideological bona fides. But I predict that once the Obama administration hits rocky ground on some issue or other, the fires of racially inspired outrage will be stoked yet again. When Obama gets criticized harshly and his popularity drops, there will be ample opportunity to play the race card. No white president, we will hear, would ever be upbraided so severely in similar circumstances; it must be because of latent race hatred — white people venting on someone they view as an "uppity Negro."

Yet there are limits to that type of incendiary race baiting. Even some white liberals have lost patience with the dealing of the race card, as potent a rhetorical weapon as it remains among the black population. White liberal Americans still want to buy into the notion of perpetual black victimhood, but they themselves would rather not be numbered among the alleged white victimizers. For them, other rationales are more palatable. They might, for example, point out that Obama's margin of victory was quite small, and that 47 percent of voters cast their ballots for John McCain. That fact they could well construe as a sign of the still-raging problem of racism in America, since obviously bigoted red-state voters refused to help put a black man in power, despite the overwhelming pro-Democrat, anti-Republican drift of the country resulting from the Iraq war and the failing economy.

Or they might make a more subtle point. Americans voted for Obama, they would concede. But how black, they might ask, is Obama, really? There they could actually have a point. It was Joe Biden, who later became Obama's running mate, who extolled the latter's cleanliness and articulateness, the implication clearly being that he was, in many ways, culturally "whiter" than other darker-hued candidates for president of the recent past. Also, speaking literally, Obama is white, somewhat: he is as white as he is black, having been born of a white mother and a black father. Would white Americans have voted for a darker-skinned black man, one who spoke in a more-noticeable black dialect, who wasn't Harvard-educated and didn't radiate erudition the way Obama does?

That, of course, raises what might be the most interesting question of all about Obama and racial attitudes in America today. When a half-white person is in the public eye, why is the default to see him as non-white? Some would say that this shows the continued presence of white racism in America: if you're tainted with racially alien blood, then you are immediately seen as the "other."

In the old days, that was known as the "one-drop" rule, but the old days are gone. I think the phenomenon speaks to a quite different reality in our time. These days, a biracial individual's best choice in pursuing a political or social career is to embrace his genetic exoticism and downplay his whiteness. Being white, after all, has come to mean that one has no real culture or truly redeeming traits — one is simply bland and boring (think of the prevalence of insulting expressions such as "white-bread" and "lily-white" to describe homogenous Caucasian communities). If you are a mulatto and you choose to try to come across as "white," then you are seen as a sellout, an Uncle Tom, a race traitor. It is far better for you to promote your blackness — while at the same time taking certain "white" traits (devotion to education, use of proper English grammar) and adapting them for your own ends.

It's something of a tightrope act, but no one can argue that the strategy hasn't worked out well for Barack Obama. It remains to be seen how this "mulatto Messiah" will use the power he's won, but we can be sure that his apologists and sycophants will work overtime to make a case for his "greatness," no matter how badly he screws up. Some things never change.

January 20, 2009

© 2009 WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

Mr. Nowicki's personal blog is Dyspeptic Myopic, at www.andynowicki.blogspot.com.

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