Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jackson Vs Obama Redux

Over at the WSJ Shelby Steele tries to explain the motives behind Jesse Jackson's recent castration comment.

...he (Jackson) and the entire civil rights establishment pursued equality through the manipulation of white guilt.

Their faith was in the easy moral leverage over white America that the civil rights victories of the 1960s had suddenly bestowed on them. So Mr. Jackson and his generation of black leaders made keeping whites "on the hook" the most sacred article of the post-'60s black identity.

They ushered in an extortionist era of civil rights, in which they said to American institutions: Your shame must now become our advantage. To argue differently -- that black development, for example, might be a more enduring road to black equality -- took whites "off the hook" and was therefore an unpardonable heresy. For this generation, an Uncle Tom was not a black who betrayed his race; it was a black who betrayed the group's bounty of moral leverage over whites. And now comes Mr. Obama, who became the first viable black presidential candidate precisely by giving up his moral leverage over whites.

Mr. Obama's great political ingenuity was very simple: to trade moral leverage for gratitude. Give up moral leverage over whites, refuse to shame them with America's racist past, and the gratitude they show you will constitute a new form of black power. They will love you for the faith you show in them.

I think he's right about the root cause of the Jackson's enmity although I'd throw in a little jealousy as well. However I don't think he's entirely right about the gratitude part. That may play a small part but it occurred to me that a large portion of Obama's appeal is the fact that he is in all visible ways the opposite of George W Bush. I'd even argue that many of his supporters on some level see their choice of candidate as a refutation of the current administration. I'd even go so far as to argue that had someone seemingly more thoughtful and eloquent been president that eight years that Hillary would probably have gotten the nomination. It seems to me that W literally set the stage for Obamania.

Having said that I do however give points to Obama for eschewing Jackson's guilt strategy. That is indeed change I can believe in. Additionally it shows that Obama is smart enough to realize that that song just doesn't play as well with those born in the post Vietnam era. That may say more about him than anything else we know from his record. Because love him or hate him you have to appreciate the fact that he can figure out exactly which way the wind blows.