Thursday, February 15, 2007

Why Doesn't the Right Want Obama to be Black?

For a couple weeks now, I've been wondering why people on the right appear to be obsessed with the fact that Obama is only half-black.

Rush Limbaugh:

Hey, Barack Obama has picked up another endorsement: Halfrican American actress Halle Berry. "As a Halfrican American, I am honored to have Ms. Berry's support, as well as the support of other Halfrican Americans," Obama said.

He didn't say it, but -- anyway, there are those out there -- greetings.


And then, more recently:

Okay, back to our Barack Obama Audio Sound Bite Marathon. What are we up to now? Let’s see. Oh, yeah. Obama just said he wasn’t sure that he decided he was black, that if you look African-American in this society, you’re treated as an African-American, and when you’re a child in particular that’s how you begin to identify yourself. If you don’t like it, you can switch. Well, that’s the way I see it. He’s got 50-50 in there. Say, “No, I’m white.”


After discussing this online in various forums with people on the right, I think I've figured it out. Because they're blinded by partisanship, they don't get Obama's mystique. They latch on to the one thing they can think of that makes him unique and think he's popular because he's black. If they can take his blackness away, they think he'll just be some ordinary one-term Senator and the press will shut up about him and nobody will care.

They're wrong, though. Obama's a political rock star. He's a young Kennedy or Bill Clinton, combining a first-rate intellect with uncommon charisma. (Reagan had the charisma too, if not the intellect.) Kennedy wasn't a great candidate because he had been a Congressman and Senator and it wasn't Clinton's experience as governor of Arkansas that made people sit up and pay attention to him. Ronald Reagan didn't make it because of his acting ability or even experience as governor. Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton simply had what it takes to make people love them. So does Obama.

Obama's blackness makes for a great story, of course, and the press is bound to get caught up in that. But even if he were white, he'd be a major player in the Democratic primaries.

The only difference is we wouldn't have to worry about whether America is ready to elect a black man.

27 comments:

Stephen said...

I think the "halfrican" knock is much more sinister than that.

Historically, as you probably know, no one is subject to worse discrimination than "half breeds". Obama's critics hope that whites will repudiate him because he's black, and blacks will repudiate him because he's not really black.

That's what happens to bi-racial people: no one wants to claim them as "our own".

Laura said...

Here's my problem with this whole debate. Whose right except each individual for themselves is it to decide who we are? Rush Limbaugh and his ilk stand on their soapbox proclaiming that they have the right to decide who can identify as white, black, whatever. Who the hell is he to know how a person defines themselves? This also implies that identity is static and universal.

Personally, I have many identities. White, Irish, Italian, Female, Heterosexual, American, Married, Pagan, Student, Professional, etc., etc.

I am all of those things, all the time. I can't choose one that represents me. Identity changes with context. If I am the only woman in a room - that femaleness becomes a more apparent part of my identity than, say, my sexuality if I were the only heterosexual person in a room. Conversely, groups of people come together around facets of identity, such as race, but that doesn't mean that race is the only part of their identity that matters.

I think Rush Limbaugh is just uncomfortable with the concept of identity as something malleable and fluid.

Obama doesn't owe it to anyone, least of all Rush Limbaugh, to "decide" what his primary identity is.

Orthoprax said...

Personally I'm looking forward to this election. There are actually candidates running who I would like to see as President rather than last time when it was a choice between a couple of losers and the lesser of two evils.

Scott said...

I am all of those things, all the time. I can't choose one that represents me. Identity changes with context. If I am the only woman in a room - that femaleness becomes a more apparent part of my identity than, say, my sexuality if I were the only heterosexual person in a room. Conversely, groups of people come together around facets of identity, such as race, but that doesn't mean that race is the only part of their identity that matters.

This is a really interesting analogy, thanks for that.

In the end, the only identities that I see that matter are the ones we choose. And by that I don't mean if Obama chooses to be white or black or purple, but the identities that he chooses based on his actions. In other words I more interested in if he's a liar than if he's white, of if he's a thief than if he's black.

The rest of that stuff is just window dressing.

asher said...

JA,
You gotta be kidding...his mystique?
If it wasn't for his oddball background this guy couldn't run for dogcatcher in the 3rd ward.

Once again, you are giving him a pass. I mean, can you just once bring up the guy's record as a legistator? Aren't we supposed to elect people are the basis of what they have conceretly accomplished instead of what they "stand for" or what they "might do once in office". Or are you simply viewing him as a celebrity (which he now is) and not someone you actually respect for their accomplishments?

Jewish Atheist said...

asher:

If it wasn't for his oddball background this guy couldn't run for dogcatcher in the 3rd ward.

Way to prove my point.

Aren't we supposed to elect people are the basis of what they have conceretly accomplished instead of what they "stand for" or what they "might do once in office".

I think what they'll do in the future is more important than what they've done in the past. And it's not like Obama's past is anything to sneer at. Also, given the nature of American politics, being something of a celebrity is pretty damn useful in running for President.

I already gave one example of Obama's qualifications for office -- out of all candidates, he was the only one who spoke out against the Iraq war and he did it with prescient wisdom. In getting to where he has today, he's demonstrated political ability. He's able to sell a message of hope and speak in a way that's not divisive. Unlike Mr. Bush, he can actually be a "uniter not a divider." He can also speak to religious people as a genuinely religious person.

If all you can see about him is that he has an "oddball background," then that's a damn shame.

Anonymous said...

Asher, as usual you make some good points.

But there's no point in spending much time on this because Obama doesn't have a chance. Sure he says he wants to end poverty, and that's great and impressive, but he's losing the Hollywood left, and Sharpton and Jackson aren't all that crazy about him. (Maybe they don't want to end poverty after all.) So he'll either end up on Hillary's team or he'll fade away to being the guy who pushes the buttons in the automatic elevators in Chicago's City Hall.

JA, if you want a prominent Democrat who has spoken up with prescient wisdom, the man you're looking for is Larry Summers. He's accomplished more than Obama. Beats him on charisma too.

Ichabod Chrain

beepbeepitsme said...

What do people want in a president/prime minister?

1.Do they want someone who also expresses their concerns?
2.Do they want someone who is well read in political, social and economic issues and who displays this intelligence when they address people?
3.Do they want someone who is charming and charismatic?
4.Do they want someone who reflects what they believe to be the best about themselves and the nation they live in?

They would be the things that would be of importance to me.

Ezzie said...

JA - Are you kidding?

Obama's a political rock star. He's a young Kennedy or Bill Clinton, combining a first-rate intellect with uncommon charisma.

Where do you get the "first-rate" intellect from? Yes, he's a charismatic speaker, but what do we know about a guy who has been in the Senate for 18 months - most of it saying "We must leave Iraq NOW!" or playing political games? How many votes has he attended? What notable statements has he made that aren't political pandering?

Sorry - you're proving the reverse point: Falling for the hype. And why does the hype exist? A combination of a) charismatic/decent-looking b) young and c) his being black. I don't know about all the "halfrican American" crap (and I really don't care), but to pretend that his being black is not contributing to the media hype and raising his status to challenge Hillary is turning on blinders.

If he were white, he'd be a young, charismatic Senator [if that] - years away from thinking about a Presidential run. Instead, he's one of just three black Senators in the country [if I'm not mistaken] - and the only one who's a Democrat. That's already an interesting candidate, and to have a chance, you need to have a story to tell.

Random said...

"If he were white, he'd be a young, charismatic Senator [if that] - years away from thinking about a Presidential run. "

To be precise, if he were white, he'd be John Edwards - someone who struggled to scrape second place against a woeful candidate and was very lucky to get on the ticket as VP nominee and whose campaign this time round has already started to implode.

Obama is certainly lucky, but a candidate of substance and ability? That, at best, is yet to be proven. The world is too dangerous a place at the moment to put all our trust in a nice smile and an optimistic manner, we can't afford another Jimmy Carter - at least the Iranians didn't have nukes back then.

And I don't get where you're picking up on this Conservative obsession with him being black - it certainly doesn't matter a damn to me or to any of the Conservative US bloggers I follow. It's most definitely far less prominent that the Democrat obsession with the race of prominent black conservatives like Colin Powell and Condi Rice. "Oreo" is an insult used much more often by the left than by the right.

And as for his position on the war - I'm sorry, but I don't see anything wise or statesmanlike about a politician who effectively sats to the terrorists "Just hang on for another thirteen months guys and we'll give you your victory" (which stripped of all euphemisms is what his call for a full withdrawal by March 2008 amounts to). It's a disgraceful betrayal of all the servicemen whose lives have been "wasted" and most especially of the Iraqis who have put their lives on the line to rebuild their country.

beepbeepitsme said...

I hope Obama gets the nod just so I can watch the good ole boys in the south have an apoplectic fit.

Jewish Atheist said...

Ezzie:

Where do you get the "first-rate" intellect from?

His speeches. But if you need something more concrete, he was president of the Harvard Law Review. He got a J.D. degree magna cum laude from there and went on to be a professor at University of Chicago.

Random:

To be precise, if he were white, he'd be John Edwards

It's an obvious analogy, but he's head and shoulders above Edwards. I say that as someone who voted for Edwards in the primaries last time (because I thought he had the best chance of beating Bush.) Obama seems a lot smarter and is definitely a lot more charismatic.

"Oreo" is an insult used much more often by the left than by the right.

That's disingenuous. It's an insult used by blacks, who are overwhelmingly democratic.

And as for his position on the war - I'm sorry, but I don't see anything wise or statesmanlike about a politician who effectively sats to the terrorists "Just hang on for another thirteen months guys and we'll give you your victory"

Come on, the war is already lost. A too-quick withdrawal would lead to a huge disaster. A phased withdrawal was the recommendation of almost everybody this year including the bipartisan study group.

It's a disgraceful betrayal of all the servicemen whose lives have been "wasted" and most especially of the Iraqis who have put their lives on the line to rebuild their country.

You're better than that. Admitting defeat is not the same as betraying soldiers who have died, especially since he strongly opposed the war to begin with.

Laura said...

For all you who think you cannot tell what Obama stands for because he's only been in the US Senate for a short time, I urge you to check out his record from the Illinois State Senate.

He has a record of working on bipartisan initiatives to help low income families, he worked to help people without health insurance, and he worked on AIDS prevention programs. I know wikipedia isn't the best source, but it works on the fly. Go check out his record, it goes back 10 years.

To say he has no record is to ignore his previous service at the State level. If we would have been doing that in 2000 and 2004, Bush should have been shown the door.

jewish philosopher said...

I think you'll find that most scientists are skeptical about the entire concept of "race", and rightly so.

We are all unique, but all one family descended from Adam.

Ezzie said...

His speeches. But if you need something more concrete, he was president of the Harvard Law Review. He got a J.D. degree magna cum laude from there and went on to be a professor at University of Chicago.

Heh. I should have been more specific to politics - I know he's smart and knew about Harvard, much as Clinton was (Rhodes scholar). But brilliance alone doesn't make a great President. One of the criticisms of him is that he claims to be a 'man of the people'... yet went from private school to Harvard.

But I take back the comment about first-rate intellect. I was responding to your statement, and I was thinking in terms of leading the country (hence the 18 months comment). M'bad.

Jewish Atheist said...

One of the criticisms of him is that he claims to be a 'man of the people'... yet went from private school to Harvard.

Come on, what presidential candidate doesn't do that? Bush although he's not in Obama's league intellectually, went to Andover, Yale, AND Harvard, had a father who was president and a brother who's governor and still acts like he's just some good ol' boy who clears brush. Helped of course by his difficulties with the English language. Carter was just a humble peanut farmer, let's ignore that he was a nuclear engineer, too. Clinton was also a southern good ol' boy who talked to the common man and felt their pain. About the only President in recent memory who didn't try to pull that off was Bush Sr., and it dearly cost him. ("How much does a gallon of milk cost?")

But brilliance alone doesn't make a great President.

No doubt. See Carter and Nixon. Brilliance sure can help, but it's obviously not enough by itself. I think the other qualities needed are wisdom and political ability. Obama's a superstar in the latter and seems to me to have a lot of the former as well.

I know he's smart and knew about Harvard, much as Clinton was (Rhodes scholar).

If Obama's another Clinton but without the major personal flaws, he could be one of the best presidents in a long time.

asher said...

Jimmy Carter was an nuclear engineer? Plu-ese. He served on board on nuclear submarine. Fooled ya. And he has the distinction of being our worst President and now our worst ex-president.

Jewish Atheist said...

Jimmy Carter was an nuclear engineer? Plu-ese. He served on board on nuclear submarine.

Oops, looks like I was wrong on that. Still, he was a qualified command officer in the nuclear submarine program and did some post-graduate work in nuclear physics. I doubt he was a dummy.

And he has the distinction of being our worst President and now our worst ex-president.

You exaggerate, but you don't seem to have noticed I listed him (with Nixon) as an example of someone who was brilliant but not a great president.

JDHURF said...

Obama is certainly the most promising candidate so far and I doubt any better candidate can be found among either party.
My only criticisms of Obama would be that when newly elected to the Senate he was quick to vote for “tort reform” which is legislation limiting the liability of corporations in class-action lawsuits and, though he did oppose the Iraq war, his stated views on Iraq and U.S. military intervention in general are not as strong as I would like. His comments such as the suggestion of “surgical missile strikes” on Iran may become necessary are not reassuring, although he did tell the Chicago Tribune that “Launching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in” considering the war in Iraq, he went on to say “On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse,” then claiming that a military strike on Pakistan should not be rulsed out if “violent Islamic extremists” were to “take over.” Because of this local anti-war activists began to call him “Barack O’bomb ‘em.”
However, he is far and above the better candidate when compared to the likes of Hilary Clinton, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Sam Brownback, etc.
He’s been involved with non-profit job-training programs in poor neighborhoods, he sponsored reforms that lowered taxes for poor families and increased AIDS funding, he sponsored a bill which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and he has been progressive regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Even in light of his shortcomings, I simply cannot fathom a better candidate.

asher said...

JA,

I don't know your age but to say Nixon was the worst president is truly an eggageration. He opened up China, negotiated with the Soviet Union in detente, toyed with wage and price controls, engaged in peace talks to end the war in Vietnam, and although he called Kissinger his little Jew-boy and agreed with Billy Graham that the Jews run the media, he singlehandedly saved Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Just minor things when you compare them with Watergate, right?

Now we come to Jimmy Carter...um.....I can't do this.

Jewish Atheist said...

asher,

I don't know your age but to say Nixon was the worst president is truly an eggageration.

I didn't say anything of the sort. I just said that he wasn't a great president.

jewish philosopher said...

I remember Nixon. He was probably the worst.

Sadie Lou said...

Jewish Atheist said to Random
That's disingenuous. It's an insult used by blacks, who are overwhelmingly democratic.


And I think that fact is a bigger story than the right making fun of color confusion.
I've heard plenty of harsh comments about Obama from the black community.
I was listening to this one woman this morning who was saying that during slavery, there were "field blacks" and "house blacks".
The field blacks were your cotton pickers and the general outdoor labor force. Your house blacks were the maids, chauffers, butlers, any black that was allowed into the house.
Field blacks didn't trust the house blacks because they assumed that the house blacks would turn their backs on their own people in order to better serve the "master".
Some of the black community today still use this mentality as a way to excuse their mistrust of blacks that are elevated in a largely white arena. They call these blacks sell outs.
Which is a horrible, vicious cycle. Black people can not just be good at what they do and rise through the political ranks because they are smart and deserve it--NO!! They have to be held at arm's length by their own people who can't get over past race issues. It's racism at it purest form. I've heard Bill Cosby talk about this very issue and he's raked over the coals too.
This is the race issue that surrounds Obama's sucess; it's not coming the right so much.

Jewish Atheist said...

Sadie:

I know that's a huge problem on the left. The thing is, even though I strongly disagree with it, I understand their motivations. At first, I was simply mystified by behavior on the right. I thought it merited a post because it's so much less obvious what Rush is up to.

Sadie Lou said...

I think Rush race-baiting.

Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

I'm a bit late to the discussion, but plenty of blacks don't think he's black enough... there was a column about this issue a few weeks back in Time magazine. It seems he's not black enough not because his mother is white, but because his father is an African immigrant, not the descendant of slaves.

Ezzie said...

It's been a BUSY week...

Bush doesn't actually have much difficulty with the language. Ask about his private talks - suddenly, there are no misspoken words. He's simply gotten used to sounding like a 'man of the people' when he's speaking to them; the opposite of Kerry, who annoyed people by acting as if he were above them.

Obama's a superstar in the latter and seems to me to have a lot of the former as well.

Well, I'll say he's above average in the latter, but no superstar - he's already gotten himself into a couple of messes and hasn't come out of them looking like anything other than just another politician. As to the former... I fail to see how he has shown wisdom in any way whatsoever.

If Obama's another Clinton but without the major personal flaws, he could be one of the best presidents in a long time.

No. He can be at worse slightly below average, and at best slightly above average, depending on what happens in matters of: Terrorism, the economy, and natural disasters. He will never be great if he acts as President as he seems to act now.