Shelby Steele on “Obama and Our Post-Modern Race Problem”29 December 2009 | By LowellB in Editorials, Lowell, Politics, TN Blog
The ever-incisive, often-devastating, and always bold Shelby Steele has a must-read op-ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Here’s a taste.
After a reference to the story of the emporer’s new clothes, Steele states his thesis:
Mr. Obama won the presidency by achieving a symbiotic bond with the American people: He would labor not to show himself, and Americans would labor not to see him. As providence would have it, this was a very effective symbiosis politically. And yet, without self-disclosure on the one hand or cross-examination on the other, Mr. Obama became arguably the least known man ever to step into the American presidency.
Steele’s piece is so tightly written that it is really impossible to excerpt fairly. But here is one of his central and typically well-developed points: Barack Obama is essentially a content-free president:
I think that Mr. Obama is not just inexperienced; he is also hampered by a distinct inner emptiness—not an emptiness that comes from stupidity or a lack of ability but an emptiness that has been actually nurtured and developed as an adaptation to the political world.
The nature of this emptiness becomes clear in the contrast between him and Ronald Reagan. Reagan reached the White House through a great deal of what is called “individuating”—that is he took principled positions throughout his long career that jeopardized his popularity, and in so doing he came to know who he was as a man and what he truly believed.
He became Ronald Reagan through dissent, not conformity. And when he was finally elected president, it was because America at last wanted the vision that he had evolved over a lifetime of challenging conventional wisdom. By the time Reagan became president, he had fought his way to a remarkable certainty about who he was, what he believed, and where he wanted to lead the nation.
Mr. Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency could not have been more different. There seems to have been very little individuation, no real argument with conventional wisdom, and no willingness to jeopardize popularity for principle. To the contrary, he has come forward in American politics by emptying himself of strong convictions, by rejecting principled stands as “ideological,” and by promising to deliver us from the “tired” culture-war debates of the past. He aspires to be “post-ideological,” “post-racial” and “post-partisan,” which is to say that he defines himself by a series of “nots”—thus implying that being nothing is better than being something. He tries to make a politics out of emptiness itself.
One has to raise such points with great care in order to avoid being painted as a racist – or, in more modern parlance, as a believer in racialism, which is less odious but just as debilitating to public discourse. Steele, who himself is African-American, is well-positioned to comment on all this, and probably because of his own racial background (and the resultant need to avoid the tired charge of being a traitor to his own race) is one of the most careful living writers on the subject.
In other words, his ideas cannot be dismissed. Give them a read.