Politics & Policy

Gone, but Not Forgotten

Barack Obama and Rev. Wright.

There is a general sense — after Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana — that the white working class is somehow illiberal, and so now the Obamiacs discuss, ponder, and fret over the “race question” ahead. But the problem is not, and has never really been, race, at least any more than it was in having a black secretary of state or Supreme Court justice or chairman of the Joint Chiefs, but simply the question of grievance.

When Obama bought stock in the Trinity race industry, he sent a message that grievance-blaming America, the country’s past, whites, and present bias — not behavior or values of a black underclass — explains almost all problems in the black community. That deeply offended poor whites who haven’t had anything handed to them, recent immigrants whose ancestors had nothing to do with Wright’s rogue’s gallery of evil white men, and Hillary’s women supporters whose glass-ceiling argument was out-victimized (cf. Bill’s rant about Trinitites cheering as Fr. Pfleger caricatured Hillary as a racist).

When pundits say that Obama “must define himself” or “introduce himself to the American people” they are on to something they don’t fully understand. Better to define his problem as this: Each time he soars with his lofty utopian rhetoric, the not-so-amnesiac voter frowns, and then remembers Wright’s hatred, Obama’s former investment in it, and the abject absence of a truly honest and principled discussion of his disturbing past subsidy of it.

A more honest candidate might have explained why a future president of the United States should never have abetted the racialist mentality, by encouraging, by his presence and purse at Trinity, some to blame others for their problems (increasingly silly in a multiracial society of various contending groups), and why as people first we cannot advance our own careers and agendas by investing in the tribe rather than in transcendent ideas and values.

So here we have the Obama paradox: The more he poses, and is praised, as the post-racial healer, the more 25 years of his career belie the rhetoric. In short, he now talks far more humanely than most about race, but the way in which he started and nourished his career proves that he was also far more cynical and divisive than most.

As far as the rest of the campaign goes, I think we pretty much know the script and the Obama rules to come: as long as Obama stays ahead by 3-5 points, race will be framed in optimistic terms as irrelevant, or proof of Obama’s racial transcendence and statemanship. But if the race becomes dead even or Obama falls increasingly behind for questions having to do with inexperience or serial gaffes or fears over Carteresque doctrinaire liberalism, then we will hear that race, racial fears, etc. are largely to blame.

All that is the legacy of Obama’s long ago Faustian bargain with Rev. Wright.

– Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.

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