The Corner

Obama & Transcending Race

Lots of readers are putting words in my mouth about my general happiness about having a black president. I’m not going to spend the day, or even the next few minutes, arguing with a lot of strawmen. However, there is a very important political point here I think more folks should appreciate. Many of Obama’s biggest supporters insisted that an Obama presidency would magically translate into racial transcendence. Of course, that is nonsense on stilts. But they said it, we didn’t. I think the left should be forced to own that conviction and prediction. Even those who were more nuanced and realistic about what an Obama presidency would mean for race relations, need to be pressed whenever they try to play the race card. Is there racism in America? Of course. But if the race card was an ace last week, it seems to me it’s a 6 of clubs now. If not, the left needs to be forced to explain why it’s not. They need to explain why we still need racial quotas in a country where a black president won in a near landslide. I’m sure they’ll have answers (I even know what they are), but they will ring more hollow and to the extent they don’t, that’ll put the lie to the whole “transcending race” storyline. I think a lot of voters cast ballots for Obama because they in fact wanted to transcend race — which, in their minds meant making race less of an issue in American life.

This requires a longer discussion of course, but I think on political terms alone (i.e. putting aside the broader historic considerations) conservatives would be crazy to let their disappointment and frustration drive them to belittle the significance of having a black president. We should say it’s a very big deal indeed, with great significance and symbolism. Not just because it’s true, but because it makes it that much easier to argue that race-baiting hacks like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are irrelevant fixtures of a bygone era and their political tactics have no place in a “post-racial” America. After all, I thought most conservatives wanted to transcend race. Why not act as if we have? Put the left on the defensive for a change.

Update: Prediction: In the next couple weeks, we’ll see a slew of thumbsuck pieces from the Slate and New Republic crowd explaining that nobody ever said Obama would transcend race in the litteral sense of taking race off the table. Rather Obama’s presidency now makes it possible to tackle our racial problems head-on, that race is more important than ever, and blah, blah, blah.

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