The postmortem of the Sherrod affair will prove it to have been a net negative for the Obama administration — and not just because of its herky-jerky reaction to various reported and then re-reported statements. No, the real problem is the aftermath: Sherrod amplified her remarks, her husband’s views were aired, and the net result was yet another incident in a long, tired narrative, one the American people did not have to endure when other prominent African Americans (Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice) held some of the nation’s top offices.
The Obama administration’s race absorption apparently has a shelf life of about three years. Consider the list: Reverend Wright, “typical white person,” the Pennsylvania clingers, Michelle’s campaign editorializing about the U.S., “cowards,” the Professor Gates mess, “wise Latina,” the president’s race-based DNC video, the suing of Arizona, the comments made before the law was read, the sudden characterization of al-Qaeda as racist, the disturbing stories coming out of the Justice Department that some decisions are now race-based — and on and on. Each outburst in isolation is a sort of Macaca moment, a brief news item; in their totality, they have now more or less cemented in the minds of most Americans that Obama and his appointees see race as a sort of wedge issue by which to further an agenda.
But it is no longer 1965, and we no longer have a white/black binary and a recent legacy of Jim Crow. What we have instead is a multiracial populace in which millions are intermarried, and in which millions of Asians, Hispanics, Punjabis, and Arabs of diverse class and ethnic allegiances don’t quite fit the “people of color” vs. white paradigm of oppression, victimization, and compensation.
In that context, the details of the ongoing Sherrod affair filtered down to the public as yet more racial boredom. Like the Skip Gates mess, the initial moment led to endless psychodrama, tit-for-tat apologies and rationalizations, more supposed “teachable moments,” and more public anger at the administration for either promoting all this or failing to stop what it ignited. The public does not easily express its feelings, but this growing frustration certainly explains in part the president’s negative polls, now at 50 percent. They will go still lower if the administration follows the advice of some on the left and continues to deal in off-putting racial identity politics.