Why I want to believe Obama
and why it would be foolish to do so
By Kevin Holtsberry Posted in 2008 | 2008 Democratic Primary | 2008 Presoidential Campaign | Barack Obama | race — Comments (73) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
I didn't watch Obama's speech live - I am focused on his opponent these days - but I have read the transcript. And I will confess that part of me really wants to believe that Obama is the candidate for our times. A part of me really wants to see him succeed.
It isn't white guilt, but rather a hope - there is that word again - that it might truly symbolize something in this country. And there are parts of his speech that are true and beautiful and worth saying. Clearly Obama is a talented and skillful speaker and politician.
But in the end I can't support Obama and believe his election would be wrong for America. Not because of some latent racism or hyper-partisanship. Not because his pastor spews hateful rhetoric or his wife's often bizarre statements.
No, I can't support Obama because behind his lofty rhetoric and obvious political skills is just another boring big government liberal who believes that compassion and justice flow through the federal government; that there is no problem that can't be solved with a government program.
For more read on.
I am about as white as one can get. Oh sure, I have some Native American roots, but I grew up in a middle class home in small town America among Dutch Reformed church goers eating pot roast and tuna casserole in my ranch style house. Ethic food to me was the thrill of eating a burrito with my mom at a bar/restaurant ( knowing my dad would heartily disapprove of such an establishment). The closest I got to ethnic music was listing to The Fiddler on the Roof.
I didn't grow up around a lot of obvious racism or racial tension, perhaps because there just weren't that many African Americans in my community. I didn’t have any strong feelings about race because I didn’t deal with it as part of my daily life. Thus to me, the issue of race was mostly an academic issue or part of the culture war.
I resented being called a racist and having my political views denigrated unfairly. But in the world of identity politics I had little leverage. Maybe if my Native American blood wasn't so diluted by inter-marriage I could have laid claim to some victimhood (and maybe gotten a scholarship).
My response to such accusations often seemed lame to even me: but I like Dr. J not Larry Bird; Tiger Woods not Phil Mickelson; I idolize Lynn Swan; I enjoy blues and jazz and am ignorant about classical music; etc. I was left to say that I wasn't racist because I cheered for black entertainers and sports stars. At least I didn't try "Some of my best friends are black."
But politics always interfered. I was accused of having a backpack of privilege or whatever. I supported Reagan and disliked Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. I thought OJ was guilty. I supported welfare reform and opposed reparations for slavery. I thought Affirmative Action had plainly gone awry. I found rap music offensive and disturbing.
For a moment Obama seemed like someone who could break this cycle. Not that he would explicitly repudiate Sharpton or Jesse Jackson but that he would simply move past it. Like Tiger Woods he would acknowledge the past but by nature of his unique heritage refuse to be defined by it.
I wanted to believe in the possibility of a post-racial candidate. Someone who was running on a theme that wasn't explicitly racial or coalitional.
Obama's rhetoric about telling voters what they needed to hear not just what they wanted to hear sounded good. His idea that American's could still come together and work on problems and address issues without bitterness and rancor sounded good. And let's face it, it wouldn’t be bad to have a politician who was good with words and gave interesting speeches.
It seemed for a moment that Obama could mean not just that we could put the saga of the Clintons behind us, but that we could get a fresh start on race as well. Not that we would put it behind us completely or that we would all just start singing Kumbaya, but that race would be just a part of the mix not a determining factor.
I wanted to believe that we could have a politician who united the country instead of dividing it until he had a plurality.
I wanted a leader that wasn't controversial; who didn't cause sputtering of rage or convoluted conspiracy theories.
Just for a moment I thought maybe Obama could be a leader - not perfect or even my preference but a leader American could feel comfortable about.
I don't know how much these type of feelings are echoed by Obama fans around the country. I don't know how many people saw his speech, or read it, and allowed these feelings to convince them that he had this ability; that he was this type of leader.
But despite these hopes, I know that if Obama were to be elected it would be bad for America. Not disastrous, but damaging.
Why? Because Obama’s often inspiring and entertaining rhetoric belies his strikingly conventional liberal politics. His calls for coming together and changing politics clash with his leftist policies that offer nothing but more of the same liberal solutions that have been offered before.
In the end Obama is an empty symbol. On health care, education, entitlement reform, taxes, energy, and host of other issues his policies are not creative or unique in any way. They offer nothing but more government spending and regulation; more power in Washington and less for individuals.
What is the connection between Obama’s liberal policies and his inspirational post-racial persona? The former reminds you that the later is just wishful thinking. Politics is about conflict and about coalitions; about the art of the possible. When it comes to the details of public policy Obama is wrong on practically every issue across the board.
In the end Obama isn’t some brave leader speaking truth to power but a conventional liberal with an interesting story and a way with words. He wants you to live vicariously through his rhetoric and believe that emotions can trump substance; that something that makes you feel good can solve problems.
It would be one thing if Obama as symbol of a post-racial America was just an added side benefit of a politician who was right on the issues; or even wrong in interesting ways. If he brought a new approach to important policy debates or really offered hope – that word one more time – of changing the way politics is practiced in this country. But instead of bringing change Obama would simply put a more attractive face on the liberalism of Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid.
I am not one for pop psychology, but you could say that I was projecting my hope of an idealized America onto Obama. It represented a sort of secret wish for a politician that generated excitement and energy.
But in an ironic way this whole scandal surrounding Jeremiah Wright popped the bubble and reminded me that voting for a president often does come down to the lesser of two evils; that wishing doesn’t make it so.
In a perverse way then, supporting Obama out of some vague hope of getting past racial grievances and strife would be insulting to him. It would be voting for him as a symbol of race rather than a candidate who should be judged on his platform and record.
Those who used to castigate me about my unconscious racism and my white privilege will not be surprised that I am supporting the old white male against the young exciting minority.
But the problem isn’t Obama’s race it's his politics. Some of my best friends are liberals, I just don’t want them to be president.