On My Left Wing and elsewhere, a blogger named Nonpartisan recently posted an interesting piece titled Obama’s Timidity: “The Wages of Whiteness in Action”?. In it (s)he discusses a piece by Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell called Race and Voice that examines Barack Obama’s appearances as a speaker and in debates and is rather critical of the voice that she believes he has been projecting in his debate appearances .
Here is some of what Ms. Harris-Lacewell wrote:
As I watch Obama and Clinton I am convinced that I am seeing one of the wages of whiteness in action: it is easier to talk across gender difference than to speak across the racial divide. Americans share almost no common vocabulary across race. As a public opinion researcher, I consistently find that the greatest perceptual, cognitive and emotional gaps are between the races. We just don’t see our world, think about our world, or feel about our world in similar ways. This is doesn’t mean that all whites or all blacks see, think, or feel the same ways as one another, but it does means that there are greater shared understanding within these groups than across them.
I think Obama’s lost voice happens because he is shouting across this deep racial chasm in American politics. He stops and waits for the words because he is actively censoring, updating and listening to every word he says before he says it. Politicians are already masters of self censorship (except Joe Biden of course), but with Barack the stakes are higher. He is trying to multiracial coalition, which means he is trying to build a coalition of people who speak different languages. In debates he is constantly trying to talk and translate at the same time. I think it ends up making him look unsure of himself. Barack maybe many things, but he is not unsure of himself!
Read on for more.
Nonpartisan’s post essentially agree with Ms. Harris-Lacewell’s positions except the (s)he appears to think that his hesitancy in debate is due less to racial reasons and more to the exigencies of big-time political combat.
Whichever of us is right, it’s unlikely Obama’s newfound caution will leave us anytime soon. In fact, according to either theory, it will probably increase if he’s elected President. In the White House, Obama will be playing on an international stage dominated by whites, speaking to a largely white audience, competing for policies against a largely white Congress. He’ll also be keenly aware that the stakes are even higher than usual for our first black President: everything he says and does will be scrutinized intensely by both the media and the American public. If these things produce timidity in Obama now, imagine what will happen when he is President. Anyone hoping for a return to the old, fearless Obama of State Senate days is probably hoping in vain.
The MLW poster weeping for brunnhilde…someone who I have met and like a great deal, someone who shares many of the problems that Obama’s (un)fairly rare position in American society imposes upon him as a highly intelligent and well-educated person of color…then replied:
Is the point here that Obama is compelled to censor himself because his natural language is too black?
I don’t get it. Anyone who has actual ideas in politics has to learn to say nothing at all.
Is the argument that it’s less possible for a black man to be natural than it is for a white woman?
“Americans share almost no common vocabulary across race.”
Surely that’s an overstatement, no?
I presume there’s some cogent point being made here, but frankly I just don’t see what it is.
Are we to believe that Obama’s struggling against some sort of tidal wave of black power rhetoric?
The man holds a degree in law from Harvard.
Sorry, I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m being obtuse.
And here is my answer to Weeping.
The fact of the matter is that Mr. Obama’s “natural language” is the King’s English, Harvard/Ivy League-educated lawyer version thereof.
But his natural skin color and other physical racial characteristics cast him as a “black” man in racist America.
The racist America that has isolated some huge percentage of its people of color in a ghetto of the mind…white America’s mind AND black/hispanic America’s mind as well…that does not even recognize the possibility of a person of color having the intelligence, educational opportunities and self-discipline to become something much beyond a street-talking thug.
You of all people ought to be able to see this.
So here is Barack Obama doing the successful big-time American national politician two-step (“Anyone who has actual ideas in politics has to learn to say nothing at all.” Yup.) carrying the additional burden of having to say many of those “nothings”…nothings that are in reality code words that are used as bait to get the sleeple into the polls without disturbing their ongoing nap so profoundly that they get angry and turn against the one who speaks them…carrying the added burden of having to parse his public statements exactly and precisely in the middle of ALL of the worlds (racial and otherwise) that exist among the electorate.
Most pols speak to a much smaller segment of the society. The segment to which they most naturally belong.
George Wallace in the honeyed tones of the southern white racist, Al Sharpton ghetto-preaching his ass off, Reagan speaking for the cowardly, scared-of-everything-that-is-not-them white middle-aged and older middle and working classes (the survivors of W.W. II who shot their load during that effort and wanted no more to do with anything even remotely challenging), the Clintons speaking to a slightly broader coalition (thus their success…the only Dems to REALLY succeed in national politics since the Kennedys) in a voice that is/was moderate enough to avoid getting physically shot by their heavily-armed oppponents while still getting something done.
Mr. Obama has stretched his voice WAY past those lines, and I believe that he is a nothing less than political genius. Part of his genius…the part of genius that is pure inspiration, purely reactive with no substantial input from the so-called “thinking” mind…lies in his ability to completely neutral-out as far as how people perceive him in any given situation.
Skin color notwithstanding, he can choose not to be SEEN as “black”, “white”, “educated”, “a politician”, “not a politician”, etc. any time he wishes to do so. Like a genius-level chameleon, he simply turns into whatever best suits the occasion while still maintaining his essential being (and the positions that are demanded by that being) underneath the sheerly brilliant cloaking device with which he has been gifted.
This is an extra step, the extra step of real genius, and it takes another quick second or two for that genius-level computer within him to process the huge amount of data that is necessarily scanned if one is to compute such an ongoing series of transformations.
Thus the “hesitation” so often noted when he is in contentious, highly complex situations.
Preaching to the choir?
He can let it roll.
Preaching to almost any choir that will have him.
Harvard grads, committed Dems, committed multi-racial pro-Obama audiences, etc.
But up there on the national stage where he is scrabbling for votes with another master of the game?
And THEN he speaks.
I now think that he has a good chance to win the nomination. Further, if he does win it I believe that he is a sure thing to win the election.
Maybe 35%-40% now in his favor to win the Dem nomination. Maybe even more. This has been a battle of momentum between Obama and Clinton. Mr. Obama has the more natural campaign gifts but is hampered by his relative youth, lack of experience and his perceived race. Ms.Clinton is NOT naturally a gifted people person, to say the least. but she is a real fighter, has remarkable credentials and an awesome organization working for her as well.
Nevertheless, Obama has succeeded in pushing her to the precipice of defeat several times recently. (A couple of the debates, Nevada and now here in South Carolina.) Each time she has rebounded and regained the momentum.
And each time he has ratcheted the pressure a notch or two higher. I think that his youth and his gifts are going to continue to press on Ms. Clinton, who looks to me to be getting a little…tired. As is the good ol’ boy Bill game. A little too red in the face, methinks. A little too red in other parts of his anatomy as well. Plus the pros who have been supporting her inside of the Dem machinery can CERTAINLY count even if they have no other recognizable talents whatsoever, and the black pro-Obama turnout in South Carolina could well be the deal-breaker for Ms. Clinton among that group of powerful hustlers.
Obama has to go into the convention a prohibitive favorite if not already in possession of the requisite number of delegates to win or else the older white Dem middle may still successfully try to block him in favor of Hillary Clinton, but he is on a roll now. Their compromise position? If they can impose it on the Clintons AND on Obama? VP with an implied promise of the Presidency when Hillary steps down.
But if he can sustain the roll that he is currently enjoying through Super Tuesday…especially if there are huge minority (read “new voter”) turn-outs in the south and urban states?
May you be born into interesting times.
And may he not be blown OUT of those times.
Physically or otherwise.
Let us pray.
And let us watch as well.
The Super Bowl ain’t shit compared to THIS game.
Bet on it.