Saturday, July 24, 2010

More On The Race Dialogue

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait has a really intriguing- and counter-intuitive- theory about Barack Obama and race (no more hypens, please!).

First, though, Ben Smith in Politico posts

He’s not the race man in chief in the way that he was before – and that’s understandable in many ways -- but these issues keep coming up,” said Farai Chideya, the former host of NPR’s “News and Notes,” which covered African-American issues. Chideya said she thought Obama’s 2008 speech on race, and on black and white grievances, had focused America’s conversation, but that it had since become incoherent.

This is the conventional view, but whether Barack Obama ever had intended to spur a national discussion of race is now dispted. Smith notes "Obama has declined the pulpit Bill Clinton sought when he announced in 1996 that he would lead the country in a 'national conversation' on race" and Chait contends

.... the Obama administration is, and always has been, terrified of engaging on race.

Obama's call for a "national conversation on race" in 2008 was interpreted by many people as a desire to use his campaign to alter racial perceptions. I think it was a bluff -- an attempt to remove race from the campaign, by talking about it at a high intellectual level one time, and thus to shame anybody from using race in grubbier ways afterward. It succeeded.

According to Chait, candidate Obama all along was trying not merely to neutralize the race issue as many of us had assumed, but "to shame anybody from using race in grubbier ways afterward." If so, Barack Obama, everywhere facing land mines as the first black presidential nominee of a major party, was an incomparably brilliant political strategist.

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