Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Paradox of Politics (aka The Civil War)

Ellen Goodman tries, in the Boston Globe, to figure out why the Barack Obama of the campaign trail has not lived up to expectations since moving in to the White House.

Last year, she writes, he was the "Oprah candidate" — he "believed we could talk with anyone, even our enemies," but that reconciliatory approach doesn't seem to be particularly suited for handling global problems.

Heck, it doesn't really seem to work too well domestically. Obama's Republican adversaries have never seemed especially eager to work with Democrats, but lately even Democrats have been reluctant to work with him.

Democrats, Goodman writes, have been "waiting for Obama's inner fighter," but he keeps frustrating them. Even when they want to blame resistance on racism, Obama double–crosses them, saying that racism is "not the overriding issue."

Well, that was his chance to pass the buck, wasn't it? Everyone on the left lately, it seems, has been eager to blame racism for the administration's problems — Maureen Dowd and former President Jimmy Carter have been front and center.

Strange. Even Dowd wrote about her frustrations with Obama's hesitance hours before his congressional address. "Sometimes, when you've got the mojo, you have to keep your foot on your opponent's neck," she wrote.

But then Joe Wilson gave her the excuse to blame racism. Wilson gave it a face. Dowd didn't have to rely on hunches or gut feelings. And Carter piled on. And they've been followed by folks in the press who ought to know better — but economics drives everything, and those folks know that, right now, there is no better way to give sagging circulation figures a temporary boost than by taking sides in the racism debate.

So David Harsanyi of the Denver Post weighed in. And, from overseas, Janet Dailey weighed in in The Telegraph. And so did Toby Harnden in the Daily Telegraph.

Each has tried to put his/her own spin on the issue. But, in fact, the chorus has been predictable. It's like two sides of a football stadium yelling at each other. Even when they're yelling for the same thing, it seems hostile.

In recent days, Joe Klein of TIME has written about the race issue. And so has David Brooks in the New York Times. Eugene Robinson wrote about it in the Washington Post.

With an issue like racism and a president like Obama, it can be hard to get a handle on what it's all about. But I thought Goodman did a pretty good job.

"Can you be a healer and a politician? If you try to mediate an ideological divide, do you just end up in the crossfire?"

Maybe, as Goodman suggests, it's a matter of civility. Or the absence of it.

And maybe, as Harsanyi writes, civility is just plain overrated.

But when the debate is about racism, I think Yale lecturer Jim Sleeper made a good point in the Washington Post. Essentially, writes Sleeper, focusing on race "as the chief source of rage is a trap into which liberals have fallen too often."

I think the race issue was destined to be an ongoing factor for the first black president. When the first woman becomes president, she will have to contend with the gender issue. It will be easier for those who follow.

But right now, all of us must live through the growing pains that are the unavoidable byproduct of the first black presidency.

It was absurd to think we might be able to bypass this part of the growth experience — sort of like thinking one might get through one's adolescence without ever feeling awkward or stupid or ugly.

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