Sunday, December 12, 2010


In a New York Times op-ed, Ishmael Reed make a now-familiar argument:

...Progressives have been urging the president to "man up" in the face of the Republicans. Some want him to be like John Wayne. On horseback. Slapping people left and right.

One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he’d be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people....

What the progressives forget is that black intellectuals have been called "paranoid," "bitter," "rowdy,” "angry," "bullies," and accused of tirades and diatribes for more than 100 years....

Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all.... They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.

I think Barack Obama has internalized a view of his own relationship to the larger, whiter world that tells him not to rock the boat -- in his tone and in his policies. So I think there's something to this.

But does that mean Democrats made a mistake picking him rather than Hillary Clinton in '08? A couple of days ago, Keith Olbermann hosted Dave Weigel on his show to make the case that she was a battler and Obama wasn't.

Except that she was able to be a battler in 2008 without being subjected to endless invective from her enemies because she was battling the then-inevitable Democratic nominee. If she'd actually been the nominee, or had even had a mathematical chance at the nomination, all this battling would have just meant she was an "angry bitch" in the eyes of right-wing and not-so-right-wing critics. And if she were president now and tried to give opponents hell? Same thing, cranked up to 11.

Blacks can't get angry because then they're "angry blacks." Women can't get angry because they're "bitches." How about John Edwards, the third major contender for the '08 Democratic nomination? Oh, don't listen to him if he unleashes a stem-winder -- he's just a slick trial lawyer.

I don't want to make light of the constraints society puts on African-Americans and women -- both of whom can literally risk their lives by not knowing "their place."

But I also wonder whether every Democrat, liberal, or even semi-liberal is just turned into a caricature of a dangerous lunatic whenever the anger and the volume go up. It's tough for Obama. It would have been tough for Hillary if she'd threatened Republicans. But white guys get this, too. Bill Clinton was "Slick Willie" -- another evil lawyer. Howard Dean was that crazy screaming guy. Michael Moore is the evil fat guy. It's always something.

To some extent, I think right-wingers get such a blanket pass on this that even black Republicans can vent at will. Clarence Thomas railed against his questioners in Congress. New teabag hero Allen West makes angry, frequently delusional pronouncements whenever the mood strikes him. So far, no downside.

In politics, it's fine to be a Democrat -- unless you look as if you'll fight back.


UPDATE: Link fixed.

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