Wednesday, April 30, 2008


It might surprise you to learn that Barack Obama has the support of Marty Peretz. To say the least, it's a mixed blessing. At his New Republic blog, Peretz has posted a response to Obama's remarks on Jeremiah Wright titled "Barack Obama: Putting Race Hustlers Out of Work."

...Wright is a side-show, a freak side-show that is propped up by other black hustlers -- Cornell West comes to mind, ok, a philosophical black hustler -- who are afraid that Obama has so deeply touched a nerve among white Americans that they will soon be out of work forever.

When I read something like this, I find myself thinking that the Obama experiment is doomed to failure, and might be with any African-American who hopes to stand for reconciliation.

People like Peretz don't want to sort through the arguments and pronouncements of black public figures, engaging some of them and critiquing others. They want any black person who makes them uncomfortable to just go away -- and they were counting on Obama to be the banisher. They feel Wright (and Sharpton and Jackson, the usual subjects of remarks like these) have nothing constructive to offer -- and yet, even as they refuse to engage them, they consider them an ever-present threat.

This isn't how they react to comparable white public figures. Jeremiah Wright suspects the U.S. government created the AIDS virus; John Hagee has crackpot notions about Catholics and about the biblical necessity of a war with Iran; and many culturally conservative white religious leaders, obviously, don't believe in evolution. Yet the Marty Peretzes of the world don't make driving the creationists and the Hagees from the public square a litmus test for conservative white politicians -- in fact, conservative white politicians embrace these divisive figures, and it's just expected, and most people just shrug.

Shelby Steele calls Obama a "bargainer" -- someone who "make[s] the subliminal promise to whites not to shame them with America's history of racism, on the condition that they will not hold the bargainer's race against him." But people like Peretz are expecting Obama to do something bigger than that -- they're expecting him to supplant every black person who emphasizes white racism. Obama is expected to make these people not exist anymore. And I'm afraid his failure to banish them into non-existence is always going to be held against him, which is why I fear he may never be able to put Wright behind him.

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