The Audacity of White Guilt: How Senator Obama Became President Obama

Judging from the colorful Tweets I have been reading…

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… to a video of woman comparing their first time to voting for Obama…Image

… it is time for another presidential election. As the 6th of November approaches, a lingering observation has been stuck in my mind for the past four years regarding a particular group of Barack Obama supporters who I like to affectionately call the History Makers.  If you are a solid Democrat or a dyed in the wool liberal, then this rant will not mean much to you so I will let you know beforehand that there are much better ways to fall asleep.

I have long sensed suspected that one of the reasons Barack Obama had been elected to the presidency was not out of persuasion of his policies or ideologies but based more on people needing to participate in history.  Quite frankly, I believe Barack Obama was elected, in large part,  because of the color of his skin.  Sound inflammatory?  If I were Samuel L. Jackson I could get away with it.

Take the late politician Geraldine Ferraro’s statement about Obama, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position… and if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position.  He happens to be very lucky to be who he is.  And the country is caught up in this concept.”  

At first glance, you might only see the racial aspect of her comment but it is easy to overlook the fact that she is talking about both Obama’s gender and race.  So either Ms. Ferraro is racially bigoted or she is, at the very least, stumbling upon something that was more deeply embedded in the psyche of most Americans in 2008.

If we have to be politically correct and accept the dubious forces of subtle racism, then is it such a stretch to believe in the existence of white guilt? If there is anything that the progressive movement has taught us is that only the right wing engages in racial divisiveness.  Judging by Ms. Ferraro’s pedigree as a progressive feminist, she is safe from the labels of racism and bigotry.

Or, take Chris Matthews, Obama’s MVP cheerleader, stumbling upon the style versus substance argument when questioning Texas State Senator Kirk Watson about Obama’s legislative accomplishments. Or take Vice President Joe Biden’s opinion on Obama.

Either we have stumbled on a secret society of racist/bigoted white progressives (Geraldine Ferraro, Chris Matthews, or Vice President Biden) or an argument can be made that a good part of what swept Obama into the White House in 2009 was symbolism.  The first African-American president!

But it was not until after a revealing conversation about President Obama that my suspicion of white guilt went from mere conjecture on my part, to a living and breathing reality.  In Augusta one evening, I was out to dinner with some friends and we were having a conversation about the upcoming election.  After a civilized back and forth on ideological differences, one of my white friends across the table declared that he was absolutely not voting for Romney.  But when I pressed to give reasons why he voted for Obama in 2008, he could not state any with much confidence with the exception of one; he just wanted to see a black man in the White House.  

ImageRegardless of which side of the political aisle you hale from, you cannot deny the charisma and the fame of President Obama.  He first burst onto the national scene at the 2004 Democratic National Convention with his inspiring speech declaring, “There is no Democratic States of America nor a Republican States of America, there is the United States of America.”  But, as with any charismatic figure, the process of scrutiny usually comes into play once the stage lights are turned off  and the cameras shut down .  With the 2008 election season well under way, then Senator Obama was gathering enormous momentum.  At every speaking event, he would draw thousands upon thousands of admirers.  Each speech was more exhilarating than the last and for the first time in a long time, many Americans felt hope for the future.  I must confess that I too enjoyed the speeches, but what Obama’s speeches lacked was substance.  Who was this man that we should listen?  What is his worldview?  How does he plan on achieving all of these very lofty goals?  Being a hardcore conservative, you might accuse me of being a partisan hack.  However, I was not the only one who had these questions.

In October 2008 Tom Brokaw sat down with Charlie Rose and both of these wise old pundits admitted that after Obama had been campaigning for two years they still know nothing about him as illustrated by the following exchange about candidate Obama between Tom Brokaw and Charlie Rose in October 2008.

ROSE: I don’t know what Barack Obama’s worldview is.

BROKAW: No, I don’t, either.

ROSE: I don’t know how he really sees where China is.

BROKAW: We don’t know a lot about Barack Obama and the universe of his thinking about foreign policy.

ROSE: I don’t really know. And do we know anything about the people who are advising him?

BROKAW: Yeah, it’s an interesting question.

ROSE: He is principally known through his autobiography and through very aspirational (sic) speeches.

BROKAW: Two of them! I don’t know what books he’s read.

ROSE: What do we know about the heroes of Barack Obama?

BROKAW: There’s a lot about him we don’t know.

I did not understand the craze that was behind many who supported Barack Obama.  It was one thing be a committed Democrat or Progressive, because they knew that they had a charismatic candidate who exposed their political points of view.

ImageThe answer to Obama-mania arrived, in part, when I came across an interview by scholar Shelby Steele who incorrectly predicted an Obama loss in 2008 despite his overwhelming likability.  He said that the reason he would lose would be policy based and I agreed, because what Obama was proposing were principles and policies that I had always been at odds with regardless of who held them.

Shelby Steele said, “You know what’s interesting to me about that, no white candidate in America could have won an election based on those policies. It had to be a black — it had to be somebody who could bring to bear on this old-fashioned socialistic point of view, the moral authority of race, the moral authority of being black. That’s the insidious and interesting thing to me. No white man could — John Edwards could never win an election based on policies like that, that I’m going to raise – raise taxes and you win?”

And as far as Obama’s policies were concerned, Steele goes on to say, “On the level of policy, Obama was quite unremarkable. His economics were the redistributive axioms of old-fashioned Keynesianism. His social thought was a recycled Great Society.” This guy’s thinking, policy thinking, is, at best, 40 years out of date.”

So what bewitched so many Americans into voting for Obama? Shelby Steele lends us his views that he Imagewrote about extensively in his book, White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era.  He contrasts Obama with Rev. Jesse Jackson by saying, “It is not hard to see why Reverend Jackson might have experienced Mr. Obama’s emergence as something of a stiletto to the heart. Mr. Obama is so successful at winning gratitude from whites precisely because Mr. Jackson was so successful at inflaming and exploiting white guilt.” 

He goes on to say, “Jackson is what I call a challenger who says to whites, “I will never let you off the hook. I’m going to presume you are a racist until you give me something. Then I’ll offer absolution of some kind, but you have to buy your innocence.” Bargainers like Obama grant innocence and that’s why they’re so well loved. Jackson is saying, “You have to prove your innocence to me.” So Jackson could never go far. Challengers could never be successful broadly in American politics because whites secretly, quietly, can’t stand them. They have this leverage, this moral authority over them and they keep using it, whereas Obama is saying, “I’m not ever going to use it. You can trust that I’m not going to play the race card.” 

ImageRewind the clock to the presidential election of 2004, and with a little modification of Shelby Steele’s quote, this statement will still ring true, So [Al Sharpton] could never go far. Challengers could never be successful broadly in American politics because whites secretly, quietly, can’t stand them. If I could persuade another conversation from my friend, I highly suspect that his car does not have a faded Sharpton for President bumper sticker.

Shelby Steele explains that what whites really wanted from Obama was “…documentation of change that has already occurred.”  Yes. I think that’s the interesting phenomenon in this election, the hunger for, in white America, to prove, to document this moral progress that white America has made over the last 40 years.

Forty-nine years later, to base one’s vote on the premise “I just want to see a black president in the White House” or to simply participate in history,means that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of being judged by one’s character and not skin color is in danger of dying.

The sentiment, “I just want to see a black president in the White House” cannot coexist with “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

It was this kind of reverse discrimination that was on full display in the movie, Remember the Titans

Coach Boon: Now, you think you’re doing these boys a favor taking them aside every time I come down on them, protecting them from big bad Boone. You’re cutting my legs from under me.

Coach Yoast: Some of the boys just don’t respond well to public criticism. I tell them what they need to know, but I don’t humiliate them in front of the team.

Coach Boon: Which boys are you talking about? Which ones you talking about? I come down on Bertier. I don’t see you coddle him. Come down on Sunshine. Don’t see you grab his hand, take him off to the side. Which boys are you talking about? Now I may be a mean cuss. But I’m the same mean cuss with everybody out there on that football field. The world don’t give a damn about how sensitive these kids are, especially the young black kids. You ain’t doin these kids a favor by patronizing them. You crippling them; You crippling them for life.

Election day is November 6, 2012 and you might be one of those voters who, in 2008, wanted to help Barack Obama make history and turn the page from America’s past of racial demons but in 2012, you are feeling some tension. You recall President Obama’s past four years and you are not happy with where the he has taken the country. Some pundits might try to convince you that the reason you are wavering in your support of Obama is because of his race. But there is good news, if you judge someone on the content of their character, or on their record, then you are liberated from the constraints of racial identity. The good news is that you never had to vote for a candidate to prove moral progress. When you are inside the ballot box, if you find the symbolism that President Obama represents outshines his record over the past four years, then live out Dr. Martin Luther Jr.’s vision and do not vote for President Obama.

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2 thoughts on “The Audacity of White Guilt: How Senator Obama Became President Obama

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