This morning we wake up to the disturbing reality that the Rev. Wright issue might actually help to bring down the candidacy of Barack Obama. A portent of the future can be seen by random sampling of Fox News, where you will find an obsessive orgy of race-baiting aimed at the white audience, exploiting the dangerously cathartic effect resentful white reactionaries enjoy when they call black people "racist." Bob Herbert in today's NYT takes the line that Rev. Wright, who stated to the press corps yesterday that Louis Farrakhan is "one of the most important voices of the 20th and 21st centuries," is deliberately shooting down Obama. I don't go in for that sort of paranoia (I'm brought up short by the fact that a lot of people actually seem to believe that the Clintons want to sabotage the general election, an outrageous claim), but he might as well be right when we consider today's polling on Real Clear Politics that shows Obama in a dead heat with McCain, while Clinton vs. McCain is at the moment opening up a lead, almost ten points up on the latest AP poll. The real poison was the next thing that Wright said: "Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains." This makes it clear who "the enemy" is.
But I'm not here to pile on. I've posted before to the effect that there is a striking absence of appreciation of, or even listening to, the messages of Rev. Wright and other traditional black voices (Farrakhan, for that matter, develops some of the themes of Malcolm X, who is eminently worth reading). Besides dismissing the ideas of traditional black nationalists as something not worth listening to, there is also no appreciation of the fact that at the nationalist end of the black political spectrum, the more the mainstream reviles you, the more credibility you have. Another factor here is the black generation gap. Older blacks (Bill Cosby, who I admire, is another example) have a sensibility and a worldview reflective of an older, harsher and above all more segregated time (there is even nostalgia for the segregated middle-class neighborhoods of the 40s and 50s, like Russians missing Stalin). Their rhetoric is essentialist, "us" and "them." Obviously this is jarringly dissonant with Obama's attempt at a post-racialist rhetoric.
I don't think that Obama is in any danger at all of losing support from black voters. In fact I think that he might be well-advised to reject Wright in stronger terms than he has so far (Wright appears to be forcing him to do this). But the theme that is emerging on this blog is that Obama has been strategically incorrect in trying to run as a black candidate who is not a black candidate. We cannot overcome our racial problem by going around it (Obama as Ulysses), or over it (Obama as Icarus). We must work through it (Hercules). And whites must remember that racism is a white problem, and that if the country can't elect a black man today that is because the white community must evolve. The best thing about Obama is that he refuses to fall victim to the self-fulfilling prophecy, that we're not ready for him.
Meanwhile as to the proposal, endorsed by McCain and Clinton, of a gasoline-tax holiday over the summer (that is, during the election): shame on the both of them. We need to have a national energy policy that addresses our long-term needs, not pander to the voters with artificial prices that drive up the debt. And cheers for Obama for having no part of it.