Richard Cohen seems to be experiencing some buyer’s remorse in regard to Barack Obama. Last week in a column, Mr. Cohen lamented that Barack Obama has lost much of the “moral clarity” that he had when he was running for president. To be specific, Mr. Cohen wrote the following—
“But to reread the speech is also to come face to face with an Obama of keen moral clarity. Here was a man who knew why he was running for president and knew, also precisely, what he personified. He could talk to America both as a black man and a white man — having lived in both worlds. He could — and he did — explain to America what it is like to have been a black man of Wright’s age and what it is like even now to be a black man of any age.”
Gee—I didn’t think that was a qualification to run for president (maybe a qualification to be a motivational speaker), but I digress.
Then, after admitting that he had been the one “In my set” to have some reservations about Barack Obama (even though he wrote nothing but glowing columns about Obama pre-election), Mr. Cohen wrote the following—
“Somehow, though, that moral clarity has been dissipated. The Obama who was leading a movement of professed political purity is the very same person who as president would not meet with the Dalai Lama, lest he annoy the very sensitive Chinese. He is the same man who bowed to the emperor of Japan when, in my estimation, the president of the United States should bow to no man. He is the same president who in China played the mannequin for the Chinese government, appearing at stage-managed news conference and appearances — and having his remarks sometimes censored. When I saw him in that picture alone on the Great Wall, he seemed to be saying, “What the hell am I doing here?” If so, it was a good question.
The Barack Obama of that Philadelphia speech would not have let his attorney general, Eric Holder, announce the new policy for trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other 9/11 defendants in criminal court, as if this was a mere departmental issue and not one of momentous policy. And the Barack Obama of the speech would have enunciated a principle of law and not an ad hoc system in which some alleged terrorists are tried in civilian courts and some before military tribunals. Where is the principle in that — what works, works? Try putting that one on the Liberty Bell.”
Furthermore, Maureen Dowd also seems to be experiencing some buyer’s remorse in regard to vigorously supporting Barack Obama. In a recent column (where she actually has some nice things to say about Sarah Palin), Ms. Dowd writes the following—
“If we could see a Reduced Shakespeare summary of Obama’s presidency so far, it would read:
Dither, dither, speech. Foreign trip, bow, reassure. Seminar, summit. Shoot a jump shot with the guys, throw out the first pitch in mom jeans. Compromise, concede, close the deal. Dither, dither, water down, news conference.”
However, I did a little digging into both Mr. Cohen’s and Ms. Dowd’s columns regarding President Obama, and what I found was quite interesting. In March of 2008, Richard Cohen wrote a column titled, “Taking the Call on Black Men” where he basically acknowledged that Hillary Clinton was more qualified to deal with national security issues, or the “3 AM call”, but that Barack Obama should be president instead, because he was more qualified “to take the call on black men in prison”. Why? Well, I’m not really sure. Mr. Cohen doesn’t say what Obama’s qualifications are in regard to dealing with disproportionately high levels of black men in prison, other than being black himself (which I don’t think is an actual qualification).
Furthermore, in November of 2008, right after Obama was elected president, Maureen Dowd wrote a column titled, “The Tracks of Our Tears” where she prattled on about how white people were finally talking to black people in Manhattan and about how she deigned to ask her “cute black mailman” what he thought about the election of Obama. (The Gawker mocked her boasting in that column that Gwen Ifil was her one black friend). Someone should inform Ms. Dowd that we bitter clingers in the south and middle America have been talking to black people long before Obama came along, but I digress.
So, now I’m going to be politically incorrect here and diagnose Richard Cohen and Maureen Dowd with a raging case of white liberal guilt. I mean, why else would someone so enthusiastically support a candidate that he or she has “reservations” about? Especially when said candidate’s campaign was, to quote liberal reporter John Heilemann, “a policy free zone”. It must be because of all of Barack Obama’s long years of legislative experience. Oh, wait a minute—I forgot. Barack Obama is an inexperienced neophyte with unsavory friends. Well, wait. Maybe it was the outstanding leadership on Afghanistan that Obama demonstrated when he was a US Senator. Oh wait a minute—I forgot. As previously stated, Barack Obama didn’t hold one hearing of his Senate subcommittee that he chaired on NATO forces in Afghanistan. Is it any wonder that he was “dithering” for so long about whether or not to send more troops into Afghanistan? Moreover, given the fact that both Mr. Cohen and Ms. Dowd seem to have serious disagreements with many of Obama’s decisions, white liberal guilt seems to be the only logical reason for their past vociferous support of him (and trashing of everyone else who ran against him).
Now, to be fair to Mr. Cohen and Ms. Dowd, a plethora of reporters and pundits suffered from white liberal guilt when it came to covering Barack Obama. Recently, Chris Matthews made a flaming ass of himself when he suggested that racism is at the heart of Sarah Palin’s support. To be specific, Mr. Matthews said the following—
“Well, they look like a white crowd to me,” later claiming, “I think there is a tribal aspect to this thing, in other words, white vs. other people.”
“Oh nooos!! The white people are coming!! The white people are coming!! Everybody, flee, flee for your lives!!”
However, the biggest offender of white liberal guilt to date has to be John Judis of The New Republic. Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler chronicled some of the ridiculousness of Judis’ ramblings—
“Clinton’s second great political mistake lay in how she dealt with Obama’s challenge. Sometime in December, having realized that Obama was going to be a genuine rival for the nomination, she and her campaign decided to go negative on him. They did the usual thing politicians do to each other: They ran attack ads taking his words somewhat out of context (Obama calling Reagan a “transformative politician”); they somewhat distorted old votes (voting “present” in Illinois on abortion bills); and they questioned old associations (Obama’s connection with real estate developer Tony Rezko).
John McCain and Mitt Romney were doing similar things to each other—and Obama did some of it to Clinton, too. But there a was difference between her doing this to Obama and McCain’s doing it to Romney—a difference that eluded Clinton, her husband, and her campaign staff.
My friend David Kusnet, Bill Clinton’s former speechwriter, explained the difference to me by citing what ex-heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson had once said about Muhammad Ali. “I was just a fighter,” Patterson had said, “but he was history.” Obama, too, was, and is, history—the first viable African-American presidential candidate. Yes, Hillary Clinton was the first viable female candidate, but it is still different. Race is the deepest and oldest and most bitter conflict in American history—the cause of our great Civil War and of the upheavals of the 1950s and ’60s. And if some voters didn’t appreciate the potential breakthrough that Obama’s candidacy represented, many in the Democratic primaries and caucuses did—and so did the members of the media and Obama’s fellow politicians. And as Clinton began treating Obama as just another politician, they recoiled and threw their support to him. “
Is it over? Can I look now? Man, that was an embarrassing gaffe (you know what they say—a gaffe is when you accidentally tell the truth), because it was unintentionally racist. Maybe I don’t understand white liberal guilt, because I didn’t grow up in a segregated era and both my husband and I have always had friends, and even family members, of all races and ethnicities. Furthermore, as a medical student, I had more minority attending physicians than white ones. Anyway, my point is that I think that most of my minority friends, family members, and attending physicians would probably find it to be offensive and patronizing if I were to blindly “throw my support to them” and not treat them like I treat everyone else because it would imply that they were too weak to stand on their own and be judged on their own merits, when they are in all ways my equals—and in some instances, my superiors.
“Since when has guilt become shameful? Since when is shame shameful when it’s shame about a four-centuries-long historical crime? Not one of us is a slave owner today, segregation is no longer enshrined in law, and there are fewer overt racists than before, but if we want to praise America’s virtues, we have to concede—and feel guilty about—America’s sins, else we praise a false god, a golden calf, a whited sepulcher, a Potemkin village of virtue. (I’ve run out of metaphors, but you get the picture.)
Guilt is good, people! The only people who don’t suffer guilt are sociopaths and serial killers. Guilt means you have a conscience. You have self-awareness, you have—in the case of America’s history of racism—historical awareness. Just because things have gotten better in the present doesn’t mean we can erase racism from our past or ignore its enduring legacy.
Well, can I easily answer Mr. Rosenbaum’s question, but in order to do this, I first need to go off on a tangent and quote Glenn Reynolds in regard to many of Obama’s voters (particularly Maureen Dowd)—
“I think Obama’s “charisma” was based on voter narcissism — people excited not just about electing a black President, but about themselves, voting for a black President. Now that’s over, and they’re stuck just with him, and emptied of their own narcissism there’s not much there to fill out the suit. As Ann Althouse says, “I think what Obama seems to have become, he always was.”
On a side note, reading Mr. Reynold’s quote reminds me of the TV miniseries V, which is about a group of aliens that try to infiltrate humanity and take over the planet earth by “spreading hope”. Anna, the leader of the aliens, controls them using “bliss”—a meditation/mind control trick where she tells them to forget all of their troubles, cares and responsibilities and to just feel good for the moment (see embed below).
So, to finally answer Mr. Rosenbaum’s question, yes, we moderates and conservatives feel terrible about slavery and segregation and the high levels of black men in prison. However, we are not going to just abandon all reason and logic and vote for some inexperienced, far left candidate just so that we can have the momentary “bliss” of patting ourselves on the back. Furthermore, we also feel terrible about unemployment and poverty, but we are not going to support some reckless, trillion dollar, budget busting porkulus bill that will only line the pockets of the Democratic special interest groups and not help any of the poor or unemployed (the stimulus has failed and unemployment is now over 10%). And finally, we also feel terrible about soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, but at the same time, we don’t support rashly pulling all of the troops out of the Middle East so that Al Qaeda and the Taliban will be victorious and more innocent people will die from future terrorist attacks.
In conclusion, white liberal guilt is a symptom of the irresponsibility and impulsiveness of liberalism. If it feels good for the moment, do it—consequences be damned. Hope, change, yada yada. Well, you know what? Mature adults understand that there are no easy solutions to real problems such as racism, poverty and unemployment, and that people who disagree with you politically are not automatically “Raaacists!!”. We also understand that everything you do in life has a consequence—that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. There are no short-cuts. There are no easy outs in life.
Dammit, there is no bliss!
There is only reality, and it’s high time that we all start living in the real world.