Race and Obamadom

It’s sad to see a once admirable civil rights figure devolve into a racist hack, but that’s what Joseph Lowery did yesterday with his inaugural benediction:

We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.

Despite praising Lowery on Fox yesterday, Juan Williams does an excellent job analyzing the danger posed by the media’s racialist adulation of Obama:

…If his presidency is to represent the full power of the idea that black Americans are just like everyone else — fully human and fully capable of intellect, courage and patriotism — then Barack Obama has to be subject to the same rough and tumble of political criticism experienced by his predecessors. To treat the first black president as if he is a fragile flower is certain to hobble him. It is also to waste a tremendous opportunity for improving race relations by doing away with stereotypes and seeing the potential in all Americans.

Yet there is fear, especially among black people, that criticism of him or any of his failures might be twisted into evidence that people of color cannot effectively lead. That amounts to wasting time and energy reacting to hateful stereotypes. It also leads to treating all criticism of Mr. Obama, whether legitimate, wrong-headed or even mean-spirited, as racist.

This is patronizing. Worse, it carries an implicit presumption of inferiority. Every American president must be held to the highest standard. No president of any color should be given a free pass for screw-ups, lies or failure to keep a promise.

During the Democrats’ primaries and caucuses, candidate Obama often got affectionate if not fawning treatment from the American media. Editors, news anchors, columnists and commentators, both white and black but especially those on the political left, too often acted as if they were in a hurry to claim their role in history as supporters of the first black president.

For example, Mr. Obama was forced to give a speech on race as a result of revelations that he’d long attended a church led by a demagogue. It was an ordinary speech. At best it was successful at minimizing a political problem. Yet some in the media equated it to the Gettysburg Address.

The importance of a proud, adversarial press speaking truth about a powerful politician and offering impartial accounts of his actions was frequently and embarrassingly lost. When Mr. Obama’s opponents, such as the Clintons, challenged his lack of experience, or pointed out that he was not in the U.S. Senate when he expressed early opposition to the war in Iraq, they were depicted as petty.

Bill Clinton got hit hard when he called Mr. Obama’s claims to be a long-standing opponent of the Iraq war “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.” The former president accurately said that there was no difference in actual Senate votes on the war between his wife and Mr. Obama. But his comments were not treated by the press as legitimate, hard-ball political fighting. They were cast as possibly racist.

This led to Saturday Night Live’s mocking skit — where the debate moderator was busy hammering the other Democratic nominees with tough questions while inquiring if Mr. Obama was comfortable and needed more water.

When fellow Democrats contending for the nomination rightly pointed to Mr. Obama’s thin proposals for dealing with terrorism and extricating the U.S. from Iraq, they were drowned out by loud if often vacuous shouts for change. Yet in the general election campaign and during the transition period, Mr. Obama steadily moved to his former opponents’ positions. In fact, he approached Bush-Cheney stands on immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperate in warrantless surveillance.

There is a dangerous trap being set here. The same media people invested in boosting a black man to the White House as a matter of history have set very high expectations for him. When he disappoints, as presidents and other human beings inevitably do, the backlash may be extreme.

Several seasons ago, when Philadelphia Eagle’s black quarterback Donovan McNabb was struggling, radio commentator Rush Limbaugh said the media wanted a black quarterback to do well and gave Mr. McNabb “a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve.” Mr. Limbaugh’s sin was saying out loud what others had said privately.

There is a lot more at stake now, and to allow criticism of Mr. Obama only behind closed doors does no honor to the dreams and prayers of generations past: that race be put aside, and all people be judged honestly, openly, and on the basis of their performance.

President Obama deserves no less.

After all this uplift about the “historical” nature of Obama’s coronation, I wonder whether it will ever be possible for a mere heterosexual white guy to be elected president again without the piously liberal media blathering on endlessly about “a return to our shameful past.”

Jay Winik describes some of the horrors the Civil War inflicted on America and puts into perspective the anti-war left’s demagogic nonsense:

.. From the outset of his administration, Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward, a former senator from New York, was assiduously scheming against his president. Where Lincoln saw civil war as inevitable, Seward was freelancing, calling for negotiations with the South and privately telling Confederates that their differences could be peacefully resolved.

Then there were Lincoln’s problems with his generals. In 1862, despite Lincoln’s pleading, Gen. George McClellan refused to attack the Confederates. When senators clamored for McClellan to be removed, Lincoln feebly replied, “Whom shall I put in command?” “Well anybody!” Sen. Benjamin Wade told Lincoln. “Well anybody will do for you,” Lincoln said, “but not for me. I must have somebody!”

Only after much wasted time was McClellan finally dismissed. But from there, Lincoln had to contend with a procession of woefully unsatisfactory generals until he eventually found Ulysses S. Grant: He had to fire Ambrose Burnside, get rid of Joseph Hooker, and marginalize George Meade. Even at war’s end, Lincoln was still struggling to forge consensus inside his administration. He outlined his vision for reincorporating the South into the Union, only to meet with fierce resistance from his own cabinet. In one revealing moment, the president sheepishly said, “You are all against me.”

Another lesson from Lincoln is to blend clarity of purpose with steely pragmatism. It was Lincoln and Lincoln alone who had a mystical attachment to the Union, and he was willing to do almost anything to preserve it, even as the body count mounted and it became clear that the sacred struggle would be neither brief nor necessarily victorious. Checking out books from the Library of Congress, the president gave himself a crash course in military strategy, and day after day, year after year, dragged his tired body to the War Department to monitor the progress of Union armies in the field. He hectored his generals constantly to be on the offensive: “hold on with a bulldog grip and chew & choke,” “stand firm,” “hold . . . as with a chain of steel.”

And despite his revulsion for slavery — “if slavery is not wrong then nothing is wrong” — he hesitated to do anything about emancipation lest he jeopardize a fragile Union coalition that included slave-owning states. He even flirted with fantastic schemes to resettle blacks in Liberia. But once an opportunity presented itself to strike a death-blow to slavery, he took it. After the stirring Union victory at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Though billed as a war measure based on “military necessity,” in one masterful stroke Lincoln imbued the Northern war effort with a larger moral purpose, while becoming a personal emblem of freedom himself.

He was unfailingly pragmatic in his command of military strategy as well. Early in the war he made it a central tenet that the goal of Union generals should be the destruction of Confederate armies. But by 1864, when public support was waning, and it looked as though he might lose his bid for re-election, he allowed Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to unleash total war on the South — a form of war that Robert E. Lee had adamantly rejected when his armies moved north through Maryland and Pennsylvania. Sherman ravaged Atlanta beyond recognition, sending innocent civilians fleeing the city. He then laid waste to a vast corridor stretching some 400 miles, culminating in the burning of Columbia, S.C. Said one Southerner who witnessed this cloud of destruction and plunder, “We are going to be wiped off the face of the earth.” Sherman was unrepentant, and so was Lincoln.

But Lincoln was never vengeful. Once the tide of the war finally changed, he made sure that the looting and burning ended, particularly when Union armies made their way into North Carolina and Virginia. As Lincoln fatefully told one general, “I would let ’em up easy.”

Perhaps more than anything else, President Obama should learn from Lincoln the importance of perseverance. The fact is that as late as 1864 — well after the battle of Gettysburg, which in hindsight is often seen as the great turning point of the war — the Union was still suffering frightful losses. In six weeks alone during the Wilderness Campaign, Lee inflicted some 52,000 casualties upon Grant’s men, nearly as many soldiers as America would lose in the entire Vietnam War. The single battle of Cold Harbor was an unmitigated bloodbath; 7,000 men slaughtered in under an hour, most of them in the first eight minutes, more than the Confederates lost during Gen. George Pickett’s infamous Gettysburg charge.

A stunned Lincoln declared that the “heavens are hung in black,” and most of the North agreed. By then, some 200,000 troops had deserted the federal Army, and everywhere Lincoln turned there were fervent antiwar rallies. The influential journalist Horace Greeley wrote that “our bleeding, bankrupt, almost dying country longs for peace.” The Democratic Party, headed by former Gen. McClellan, ran on a peace plank.

How easy it would have been at this juncture for Lincoln to give in or compromise, and history might well have celebrated his refusal to subject the North to the continuing blood and wreckage. But a gloomy Lincoln resisted the calls for Grant’s head. Instead, when Grant marched his army across the James River in pursuit of Lee, refusing to retreat as so many other Union generals had done, Lincoln, with tears in his eyes, telegraphed Grant: “I begin to see it: You will succeed. God bless you. A. Lincoln.”…

Despite describing Lincoln’s “feeble” responses to incompetent generals, his expenditure of much “wasted time” and lives (which can only be described charitably as gross mismanagement of the war), and the carnage his decisions wrought, Winik still worships the man.

I wonder whether if the Civil War had been merely about preserving the union and had nothing to do with race, Lincoln would be considered today a war-mongering boob responsible for the the most devastating war in our history rather than our greatest president.

More importantly, I worry about how racial correctness will dominate our political discourse in the Age of Barry.
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