How Dare They?

I avoided commenting very much on Obama's "Race Speech" last Tuesday. But now I've been sucked into it by a blog posting from Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post. Joel's quite upfront about what he sees as the problem:

Obama says he wants to unite the country. Right-wing pundits say: Over our dead bodies.

Oh oh. And he's also quite straightforward about his opinion of The Speech:

Obama gave what this reporter thought was an honest, thoughtful, nuanced speech on one of America's most sensitive issues. And he did it right in the middle of sound-bite season. (I retract my statement of yesterday saying it was the best speech since Lincoln's Second Inaugural: It was actually the best since Henry V offered that excellent pep talk on Saint Crispen's Day before the Battle of Agincourt.)

So what's the problem with those "right-wing pundits"? Other than the their sheer effrontry in daring to criticize Obama and His Speech, it turns out to be tough to say.

But a number of pundits on the right really loathed the speech. They have called it dishonest and cynical. They basically say you can't believe a thing Obama says. No doubt they believe Obama's latest book should have been titled "The Mendacity of Hope."

How dare they?

Newt Gingrich told Hannity that the more he read the speech, "the phonier it got." On another Fox show, Gingrich said, "Look, I think it was a great speech, and I think he is a great speech maker. And I also think it was intellectually, fundamentally dishonest."

Gingrich's remarks on Hannity's show are here. Joel's second link goes to Media Matters; there's a direct transcript here. Joel's comment:

Phony? Dishonest? What it was, actually, was defining: It has helped Speaker Gingrich, for example, remind us that he remains, at core, the same ol' congressional back-bencher who loves to throw the verbal hand-grenade.

In other words: How dare he?

My guess is that there's nothing Obama could have said that would have satisfied some of these folks. Charles Krauthammer writes that the Obama speech was "brilliantly sophistic," which is a fancy way of saying that it was full of specious arguments, which is a fancy way of saying that it was dishonest.

How dare he? Fortunately, there's a link, so you can make your own call on Krauthammer's "fancy" argument.

Some on the right are even more vituperative. Faced with a candidate whocalls for Americans to stop believing the worst about their political opponents, they respond by asking voters to believe the worst about such a candidate.

The link goes to an Allahpundit post at Hot Air. Again, how dare he?

The core of their argument is that Obama is a fraud, a charlatan, or at the very least a slippery character. He's Tricky Barry.

How dare they say something like that? Or imply it? Or at least make Joel Achenbach think they implied it?

Here's Mona Charen: 'It's a mistake to try to pigeonhole Barack Obama. He is too smart and too agile to succumb to easy categorization. But the candidate's eloquence is often more of a curtain than a window to his soul -- and one is left to wonder where his heart truly lies. As George Burns said of acting, "Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you've got it made." '

I think that quote is more accurately attributed to Jean Giraudoux.

Rich Lowry: "Swaddled in all the high-mindedness was rhetorical sleight of hand about the Rev. Wright." Lowry writes that Obama's base is "the media," which probably comes as a surprise to the tens of thousands of people who show up for his rallies.

Lowry writes that Obama's speech was designed so that it "couldn't possibly get anything but lavish praise from the press." Fresh from providing said lavish praise, Joel sputters: How dare he say such a thing?

Patrick Buchanan: 'What is wrong with Barack's prognosis and Barack's cure? Only this. It is the same old con, the same old shakedown that black hustlers have been running since the Kerner Commission blamed the riots in Harlem, Watts, Newark, Detroit and a hundred other cities on, as Nixon put it, "everybody but the rioters themselves." '

Joel's substantive criticism of all this:


He finishes up:

There are dissenters from this ideological line. Andrew Sullivan has an interesting analysis of a Wright sermon. See also Peggy Noonan's column (via Memeorandum).

I liked the Noonan column too. Sullivan, of course has long been even more besmitten by the Obama charm than Joel Achenbach. After listening to Obama's call for unity, he pronounced that "large swathes of today's conservative movement truly are hateful"; after scanning through responses to Obama's speech at the Corner he discovered "anger and bitterness" which was "palpably fueled by fear and racism."

A number of people are pointing out the contradiction in using Obama's speech to encourage a "new conversation" on race in America while simultaneously trashing any person who dares to point out that this particular emperor isn't wearing any more clothes than your typical pol. For example, Jonah Goldberg:

In fact, doesn't it seem like the majority of people begging for a "new conversation" on race are the same folks who shout "racist!" at anyone who disagrees with them?

Well, yeah. Also see Tom Maguire and Ann Althouse in the same vein. Frankly, if the Obamamanian appeal to "unity" is used to mask (yet another) unfair and stupid wave of attacks in the conservatives-are-all-scummy-racists-who-should-just-shutup mold, whatever was of value in Obama's speech is severely degraded. And for that degradation, we have to thank folks like Joel Achenbach and Andrew Sullivan.

Of course, it's happened before. Back in 1997 Bill Clinton launched his "Initiative on Race" to "promote a dialogue in every community of the land" on racial issues. Plenty of inclusive talk at the outset, but a few months later:

President Clinton's advisory panel on race decided to restrict testimony and not consider the views of opponents of affirmative action when it held a hearing on how to achieve diversity on college campuses. The chairman of the panel, John Hope Franklin, said opponents of affirmative action, like Ward Connerly, the University of California regent who led the fight to ban the use of race in admissions to state universities, were unlikely ''to contribute to this discussion.''

So much for "dialogue". A few months after that, an opponent of "affirmative action" did manage to wangle an invitation to a "town meeting" in Akron. Abigail Thernstrom found herself confronted by Bill Clinton himself. As recounted by John Hood at Reason:

In that celebrated exchange, part of the president's national "conversation" on race, Clinton--impersonating Geraldo Rivera on a bad day--asked participants whether they supported affirmative action in higher education. Thernstrom interjected, correctly, that the real question was whether racial preferences, not some vague concept of "affirmative action," ought to continue.

"Abigail," said the president in mock familiarity, towering over her as she sat in her chair, "do you favor the United States Army abolishing the affirmative action program that produced Colin Powell?" When she hesitated, he pressed on. "Yes or no?" he demanded. "Yes or no?"

Thernstrom refused to take the bait, and began: "I do not think that it is racial preferences that made Colin Powell...."

"He thinks he was helped by it," the president interrupted.

This is, apparently, the kind of conversation that the president would like to foster on race: superficial, bullying, and misleading.

(The late WFB, Jr. also commented on the then-President's graceless performance in Akron.)

When Clinton's panel completed its report 15 months after his initial announcement, it landed with a dull thud in the midst of Monicagate. Positive effect on American race relations: zero.

As Achenbach and Sullivan show, we're all ready for another round of this charade. The "progressives" can't stand honest debate on this issue, because they know they can't win on this basis. The best they can do is snark and slime.

Last Modified 2012-10-13 6:33 AM EST