Waiting for Obama's "pivot."

A mostly political Weblog.
March 24 2008 6:27 AM

Waiting for Obama's Pivot

What if he never turns back to the center?

Waiting For Pivot: A Kinsley Gaffe is offically defined as

when a politician tells the truth.

To cover the Obama race speech, we may need a second kind of Kinsley Gaffe, call it KG II, that would apply to the trouble generated

when a politican says what he or she actually thinks (whether or not it's the truth).

That is to say, whatever the result of Obama's race speech, it's hard to conclude he didn't honestly say what he believes. He believes, among other things: 1) black churches like Jeremiah Wright's are too victim-oriented; 2) it's offensively prejudiced to be wary of black men on the street.

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He's also 3) reluctant to think white resentments over welfare and affirmative action are justified as objections to welfare and affirmative action, and 4) prefers to see them as expressions of "legitimate" frustration over uncertain living standards.

That's what he thinks! He's being "courageously honest." We have to deal with it.

Candor is surely the necessary starting point for a useful national conversation on race (the one that Obama didn't seem to want to have until his pastor got him in political hot water). One side says, "You're scared of young black men." The other side says, "Yes, and here's why." Progress becomes possible. One side says, "You get all these breaks just because of your race." The other side says ,"We have to be twice as as good to get the same respect."  If you don't ever have the argument you probably can't get over the argument.

But candor isn't a sufficient--or maybe even necessary--quality in a President. That depends more on what you think about what Obama thinks.

For myself, I tend to agree with Obama's point 1), the passage that righty  impressed Abigail Thernstrom. But I disagree with 2), and suspect a lot of other "typical" voters may also (and not like to be lectured about it). More important, on (3) and (4), it's hard to believe we're about to nominate a Democrat who doesn't acknowledge the lesson of the 1990s--that voters are worried about issues like welfare because they are worried about welfare, not because "welfare" is a surrogate for "lack of national health insurance." Can a Dem who hasn't learned that lesson can be elected in a two-candidate general election? That's no longer unthinkable, but it would require not only that the old Carter-Ford-Reagan-Clinton issues like welfare, crime, etc. recede into the background (replaced by Iraq and the economy). It would also require Republicans who are too stupid to find a way to bring them back into the foreground.

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