What's the Matter With Obama?
The four sins of "cling."
His face. Hello! Mrs. Ferraro? If one of the "formeost" things Obama offers voters is the "face of a brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia, etc." doesn't that mean "he would not be in this position if he were white"? If you like Obama because he might "rebrand" America to the world--well, he wouldn't accomplish that simply by having his election televised, as Sullivan suggests he would, if he were white, would he? Or think in purely domestic terms. If Obama were white, he wouldn't embody hopes of a post-racial future. Duh! That's part of his appeal. It seems obvious. Why does Obama dispute it? Why isn't Ferraro allowed to acknowledge it? Is it OK for Obama's "face" to appeal to egghead Atlantic subscribers but not ordinary Wyoming caucusers? Or was Sullivan being "offensive"" and "ridiculous" too?
I also think it's pretty clear that Sullivan-style logic is at the core what Ms. Ferraro meant when she said "[he] happens to be very lucky to be who he is" and that "the country is caught up in the concept" of his presidency. She's not arguing that he's where he is because black voters are caught up in identity politics--more the opposite, that white and black voters alike are caught up in the idea of ending identity politics. Nor does she does she seem to be arguing it's wrong to be at least temporarily "caught up" in this concept. But the concept wouldn't be there if Obama was white.
P.S.: Several normally canny commenters have taken issue with the idea that the Ferraro controversy hurts Obama. They suggest that, even if it loses him white male votes, what he needs now are superdelegates--and it will help turn disgusted superdelegates against Hillary. I don't know. Superdelegates are almost by definition political pros. Are they really going to turn against Hillary, and stay that way until August 25, just because they got ticked off by one of her surrogates yesterday? Skeptical conservative Democratic voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana might not forget so easily, though--especially if the Obama campaign can blunder its way to keeping this story alive for a week or two. What would really, permanently impress wavering superdelegates, after all, is if Obama can carry large chunks of the white male vote in those three big states.
Why doesn't Obama just say: "I think being black helps me in some ways, and hurts me in others. I'm running on my record, on the issues, on my ability to do the best job as President for all Americans, etc."--and tell his campaign aides to leave it at that?
P.P.S.: Would Obama be in this position if he weren'thalf-white--i.e. if he didn't have one white parent? That's a more difficult question. If embodying the post-racial future is an advantage, it would seem to help--but that's a bit ironic, isn't it (i.e., ironic if you can't lead America into the post-racial future unless you have the precisely correct mix of multiracial ancestry).
P.P.P.S.: If the Ferarro controversy does help Hillary, that would explain why Ferraro herself seemed to try to keep it alive yesterday with a silly, provocative comment: "I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?" ... Second Reading: In context, Ferraro seems to be trying to parody what she claims is the Obama campaign's tendency to cry "racism" everytime someone criticizes Obama. The problem with this argument is that hasn't been the Obama camp's tendency--rather, they cry "racism" everytime someone brings up the question of race. But Ferraro may have been thinking of Orlando Patterson's less-wacky-than-you'd-expect op-ed, criticizing Clinton's seemingly non-racial "3 A.M." ad as racist--indeed, Ferarro mentioned the Patterson op-ed in an earlier TV appearance. Maybe she just got her back up and saw perversity all around. But she's clearly not trying to tamp down the controversy. ... 10:42 P.M. link
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Geraldine Ferraro (Clinton supporter): " "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position."
True statement (a.k.a. a Kinsley gaffe). And if Geraldine Ferraro was Gerald Ferraro, she'd be an unknown hack ex-Congressman, not a pathbreaking former vice-presidential candidate. Now Hillaryite Democrats suddenly feel the unfairness in the logic of race-based affirmative action? Where were they when Bill Clinton was 'mending it, not ending it'? And where's that Jesse Helms ad when she needs it?
Susan Rice (Obama aide):"That's a really outrageous and offensive comment."
David Axelrod (Obama strategist):""The bottom line is this, when you wink and nod at offensive statements, you're really sending a signal to your supporters that anything goes."
Absurd and telling overreaction! Yes, Ferraro's statement is hypocritical. It drips with unseemly envy and entitlement. It's unrealistic--by the time any politician gets to the stratopsheric level of presidential contender, he or she has almost certainly had some morally arbitrary lucky breaks (like being a black, or an Italian, or a Bush, or just being in the right place at the right time). But why is it "offensive"? It is, after all, true. Maybe that's the problem. Is it 'offensive' to hit too close to the sensitive weak spot of Democratic race-preference ideology in a Democratic primary? I guess.
Update: Obama himself says "I don't think that Geraldine Ferraro's comments have any place in our politics or the Democratic Party." ... Ferraro saysa) she's always said that if she were "Gerard Ferraro" she would "never have been the nominee for vice president;" b) "The truth is the truth is the truth." ... She also narrows the context of her statement to the 2008 campaign, rather than Obama's entire life--including race-based preferences he may have enjoyed at Harvard--which has the effect of protecting Dem preference dogma at least somewhat. Altogether a highly effective appearance. ...
Photograph of Ann Coulter on Slate's home page by Brad Barket/Getty. Photograph of a wedding cake with two grooms on Slate's home page by Hector Mata/AFP Photo. Photograph of Princess Diana on Slate's home page by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images.