Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Politics of Repudiation

One thing the Jeremiah Wright affair has established is how central calling people names has become in our political culture. And calling people names, oddly, is a sign that one is Important, Serious, and Wise. The ability to scold has become, strangely, an indispensable qualification.

The political media all know this. They are astonished that anyone does not know this. It is self-evident to them that a person in public life, such as a candidate for the Presidency, should be judged fit or unfit based on their skills in publicly upbraiding people. Someone who does not scold swiftly, and firmly, and loudly, is considered green, naive, and insufficiently serious. Because, as is immediately obvious from the world around us, the ability to scold without hesitating for thought is a universal sign of maturity and wisdom. Go to any diner and look for the guy telling off the waitress. You know that's a guy you can trust.

When sound bites of Jeremiah Wright began to circulate on cable news, where the serious issues are pondered, the situation was clear to every pundit in the land: Barack Obama had to scold that elderly minister, as soon and as publicly as possible. And he had to make it sharp, too. It was the only way to establish that Obama really Had What It Takes. That he would hesitate or qualify was a sign that he was just a kid, really, and not serious like the adults, who know how to deliver a good scolding. Then they tut-tutted over his abilities as a scold. He hadn't done it soon enough! He hadn't done it hard enough! He was too gentle, too nuanced! Only when Obama had to deliver a second scolding, harder, were some of them satisfied, although others (such as the genius Dick Morris) feel that Obama needs to keep scolding, in much more detail, and probably do at least a little scolding every remaining day of his natural life:

Of course, Hillary Clinton has known about the importance of scolding all along. She is very happy to prove her qualifications for the Oval Office by telling everyone how much she disapproves of Jeremiah Wright, and many weeks ago she offered a Obama a tutorial in the importance of telling everyone what a very, very bad man Louis Farrakhan is. It is not sufficiently serious, or Presidential, merely to say that Farrakhan is a bad man. One must be like Senator Clinton, and tell everybody, loudly and clearly, that Louis Farrakhan is not only a very, very bad man but also, and this is the important part, a very, very, very bad man. That is how the serious people do it.

This is a strange qualification for chief executive. Denouncing people takes no particular skill, or at least no particularly rare or unusual skill. If it were all about denouncing people, that guy in the diner harping at the waitress would be Secretary of State, and your Great-Aunt Mabel who's been holding certain grudges since V-E Day would be running the Fed. It isn't correlated with other abilities that a candidate, or an officeholder, needs. And, perhaps most importantly, denouncing people doesn't achieve anything productive.

You heard me. Nothing productive. Not a damned thing. We can call Louis Farrakhan a very very very bad man, with a very very bad plan, all day every day, and it will not help anything or anyone in the slightest.

Are Jeremiah Wright's most extreme beliefs, such as the canard about the government creating AIDS, bad and harmful things? Sure. I denounce them. I reject them. Notice how much better the world got just now as I was doing that?

Pundits talk reverently about the so-called "Sistah Souljah moment," which only pundits remember, but which has become a mandatory step on the road to the Oval Office. "Is this Obama's Sistah Souljah moment?" "When will he have his Sistah Souljah moment?" This "Sistah Souljah moment" which has become a fundamental prerequisite to control of the Executive Branch, commemorates the moment in 1992 when Bill Clinton valiantly denounced and rejected a B- or C-list rapper, a black woman no less, and thereby solved all of America's problems with race.

Although Clinton's bold stance ensured racial harmony forever, it must evidently be repeated every generation or so, if by "generation" we mean "every four years, at the latest." So it's incumbent upon Obama, if he's serious about our national destiny, to seek out some African-American who qualifies as a "public figure" for newspaper purposes, but who has no actual power and can do the candidate no conceivable harm, such as a rapper who doesn't sell too many records or a pastor who has recently retired from his ministry. Then, as an example of public virtue, the Presidential candidate must publicly castigate said irrelevant African-American borderline celebrity as an example of all that is wrong with the nation and the world. And that will prove both Seriousness and Moral Leadership.

What better qualifications could Obama show? What else would we look for in a leader?

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