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Petting the Dragon

Some sensible people who labeled Sen. Barack Obama very early on in his campaign a “post-racial” candidate are beginning to have second thoughts.

At the beginning of Obama’s carefully crafted campaign, George Will, the conservative commentator, was not yet among them, but the influence on Obama’s campaign of the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., pastor of Mr. Obama's Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, is giving rise to profound doubts.

Back in December, Will and Shelby Steele, touched lances on the question of race transcendence in the Obama campaign.

Will summarized a short book by Steele of Stanford's Hoover Institution on Obama, "A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win," and then disagreed with Steele's major premise that Obama had embraced the social determinism and identity politics of post-'60s black dogmas.

“Since the 1960s,” Will wrote, “the prevailing dogma of black identity has, Steele believes, required blacks to adopt a morally stunting stance of accusation against white society. Whites eagerly embraced a transaction: Blacks insist that their progress depends on whites' acknowledging through uplifting actions their obligations of guilt to blacks; in exchange, whites get absolution as their guilt is expunged.

“Since the 1960s, to ‘be black’ has, Steele says, required blacks to embrace ‘a deterministic explanation of black difficulty,’ a determinism that ‘automatically blames and obligates white power for black problems.’ It is, Steele charges, condescending of Obama not to use himself, and especially ‘his exposure from infancy on to mainstream culture,’ as ‘a measure of black possibility.’

“This, says Steele, could be Obama's ‘Promethean fire, his special gift to his times.’ But ‘thus far, Obama is the very opposite of a Reaganlike conviction politician.’ This is because Obama has chosen to resolve his ambiguous racial identity by embracing the social determinism and identity politics of post-'60s black dogmas. Hence he is a ‘bound man.’ He is ‘bound against himself’ because he ‘has fit himself into the world by often taking his experience out of account.’”

Into this arena, bristling with bad faith, now comes the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., pastor of Obama's Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, truly a hot blast from the past, a combination of Malcolm X before his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, and Louis Farrakhan, the fake Islamic firebrand who has acknowledged complicity in the assassination of Malcolm X.

Wright’s appearance, throws all thoughts of transcendence on the ash heap of a smoldering, racially divisive campaign.

The first instinct of the seasoned politician is to have his cake and eat it too -- to court Farrakhan and Wright, and then with placid denials also to round up the votes of blacks and whites who genuinely want to see in the White House a St. George who has slain the dragon of racism.

That is impossible.

Obama’s promise as a politician who transcends the outworn dogmas of the 60’s will be wasted if he cannot bring himself to disappoint such as the Rev. Wright, who fancies himself a modern Jeremiah calling upon sinful whites to repent of their racism. There is need for a voice of his kind; nations cannot too often be reminded of the sins of their fathers. But in a post-racist period, when the dragon of racism lies prostrate at our feet, we should not be feeding and petting it. It needs a lance in its side, and someone who will push the lance through to the heart, so that the intimation of Malcolm X on his return from Mecca that even racism may be burnt up in the Godly fire of faith will be true for us, as it was for him.

The moral to this tale of possible lost causes could not be plainer: You can either pet the dragon or slay it.

You can’t do both.


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