Why Jesse Jackson Hates Obama

Shelby Steele, Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2008

{snip}

But now—not looking old so much as a bit lost within the new Obama aura—it is clear that Jesse Jackson has come to a kind of dénouement. Some force that once buoyed him up now seems spent.

{snip} [He] and the entire civil rights establishment pursued equality through the manipulation of white guilt.

Their faith was in the easy moral leverage over white America that the civil rights victories of the 1960s had suddenly bestowed on them. So Mr. Jackson and his generation of black leaders made keeping whites “on the hook” the most sacred article of the post-’60s black identity.

They ushered in an extortionist era of civil rights, in which they said to American institutions: Your shame must now become our advantage. To argue differently—that black development, for example, might be a more enduring road to black equality—took whites “off the hook” and was therefore an unpardonable heresy. For this generation, an Uncle Tom was not a black who betrayed his race; it was a black who betrayed the group’s bounty of moral leverage over whites. And now comes Mr. Obama, who became the first viable black presidential candidate precisely by giving up his moral leverage over whites.

Mr. Obama’s great political ingenuity was very simple: to trade moral leverage for gratitude. {snip}

So it is not hard to see why Mr. Jackson might have experienced Mr. Obama’s emergence as something of a stiletto in the heart. Mr. Obama is a white “race card”—moral leverage that whites can use against the moral leverage black leaders have wielded against them for decades. He is the nullification of Jesse Jackson—the anti-Jackson.

And Mr. Obama is so successful at winning gratitude from whites precisely because Mr. Jackson was so successful at inflaming and exploiting white guilt. Mr. Jackson must now see his own oblivion in the very features of Mr. Obama’s face. {snip}

And then Mr. Obama took it further by going to the NAACP with a message of black responsibility—this after his speech on the need for black fathers to take responsibility for the children they sire. “Talking down to black people,” Mr. Jackson mumbled.

Normally, “black responsibility” is a forbidden phrase for a black leader—not because blacks reject responsibility, but because even the idea of black responsibility weakens moral leverage over whites. When Mr. Obama uses this language, whites of course are thankful. Black leaders seethe.

Nevertheless, Mr. Obama’s sacrifice of black leverage has given him a chance to actually become the president. He has captured the devotion of millions of whites in ways that black leveragers never could. And the great masses of blacks—blacks outside today’s sclerotic black leadership—see this very clearly. Until Mr. Obama, any black with a message of black responsibility would be called a “black conservative” and thereby marginalized. After Obama’s NAACP speech, blacks flooded into the hotel lobby thanking him for “reminding” them of their responsibility.

{snip} Why then, all of a sudden, are blacks willing to openly embrace this truth—and in the full knowledge that it will weaken their leverage with whites?

I think the answer is that Mr. Obama potentially offers them something far more profound than mere moral leverage. If only symbolically, he offers nothing less than an end to black inferiority. {snip}

But white Americans have also been tormented by their stigmatization as moral inferiors, as racists. An Obama presidency would give them considerable moral leverage against this stigma.

So it has to be acknowledged that, on the level of cultural and historical symbolism, an Obama presidency might nudge the culture forward a bit—presuming of course that he would be at least a competent president. (A less-than-competent black president would likely be a step backwards.) It would be a good thing were blacks to be more open to the power of individual responsibility. And it would surely help us all if whites were less cowed by the political correctness on black issues that protects their racial innocence at the expense of the very principles that made America great. We Americans are hungry for such a cultural shift.

{snip}

But here lies his essential contradiction: His campaign is more cultural than political. He sells himself more as a cultural breakthrough than as a candidate for office. To be a projection screen for the cultural aspirations of both blacks and whites one must be an invisible man politically. Real world politics, in their mundanity, interrupt cultural projections. And so Mr. Obama’s political invisibility—a charm that can only derive from a lack of deep political convictions—may well serve his cultural appeal, but it also makes him something of a political mess.

{snip}

Mr. Obama has already won a cultural mandate to the American presidency. And politically, he is now essentially in a contest with himself. His challenge is not Mr. McCain; it is the establishment of his own patriotism, trustworthiness and gravitas. He has to channel a little Colin Powell, and he no doubt hopes his trip to the Middle East and Europe will reflect him back to America with something of Mr. Powell’s stature. He wants even Middle America to feel comfortable as the mantle they bestow on him settles upon his shoulders.

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