domingo, 18 de diciembre de 2016

Why Is Obama So Popular With Liberals? Because He Is Black

It is projected that, on inauguration day, Barack Obama will be immensely popular. How come? Well, let’s acknowledge some of his achievements. He managed to improve the US economy (although did very little when it came to face off Wall Street and inequality), he cut a very important deal with Iran, and for the most part, there were no major scandals during his presidency.
            But, it seems to me that his popularity is not proportional to his actual deeds, especially when it comes to the liberal agenda. In fact, from a liberal's point of view, some of his policies have been as bad (and, in some cases, even worse) as George W. Bush’s. He did not invade Iraq, but he did authorize a morally dubious intervention in Libya, and took illegal drone warfare to a new level. As Edward Snowden himself has made clear, the Obama administration took surveillance far beyond from where the Bush administration left off. And, when it comes to immigration, well, he is the “deporter-in-chief”.

            Why, then, is he so popular, especially among liberals? Let’s point out the big elephant in the room: race. To say that Obama won because he is black seems, alas, a racist proposition. Such a view apparently assumes that blacks in America are so politically illiterate, that they will vote for whomever has their skin color, regardless of his or her political agenda.
            But, let’s ask ourselves if there are antecedents to this scenario. What percentage of blacks believed that O.J. Simpson was innocent? An astonishingly high percent. Fortunately, today, the percentage of blacks believing in Simpson’s innocence has decreased significantly. But, the fact remains that, in 1995, most blacks paid little attention to the evidence, and focused a lot more on the skin color of the defendant.
            If this was the case with the Simpson trial, why wouldn’t it also be the case with Obama’s popularity? Well, there are important differences. Johnny Cochran shamelessly played the race card back then to get Simpson off the hook. To his credit, Obama was careful not to do the same. He never said, “Vote for me because I’m black”. He may have blown the dog-whistle every once in a while, but for the most part, he made a significant effort to present a post-racial candidacy in 2008, and kept this approach throughout his presidency.
            Yet, even if he never played the identity politics game, the American political scenario, which had been built on identity politics for some years, made it inevitable that his race would be a significant advantage. The media caught on. The mantra of “the first black president” was just too powerful, and understandably, Obama did not do much to ignore it. Even if Obama never wanted anybody to vote for him simply because he was black, the historical circumstances made it possible that, indeed, his skin color would help him more than harm him.
            True, the black community at first was skeptical. Obama’s ancestors were not slaves, he was raised by a white mother, and his proposals were not all that favorable to blacks’ interests. But, when the critical moment came, blacks estimated that it would be too much of a waste not to vote for him (when would there be a serious black contender again?). Not surprisingly, Obama overwhelmingly took the black vote.
            However, the real significant factor was not so much black identity politics, but rather, white guilt, as black author Shelby Steele has powerfully argued. In a considerable sector of American society (especially the liberal sphere), there is a major fear of being accused of racism. Whites have pursued all sorts of strategies to avoid this shaming label. Infamously, many whites have adopted the some-my-best-friends-are-black defense, as if having a single black friend all of a sudden will make racism disappear, and get privileged whites off the hook.
            But, strangely, “I voted for Obama” became the new “Some of my best friends are black”. Slavery and Jim Crow are the two greatest sources of historical embarrassment to white Americans (unfortunately, imperialism does not seem to count for much). What better way to atone for the grave sins of the past, than to vote for a black guy? After Obama, no one would accuse America of being a racist country because, finally, there would be a black president. Furthermore, this time, it would be relatively easy to vote for the black guy, as Obama, unlike a Jesse Jackson, appeared to be a much milder candidate when it came to confrontation.
            Or perhaps, Obama’s race was an advantage, but not in a direct way. Obama is by far the coolest president in US History. There is something about his walk, his talk, his look, his clothes, his wife, his kids… that makes him, in words of black columnist Dexter Thomas, “the King Midas of political cool”. Many critical commentators in the left (especially Chris Hedges) have highlighted the fact that Obama’s campaign was aggressively marketed as a brand. All those “Hope” and “Yes We Can” posters had a lot of marketing design. From the start, he was presented as the cool candidate to political consumers.
            Among cultural critics in America, it is pretty well established that, in the cool wars, blacks have the upper hand. The ultimate uncool type, the nerd, has been described as “hyper white”. From Elvis to Eminem, whites have had a fascination with black aesthetics. But of course, as many critics have pointed out, this is not particularly advantageous to blacks themselves. The fact that a white teenager may know Snoop Dogg’s lyrics does not imply by any means that he may be committed to checking his privilege and engaging in the struggle against racism.
            But, for a particular candidate marketed as cool, blackness is a blessing. Hence Obama’s cool style. He may not be popular because he is black. But, he is popular because he is cool. And, at least in part, he is cool because he is black. In Ferguson and other places in America, kids are being massacred because they are black. This requires a frank discussion, as the Black Lives Matter movement has well reminded. But, if Americans really want to be frank and honest, as part of this conversation, they should consider that, in the same manner that a cop kills a kid because he is black, Obama remains popular because he is black.

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