Saturday, January 31, 2009

Next up: GOP appoints Al Sharpton majority whip. Or...

...why I lied in my post of January 19.

First off, OK, I didn't really lie. What I meant by the assertion that I was "giving up" talking about race was that I was giving up talking about it in the way I usually talk about it, i.e., arguing that it doesn't/shouldn't exist. (A guy gets tired of banging his head against a wall. Even this guy. If nobody subscribes to post-racialism, so be it.) Besides, you'll also note that on January 19, I said I planned to make it my final post on race. Plans change. (Wink.)

So, while we're on the subject of things I don't quite know how to feel about, we might as well include this.

Though you know how un-fond I am of the whole "first black Senator" or "second woman astronaut" or "th
ird Eskimo centerfielder" thing, I suppose there's not much chance of getting away from such talk in this, the Year of Obama. And, there are always those who argue that we can only draw inspiration from people who look like us. (Which of course explains why my idols, growing up, were Trane, Sonny, Herbie, Horace, Miles, Shaw* and McCoy, shown left, and my favorite author for a time was James Baldwin, below. My favorite ballplayer was Teddy Ballgame, but right after that came the "Say Hey Kid" and Hammerin' Hank.)

Anyway, looking at the situation through that lens, it's nice that the GOP has appointed Michael Steele its chairman. And he can't really be regarded as a "token figure," either, since the ranks of black Republicans notably include not only Condi but also Shelby Steele (no relation), Ward Connerly and Larry Elder, among a fair number of others. There's even, yes, Colin Powell, who continues to self-identify as Republican despite his outspoken support for Obama in this election; I heard him make the point rather forcefully during an interview just this past week. (Remember the heat Limbaugh took for alleging that Powell's support for Obama was racially motivated? Hmm.)

But is it really "nice" that the GOP is doing this? Is the party taking this step for the right reasons? Or is Steele the Republican "answer" to Obama? ("See? We've got one, too! And he's almost as eloquent!") It's like, I had to laugh
and forgive me, please, because I'm sure I'm not the first to mention this, but I haven't had much time to randomly peruse other blogs and pop-culture sitesI had to laugh at the way George Bush, in his farewell speech, made such a point of showcasing an entire unbroken row of black luminaries, one after another. The act seemed so transparent that I found it uncomfortable. Kathy too. We both looked at each other without a word as our eyes went wide.

And switch back the other way again...isn't it a bit cynical to think like that? After all, what would we prefer? That the GOP just go on appointing, in essence, the same guys year after year? Middle-aged WASPy types who look, speak and think just like all the other middle-aged WASPy types? Shouldn't we at least try to believe that it's all in good faith? Give them the benefit of the doubt?

I'm honestly having trouble getting my mind around this one.

* I'm thinking of Woody here, but a
dmittedly, I liked Artie, too.


RevRon's Rants said...

Achieving post-racialism is a private, internal process, and any attempt to impose it upon the populace only serves to reinforce its presence and preserve its longevity, IMO.

Until public personalities quit staging such transparent and eye-roll-inducing events as the line-up you describe, racism will remain a factor. Until such time as Al Sharpton virtually disappears from news conferences, there will continue to be racial discord and resentment. Preventing anyone from such transparent grandstanding, however, would only serve to further their cause. I recall a scene from Monty Python & The Holy Grail... "Help! Help! I'm being oppressed!"

I think we've made some significant strides in the years since I was a kid. Most people didn't vote for a "black" man; they voted for an intelligent, articulate, and reasoned man. The typical attitude was something like, "Oh yeah... he IS black, isn't he?"

I'd feel more comfortable with the GOP if they selected people who reflect their ideologies, rather than those who seem to fit some PR hack's preferred demographic. But as they seem to be slipping ever closer to irrelevance, I guess desperation moves are inevitable, and i assume the Democrats would do the same thing if their positions were reversed. And it should come as no surprise that the major political parties are a few years behind the curve where public sentiments are concerned.

Frankly, I tend to wish more for post-partisanship than for a post-racial society. I really think the former would pretty well take care of the latter.

Elizabeth said...

Steve, I agree. The way I see it, this is a laughably blatant attempt, by the GOP, to catch up to their rivals -- and reality. Just imagine if the roles were reversed here and Dems did that. The contempt and derision from the GOP would be deafening. We would never hear the end about "identity politics," "pandering," etc.

How many black Republicans are there, really? Two? (Including CMC? OK, I'm being slightly facetious.) Is he really the best qualified candidate for the post? (Rhetorical question, that.)

On the other hand, it is progress, of sorts. And I have read several left-leaning commentaries already hailing it as such and exhorting the faithful (on the left) to embrace this move and rejoice (or at least refrain from criticizing). I get that, I do. But, honestly, how can one rejoice when this is such an in-your-face act of desperate political maneuvering? (The latter is rhetorical too, BTW.)

Chad Hogg said...

Your post reminds me of one of the things that makes me question post-racialism even as I try to embrace it. If race really is meaningless, why is it that more than 90% of the great jazz musicians are black? Can cultural differences really explain why, even when you take out your list of black luminaries, for every Brecker we have a Bird, a Diz, a Duke, a Monk, a Satchmo, and so on? For me, the jury is still out.

Cal said...

I have to agree with Elizabeth. It is the GOP's way of showing inclusiveness. I equate with McCain's out-of-left-field nomination of Palin to get the soccer Mom vote.

Michael Steele was the Lt. Gov. of Maryland. But he won because he was part of a ticket. The Lt. Gov. is not a separately voted office in this state. He ran for U.S. Senate in Maryland in '06 -- and lost. And this is in a state with a high African-American population.

It will be interesting to hear Limbaugh's take on this -- that is if he has not already commented on it.

Steve Salerno said...

Speaking of Rush, I was stunned the other day to hear Obama invoke Limbaugh, of all people, as apparently the critical factor handicapping Washington's evolution towards a smoother, more cooperative style of politicking. Supposedly Obama said to leading GOP figures who were withholding their support of the stimulus package, "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done."

To set up a mere radio host who holds no elective office as the power-behind-the-throne is remarkable. And the scariest part is that it may even be true. Still, when I hear Beltway power brokers say such things, I want so scream, "Please, don't encourage him!" (meaning Limbaugh). After call, can you imagine how smug and self-satisfied Rush must feel about all this? Especially after openly rooting for Obama to fail.

Anonymous said...

Steve and Elizabeth, you two are way off base with the "we-have-Negroes-too!" charge.

The fact of the matter is Obama's cabinet is less racially diverse than Bush the Lesser. President Obama only has one Afto-American in his cabinet. Doesn't one mean "token"?

Where is the diversity?

RevRon's Rants said...

"a mere radio host who holds no elective office as the power-behind-the-throne..."

Steve, I don't think the implication was so much that Rush was the power behind the throne, but rather a reference to the kind of mentality that Rush represents. I doubt that such inflammatory ignorance is going to disappear anytime soon, but I do hope that our elected (and would-be elected) officials realize that the majority of the country has moved beyond such divisive (and misleading) rhetoric. If they don't, they'll simply marginalize themselves out of any semblance or relevancy. Either way, the acrimony will diminish... I just hope that the ideals and balancing effect of the Republican party aren't lost in the process.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron: Point taken. Still, to be held up as metaphor for the sticking points in the national political's quite something.

Steve Salerno said...

P.S. I can already see Rush smirking as he drops the Obama comment into a little file folder and says to himself, "Next time I renew, I ask for $250 million..."

Elizabeth said...

Like Ron, I too think that the Obama's Limbaugh mention was meant to symbolize the mentality and not single out the man. But, oh yes, Rush is enjoying the attention immensely (and sweating a lot more than usual, from both excitement AND fear). It's been reported that, as of yesterday, his ego has swollen to twice the size of his body (and it continues to grow, if you can imagine that; we may see an unannounced solar eclipse in the days to come.)

There have been several commentaries already along the lines of OBAMA VS. LIMBAUGH PART 1! (cue ominously sounding music here). Rush himself fuels the fire:

"He's obviously more frightened of me than he is Mitch McConnell. He's more frightened of me, then he is of say, John Boehner, which doesn't say much about our party," Limbaugh said.

Limbaugh today planned to unveil his own bipartisan plan to "resolve the fight over the stimulus package."

"I think Obama wants me to fail," Limbaugh said. "President Obama, by telling you and the elected Republicans in Washington to not listen to me because I am not how things get done in Washington, he has said that he wants me to fail.

Wooo-hooo! "(Obama) obviously FRIGHTENED OF ME!!!" It's clear that the two titans go head to head in their fight to eliminate each other. It's a rivalry of mythic proportions. Now that Rush plans to "unveil his own bipartisan plan to resolve the fight over the stimulus package," there is no telling how the fight may end. Unidentified White House sources have reported that Obama has been shaking in his loafers and taking Valium at night to help him sleep. Don't miss THE ULTIMATE MORTAL COMBAT: LIMBAUGH VS. OBAMA, PART 2.

You gotta give it to Rush, he knows how to entertain. :)

Jen said...

Re: "...why I lied in my post of January 19."

Here is my interpretation, Steve. You are as determined to talk about race as you are to avoid talking about it.

Elizabeth said...

Cal, yes, it is exactly the kind of desperate manipulation that resulted in Palin for VP, IMO.

Now the new GOP chairman is showing his chops by assuring us that there is nothing wrong with the GOP.


Anon, the GOP chairmanship and Obama's cabinet are two different matters here, no?

And let's take a look -- no diversity?

Cal said...


I thought the same thing. Obama just increased Limbaugh's already gonzo ratings by invoking his name. I don't think Obama should have done it. And the stimulus package still is being voted primarily by party lines, despite Obama's offer of inclusion with the GOP.

Steve Salerno said...

Chad: Sorry to be getting back to your point so late. Believe me, as someone who devoted a significant part of his early life to jazz, I've thought about this too, and at length.

Despite the skew that we manifestly have, and that you describe accurately, it seems highly improbable to me that there could be a genuine genetic component to jazzmanship. I think there are two factors here. One is that--as was also true of boxing--jazz became a "way out" for groups stuck on the lower tiers of the social ladder. Boxing for many years has been dominated by blacks (though lately Caucasians of Russian and Eastern European extraction are challenging that dominance, as is also true in basketball). But before that, boxing was dominated by whatever group was having the most trouble breaking out of its caste: Irish, Italians, etc. Also, at least here in the U.S., the "black tradition" is very much a mix of minstrel and blues, dating back to Slavery. And jazz's roots in that music (in both the harmonic and thematic senses) are clear. It seems reasonable to me that if black kids grow up among jazz, they have more of an ear for it; in particular, they're more well-versed in its nuance than are whites, who may be able to study jazz in a formal sense, but lack the "street" background that makes, say, a Coltrane solo sound so much more, well, jazzier and authentic than a solo by his legions of white, career-sideman imitators.

After all, we can turn things around: Do you think there's something biological that makes white kids more likely to excel at heavy-metal?