Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Jesse Jackson, Joe Clark, and Barack Obama

The groveling is necessary, of course, but the core of what Jackson said is correct. Obama has been talking down to black people, starting, as with so much of the rest of the ugliness coming from him, the minute he was annointed the winner of the primary. I began to loathe Obama as soon as he gave this speech, which white people, and a certain kind of black person -- the kind most likely to vote -- loved, but any thinking person knew would have no impact on its nominal target: the kind of black man who would be an absent father, and the kind of black woman who would enable him. Those people either aren't going to hear the speech at all, or are going to resent it and therefore tune it out. It was clear to me at that moment that Obama doesn't care about the poor black community -- the community I, unlike him, came from and was shaped by -- except as a tool to help him get elected.

There's a certain kind of movie that white people love to watch. It involves a black authority figure going around and smacking black kids around to shape them up. The archetype of this film is Lean On Me, where Morgan Freeman plays Joe Clark, a real-life principal who stalked around the halls of his school with a baseball bat and a bullhorn, screaming at them niggers to get with the program. White people love this film, the same kind of black people Obama talks to -- Obama himself might be, for all I know -- love this film (they are the kind of black people who say things like "There are black people and there are niggers. I'm not a nigger"); people who know and care about the worst segments of the black community, who want to see it changed, hated the film and its meta message: all the niggers need is a firm hand. Such a message oversimplifies an incredibly complex problem, blames the victim to at least a certain extent, won't change anything in the end (Joe Clark, for all his yelling and baseball bat waving, didn't raise test scores in his school one whit, for example), but it does have the advantage of absolving white people of all responsibility, both for the current, sad state of affairs, and for contributing to improving it. That useless meta message has become the core of Obama's campaign, not just in his relations with black people, where he is aiming to assure white people that he will be a Joe Clark, but in his relations with the left in general, where he has openly shown his disdain for left wing activists and their interests as soon as he no longer needed them, this, I believe, to court favor with the Washington establishment.

You can say what you want about Jesse Jackson, and he isn't one of my favorite people. But I also see Jackson as one of me -- as someone who knows the black community, wants good things for it, and is deeply aware when someone like Obama, who is desperately trying to prove he's black in skin only, walks over that community and its interests in his lust for power. After he became a celebrity for his baseball bat, bullhorn, and nigger bashing, Joe Clark left education and became a successful, and no doubt wealthy, motivational speaker. The school he was supposed to have shaped up still struggles.