I rather glibly wrote recently that one reason president Obama has not opened a can of rhetorical whup-ass on those actually seeking the default of the US Treasury, is that he wants to avoid the "angry black man" trope. Once he is defined as that, the GOP needs nothing more to use the race card silently against him. That's why they keep arguing that the president who killed bin Laden, prevented a Second Great Depression and achieved universal healthcare in his first term is somehow another Jimmy Carter.
But of course he isn't. And of course he understands the political dynamic out there. He just knows that the one thing the far right wants – and needs – to do is get into a fight with him, elevating them, dimnishing him, and alienating the middle of the American electorate. His approach is the classic civil rights movement approach with a black leader addressing a largely white electorate: non-violence, reasoned argument … well, this Washington Monthly commenter puts it all far better than I can:
How does Obama break the iron unity of the GOP opposition to assemble a governing majority in the US Congress? …
Obama acts entirely within the tradition of mainstream African American political strategy and tactics. The epitome of that tradition was the non-violence of the Civil Rights Movement, but goes back much further in time. It recognizes the inequality of power between whites and blacks. Number one: maintain your dignity. Number two: call your adversaries to the highest principles they hold. Number three: Seize the moral high ground and Number four: Win by winning over your adversaries, by revealing the contradiction between their own ideals and their actions. It is one way that a oppressed people struggle.
Obama has taken a seat at the negotiating table and said “There is no reason why we cannot work out solutions to our problems by acting like responsible adults. That is what people expect us to do and that is why we have entered into public service.” That is the moral high ground.
Honestly, I have been reminded more than once in the last few months of those brave college students sitting in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter, back in the day. Obama sits at that table, like they did at the counter. Boehner and McConnell and Cantor clown around, mugging for the camera, competing to ritually humiliate Obama, to dump ketchup on his head.
I don’t think those students got their sandwiches the first day, but they won in the end.
Obama is winning. Democrats are uniting behind him, although some white progressives think that they could do the job better. Independents are flocking to him. Even some Republicans are getting disgusted with their Washington leaders. Obama is not telling us about lack of seriousness of the Congressional GOP; he is showing us the vivid contrast between what we expect of our leaders and their behavior. The last two and half years have been a revelation of the essential conflicts in our society and politics.
If white progressives understood much about the politics of the African American struggle in the United States, we would see Obama in the context of that struggle and understand him better. And you don’t have to be African American to know something about the history of the African American struggle. The books and the testimony is there. It’s not all freedom songs. But you have to be convinced that it is something that can teach you something you don’t already know.
Let the Dish say Amen.
(Photo: Roslan Rahman/Getty.)