Skip to comments.Obama and the Culture Wars
Posted on 02/06/2008 8:26:44 AM PST by forkinsocket
It's a truism that a presidential candidate acts as a vessel for the dreams and beliefs of his followers. We've seen this for years with Madame Hillary, and more recently with Mike Huckabee. But nowhere has it been more evident than in the case of Barack Obama.
With Obama it appears at least in part to be a matter of strategy. His campaign persona is so vague, and slogans such as "the audacity of hope" and "the politics of unity" so generic that they could mean anything, which is exactly what they've been taken to mean.
Commentators, pundits, and voters look at Obama and see what they want see -- a "healer", an "agent of change", the "new JFK" -- a new persona each week. It follows directly that everyone also believes that Obama's ideas on policy and the issues are the same as that of the beholder, that the issue dearest to the candidate's heart happens to be the one that's most important to the individual voter. No matter what the constituency or what their concern, no doubt exists that Obama will get straight to work on their particular issue as soon as his shoes hit the oval office carpet.
Perhaps the most extreme example of this is the claim that Obama will "end the culture wars". This mantra is widespread enough to have become something of a slogan for the Obama campaign effort. A cursory Net search of outside commentary leads us to Paul Waldman:
"the transcendence of the culture war that Obama is selling may be the most compelling part of his candidacy."
"He wants to stop the civil war - not just in Iraq, but the one in America."
Steven T. Jones:
"... he is the only candidate capable of moving our country past the divisive culture-war paradigms and into a period when fundamental change is possible."
Even the Wall Street Journal's John Fund has fallen for this line, along with Andrew Sullivan, in a cover piece for the Atlantic.
A major peculiarity of all this is that it's based on next to nothing. The original source appears to be Obama's 2004 convention speech, where he pledged to work to "bring together" the Red and Blue states. Of course, the "Red and Blue" trope isn't cultural at all, it's political; a media construct -- mostly a bogus one -- derived from each state's majority voting patterns. So what Obama was actually saying is that he wants to bring Republicans and Democrats together. That's nice of him.
Apart from a few disconnected remarks in various recent campaign speeches, that's about it. We know nothing of how Obama plans to bridge the culture gap, how he feels about actual issues, or what his intentions are in dealing with them. In other words, it's political boilerplate. Obama would like to see the culture wars end the same way he'd like to see Osama captured, global warming ended, and a chicken in every pot.
But it obviously means a lot more than that to his constituency. They take it for something quite concrete and meaningful, one of the most critical elements of Obama's candidacy. Ending the culture wars is something deeply important to them, and Barack Obama's role is if anything even more so. To get some idea of what this might amount to, we need to take a look at what the "culture wars" actually comprise.
The culture wars are a long-term conflict between this country's traditionalists on one hand and left-wing cultural revolutionaries on the other. Since the 60s, the American left has followed a strategy set down by Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist theoretician. Gramsci contended that the proper method of taking over an established capitalist state is to undermine its "cultural hegemony" by infiltrating the institutions until at last only leftists remain. This is exactly what American leftists have been doing since the 70s as involves academia, law, the media, and a number of other fields. The center-right became aware of this program rather late -- in the mid-80s -- and immediately began opposing it. At that point it became a "culture war" and a matter for concern. Before that, it was evidently just business as usual.
Hillary Clinton is the most prominent product of the culture war. She rose from undergrad radical politics to the status of a presidential candidate using purely Gramscian techniques. She's the natural left-wing candidate, and until a few months ago, that's exactly the way she was viewed. Now they're all behind Obama. What explains this?
It happens that one of the major weapons of the American left is race. Tradition, you see, and the values embodied within it, are fundamentally racist. This does not require demonstration or argument. There's no need of that. The eras in which these values prevailed were also the eras of slavery and segregation. QED, tradition has to be racist. (The concept that racism might well have flourished in defiance of these values -- which is in fact the case -- easily eludes the left. As does the fact that American blacks, by and large, are the most traditional of American social groups, more religious, more socially conservative, more skeptical of change than any other.)
Apart from that, it's possible to put together a barely coherent picture of the conservative side of the cultural battlefield that appears to be directly descended from the old racist paradigm, derived using equal parts opposition to multiculturalism and The Bell Curve. By throwing out everything else -- morality, individual responsibility, religious belief, respect for the past -- you can present the culture wars as a case of dominant whites against the poor huddling minorities. Which is exactly what the left has done.
So we begin to see how a black president might fit into the left's strategy of cultural warfare. The very fact of a black man becoming president (And let's forget the fact that last year, with a white mother and a Kenyan father, he wasn't "black enough". They certainly have.) Will profoundly change the culture-war equation - and not by burying the specter of racism, as everyone seems to believe.
Racism is one of the major weapons in the left's cultural war arsenal. While claiming to be working against its lingering historical effects, the left has simply reversed spin on the ancient practice of racism and applied it to whites. White are born racists, utterly consumed by it, their every act tinged by racism. There is nothing they can do to overcome the fact. Blacks, on the other hand, are protected by their victim status. The oppressed, according the multicultural worldview, cannot harbor racist thoughts or impulses. They are absolved of any such sin by their status as victims.
Presented as a method of combating racism, multiculturalism has effectively perpetuated it by increasing tensions between blacks and other ethnic groups -- tensions that the left then uses to push its own agenda.
This defines the role that Obama, despite his own intentions, will be forced to take. Unless he repudiates the logic of leftist racial politics (as Clarence Thomas did in refusing to bow before a hostile Senate and Tiger Woods by his dismissal of identity politics), the simple fact of his being a black president will write his script for him. He will become a victim president, leader of a nation of obsessive racists, all of them congenitally opposed to him.
The left -- his own party's left, on whom he is in large banking to get him into the oval office -- can't have it any other way. Multiculturalism is a pillar of their ideology, racism one of their major weapons. They will see to it that Obama is defined by those terms and none other. Any opposition, no matter what it involves, no matter how principled, will become racist opposition. To question the most minor element of administration policy will brand you as a "racist", someone who wants to stymie President Obama not out of sincere disagreement, not because you might think he's wrong, not because you have a better idea, merely but because he's black.
As for anyone who entertains doubts about this -- your first encounter with modern liberalism remains yet to come.
An Obama presidency will not be not the final repudiation of racism, or the fulfillment of Martin Luther King's dream, but a multicultural Gotterdammerung. Total victory, on the terms of the far left. That's what they mean by "ending the culture wars".
There's very little that Barack Obama can do about it. This is one of those situations where he will be driven by his constituency. Obama has revealed time and again that he accepts liberalism pretty much as it stands, which means that he accepts the whole enchilada. That being the case, he will have to accept the ideological interpretation of the culture wars, no matter where it leads. Otherwise he will risk triggering a civil war within his own ranks. Can a first-term, inexperienced, and likely insecure president take that chance?
Obama will have no choice. He will be fated to be the black president as defined by liberal extremists whether he likes it or not. If elected, that will be his tragedy. And ours as well.
Gotta admit...Obama’s running the perfect candidacy for Modern America. Just tell people what they want to hear, don’t be too specific, and be likeable.
Obama is a racist.
Wow! What a great article! Yep, when the left talks about ending the culture wars, they mean suppressing dissent.
He is a deceiver..
Commentators, pundits, and voters look at Obama and Clinton, does not mean brokered convention (with two candidates remaining, its unlikely), but barring a dramatic momentum shift it means Clinton/Obama will go on at least until Pennsylvania on April 22nd. The Democrats hybrid delegate selection scheme consisting of strict proportional representation for elected delegates combined with superdelegates (designed to thwart a future George McGovern or Jimmy Carter) looks to be working against its lingering historical effects, the left has simply reversed spin on the Alinsky model of community agitation, wherein paid organizers learned how to “rub raw the sores of discontent,” in Alinsky’s words. Alinsky instructed his followers in the world.” At the same time, Obama is a pillar of their promises. If, however, voters elect someone who wants to stymie President Obama not out of the two (although socialism may well result in an illegitimate nominee selected by a bullet, Weir said, referring to Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated on the world. You get to vote for the dreams and beliefs of his followers. We’ve seen this for years, and more people will be forced to take.
Man proposes, and God disposes.
Or, in other words, reality always gets a vote.
Whatever Obama thinks he is going to do, he will be forced by reality to deal with reality. It always happens, which is why the “constituents” of populists are always disappointed. In a few years we’ll hear that Obama was seduced by Washington, or we’ll read the endless conspiracy theories about how the elite conspired to keep him from fulfilling promises he could never have kept from the beginning.
But a few years later, it won’t matter. Remember that history is written by writers, and it is the writer’s view of history that is preserved, not the actual events. How did a rather sleazy presidency get converted into “Camelot”? Because he was surrounded by writers, and for them it was Camelot, it was the high point of their lives. That is what got recorded. The sleaze and the betrayals didn’t make the history, because for the writers it didn’t fit the narrative.
How did Roosevelt’s disastrous presidency become a hazy fuzzy warm memory in the minds of a generation? Writers write the history.
I remember conversations with people in Latin America who told me they envied Americans for having a president like Clinton. What did they know about, again, the sleaze and corruption? Nothing, and they didn’t want to know. They loved the image, and they didn’t want it spoiled.
Whatever we may think about an Obama presidency, living it as we will in real time, our grandchildren are going to read about it in the history books and it is going to seem like a magical time in history.
Used to live in Latin America, but I was still a kid, so politics wasn't a big topic of conversation for me. I remember a mild anti-Americanism, but not extremes comparable to attitudes found in the Middle East, for example. I haven't been there since Bush was elected & I wonder if it's gotten particularly extreme since.
Haven’t been back, but I think so. Chavism has been on the march in several countries, and what happens is that as he makes inroads among officers and radicals, the mainstream politicians start to pander to that trying to take advantage of it, and Chavist influence is magnified as a result.
Anti-american sentiment has as a result become more aggressive. The war, and leftist rage against it, has also made anti-americanism more mainstream. “Bush Derangement” is pretty strong where ever you go these days, I suspect.
I don't know that Obama would be known as a Black "victim" president.
That may be going too far.
But everything we know about Obama's record suggests that he is too far to the left the left to "end the culture wars."
Where did this notion come from?
I suspect it's a survival of the idea that a less liberal Black, like Colin Powell or Douglas Wilder, would "heal the country", or that someone who grew up after the Great Divide of the 1960s would be able to overcome the divisions that began in that era.
It doesn't work with Obama, whose positions have been conventionally left-liberal, but ideas tend to outlive their usefulness or truthfulness.
This is very, very interesting, with a parallel that I sincerely hope I'm not alone in seeing: One hundred years hence, when historians and citizens look back in horror on the massive holocaust against our unborn and infirm, will they conclude that every leftist value used to justify this slaughter (including "peace") must be fundamentally genocidal?
What ever happened to the melting pot? I think Obama and his islamofascist friends will be putting us all in it and it won't be America any more. How does Islamica sound?
The culture wars are a long-term conflict between this country's traditionalists on one hand and left-wing cultural revolutionaries on the other. Since the 60s, the American left has followed a strategy set down by Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist theoretician. Gramsci contended that the proper method of taking over an established capitalist state is to undermine its "cultural hegemony" by infiltrating the institutions until at last only leftists remain. This is exactly what American leftists have been doing since the 70s as involves academia, law, the media, and a number of other fields.File "cultural hegemony" in the same folder as "consensus building" and "peer review". Thanks neverdem.
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