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Perhaps There Is Something Wrong with Your Herring…


Thanks to the LGM crew for the invitation to guest blog. It’s a wonderful opportunity — I get to make fun of Althouse as much as I want, secure in the knowledge that no matter what I say, she’ll just blame Scott. Hot Dog!

Tonight, though, I’ve instead been ruminating on the rather convoluted way in which Movement Conservatives tend to consider questions relating to race. (Just to narrow this down, by “movement conservatives” I mean, well, people who actively participate in the conservative movement, by writing or buying Regnery books, going to CPAC conventions, writing or commenting on right-wing blogs, and so forth — I don’t mean someone who just tends to vote Republican, or even, say, John McCain, who is quite far to the right on every imaginable issue, but for any number of reasons simply isn’t considered one of the gang.)

Take this extraordinary post on Red State, for instance, where we learn that Barack Obama is, well, guilty of racism.

No, really. The argument is crazy, but fascinating:

Mr. Obama himself – he of the “don’t call him articulate because you marginalize his race” defense – has stepped into just that situation, and I think that this question is a very valid one to ask: if the African American community is, as I believe, and as Obama and his defenders have claimed to believe, as normal, articulate, intelligent, etc. as anybody else (to the point that, as we have been fighting for years to achieve, race should no longer matter or be noticed), then why does the fact that he is speaking to an overwhelmingly southern black audience mean that he has to change his manner of speech altogether, from his usual measured, clear, enunciated oratory to THIS

The “THIS” goes to a YouTube video of Obama addressing the Selma Jubilee. We’ll watch it in a moment, but let’s be clear about the accusation Red State poster Jeff Emanuel is leveling against Obama. He’s saying he’s a racist — perhaps an unwitting racist, but a racist all the same:

If I were to radically alter my enunciation specifically for a talk to an audience composed of a certain race, well, there’s no question what message that would send about my opinion of that race’s intelligence and importance – and it wouldn’t be a good one.

The question is, will anybody notice the message that Obama is sending regarding his opinion of his own race in the video above – and will anybody allow themselves to really think about what that message means?

What’s interesting here is that the Red State poster is not at all challenging Obama for claiming a particular racial and historical identity, a line of attack one might suppose someone interested in a thoroughgoing critique of identity politics might utilize. (Obama’s speech, as we’ll see, is a retelling of his family history in the context of the American civil rights movement in the South, in which his family did not directly participate.) No; the substance of the speech is not addressed at all, merely its manner of delivery, which, we’re led to believe, is some sort of horrible cakewalking minstrel show nightmare.

Got that? OK, now watch it:

I have to say, I don’t see the pandering. I also don’t see how Obama’s delivery here is radically different from his delivery at the 2004 Democratic convention, his best known appearance so far:

Hell, Obama’s speech at Selma is more grammatical than the one he gave in 2004: no sentence fragments (that I caught, anyway).

But the real issue here is not the necessarily subjective comparison of the speeches. I don’t hear any radical differences, but that’s just me, some guy on the Internets.

No. The real issue here is the subjective reception of the speech on the part of the people to whom it was directly addressed.

Let me go out on a limb here and suggest that veterans of the Civil Rights struggle in the American South are actually pretty good at figuring out when someone is talking to them in a condescending fashion. I’ll even go nuts and suggest that every person you see on the dais behind Obama in that Selma video has likely heard literally thousands of speeches on this general topic, and has by now a pretty good idea of what’s well said and what’s baloney. And call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s up to me and my pale ass, nor up to Red State and its tutti-frutti behind, nor to my Aunt Barney the Purple Dinosaur, or whoever, to make the call as to what’s derogatory and what isn’t to that audience.

I saw them applauding. Maybe some of them didn’t like it. I don’t know — but neither does anyone at Red State either. And that’s the rub.

I don’t think this Red State poster specifically, nor movement conservatives generally, appreciate a very fundamental point. Most people are far less bothered by what you say about them than they are royally pissed off when you try to speak for them. That’s what really makes people nuts, and rightly so.

I am myself critical of identity politics, in many ways. But I don’t see how modern movement conservatism has in any way contributed positively to a mature discussion of race in 21st century America. They’re all about the point scoring. Too bad they don’t seem to actually understand the game. Or the reality.

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