I disagree with many of the writer’s comments and conclusions, but his central premise struck a chord with me about the implied central question: Is Obama’s ‘handling’ of Republican obstinacy and obstructionism – what has often been called ‘caving’ – actually informed more by his black experience than we have previously considered?
For most of the last 2 years, President Obama has taken increasing criticism from his supporters for his tendency to give too much away too soon in negotiations; for not being confrontational enough with recalcitrant Republicans.
If Mr. Reed is right — or maybe even if he might be right — the statement raises profound questions that have not been discussed anywhere else that I have seen, yet can be fundamental to analyzing President Obama’s political thought processes.
As Mr. Reed asks, what if Mr. Obama took the same kind of hard-line with Republicans that Harry Truman did in the so-called “Give ‘Em Hell” speech he gave on October 1, 1948 (a copy of which can be found here)? There have been noises on the racist Right at various times before and since the 2008 election calling Mr. Obama or his wife “Militant”, “Racist”, “anti-white”, etc.
What would be the reaction if, as President Truman did, Mr. Obama began calling (predominantly white) Republicans “the party of privilege”, that “The country was driven into depression by the policies of a Republican administration and a Republican Congress that served the selfish interests of the rich and powerful business groups”, or called their economic policies “Republican bungling”?
There would be much cheering from Liberals and Progressives, certainly. But what about much of conservative and ‘independent’ white America? Would there be cheering or fear? Would it gain Mr. Obama greater respect and political leverage, or would it mainly pump up fearful — even hateful –white Conservative voter turnout without generating a more-than-equivalent Democratic voter turnout?
What if even a brilliant, educated, sharp and perceptive guy like President Obama still can’t forget — on some level — the childhood lessons learned on TV, in movies, in history books, in school or in other places where survival and even success requires special care around white people and white society? Being the brilliant, ambitious, handsome, Harvard-educated Chicago black man living with a black man’s more-than-normal care when negotiating his city and state, and it’s society
This doesn’t even have to be conscious. There are many things we experience in life to which we adapt, often without even realizing it.
I grew up in New York City. Not the coldest northern city for sure, but not easy, either. On dry pavement, I walk energetically forward heel-to-toe. On ice, I walk flat-footed, keeping more traction on the ground and less forward motion against the ice. After over 30 years in Houston, that’s still the case. It’s ingrained and automatic. I don’t think twice about it.
Many kinds of lessons and habits can be ingrained, to a point where it’s totally autonomic; not operated by the conscious mind.
We all have our good and bad experiences as we get older. Sometimes we adapt. Sometimes we maladapt. That’s all normal. But in Obama’s case, we may have to reconsider what we see as his normal, and maybe gain some special appreciation and alternative strategies for his ‘other’ normal. That may be the Obama who’s learned to be at least a little careful before really mixing it up with powerful white guys.
I want to thank Mr. Reed for offering a truly new element of thought to our political and societal debate. It certainly deserves to be carefully examined.