Sunday, September 14, 2008

What if Obama Loses?

Consider this a perfect follow-up essay to my earlier entry today, "Voter Disenfranchisement as Racism Against Obama?"

It turns out that Harvard's Randall Kennedy has written about the
potential reaction among black Americans at the loss of Barack Obama in November.

Before leaving a quote, I must say I'm intrigued that Kennedy's publishing his piece right now. I don't remember him writing anything on Obama all year (and I like Kennedy, too, an atypical scholar of black law and politics, who often questions the reigning shibboleths); so perhaps his post is one more tiny inkling of how poorly things are going for the Democrats - or perhaps it's another indicator of how far Obama's fallen, like Icarus, from the lofty clouds of messianic inevitablity.

But here's Kennedy:

Obama Ethereal

After he was nominated in the week marking the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, Obama became the focus of millennial aspirations. "Obama is a once-in-a-lifetime black candidate," wrote a black student in a memo for my course, "our one shot, probably the only real contender that my parents and grandparents will ever see, and maybe the only contender my generation will see. All my hopes ride with him." Imagine the pain of such hopes dashed.

Black America, of course, is diverse. Some black conservatives -- columnist Thomas Sowell or Ken Blackwell, former secretary of state of Ohio -- will undoubtedly be delighted by an Obama defeat; he is, after all, their ideological foe. But there are also black leftists who oppose him. Writing in the Progressive magazine, Prof. Adolph Reed of the University of Pennsylvania urges voters to reject Obama (as well as McCain) because he is a "vacuous opportunist" who, like Bill Clinton, conservatizes the leftward end of the American political spectrum. A close variant is the camp of blacks who will be relieved by an Obama defeat because they fear that his victory would misleadingly suggest that America is no longer in need of large-scale racial reform. Still others, who believe that Obama has hurt himself by seeking the political center and declining to be more forceful in voicing a progressive alternative to the Republican ticket, would feel somber vindication.

There are blacks who'll be indifferent to an Obama defeat because they don't think that the outcome of the presidential race will have any real effect on their miserable fates. Others, protecting themselves against the pain of disappointment, have systematically repressed expectations. My mother will be sorry if Obama loses, but she won't feel disillusioned, because she hasn't allowed herself to get her hopes up. She has insisted throughout that "the white folks are going to refuse one way or another to permit Obama to become president." That she says this is remarkable, given the success of her three children, all of whom attended Princeton and became attorneys (one is a federal judge). Still, even though she has seen many racial barriers fall, she's simply unwilling to make herself vulnerable to dejection by investing herself fully in the Obama phenomenon.

If Obama loses, I personally will feel disappointed, frustrated, hurt. I'll conclude that a fabulous opportunity has been lost. I'll believe that American voters have made a huge mistake. And I'll think that an important ingredient of their error is racial prejudice -- not the hateful, snarling, open bigotry that terrorized my parents in their youth, but rather a vague, sophisticated, low-key prejudice that is chameleonlike in its ability to adapt to new surroundings and to hide even from those firmly in its grip.
If Obama is defeated, I will, for a brief time, be stunned by feelings of dejection, anger and resentment. These will only be the stronger because the climate of this election year so clearly favors the Democrats, because this was supposed to be an election the Republicans couldn't win, and because in my view, the Obama ticket is obviously superior to McCain's.

But I hope that soon thereafter I'll find solace and encouragement in contemplating this unprecedented development: A major political party nominated a black man for the highest office in the land, and that man waged an intelligent, brave campaign in which many millions of Americans of all races enthusiastically supported an African American standard-bearer.
Note first, if Obama loses, and the election's close, the Democrats will have attorneys flaring out around the country - to Florida, Ohio, and other states - amid a national outcry on the left alleging "Rovian" fraud and "racist" ballot irregularities. The anger will be of the intensity following Al Gore's loss to G.W. Bush in 2000, with some added outrage on the scale seen on the African-American street after the white officers' aquittals in the Rodney King beating trial in 1992 (no prediction on rioting this time, but who knows?).

But I haven't actually thought that far ahead.

Barack Obama's already achieved history by winning the nomination of his party for President of the United States. Unfortunately, the Democrats need a "black Bill Clinton," that is, they need an African-American "New Democrat" who is willing to break free from the party's debilitating focus on identity politics and racial grievance. They also need, actually, someone's who's less about "hope and changiness" and more about patriotism and traditionalism.

That said, as readers know, I've been pumping up John McCain all year, and if Obama loses it'll seem a bit miraculous, given the Obamania of just a few months ago. Like Kennedy, I'll reflect on the history-making nature of Obama's quest, and I'll long marvel over the "millions of Americans of all races enthusiastically supported an African American standard-bearer."

But I'll simply be glad he lost, knowing that our country will be safer and our that our political culture and traditions will not only be preserved by a McCain/Palin presidency, but rejuvenated with the kind reformist, new-feminist change that's a wholly more refreshing kind of radicalism than anything the Democrats had to offer.