Barack Obama may be a terrible President, but like so many awful chief executives of the past, he’s a very skilled politician. The word has gone out since the start of his Presidency that critics should be branded with the scorching iron of racism at every opportunity, but this is more than a mere smear aimed at his opponents. It’s part of a strategy, and I believe that to some degree, it is working. He may be presiding over the worst economic conditions in memory, and he may indeed be worsening the lot of every person in America whether they have the foresight to know it or not, but President Obama is counting on the African-American vote to deliver well into the ninetieth percentile at the polls. Every rational person can read the statistics as well as you and I, and there is no denying that by all measures, African-Americans have been hit harder by the prevailing economic conditions, worsened by Obama’s policies, than any other group. What is he counting on to deliver the vote of black Americans? What is it he seeks to accomplish? In order to prevent mass defections, Barack Obama is seeking to portray himself as the ultimate victim of racism, a regular latter-day Jesus on the way to his crucifixion at the hands of a legion of white racists.
It is not unusual for race-hustlers to try this approach, even when it has nothing to do with their situation. In point of fact, this has become the standard tactic in the whole period following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. What most don’t realize is that Obama’s ploy is made substantially worse by the fact that he’s relying on good old-fashioned identity politics played to the hilt. All politicians do this to some extent, and it’s the reason a jerk like John Kerry buys a hunting license and wears a flannel hunting jacket: It’s an attempt to identify with those whose votes one wishes to secure. Candidates spend bizarre sums of money in order to get their target audiences to identify personally with them. After all, is this not the reason the proverbial wolf dons the clothing of sheep? One can wear any clothing one likes, but what one cannot do is to change the color of one’s skin. Part of Obama’s approach is to exploit this common characteristic with black Americans in a way no politician’s appearance at a NASCAR race ever could.
Of course, if beauty is only skin-deep, so too is the pageantry of politics, and if your policies have harmed one identifiable group of voters more than any other, it is inevitable that some will take note, wherever their visceral loyalties may lie. One must concoct a way to strengthen that sense of identification among the group to withstand even the self-evident fact that the candidate is causing that very group of voters more harm even than he is causing others. One of the most effective ways to make this connection is to demonstrate a kinship of battle, loss, or victimization. Groups composed of crime victims assemble, as do former warriors, and survivors of family members lost to dread disease. There is a deep-seated presumption of commonality in understanding among groups defined by these sorts of things, and few are more powerful than the claim of victimization on the basis of race. Since every person is the member of one race or another, every person can imagine what it is like to be victimized solely on that basis. Naturally, there are many who refuse to be seen as victims, no matter the monstrous ravages they’ve suffered, but also quite naturally, it is very easy for such victims to multiply out of all proportion on the slimmest conjecture of victimization.
Victimization becomes a sort of built-in, ready-made excuse for all sorts of people, not merely defined by race, sex, or other immutable characteristic, but also on the basis of anything imaginable. Consider the “Occupiers” who see themselves as victims of “corporate greed,” and the like. Too often, the notion of victimization becomes an excuse for the sorry choices one makes in life. Sadly, no group in America has fallen prey to this thinking more than African-Americans. We have whole departments at public universities coast-to-coast dedicated to the notion. To my knowledge, the incidence of acts of racism perpetrated by whites against blacks has declined throughout the entirety of my life. My generation was mostly raised without any particular animus on the basis of race, although I am certain there are always outliers. It is stunning to read polls that most African-Americans consider themselves to be the victims of an inherently racist culture in America. Rather than spend time debunking those thoroughly bankrupt notions, however, I would prefer to examine its consequence in the electorate.
Whether America is the racist hegemony some would have you believe is irrelevant, as we often recognize in politics that perceptions become reality, no matter their inherent absurdity. Let us therefore stipulate that whatever the justification, or logical lack thereof, many African-Americans believe themselves to be victims of racism. Whether it is true or not, the fact of the matter is that many believe it. On this basis, Barack Obama is well-positioned to make the claim that he too is the victim of this alleged American racism. More, he can make the astonishing claim, and sadly, it will stick with far too many people, that his entire presidency has been the victim of institutionalized racism aimed at his administration simply on the basis of his skin color. Laugh if you like, for the preposterous allegation this constitutes on its face, but also understand that as maniacal as it may sound, it is not ineffective. Why do you think that Bill Clinton suddenly became the “first black President,” being “lynched” by a Republican Congress over his perjury before a grand jury? It was a coldly-calculated attempt (with some success) at cultivating the same sense of togetherness as victims.
This was made clear to me today when once again, some daft liberal commenter on this blog insisted that the only basis for criticisms of Obama must be due to his race. Never mind the preposterous nature of the allegation, the poster didn’t stick around long enough to try to make the case. It was only cast out there to lay like a land-mine to explode in the face of an unsuspecting passer-by. Nobody who knows me, or who reads this blog could believe that race had the first thing to do with my criticisms of the Obama administration. Not even a mad-cap leftist could be so foolish to think such a charge would stick, and yet there it was, with all its vitriolic implications. Why then do it? It is not that the writer had any honest expectation of making such a charge stick, but instead to cry out with the clarion call to intended members of the victimized group, in an effort to recall and strengthen the claim of victimization, thereby strengthening the bond to President Obama. It’s a simple form of propaganda, but it is pernicious in its use.
This is why Barack Obama expects to retain the same percentage of African-Americans in the coming election, and his agents of propaganda are now coming out in the full bloom of the season. If he is to retain the Oval Office, he must no lose any part of his support among African-Americans, and his campaign is fully aware that energizing his base may not be so easy in 2012. The propaganda of victim-group identification is in play, but this tactic has been used before. The man was guilty, everybody knew it, but the mostly African-American jurors had been predisposed to believe he had been a victim too. Whether he was actually guilty of the crimes made no difference against the identity of victimization. In the same way, President Obama hopes to side-step the charge that his has been a disastrous presidency, particularly for blacks. When future analysts consider the tactic of this President’s campaign, the sharp ones will recognize his living example, but the irony is that as a child, I once cheered for that same man from the nose-bleed seats of Buffalo’s old War Memorial Stadium:
Orenthal James Simpson