It’s been a few days without race being shoved into the campaign as an issue, so we were overdue for something like this.
In a video obtained exclusively by The Daily Caller, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama tells an audience of black ministers, including the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, that the U.S. government shortchanged Hurricane Katrina victims because of racism.
“The people down in New Orleans they don’t care about as much!” Obama shouts in the video, which was shot in June of 2007 at Hampton University in Virginia. By contrast, survivors of Sept. 11 and Hurricane Andrew received generous amounts of aid, Obama explains. The reason? Unlike residents of majority-black New Orleans, the federal government considers those victims “part of the American family.”
The racially charged and at times angry speech undermines Obama’s carefully-crafted image as a leader eager to build bridges between ethnic groups. For nearly 40 minutes, using an accent he almost never adopts in public, Obama describes a racist, zero-sum society, in which the white majority profits by exploiting black America. The mostly black audience shouts in agreement. The effect is closer to an Al Sharpton rally than a conventional campaign event.
You can watch the video at the link above. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before from other black spokesmen of one vintage or another about the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. A nine minute version of the video itself had been circulating since the 2008 campaign and was widely reported on at the time.
But this expanded version features the kind of rhetoric that is definitely unpost-racial. The kind of conspiracy mongering suggested by candidate Obama is de rigueur among race hustlers seeking to whip up anger at the government or white America — usually interchangeable villains.
But I don’t understand the significance. A black political candidate pandering to the fears and emotions of a black audience? OMIGOD stop the world I want to get off! Listening to Obama and the cheers and shouts of the crowd when he scored whitey reminded me a lot of Sarah Palin and her politics of resentment.
Palin panders too. She panders to a specific group of white, middle aged, middle class voter who resents modern America and would like the country to return to the good old days when blacks knew their place, women stayed home, gays belonged in the closet, and all these annoying regulations that protect worker safety and health, as well as consumers didn’t exist. She, better than anyone on the right, articulates the incoherent rage against affirmative action, abortion on demand, gay marriage, and all the cultural issues that have divided America for going on 40 years. The growth of government is a catch all for the real issues that move this subset of righties. Theirs is a revolt against modernity — as significant as the clerical revolution in Iran (without the beheadings and dressing women in burlap sacks.).
A skewed reality is substituted for objective truth as the glorious past is framed in sweetness and light — a time before the New Deal and Great Society when America was nearly perfect and people lived in almost total freedom. As I’ve said many times, this supposed yearning for a “return” to the Constitution is no such thing. It is advocacy for an Articles of Confederation on steroids with a dose of nullification for good measure.
Palin is very good at it. Her spiel is almost liturgical in its incantations, with her admirers knowing by rote the litany of crimes by liberals and the government. In this way, her audience’s anger and resentment is purified and the listener is consecrated to a sacred task; bring back the treasured past.
Obama pandering to blacks isn’t quite as dramatic but he touches all the right buttons to get the response he wants. His anger in this video is no doubt genuine (I’ve often thought that if I was a black man in America I’d probably be a radical communist). And he is very clever in raising the conspiracy advanced by many black commentators in the aftermath of Katrina that George Bush and his government didn’t care as much about New Orleans as they did about other natural disasters because Bush is white and New Orleans is majority black. Blacks don’t want to believe that anymore than anyone else, but it is a relief to hear a presidential candidate vocalize their deepest fears. In other words, Obama descended to their level and embraced them.
Politicians who pander (Obama also panders excellently to Hispanics) are despicable but hardly a surprise. Trying to make a big deal out of this video was stupid and shows just how immune to objective reality some on the right truly are.