Forget bringing up some Herrnstein & Murray Bell Curve arguments about “racial differences in intelligence” or some such: A lot of the minority students simply did not have the cultural and educational background to cut it.
In my own case in the early ’90’s, I remember quite clearly talking to an African American student who had no idea who Napoleon III was. The first Napoleon—Napoleon Bonaparte? Sure, he’d seen the movie. But Napoleon III? President of the Second Republic, ruler of the Second Empire, the Revolution of 1848? Not a clue. In fact at first, I think he thought I was pulling his leg about there being a “Napoleon the Third”.
This young man was smart—smart enough to realize that he had been accepted to Dartmouth because he happened to be black. He struggled academically all the while—because he was simply unprepared for the exigencies of a place like Hanover. His high-school had not equipped him with the tools needed to succeed—
—which was of course the tragedy of Affirmative Action:
Tens of thousands of minority students were granted places at elite American colleges and universities which they were simply unprepared to handle. They could speak the academese, they could fake it on a one-on-one interview, they were careful to suck-up to the university administration, which made their presence possible—
—but when you got down to brass tacks, they could not cut the work.
They weren’t stupid. They were simply unprepared.
What was interesting about the college establishment back in the early ’90’s was its reaction to this failure of black students: They ascribed it to racism.
Racism of the professors, racism of the other students—the failure of the black students simply had to be because of racism. There could be no other explanation: Racism was all the explanation necessary.
The university establishment so thoroughly inculcated the notion that racism must be the reason for the Affirmative Action babies’ failure that a causal chain kicked off, as relentless as a Greek tragedy:
1. Professors started lowering their standards when it came to black students, in an effort to prevent the unqualified black students from failing—and thus avoid the racism accusation, self- or otherwise.
2. Because these efforts at minority grade inflation were so transparent (we all have horror stories of black students getting favorable and grossly unfair treatment by professors who were willing to do anything to give black students a C+/B–, while cutting everyone else absolutely no slack), it made the other students realize that a black student was not necessarily the academic equal to them. It wasn’t just whites who came to this (unspoken) conclusion—Asians especially came to think of black students as sub-standard. And the Asians resented them, likely because so many Asian students with better academic records than blacks or whites were excluded from elite universities. A Korean girlfriend I had my junior year openly despised black students at Hanover precisely for this reason—and she wasn’t alone among the Asian Americans.
3. The insistent clamor that black student failure could have no other cause than racism made the black students themselves resent the very society they were seeking to join, as they believed this society was out to get them. After all, the establishment academics at the university were openly saying that racism—not lack of preparation—was the cause of black student failure. So that must be the reason for the black students’ failure.
4. Finally, and most tragically: This insistence on racism as the cause of black academic failure, and the grade inflation that it begat as a direct result, made prospective employers realize that a black graduate from an elite American university was not necessarily as capable as a non-black graduate. “You’re a Dartmouth graduate? Wow! Oh, you’re black? Hmm . . .”
In other words, the very charge of racism as the reason for black students’ academic failure created a worse and far more pernicious racism.
This was the lot of Affirmative Action babies.
In 2008, we elected Barack Obama as president: He had this great blah-blah, that great look, this great poster, that even better concept—hope.
But he can’t cut the work. He is our Affirmative Action president.
We cannot expect him to cut the work. After all, he simply does not have the background or preparation. Where did he start out his political career—community organizer was it? Admirable. From there, he became an Illinois State Senator from 1997 to 2004—even better. In 2000, he ran for and lost the Democratic primary for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, retreating back to his State Senate seat—but then he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004: And he won.
So far, so good. He did his time in a small pond, before stepping into the big pond.
But notice that he never had any sort of executive power and responsibility. He was never placed in charge of running a large bureaucracy, he was never in charge of carrying out a specific policy. In the Illinois State Senate, as a U.S. Senator—even as a guest lecturer and then senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School—Obama was always just another face on a committee.
This is key about Obama: He has always been one more member of a committee—he has never been point-man. He has never been the man out front, leading.
In 2004—thanks to a brilliant speech at the Democratic National Convention—Obama became a bright light in the Democratic Party firmament. The speech helped him win the U.S. Senate race, and position him as a potential presidential candidate.
When he ran for president in 2008, I don’t think anyone really thought he would win the nomination, let alone the presidency. The general consensus of the commentariat was, Obama would lose with dignity to Hillary, but gain valuable experience for a possible run in 2016 (if Hillary won in 2008), or 2012 (if McCain won in 2008). In 2016, Obama would be all of 55—a seasoned politician but still a young man, likely with a term as Governor of Illinois under his belt.
But of course, the unexpected happened: Obama won the relatively unimportant Iowa caucus, which gave him the opportunity to deliver the brilliant Iowa speech:
That speech was moving—it swooped—it soared. Even I—a confirmed Conservative with enough cynicism to outmatch a brothelful of hookers—was moved almost to tears by that speech.
More to the point, Iowa was the first time a large portion of the electorate got an eyeful of the man: And he looked good. Presidential, controlled, articulate—a winner.
That speech—more than any other—won him the 2008 presidential election.
Now, of course—three years later—we know better: Obama is a terrible president. Not by my conservative standards—by the standards of his own party and core-constituency: Obama is simply awful. In foreign policy, domestic policy, fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and most especially human & Constitutional rights, he has been a lot of hot air in a bag.
Taking the point of view of the Left, this is what Obama has done—or not done:
• Foreign Policy: He has continued two illegal wars—Iraq and Afghanistan—and expanded foreign intervention in three more countries: Yemen, Libya, and most troublingly of all, Pakistan. He has allowed himself to be captured by the hard-Right Israeli lobby, and is isolating America from the rest of the world—“isolating” being the polite term for “the rest of the world hates our fucking guts—and with good reason”.
• Domestic Policy: He has passed “health care legislation” which is a joke. Since it does not have a public option, it basically gave insurance and medical companies an oligopoly. Thus the health care industry gouges the average American worker worse than ever before, while simultaneously adding an insidious bureaucratic layer of rules and regs that are drowning small businesses—all a direct result of the Obama health care “reform”.
• Fiscal Policy: Forget the ginormous Federal government deficit ($1.6 trillion per year, and counting), Obama is more concerned with the health and welfare of the banks—and the bonuses of the banksters—than with the fact that U-3 unemployment is hovering at just under 10%, a figure which would be in fact closer to 13% if the government were honest and counted as unemployed those who have been out of work for more than 2 years. He has not prosecuted any of the people responsible for the Mortgage Mess fraud, or for the fact that the 2008 bank capital injections were funneled into the 2009 bonuses of the banksters—which is essentially criminal fraud.
• Regulatory Policy: There has been no effort by the Obama administration to beef up regulations—something that he promised in 2008 would be his top priority. (And which even I, a confirmed Conservative, think is woefully inadecuate and ineffective.) If a sound regulatory structure requires transparency, accountability and consistency, then the regulatory structure across all industries is in worse shape under Obama than during the W. Bush administration: Financial regulation is a joke (CDS market transparency anybody?), the FDA’s budget has been cut and then cut some more, there is a disgusting revolving door between government and private industry (Michael Chertoff, anybody?), and worst of all, regulations are applied capriciously: The politically connected get a pass, while the marginal or the individual who stands up for his rights gets hammered.
• Human & Constitutional Rights: The Obama administration is actively and openly carrying out the assassination of American citizens. The Obama administration has in practice suspended indefinitely the writ of habeas corpus. The Obama administration is murdering blameless civilians in faraway lands by remote control. The Obama administration is harassing—and in some cases detaining—whistleblowers, and anyone who points out wrongdoing, while allowing the wrongdoers to go free, unpunished and often as not rewarded. The Obama administration promised to shut down the illegal prison camp at Guantánamo—but instead has expanded the archipelago of American gulags around the globe.
Is there anything more to say?
This is what Obama has done—or not done: He has failed to live up to his twin promises of “hope” and “change”. Fact is, if he was a white guy, I think there’d be some serious calls for his impeachment—that’s how bankrupt his administration has become.
And now, with these obvious, inexcusable failures and broken promises on the record, what do we get?
We get the charge that Obama’s failure to get re-elected will really be a reflection of racism on our part! If Obama doesn’t get re-elected in 2012, we are to blame!
In other words, our racism is the reason Obama is failing!
I swear I’m not making this stuff up—from an editorial in The Nation written by Melissa Harris-Perry:
The 2012 election may be a test of another form of electoral racism: the tendency of white liberals to hold African-American leaders to a higher standard than their white counterparts. If old-fashioned electoral racism is the absolute unwillingness to vote for a black candidate, then liberal electoral racism is the willingness to abandon a black candidate when he is just as competent as his white predecessors.The editorial’s become quite the lightning rod: There’s been a shit-storm of commentary from both the Left and the Right—repudiating Harris-Perry in no uncertain terms.
But actually, I sort of agree with her.
I do not agree that the 2012 election will be a “racist” election: Rather, I agree that racism will play a decisive part in the future election—or likely non-election—of another black president of the United States.
The United States—by an electoral fluke—did not elect a black man: They elected an unqualified man. The American electorate wanted this unqualified man to be qualified—we wanted Barack Obama to be all the things we projected onto him: Good, wise, clever, cautious, brave, etc.
But he was none of those things: Rather, he was a mirror for our hopes and aspirations—what we wished our next president to be.
And in fact, I think there was racism in the 2008 election—racism that favored Obama: We wanted to elect a black president, regardless of how unqualified he might have been. I mean really, if a freshman senator with no leadership experience had run for the Democratic Party nomination—and been white—would he have won? Would he have had even a chance?
No—but Barack Obama, by virtue of the color of his skin, did get that chance.
So we, the American electorate, gave it to him: Just like Affirmative Action babies at the university level who get admitted no matter how low their grades and test scores, we admitted Obama and elevated him to a place he really had not earned, and for which he was unprepared.
And we were thrilled about it. We talked about all this “post-racial” nonsense, and collectively slapped ourselves on the back—like a bunch of narcissistic idiots blinded by what we wished to see, rather than by what was actually there.
But then, and of course inevitably, there was this incredible disillusionment—literally, the loss of our illusions—with regards to who and what Barack Obama really is. His lack of performance—briefly sketched above—made us realize he was nowhere near what we had hoped for, or even what we could reasonably expect.
Obama was simply unprepared. He talked the talk—boy! could he talk the talk!
But the other stuff? Y’know—the actual work of being president? Not so hot.
So what do you think this has instilled in the American electorate? The same sense that it instilled in my former girlfriend back in college, the same hesitation that prospective employers get, when faced with an Ivy League graduate who happens to be black: Resentment, suspicion, racism.
And a pernicious racism at that: Whether Obama wins or loses in 2012 will depend on the caliber of the Republican opponent. But after that, the American electorate will likely not support the next electable black presidential candidate—no matter how terrific he might be, no matter how smart, no matter how proven a leader he turns out to be.
The words will be different, but the sentiment will be the same: “He’s so smart and clever and charismatic—wow! Oh, but he’s black? Hmm . . .”