Shelby Steele puts his finger on the essence of the 2008 election: Barack Obama is offering a fascinating and incredibly seductive bargain involving Black America and White America with himself as broker and beneficiary.
(Jesse Jackson) and the entire civil rights establishment pursued equality through the manipulation of white guilt.
Their faith was in the easy moral leverage over white America that the civil rights victories of the 1960s had suddenly bestowed on them. So Mr. Jackson and his generation of black leaders made keeping whites “on the hook” the most sacred article of the post-’60s black identity.
They ushered in an extortionist era of civil rights, in which they said to American institutions: Your shame must now become our advantage. To argue differently — that black development, for example, might be a more enduring road to black equality — took whites “off the hook” and was therefore an unpardonable heresy. For this generation, an Uncle Tom was not a black who betrayed his race; it was a black who betrayed the group’s bounty of moral leverage over whites. And now comes Mr. Obama, who became the first viable black presidential candidate precisely by giving up his moral leverage over whites.
Mr. Obama’s great political ingenuity was very simple: to trade moral leverage for gratitude. Give up moral leverage over whites, refuse to shame them with America’s racist past, and the gratitude they show you will constitute a new form of black power. They will love you for the faith you show in them.
So it is not hard to see why Mr. Jackson might have experienced Mr. Obama’s emergence as something of a stiletto in the heart. Mr. Obama is a white “race card” — moral leverage that whites can use against the moral leverage black leaders have wielded against them for decades. He is the nullification of Jesse Jackson — the anti-Jackson.
And Mr. Obama is so successful at winning gratitude from whites precisely because Mr. Jackson was so successful at inflaming and exploiting white guilt. Mr. Jackson must now see his own oblivion in the very features of Mr. Obama’s face.
Read the whole thing.
It might be worth it.