Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Shucking Rice On Shelby-ville Plantation

Shelby Steele had a powerful op-ed piece earlier this week on the implications of Hillary Clinton's "plantation" remark.

A couple points deserve some follow-up:

First, Steele makes a much more convincing distinction between the Hillary and Newt uses of the plantation metaphor
than I did:

If Newt Gingrich also once used the plantation metaphor in reference to Congress, his goal was only an innocuous one: to be descriptive, not to pander. He was speaking to a reporter, not to a black audience, and he had the good taste to cast himself as a slave who would "lead the slave rebellion." Thus, he identified with the black struggle for freedom, not with the helplessness and humiliation of the plantation slave. If the plantation metaphor will always be inaccurate and hyperbolic where Congress is concerned, at least Mr. Gingrich's use of it carried no offense.
Secondly, Steele makes an interesting note about the transmutation of black grievance into Democratic Party politics:

Mrs. Clinton's husband was a master of this alchemy [turning black resentment into white liberal power], and his presidency also illustrated its greatest advantage. Once black grievance is morphed into liberal power, it need never be honored. President Clinton notoriously felt black pain, won the black vote, and then rewarded blacks with the cold shower of welfare reform. And here, now, is Mrs. Clinton sidling up to the trough of black grievance, eyes wide in expectation, but also a tad contemptuous. It is hard to fully respect one's suckers.
To partly give Bill Clinton his due, it can be argued that he (at least under his presidency) also "rewarded" black voters with a vibrant economy that was one of the best ever for African Americans. That, as much as anything, is why Al Gore got an absurd 92 percent of the black vote in 2000. It was an overwhelming pro-Clinton economy vote -- an economy from which blacks benefited disproportionately.

This doesn't undermine Steele's point, but it is important to keep in mind that the "alchemy" of which he speaks also had some real world impact on the livelihood of African Americans.

That brings one to Steele's final point -- the Rice factor:

The dilemma for Democrats, liberals and the civil rights establishment is that they become redundant and lose power the instant blacks move beyond grievance and begin to succeed by dint of their own hard work. So they persecute such blacks, attack their credibility as blacks, just as they pander to blacks who define their political relationship to America through grievance. Republicans are generally freer of the political bigotry by which the left either panders to or persecutes black Americans.

No one on the current political scene better embodies this Republican advantage than the current secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. The archetype that Ms. Rice represents is "overcoming" rather than grievance.


If blacks were to take her example and embrace overcoming rather than grievance, the wound to liberalism would be mortal. It is impossible to imagine Hillary Clinton's "plantation" pandering in a room full of Condi Rices.

This is why so many Republicans (including Laura Bush) now salivate at the thought of a Rice presidential bid. No other potential Republican candidate could--to borrow an old Marxist phrase--better "heighten the contradictions" of modern liberalism and Democratic power than Ms. Rice.
Well, yeah. But the GOP's need to push forward a "dialectic" candidate is, ultimately, as much of a pander as Hillary Clinton's "plantation" comments.

As Steele says, Republicans may be "freer" of a certain "political bigotry." However, they do evidence a deep-seated need to do their own sort of "alchemy" on the black members of their party, which plays out in its own demeaning fashion -- as I've
discussed before.

When Republicans are not highlighting the "'umble, 'umble" sharecropper childhoods of their black superstars, they rush to fast-forward them up the achievement track.

Clarence Thomas was rushed to the head of the Supreme Court line, not becaue of a legal career like John Roberts or philosophy a la Scalia or Alito, but because he had a great "story" and had proved himself a more-than-capable "agent provocateur" to black liberal interest groups.

And now, Republicans -- including, it should be noted,
grass-roots groups -- are rushing to ordain a woman who has never run for elective office. The obstacles to such a run are many and have also been previously addressed in this space. But "salivate" is an odd -- though, frankly, accurate -- word to use for contemplating a Rice run. It says, actually much more about the one contemplating than it does about the object of the contemplation. It's a desire that one's philosophical desires will see fulfillment in reality. Rice the person ultimately gets lost in Rice The Meta-Concept -- this individual black woman can be the female Moses of her people (Harriet Tubman?); they will "take her example and embrace overcoming rather than grievance" and be led out of the land of liberalism. Can I hear an amen from the congregation!?!

That Secretary Rice keeps saying "no" to these grand schemes is lost in the "salivating": "How dare she think that this is about her -- it's about what she can and should be for her people!"

Which, for those not well-schooled in the concept of irony -- is exactly the opposite lesson Condoleezza Rice, the individual, would most likely wish people would take away from her achievements.

After all that she's accomplished, being the "savior" of her people is her mission now? Or is it savior of her party, as in the
obsessions of some? Republicans and conservatives lost in their Salivating Moment should pause and examine their own motives; try jettisoning the image of Rice the Idea, in favor of Rice the Person. Then see what happens.

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