Tuesday, January 23, 2007

On "Presidential" Material

Truthdig has run an interesting contribution by the Reverend Madison Shockley that sees Barack Obama's move for the presidency as an opportunity for racial healing. This makes for fascinating reading in light of that study of racism that just appeared on the Nieman Watchdog Web site. It is all very well and good to talk about racial healing in the “freak show” of presidential politics; but the real issue is what is happening in day-to-day life. What makes this recent racism study so important is that it is not about the elevated world of getting elected to high office but about the more mundane problem of getting a job; and, as I have discussed, the basic conclusion is that racism looms larger than we would like to think.

Reverend Shockley seems to imply that we have progressed from the days of the “ANGRY black candidates.” I fear we have regressed. Racial distinctions may have passed; but now, for all the lip service that "audacity" is getting, the discourse of presidential politics lacks angry candidates of any color. America does, indeed, desperately need healing; but it is a healing that can only come from reflection. I do not yet see Obama leading us to that reflection in a constructive way.

Interestingly enough, most of the comments on Shockley's article have overlooked the argument about racial healing and concentrated, instead, on Obama's qualifications to be President. I was particularly interested in a list of reasons by a reader writing under the name of Evergreen:

He is intelligent.
He is inspirational and a unifier and truthful...so people do love him.
He sees problems clearly (intelligence again) and has identified the basic priorities.
He understands and approves of the principles our government was founded upon.
His intelligence will compensate for any lack of experience.
And perhaps most important:
To the best of my knowledge Obama has not sold his ideals to anybody and is not owned by the corporate world.

This makes for nice enough reading; but for me it served as a reminder that I ought to start writing about Isaiah Berlin in this new blog (since he was one of my favorite topics on the old one). In particular I would like to cite the "Political Judgement" essay, which is included in the Sense of Reality collection. Berlin's basic argument is that, in the arena of politics, intelligence is not the deciding factor, nor should it be, since it often overlooks key issues of humanity that cannot be ignored in any relationship between a leader and those being led. (Lest you draw the wrong conclusion about him, I doubt that anyone who ever read anything by Berlin would question his own capacity for intelligence!) To draw upon the reasoning in Evergreen's list, one of the ways in which Berlin develops his argument is by demonstrating that intelligence cannot compensate for experience. Besides, too much emphasis on intelligence conjures up Plato's image of the philosopher-king. Not only has this already been distorted to destructive proportions by the neoconservatives, but it leads us to forget that "Republic" was a relatively early work. Plato, himself, tried to put his theories into practice; and many of his later writings show him to be sadder and wiser (not to mention lucky to be alive)!

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