I've been trying to quit Shelby Steele. I really have. I saw his Op-Ed in the LA Times the day after the election, and it was replete with all the same "insights" Steele usually offers -- that is, the smooth balm of one racial platitude after another. In Steele's world, whites are the victims of black ... well, anything, what are we talking about? In this case, Obama has "seduced" white America with his promise of a post-racial society:
Obama is what I have called a "bargainer" -- a black who says to whites, "I will never presume that you are racist if you will not hold my race against me." Whites become enthralled with bargainers out of gratitude for the presumption of innocence they offer. Bargainers relieve their anxiety about being white and, for this gift of trust, bargainers are often rewarded with a kind of halo.
What Steele fails to mention is that the above was the premise of his epic fail of a political book, "A Bound Man," subtitled: "Why Obama Can't Win." If you know anything about Steele, you know that he's built his career around attacking notions of authentic blackness as "totalitarian" while throwing every prominent non-conservative African-American in the gulag at the first opportunity, as he does here. Steele continues:
The point is that a post-racial society is a bargainer's ploy: It seduces whites with a vision of their racial innocence precisely to coerce them into acting out of a racial motivation. A real post-racialist could not be bargained with and would not care about displaying or documenting his racial innocence. Such a person would evaluate Obama politically rather than culturally.
And since politically, Obama is a liberal, offering only "the redistributive axioms of old-fashioned Keynesianism, his social thought was recycled Great Society. But all this policy boilerplate was freshened up -- given an air of "change" -- by the dreamy post-racial and post-ideological kitsch he dressed it in," there's no way anyone could do that. Obama is the new Ecstasy.
I'm not going to argue whether or not this is an accurate reading of Obama's policies, or whether Obama's stances represent a radical change from traditional Democratic policies -- I'm just going to point out that at least half the country is devoted to these ideas, so whether they're new or not, it doesn't really matter. Knowing that these ideas are not particularly "new" does not mean one does not agree with them, or that one is then inclined to vote Republican. Here again, we see one of the diamond-hard binaries of Steele's thinking: If you were smart, you'd simply be a conservative. All other people are idiots or are fooled into voting against their interest. All of which sounds like the kind of argument liberals make when they lose, and conservatives guffaw at when they hear.
All of which brings me to this: Obama didn't win a much bigger portion of the white vote than Kerry -- 43 to 41. The majority of whites voted Republican, and carrying minority votes brought Obama over the line. All of this undermines Steele's most basic premise, that whites were "seduced" by Obama's vision of a post racial society. It doesn't actually seem that whites bought into it at all, and that the white vote broke down along typical partisan lines. Which is to say liberal whites voted for the liberal, which is precisely how things would have broken down if Obama were white. The vast majority of these people would have voted for the Democrat no matter what.
This Op-Ed was written before any real analysis of the numbers could be done -- it appeared in the LA Times on Nov. 5. It's not an argument, it's a catechism. Steele is not one for numbers, he's one for dogma. He made a huge bet based on that dogma, and he lost. Nevertheless, a day later, he was out there preaching his gospel even as the church was collapsing around him.