The conservative idea of a candidate who's "transformational" on race is someone who sounds like Bill Cosby and works with Ward Connerly, and that just isn't what Obama's doing; hence the Right's disappointment, which in many cases is curdling into dismissiveness and outright dislike. Instead, Obama's trying to be a transformational figure on the following two counts: First, as John McWhorter suggests in his response to the speech, he's trying to free African-American politics from the vice grip of grievance and resentment, breaking away not only from the Sharptons and Jacksons but from the NAACP line of Julian Bond and Kweise Mfume as well, and bringing black Americans out of racialism and radicalism and into the liberal mainstream; at the same time, he's trying to bring the country, which has heretofore tilted right, into the center-left mainstream as well. (The latter achievement, obviously, depends on the former, which is why the Wright affair is potentially so damaging: It calls into question his promise as a new kind of a black politician, without which his hope to be a new kind of American politician more or less collapses.) [...]
As everyone from Rod Dreher to Mickey Kaus to Steve Sailer have noted, [Obama's] practical concessions to present-day conservatism are vanishingly small. But he isn't trying to win over the gang at the Corner, or movement conservatives more generally; he's trying to win over those voters (and writers) who sometimes think that conservatives make a lot of sense, but whose ideological commitments are ultimately malleable. So of course if you're an ideological conservative you don't like what you hear from him; he's talking to everybody else, but not to you.
As does Larison:
Sullivan didn’t need readers to update him that Obama’s speech would be received poorly, would be viewed as condescension and would be ridiculed widely on the right. This is not because of “fear and racism,” but on the contrary reveals the degree to which what George Will called the “exquisite” sensitivity we have all been conditioned to possess has completely consumed the modern conservative movement to the point where many mainstream conservatives are, if anything, more preciously p.c. than university speech code enforcers. In an expression of “turnabout is fair play,” rather than denounce these anti-racism witch hunts in principle as ludicrous thought policing, many conservatives have decided that it is fine to play this game so long as a Democratic ox is being gored.
I don't think I've ever believed or written that Obama's approach to race is like Connerly's or Steele's. And I don't think he's an ideological conservative, even if he is at times a temperamental and pragmatic one. I think his approach is more effective, because it both integrates their points - he doesn't hesistate to tell black audiences about responsibility and family and faith - while refusing to leave other parts of the black experience behind. It is a both-and strategy. And that's what actually makes it new. I admire Connerly and Steele and Rice and even Thomas after a fashion. But they have obviously not brought black America along with them - or much of white America either. And all of them have failed to be elected nationally or even locally.
Obama is therefore a more integrative candidate, a broader bridge. Whether this turns out to be mush or whether it is something real is unknowable right now. But I don't believe a black candidate who is not merely a token has any other choice. And I haven't come across a black politician who has managed to do this with quite this level of thoughtfulness, talent and integrity.
(Photo: Tim Sloan/Getty.)