NEW YORK — An odd thing happened to me recently. I’d just attended a public policy debate — a rarity in Manhattan inasmuch as the audience turned out to be evenly divided between liberals and conservatives. I was milling about at the reception afterwards, sipping bottled water, when I found myself surrounded by several people I did not know. They knew me, however, or rather knew of me from columns I’d written, and told me how much they liked my work, and the conversation soon turned to race. I’ve come to accept this by now; for better or worse, readers often think of me as that white guy who criticizes African Americans. I began my usual song and dance on the self-destructiveness of black culture — how victimization serves as the measure of racial authenticity, how rappers have become modern day minstrels, how the surest way to gauge whether a policy is likely to harm blacks is whether blacks overwhelmingly favor it. Suddenly, however, I was interrupted by one of my listeners, a retired academic, who launched into a racist joke. It was a no-doubt-about it job, complete with a hunched shoulders, hand-gestures and a here-come-da-judge accent.
So I did what I always do when I’m offended. I looked down, shuffled my feet and waited for the moment to pass. The awkwardness was palpable as the joke was winding down; no one in the group was even smiling, and the teller rushed to the punch line, then immediately held up his hands and apologized.
Now here’s the odd thing, or at least it struck me as odd in retrospect: Nothing of the sort had ever happened to me before. Think about that for a second. Over the last five years, I’ve written more disparagingly of black culture and politics than has any white writer in America, and I’ve been drawn into hundreds of conversations on race with sympathetic conservatives, and I’ve gotten thousands of e-mails from sympathetic conservatives — and that was the very first time I’d encountered an out-and-out racist.
The above claim will likely be dismissed by liberals. The belief that conservatives are, when they let their hair down, racists is the intellectual lifeblood of American liberalism. This is due, in part, to the knee-jerk nature of much liberal thinking; thus, for example, many liberals reflexively suppose that only a racist could oppose affirmative action in college admissions. The argument that affirmative action channels minority students into educational environments for which they’re unprepared, that it forces them to overload their schedules with remedial courses, that it results in significantly lower grade point averages and higher dropout rates is mere background noise to liberals. They hear only that conservatives don’t want to give blacks a break…and for God’s sake haven’t blacks suffered enough? Evidence shmevidence. Affirmative action seems like a good deal for blacks. And seems is as deep as many liberals go.
But I suspect there’s also a darker reason for the instinctive linkage, in liberal psyches, of the terms “conservative” and “racist.” Namely, it’s inseparable from the belief that their own hearts are in the right place — no matter how disastrous the consequences of their social policies. The great exemplar here is Aid to Families with Dependent Children, rammed through Congress in the 1960s by Lyndon Johnson as part of his Great Society, which effectively tripled the rate of unwed births among blacks. From the liberal standpoint, to admit that the conservative desire to limit governmental power over people’s lives is rooted in rational skepticism rather than in irrational prejudice is a deadly concession. For it means you now must wrestle with empirical data and logical analyses; the fact that your heart is in the right place quickly becomes irrelevant.
ALL OF WHICH LEADS me, in a roundabout way, to the speculation over Condoleezza Rice as the Republican nominee for president in 2008.
True, she’s said that she has no plans to run, that she won’t run, that her real ambition is to become commissioner of the National Football League. But I believe Rice is first and foremost a patriot, and if a case were put forward that campaigning for president were an act of service to her country, rather than service to her ego, she might reconsider.
But first a confession: This isn’t the first time I’ve broached the subject of Condi in ’08. Back in October 2002, I pointed out that, unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush had stocked is administration with intellectual heavyweights, and I mentioned Rice “who, in 2008, will likely become both the first African American and the first woman elected president of the United States. (For the record–and you heard it here first–she’ll skewer Hillary, platitude by platitude, in a series of Nielson-bonanza debates and take the election in a landslide, thus officially dragging America out of the Clinton Era, that 16-year stretch of moral manure we collectively stepped in back in 1992).” Then, in March 2004, as Rice was about to testify before the 9/11 Commission, I predicted, “she will emerge from the hearing with conservatives flinging themselves at her feet, begging her to run for president in 2008.”
Despite the fact that both of those references were lighthearted, on both occasions, I was immediately bombarded by e-mails from conservatives who wanted to sign up for Condi’s campaign…and also from liberals who informed me that conservatives would never support a black candidate. Because, of course, conservatives are racists. “Keep dreaming,” said a liberal acquaintance of mine after the second column appeared. “Do you really think your buddies down south are going to put away their sheets long enough to vote for a black woman?”
In any event, I’m dead serious now. By temperament and intellect, by experience and expertise, Condoleezza Rice is more qualified than anyone in national politics to serve as our next president — and I say this as a diehard Rudy Giuliani fan. She lacks only a campaign track record, and no one disputes that she’s a quick study. Her nomination as the Republican candidate would dissolve the reflexive liberal equation of conservatism and racism and thus drive a stake through the heart of the Democratic Party — which might pave the way for an intellectually coherent oppositional party. So I reiterate: Condi in 2008 is a natural choice both for Republicans and for America.
FOR THE REPUBLICAN PARTY, from a tactical standpoint, the nomination of Condi should be a no brainer because she’d peel away a substantial portion of the black vote from the Democrats. A recent, unscientific poll conducted by the popular NiaOnline website, the self-described “pre-eminent internet destination for African-American women,” found that 41 percent of respondents predicted Rice would do a good job as secretary of state; only 30 percent predicted she wouldn’t. Given the animus the majority of blacks feel towards the Bush administration, and given that Bush himself carried less than a tenth of the black vote in 2004, if the NiaOnline numbers have the slightest validity they are nightmarish news for whatever Democratic candidate would oppose Rice in ’08 –including Hillary Clinton.
The notable exception, of course, is Barack Obama. Like Rice, Obama has said he won’t run for president in 2008. But the prospect of his eventual run should terrify Republicans. The guy is articulate, energetic, charismatic, good looking and scary smart. He’s young enough to bide his time and shrewd enough to keep his distance from the harridans, has-beens and hopeless ninnies of the Congressional Black Caucus. If Rice isn’t the first black president, Obama surely will be. The only problem with this scenario is that he seems to favor the kind of big government solutions to societal ills that, over time, hurt the very people they’re intended to help.
If you accept the premise that the election of a black president — setting aside his or her specific political agenda — would be a positive development in the moral evolution of the United States, would be good for the collective soul of Americans, would help heal old wounds, the next logical question becomes what qualified black candidate would be likeliest to carry forward policies that actually work?
The answer is Condoleezza Rice.
Mark Goldblatt (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the author of Africa Speaks, a satire of black urban culture.
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