Shelby Steele writes about Hillary’s Plantation
in today’s WSJ (emphasis mine), touches on the subjects of liberalism, and on race. Hispanics that are inclined towards a culture of victimhood should also take note:
A great achievement of modern liberalism–and a primary reason for its surviving decades past the credibility of its ideas–is that it captured black resentment as an exclusive source of power. It even gave this resentment a Democratic Party affiliation. (Antiwar sentiment is the other great source of liberal power, but it is not the steady provider that black and minority resentment has been.) Republicans have often envied this power, but have never competed well for it because it can be accessed only by pandering to the socialistic longings of minority leaders–vast government spending, social programs, higher taxes and so on. Republicans and conservatives have simply never had an easy or glib mechanism for addressing profound social grievances.
But this Republican “weakness” has now begun to emerge as a great–if still largely potential–Republican advantage. Precisely because Republicans cannot easily pander to black grievance, they have no need to value blacks only for their sense of grievance. Unlike Democrats, they can celebrate what is positive and constructive in minority life without losing power. 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. Despite a childhood in the segregated South that might entitle her to a grievance identity, she has clearly chosen that older black American tradition in which blacks neither deny injustice nor allow themselves to be defined by it. This tradition, as Ralph Ellison once put it, “springs not from a desire to deny the harshness of existence but from a will to deal with it as men at their best have always done.” And, because Ms. Rice is grounded in this tradition, she is of absolutely no value to modern liberalism or the Democratic Party despite her many talents and achievements. Quite the reverse, she is their worst nightmare. 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. The more ugly her persecution by the civil rights establishment and the left, the more she would give liberalism the look of communism in its last days–an ideology long since hollowed of its idealism and left with nothing save its meanness and repressiveness. Who can say what Ms. Rice will do. But history is calling her, or someone like her. She is the object of a deep longing in America for race to be finally handled, not by political idealisms, but by the classic principles of freedom and fairness.
I highly recommend Shelby Steele’s book The Content of Our Character. His next book is White Guilt.
I posted my report of Dr. Rice’s speech at Princeton University last year