In his State of the Union speech on Wednesday, Barack Obama attempted some rhetorical recalibration to win back the trust of white America. Notable from VDARE.COM's point of view: despite repeated announcements to the Hispanic press that he would push for amnesty in 2010, Obama's only mention of immigration was calculatedly vague:
"And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system—to secure our borders and enforce our laws and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our system."
This marks a good point to reflect upon what we've learned about the man since October 2008, when I finished my reader's guide to Obama's Dreams from My Father memoir, America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's "Story of Race and Inheritance."
The most obvious point is the most unspoken. Obama's remains, fundamentally, a "story of race". Despite running in 2008 as a racial transcender, despite a press cover-up of the President's autobiography, Obama could not transcend in his first year in office his long history as a race man.
"I think the contradictions that Steve has identified in this book will turn any Obama Presidency into a four-year O.J. Simpson trial and that the consequent meltdown will compare to the Chernobyl of the Carter Presidency in its destructive partisan effects."
That the Massachusetts Democrats were unable to hold onto a Senate seat won by a Kennedy in every election since 1952 suggests that Peter's mordant pessimism about Obama's effectiveness might be on track.
My view: Obama, a relatively cautious man, still has advantages that might help him hold power to 2017. For example, he has pervasive MainStream Media bias—and, most of all, the Republican Party, which is prospering right now only by being leaderless and largely idealess.
The President botched the Democrats' best issue—after all, who isn't driven crazy at some point by their health insurance provider?—because he originally defined ObamaCare as solving what he considers the two big health care problems:
People who now have health insurance (a large majority of whom are white) get too much health care.
The citizens who show up to vote in special and midterm elections are more white, more mature, and less frivolous than those who turn out only in Presidential elections featuring fad candidates. In other words, people who take care to vote in off-years also tend to make the sacrifices necessary to obtain health insurance for their families.
As Massachusetts showed, these reliable mostly older white voters aren't at all sure they trust with their money and their lives a young black President who sees them as part of the problem.
My point: It's becoming ever more obvious that Obama, an unaccomplished Chicago politician, was nominated for President for the same reason George W. Bush got to run for President—because of who his daddy was. If Obama's father were white, he no more would have been considered Presidential timber than if the last President's father had been named Smith.
As Obama admitted in The Audacity of Hope, he served "as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views". In other words, he's something of an empty suit. And as he falls from the empyrean heavens of Hope and Change to the mundane world of governing and deal-making, he turns out to be a not particularly talented leader and administrator.
He does have a gift for words (in pleasant contrast to our last President). Yet Obama lacks the masterful, confidence-inspiring temperament that allowed FDR to thrive politically although he had no clue how to end the Depression. Obama tends toward sensitive, moody self-absorption. Not surprisingly for a man who published his first autobiography at age 33, he used the word "I" 104 times in his State of the Union address. He seems to need to take a lot of mental health days on the golf course.
Only the late-night comedians' numbing terror of the career dangers of making fun of a black President have saved Obama from instant derision. For example, his first post-election speech (12/7/2008) began by dwelling on how many federal workers it would take to screw in light bulbs:
"First, we will launch a massive effort to make public buildings more energy-efficient. … We need to upgrade our federal buildings by replacing old heating systems and installing efficient light bulbs. That won't just save you, the American taxpayer, billions of dollars each year. It will put people back to work."
His 2010 State of the Union ditched the mercifully forgotten light bulb screwing in scheme in favor of 57 new flavors of pork, along with an implausible "discretionary spending freeze". Thus Obama's appearance at a rally in Tampa on Thursday trumpeted a new brainstorm—handing over $1.25 billion for a Train to Nowhere.
Obama has called for the construction of a high-speed rail line that will run from the Orlando airport all of 75 miles to a To Be Announced destination in the sprawling Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metroplex.
The current best guess for the Tampa Bay terminus seems to be "a little past Ybor City."
Think about it. (Obama hasn't.) Rail travel works best connecting centralized cities. Orlando is hardly centralized. And Tampa Bay is likely the least suitable metropolitan area in America for an expensive new rail system: its center is salt water.
Q. After you drive to south suburban Orlando International Airport, park, and wait for the ObamaTrain, it accelerates up to 168 mph but then soon starts decelerating so it can grind to a halt somewhere near Tampa (meaning it will only average 86 mph), what do you do next?
A. You stand in line at the Hertz counter to rent a car to drive to your actual destination in the far-flung Tampa Bay exurbs. (For example, it's 25 miles from downtown Tampa to downtown St. Petersburg.)
Wouldn't it have been simpler and cheaper just to drive from Orlando?
Not surprisingly, Florida voters, who know more about their geography than Obama, turned down the Train to Nowhere by a 64%-36% landslide in 2004 when they were expected to pay for it.
Now we all get to pay for it.
In general, high-speed rail promises to be a bountiful job-generating boondoggle for decades for loyal Obama constituencies such as planners, plaintiff's attorneys, and environmental activists. Watch as they laboriously rule out each proposed route by discovering some obscure Endangered Species of weed or bug, and then go back to the drawing board, all the while billing at their hourly rates.
For most Americans outside the densely populated Boston-Washington corridor, high-speed rail is as big a joke as, but considerably more expensive than, George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union plan for hydrogen-powered automobiles.
(Remember hydrogen-powered automobiles?)
But being both a lightweight and not very likable didn't stop Bush from winning a second term, and it might well not stop Obama either. After all, to get re-elected, all you have to do is beat one guy.
Moreover, as my book documents, Obama has the advantage of having spent a lifetime thinking about the politics of race, about the racial hopes and fantasies of Americans, which is much more than any GOP leader can say. And how are Republicans supposed to learn about race if nobody is supposed to teach them?
Obama is not a quick learner, but he does learn. In 2000, his decade-old plan of becoming the second black mayor of Chicago was crushed when South Side African American voters in a Democratic House primary scoffed at the racial authenticity of the prep-schooled Hawaiian. But after a lengthy depressive spell, Obama reinvented himself as the black politician for whom whites would vote so they could congratulate themselves on contributing to a historic breakthrough.
That worked, once. Whether it will work more than once is uncertain, but don't count Obama out.
Thus in his State of the Union speech, Obama avoided the topic of health care for the first 33 minutes. Then, having tried to establish an I-feel-your-pain mood with the largely white middle-class audience who follow public affairs, he attempted to reboot ObamaCare. Now, he's not positioning it as redistribution—but as a response to the rightful grievances of people who already have health insurance!
"I took on health care because of the stories I've heard from Americans with preexisting conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who've been denied coverage; families—even those with insurance—who are just one illness away from financial ruin."
Will Obama get away with rewriting history?
And the recent Republican counter-strategy is seriously vulnerable. They simply position themselves as the mirror image to Obama's "blank screen" by running ruggedly handsome white guys upon whom hopes can be projected, such as Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts and Governor Bob McDonnell in Virginia.
McDonnell delivered the GOP's artfully vacuous response after the State of the Union. It made no mention of immigration, affirmative action, or other disturbing realities.
Eventually, though, the Republicans will need a few actual issues.
"My administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination. [Applause.]"
The mustachioed Bajan-American simply rubs people the wrong way.
[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]