Shelby Steele has always been fascinating to me. On one hand I find his views interesting. On the other hand I feel like his views on race are severely stunted. Like his opinions on anti-intellectualism in black culture. I don’t think black people have cornered the market on anti-intellectualism. Modern American culture, black and white is pro-anti-intellectualism. How else to you explain the election of George W. Bush and the pushback against science? The people who make museums that argue that the earth is 6,000 years old and that men and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time?
Americans often are slow when it comes to history, mathematics and reading levels across the board. Blacks have it worst than most, but don’t own this phenomenon. Anti-intellectualism has been spreading since the advent of the “idiot box,” television, now augmented with video games, internet chat rooms, text messaging (which is murdering spelling and handwriting, by the way) and insta-porn. The people want to be satiated with garbage. It’s difficult to force books upon them when most people groan at the dedication and imagination it takes to read.
Steele, like a lot of black conservatives, argues that programs like the Great Society plan, welfare, the public school system and Affirmative Action are harming black people. That these ideas are more rooted in white guilt that black advancement. Like many black conservative he has adopted some of Booker T. Washington’s notions of black self-reliance through entrepreneurship and education.
He feels that too often white Liberals and blacks turn to the government to solve their problems and inequities when the real solution lies within.
I’m attracted to this logic to a certain extent. But I’d also argue that black entrepreneurship has often been stymied by banking institutions who either deny blacks loans for starting businesses or lock them in with unfair loaning practices with much higher premiums. (Subprime loan, anyone?) And the animosity towards public education is rooted in pro-business and Libertarian ideologies, not the original reason for public education, which was to make sure everyone in American could be educated. It would make more sense to reduce the inequities in funds for schools based on property taxes. Education is still separate and unequal if you have the misfortune of growing up in a rural area, where there are no options and little funding or in the inner city which is falling apart from decades of neglect.
Shelby is a senior fellow at the conservative, Libertarian-leaning think-tank, the Hoover Institute. He’s written lots of books on race, including one short book on Barack Obama, aptly entitled “A Bound Man: Why We’re Excited About Barack Obama and Why He Can’t Win.”
Naturally, this is a real back-handed compliment of a book. Obama is smart! Obama makes people feel good! Obama is a race “bargainer” bound by his “blackness” which force him to work within Liberal, defeatism presets that hurt black people!
Said Steele to ABC News:
Even though he is, in Steele’s estimation, “quite good” at “articulating black responsibility,” his long struggle to “prove his blackness” requires him to see blacks as “society’s children.”
“Obama doesn’t get it,” said Steele in an interview with ABCNEWS.com. “He wants to make black responsibility contingent on what whites do, on what the government does, and on what school systems do and so forth.”
“Good luck,” he added. “You keep advocating that and blacks will be on the bottom forever.”
Steele thinks Obama’s alleged insecurity about his racial identity explains not only his 20-year relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright but also his continued support for affirmative action and refusal to say whether he would have signed the welfare overhaul approved by former President Clinton in 1996.
It also explains, in Steele’s view, why Obama said during a recent “Nightline” interview that blacks do not have the “luxury” of being “selective” when it comes to other blacks.
Steele tends to wrap his “psychobabble” in rosy rhetoric. Also biracial, Steele feels he has an insight to Obama’s own racial/political psychology, which is a farce. He assumes that Obama adopted Liberal policies because of his blackness, not because he agreed with them.
Obama, like many black people and especially biracial people, had a choice. He could be ambivalent to race or he could thrust himself right into the thick of our racial debate. He chose joining the debate. I don’t think his entire political career is an exercise in black self-esteem where Obama is adopting “harmful” policies to fit in with the rest of us Negroes.
What does Shelby think of Obama? Considering he wrote a book about the man, he has a plenty more to say.
Steele argues that Obama doesn’t assert black responsibility when Obama has been talking self-accountability on the stump since forever.
Also from ABC.com article:
Steele raps the Illinois senator for offering “no thinking on how to build incentives to responsibility into actual social policy.”
“He needs to go a lot farther than the bromide about turning off the TV,” Steele told ABC News. “He has to actually try to instill a larger concept of personal responsibility in black people, and others as well, who at this point in our history, lack that concept and are suffering because they lack that concept.”
Asked about the criticism, Obama’s campaign rejected Steele’s view that pushing for school reform undermines the candidate’s call for parental responsibility.
“Obama believes that both school reform and increased parental involvement are critical,” an Obama policy adviser told ABCNEWS.com. “He rejects either-or formulations. That’s why in his comprehensive pre-K to 12 education plan, he features a separate and independent section on parental involvement and offers concrete suggestions [such as districts adopting ‘school-family contracts’] to encourage parents to get more involved.”
The Illinois senator’s campaign also maintained that Steele’s book overlooks Obama’s support for a “Responsible Fatherhood” bill that pursues a “carrot and stick” approach. It funds support services while removing some of the government penalties on married families and cracking down on men who avoid child support payments.
The Obama campaign also points to transitional job programs, prison-to-work programs and a nurse-partnership program to educate young mothers as evidence that Obama, contrary to Steele’s claim, has proposed “incentives to responsibility.”
But Steele is having none of that. Obama is doomed, doomed he says, to failure based on his appeasement of the black welfare state.
Not all Steele statements are faulty though. He points out that Obama is tip-toeing down a delicate line to win over blacks and whites by being all things to all people. By equivocating and taking ambiguous stances on crucial issues. Steele points to statements Obama has made regarding Affirmative Action and welfare reform where it’s difficult to tell where stands because he dances around the issue.
Without addressing these issues Steele feels Obama is in for a world of trouble from both blacks and whites who have dramatically different view points on welfare and Affirmative Action, as well as a host of other social programs set up to support impoverished blacks or counteract discrimination.
The refusal to take a stand on the bill signed by Clinton was panned by Steele.
“That’s cowardice. That’s just cowardice,” said Steele. “There’s no excuse for not saying that. He knows better. He’s just, once again, equivocating.”
“I’m sure he was opposed to it at the time,” Steele added. “I hope he’s not now. I hope at this point he would at least recognize the profound service that was to black Americans.”
This racial dance is what really hurts Obama in Steele opinion, hampering his chances at being the next president of the United States. Basically, Barack can’t win because Barack can’t commit to anything controversial.
Steele, any many interviews, alludes to Obama’s statements about blacks not having the “luxury of being selective.” Of insinuating that blacks have to accept all of blackness (both Colin Powell and Jesse Jackson) out of necessity.
In an interview with EURweb.com he admits that he “regrets” the title to his book on Obama. He was tells the interviewer he was trying to drive home the point that unless Obama takes a stand he will forever be bound by his race.
Well, this is interesting, and I think it relates to my Obama book where I talk about “bargaining” and “challenging” and how we, as blacks, entering this great American mainstream wearing a mask because, when you’re a minority, you don’t have the same power as the majority. That’s something that has just been a part of our survival mechanism. Well, I tried not to wear those masks, not to give whites the benefit of the doubt or to hold them on the hook, but to simply speak as an individual. I knew that if you’re going to do that in a society that has this history, this past, and this way of relating through masks and so forth, that you’re going to get some blowback. So, I was not surprised, and I fully accept that you can’t write the way I’ve written and not get blowback. You will. And in fact, you learn from it. It sharpens me and I hope it makes me a better writer.
What do I think? I think Shelby is intelligent and well-thought out and although I don’t always agree with him, I do find him more interesting and palatable than other black conservatives. He isn’t full of self-loathing and apathy towards blackness. He can even be inspiring at times.
And I don’t blame him for concluding that Obama’s need to appeal to many will hamper him, but Steele is wrong when assesses that Obama has a “choice” in this matter. While it’s true that he could commit to a viewpoint like Steele or Jesse Jackson that is rooted on polar ends of the black political discourse, it’s also true that Obama wants to get elected. He is balancing the same tight rope all politicians do. It’s why McCain is trying to prove his conservative credentials without frightening off the middle. It’s why Hillary Clinton often has to position herself in a hawkish manner and is ridiculed if she shows any cracks in her patrician façade.
No black can
didate running for president who wants to be seen as the president of all Americans, rather than solely the president of black Americans, can make a solid call for those polar sides. Not if they want to get elected.
That is the real truth in Steele’s world. He can make a hardline stance. As a Democrat running for president trying to woo the waffling middle, he cannot. Neither can McCain. Neither can Clinton. Neither could most presidential candidates before them. Being president of the United States means being the governor of all people. Or at least that’s what it was supposed to mean. Hopefully this election will bring a return of that view.
But what are Steele’s chances of ditching his criticism and biting the ballot for Obama?
Chances of endorsing Obama: Steele in his interview with EURweb is a little less harsh on Obama than the ABC interview. While I don’t think he will endorse Obama publicly, I can’t completely rule it out. If Obama does address Affirmative Action and education reform with a centrist stance Steele might come around.
Chances of voting for Obama: This is also a toss up, but I’m going to say no. I think Steele is a true conservative. I believe that he truly thinks Liberal ideas for black America are dangerous. And I truly think he cares for black people. I don’t think his conscious would allow him to vote for someone he thinks would cause further harm.
Check back to The Black Snob all this week, concluding on April 14th.
Sunday: Amy Holmes
Monday: Condoleezza Rice
Tuesday: Ward Connerly
Wednesday: Shelby Steele
Thursday: Alan Keyes
Friday: JC Watts
Saturday: Colin Powell
Sunday: Armstrong Williams
Monday: Michael Steele
Tuesday: John McWhorter
Wednesday: LaShawn Barber and Herman Cain
Thursday: Star Parker and Eric Wallace
Friday: A final analysis, “Who Would Clarence Thomas Vote For?”