Shelby Steele on President-Elect Obama

Shelby Steele on President-Elect Obama

Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge.
I’m Peter Robinson. Author Shelby Steele is the Robert J. and Marion E. Oster’s Senior
Fellow at the Hoover Institution where he studies race relations, multiculturalism and
affirmative action. Shelby’s most recent book, published before November 4th is entitled
A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Barack Obama and Why He Can’t Win. Shelby and I discussed
this book earlier in the year. Needless to say, we have reason to discuss it again now.
Segment one about that subtitle. Why . . . Shelby Steele: [Laughter] Now you’ve established
my credentials as a prognosticator. Peter Robinson: . . . why he can’t win. Shelby,
more than 64 million Americans voted for Barack Obama. He is now the 44th president-elect
of the United States. Why did you expect him to lose? I want to lay out the argument of
the book in a moment, but give me once sentence, if you can, on why you thought he couldn’t
win. Shelby Steele: I thought he couldn’t win
— by the way, I didn’t really argue inside the book that he wouldn’t win. I thought that
he would have a difficult time winning because he never really revealed who he was. I thought
that the American people finally would want to know something about who he really was
before they elevated him to the presidency. Peter Robinson: All right. Let’s go to the
argument. In my judgment, the quick way of getting to the basic argument [Clearing throat]
of the book is a tale of two trumpeters, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis. Give us Louis Armstrong
and why he’s significant to your argument and to our understanding of the president-elect. Shelby Steele: He’s what I call a bargainer.
When minorities enter the mainstream from which they have always historically been alienated,
they wear a mask because they’re at a natural disadvantage. They try to present themselves
in a way that angles for some advantage or other that allows them to succeed. So Louis
Armstrong is a sort of classic example. Here’s a poor kid from Louisiana, no father and so
forth, but he has a certain genius in music. Peter Robinson: Genius is the word. Shelby Steele: Genius is the word. He transformed
American music almost single handedly. Well, what do you do? Do you stay behind the walls
of segregation or do you move out into the world? The world he met was a segregated world
that did not want to give him any chance to do anything. He developed what I call the
“bargainer’s mask” in which he basically, in his day, when segregation prevailed, he
would stand before these all-white crowds at hotels where he could not, himself, stay,
and he would bow a little bit. He’d have a kind of exaggerated grin and he’d put on this
sort of humble mask, in effect, making to them a kind of offer of inferiority, of saying,
in a sense, “I’m not going to challenge you in any way. In fact, I’m going to offer you
an image of black inferiority that goes along with your prejudice, if you will let me play
my music.” Peter Robinson: So Louis Armstrong, I think
back to particularly the old black and white, his appearance in those old movies in the
’30s. Louis Armstrong is implicitly saying, “I know my place and I’m happy in it. Now
that we’ve got that out of my way, listen to my music.” Shelby Steele: Right. He knew that . . . Peter Robinson: He’s not necessarily telling
the truth that he’s happy. Shelby Steele: No, he’s not. That’s right. Peter Robinson: That’s what he’s saying so
he can get on to the question of his music. Shelby Steele: That’s right. That was his
mask and his mask is what made that bargain with whites. “I’m not going to challenge you
in your prejudice,” and America loved him. Bargainers are always loved. Peter Robinson: He does get something in return
for it. Shelby Steele: He gets something in return.
He got to become Louis Armstrong, a well-loved figure in American life. Peter Robinson: Miles Davis. Shelby Steele: Well, history caught up with
Louis Armstrong. After World War II and the rumblings of the Civil Rights Movement, America
had changed. Miles Davis had exactly the opposite mask of Louis Armstrong. He came out on stage.
He wouldn’t speak to his audience. He would very often turn his back on his audience.
If somebody spoke to him, he would glare at them with contempt or he’d curse them out.
He knew that in the sophisticated world of New York jazz and so forth, he was dealing
with whites who admired, who were proud to be an audience. As I’ve said, I know people
today who brag about being cursed out by Miles Davis. But again, the same sort of thing,
“I’m going to show you contempt. I’m going to show contempt for that.” Whites, liberals,
particularly, who supported him as an artist, not just as a performer but as an artist,
had the feeling then that they were, themselves, above racism, that they were beyond it because,
“After all, I am a Miles Davis fan.” Peter Robinson: Louis Armstrong typifies the
bargainer, Miles Davis, the challenger. Where does Barack Obama fit? Shelby Steele: Barack Obama is an absolute,
to-the-manor-born bargainer, who basically says, who takes the anxiety out of being white,
who says to whites, “I am not going to prejudge you as a racist if you will not hold my race
against me.” Whites are so thankful for that bargain because white Americans today, in
the last 40 years since the Civil Rights victory, have been stigmatized as racist, have had
to defend themselves, prove the negative, that they’re not racist. Here comes a black
that says, “I’m going to take you off the hook. I’m not going to presume you’re a racist.” Peter Robinson: So Shelby, you argued, when
we sat down some months ago, when it seemed, frankly, as I recall, at that point, it was
unlikely he’d win the primary let alone the election. You had a strong form of the argument.
Now that’s the president-elect, I want to see if you wish to stick with that. You can
correct me, but I believe I’m paraphrasing that argument correctly, that Barack Obama,
the candidacy of Barack Obama, was not particularly about politics, the future of the country.
It was about race, and above all, about making white folks feel good about what they had
accomplished in the recent decades. Do you want to stick with that statement? Shelby Steele: Absolutely. I stick with it.
The only difference in my sort of feeling about these things today is that I underestimated.
I wrote a book on white guilt. I talk about, in this book, the need of . . . Peter Robinson: This book A Bound Man. Shelby Steele: Yes. White America is too
— because here’s the thing. White America has made tremendous moral progress since the
’60s. I grew up in segregation. I know the difference. Peter Robinson: There is something worth celebrating. Shelby Steele: And they’ve never given them,
the white has never given themselves credit for that. And here is an opportunity, at last,
to document this progress. Peter Robinson: Right. We’ve got segment two,
the content of his character. Two quotations from Shelby Steele, and I’d ask you to explain
each one very briefly. Quotation one, this is you, “Obama’s special charisma always came
from the racial idealism he embodied. In fact, this was his only true political originality.” Shelby Steele: Yes. I absolutely stand by
that. He was a cultural candidate. Peter Robinson: Quotation two, “The golden
rule of bargainers,” you already said he is a prototypical bargainer, “is never to say
what you really think.” Shelby Steele: Right. Peter Robinson: Okay. Now you put those two
arguments together, or those two quotations together, and what you’ve got here is the
Shelby Steele argument that he appealed to voters because of the color of his skin while
deeply submerging the actual content of his character. It would seem to me that a likely
conclusion from that argument is that we have just elected a man about whose own inner self
and character we know less than we knew about any other modern president. Will you go for
that? Shelby Steele: Absolutely. I entirely stand
by that. I think we still don’t know the man. It’s going to be difficult once he’s actually
governing the country and having to make decisions every single day. He is going to reveal himself.
There’s no way not to. But that’s the first time we’re going to get to really know who
Barack Obama is. Peter Robinson: I’m giving you every chance
to say, “Well, maybe I was a little hard on him.” Shelby Steele: No. Peter Robinson: You will not take back a bit
of it? Shelby Steele: No. I . . Peter Robinson: By the way, can I just, how
did you feel on — I know because we know each other. Frankly, you told us here when
you were on this show last time, that you intended to vote for John — you did not vote
for Barack Obama. Shelby Steele: Absolutely not, no. Peter Robinson: How did it feel to watch that
man get elected? Shelby Steele: It hurt. Peter Robinson: It did? Shelby Steele: It hurt. He stands for things
that, he stands for nothing that I stand for. His economic policies are — one of the distinctions
I make is that he was elected really as a cultural symbol rather than as a politician.
Politically, if you look at his actual positions on things, I, as a conservative, don’t agree
with much of anything. To me, the mistake America made, a pretty brazen comment, I guess,
is to vote for him on a cultural level, on a level of cultural symbolism, rather than
on his politics. Peter Robinson: Here, to me, is one of the
great puzzles, which you touch on in A Bound Man. Barack Obama is raised by his white mother
and then, after she dies an early death, by his white grandparents in Hawaii in a white
world. He graduates from Columbia. He becomes President of Law Review at Harvard Law School.
The world of conventional and compelling white success is open before him. But he goes back
to Chicago, becomes a community organizer on the South Side, attends a Jeremiah Wright
— I don’t know if it’s fair to call it a Black Nationalist church, but . . . Shelby Steele: That’s fair. Peter Robinson: That’s fair. He attends a
Black Nationalist church. In other words, Barack Obama, he has a black father and a
white mother, he makes it very, very far in a world that I think is culturally white
— these are crude terms. There’s a sense in which he chooses, in his 20’s, to become
black. Is that a fair way to put it? Shelby Steele: Absolutely. Peter Robinson: And why does he make that
— what’s going on there? Shelby Steele: He was raised in an era of
identity politics, where the most important thing in the world, for anybody who was black,
was to establish their credentials, their bona fides as a black. He had so many strikes
against him, coming from an interracial background where people could look him in the eye and
say, “You’re not really black,” and could always have that vulnerability over his head.
His need to be black became much more obsessive, in many ways, than somebody else’s might have
come. Again, he came of age in an era where identity was everything. You had to be —
your authenticity as a human being required that you be strictly and narrowly identified
with the racial politics of blackness. So you see in his career, all these opportunities,
as you say in the white world. Then he goes back and becomes a community organizer. But
then he goes to Harvard. There’s this zigzagging in his life, back and forth between the two
worlds. Peter Robinson: Now, you grew up in circumstances
that were kind of a mirror image. As I recall, your mom was white, your dad was black, but
you were raised in the entirely black community. Nevertheless, you have a feel, I suppose,
for — as you can tell you’re talking to the white-bred white guy. So I’m poking around
here because I don’t understand some of this. How about if I put the question to you this
way? Based on your experience, your own experience, and your close reading of Barack Obama, give
us one or two items about his inner character that you think we’re going to be finding out
that he hasn’t yet revealed, that he’s kept under the mask. Shelby Steele: I don’t know if I can do it
that quickly. One of the problems, being in that situation, is that you are told the vulnerability
is that you are not authentic. When I was a kid, I grew up in a segregated world. In
the morning, a black could say to me, “You’re not really black.” In the afternoon, they
could say, “You’re a you know what just like the rest of us.” You were held on that sort
of a tether. That breeds in an insecurity. When I came of age, I fellow traveled with
black nationalists. I did my three years. Just like he did this community organizing,
I went to East St. Louis and worked in Great Society programs for there years. Now, have
I resolved it? No, you never resolve it. What made the difference for me is that, at a certain
point, I just said, basically, “Screw you. I’m going to be my own man. If it suits you,
then that’s fine. If it doesn’t, then that’s also fine.” I am proud to be black, but I’ll
determine what the meaning of that is. I sort of had that kind of a moment in my life .
. . Peter Robinson: Has he . . . Shelby Steele: . . . early on . . . Peter Robinson: Has Barack . . . Shelby Steele: . . . and one of the scary
things for me is that I don’t think he has, or if he has, he hasn’t — 20 years in Reverend
Wright’s church, a church his own mother could not go to — the first day, it would have
occurred to me that my mother couldn’t come here. Now what does that mean? What am I doing
here? The problem for kids like that, and kids like myself, is that you can get seduced
into self-betrayal as a form of getting along with people, for accommodating people. One
of the things that troubles me about Obama’s character is that he can get along with anybody.
He can articulate a conservative point of view better than many conservatives can. He
can be as strikingly far left and — the problem is not so much that he’s going to reveal who
he really is. The problem is that he may not be anybody. He may not have strong convictions
and passions. Peter Robinson: Segment three, race relations
during the Obama administration. Shelby Steele, “It is not hard to see why Reverend Jackson
might have experienced Mr. Obama’s emergence as something of a stiletto to the heart. Mr.
Obama is so successful at winning gratitude from whites precisely because Mr. Jackson
was so successful at inflaming and exploiting white guilt.” Explain that. Shelby Steele: Jackson is what I call a challenger
who says to whites, “I will never let you off the hook. I’m going to presume you are
a racist until you give me something. Then I’ll offer absolution of some kind, but you
have to buy your innocence.” Bargainers like Obama grant innocence and that’s why they’re
so well loved. Jackson is saying, “You have to prove your innocence to me.” So Jackson
could never go far. Challengers could never be successful broadly in American politics
because whites secretly, quietly, can’t stand them. They have this leverage, this moral
authority over them and they keep using it, whereas Obama is saying, “I’m not ever going
to use it. You can trust that I’m not going to play the race card.” Peter Robinson: Quoting you once again, “I
don’t think whites really want change from Obama as much as they want documentation of
change that has already occurred.” Shelby Steele: Yes. I think that’s the interesting
phenomenon in this election, the hunger for, in white America, to prove, to document this
moral progress that white America has made over the last 40 years. Peter Robinson: The change we can believe
in has already taken place. Shelby Steele: The change is already here.
If it wasn’t here, Obama wouldn’t be elected. He’s not going to introduce change. He’s going
to document change that’s already here. I already hear people, now that he is elected,
saying that Jackson and Sharpton and so forth are anachronisms. Peter Robinson: All right. So white people,
in the very act of electing him, got what they wanted. In their deepest selves — Shelby Steele: They think they did. Peter Robinson: They think they got what they
wanted. Shelby Steele: That’s the illusion. Peter Robinson: Now, African-Americans in
this election turn out in historic proportions and vote for him — I haven’t seen final and
utterly reliable polling data . . . Shelby Steele: Yes. Peter Robinson: . . . but it’s clearly by
more than 95 percent. Shelby Steele: Yeah. Peter Robinson: It is a huge, monolithic turnout.
What do black people want from this man? Shelby Steele: Both groups, whites and blacks,
their real investment in Barack Obama was that he was an opportunity to dispel the stigma
that whites have been stigmatized as racist. “Well, if I vote for Obama and he becomes
the president, then I’m not a racist and this is not a racist country.” The stigma that
blacks have lived under is that we’re inferior. Peter Robinson: Okay. Shelby Steele: Now, if we vote for Obama,
if Obama gets to be the president of the United States, he’s the paramount, the most powerful
man on the planet how can we be inferior? It puts the lye to that stigma. Both groups
had that, I think that was their deepest investment in his presidency, and it was very powerful. Peter Robinson: Let me quote you once again,
“But there is an inherent contradiction in all of this when whites, especially today’s
younger generation, proudly support Obama for his post-racialism, they unwittingly embrace
race as their primary motivation.” That is actually a beautifully written, elegant sentence,
but it is an introduction to a nightmare. What is suggests is that in this wonderful
moment when we think we’ve finally put race behind us, we’re mired in it more deeply than
we were the day before. Shelby Steele: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s an absolute
— there’s pathos there. Everywhere I went on my book tour with regard to this book,
young people would come up, “We’re beyond your generation. We’re going to vote for Obama,”
and so forth. “Don’t you think that we, we grew up differently than you did.” No, you
didn’t. You did not. You are now obsessed with race. Race is the only thing that’s driving
your interest in Barack Obama. You couldn’t even tell me what his policies are. You’re
never critical to him in any way. If you were free of race, you would not judge him culturally.
You would judge him politically. You’d look at his position on social security, on all
these mundane, boilerplate issues that presidents actually have to deal with, his economic policies.
You never want to see that. You are consumed by race. That’s the, I don’t know if tragedy
is the word, but it certainly is an irony. Peter Robinson: And, for African-Americans,
exactly the same thing applies? Shelby Steele: Absolutely. Absolutely. If
you were free from race, then it wouldn’t be a 95, 96, 97 percent black support for
Barack Obama. What’s interesting is, you know, at the very beginning, blacks were not for
Barack Obama. Peter Robinson: That’s right. You make the
point, in Iowa — what made him was Iowa, which was a white state. Shelby Steele: He had to win the white vote
in order to convince blacks to then invest in him, to then emotionally invest that this
is a guy that can prove we’re not inferior. Before that . . . Peter Robinson: But the white validation had
to take place first. Shelby Steele: . . . the white validation.
Whites had to buy in to Barack Obama before blacks would buy in, another chilling irony,
ugly irony. Peter Robinson: Barack Obama on affirmative
action, “I still believe in affirmative action as a means of overcoming both historic and
potentially current discrimination, but I think that it can’t be a quota system and
it can’t be something that is simply applied without looking at the whole person, whether
that person is black or white or Hispanic or male or female.” Does he entrench affirmative
action more deeply or begin to scale it back? Shelby Steele: I think he’s going to probably
entrench it more deeply. He feels not politically he owes it to blacks who came out in such
vast numbers for him. He’s a Chicago politician. You pay off your political debts. My guess
is we’re going to have affirmative action, race-based, not class-based, but race-based
affirmative action, for a long, long time. Peter Robinson: All right. Segment four, A
Bound Man, about Barack Obama. What just happened on November 4th? Now I’m edging away from
race to the political culture of the United States. Two quotations, one is from you and
one is from Tom Sowell, your friend, our friend. Shelby Steele, “On the level of policy, Obama
was quite unremarkable. His economics were the redistributive axioms of old-fashioned
Keynesianism. His social thought was a recycled Great Society.” This guy’s thinking, policy
thinking, is, at best, 40 years out of date. Tom Sowell, “This man has been a far-left
ideolog for 20 years.” Is Barack Obama a tweaker of the status quo, just a stale, old democrat,
in policy terms, or is he a hard-left ideolog? And how on earth can you and Tom Sowell look
at the same man and draw such different conclusions? Shelby Steele: I don’t think of him — well,
it is — let me put it this way. He is certainly going to try to be more than a tweaker of
the status quo. He is going to come in with economic policies that are Keynesian. He’s
going to raise taxes on all sorts of people, on capital gains, on corporations. He’s going
to spend money on Great Society-style social — he’s going to take us sort of backward
to that era. He’s not going to speak ideologically. You’re never going to see the ideological
fire in his eyes, but he is going to definitely try to take the country back in that direction,
there’s no doubt about that. Peter Robinson: [clearing throat] All right.
Let me give you a longish quotation from Mark Steyn, but it’s a quotation, like everything
from Mark Steyn, that really delivers. “The president-elect’s so-called tax cut will absolve
48 percent of Americans from paying any sort of federal tax at all. Just under half the
population will be on the dole. By 2012, it will be more than half. This will be an electorate
but the majority will be able to vote itself more lollipops from the minority still dumb
enough to prioritize self-reliance, dynamism and innovation over the cocoon of the Nanny
State. That is the death of the American idea.” Mark Steyn is arguing that while we’re all
obsessed with the cultural and racial significance of this new president, precisely what you
talk about, the old-fashioned, Great Society, incrementalism, government gets bigger and
bigger and bigger, we’re at a tipping point. Shelby Steele: Right. Peter Robinson: And Barack Obama is likely
to think he’s passed it. Shelby Steele: You know what’s interesting
to me about that, no white candidate in America could have won an election based on those
policies. It had to be a black — it had to be somebody who could bring to bear on this
old-fashioned socialistic point of view, the moral authority of race, the moral authority
of being black. That’s the insidious and interesting thing to me. No white man could — John Edwards
could never win an election based on policies like that, that I’m going to raise – raise
taxes and you win? Peter Robinson: So his special appeal to liberals
is that everything old is new again. Shelby Steele: The price America is paying
for its racial history is this reversion. I’ve had friends, liberal friends, say this,
“Well, it took me a little while but I said, ‘Okay, maybe I should pay more taxes.’ If
I’m going to get a black man in the White House, I’ll do it.” Peter Robinson: Pay the price. Shelby Steele: I’ll pay the price. That’s
what happened and we are going to pay the price now. We are going to pay the price because
that same racial moral authority is going to be his greatest weapon as a president.
Who’s going to want to stand in his way and block all these beneficent things that he
wants to do, this redistribution of the wealth to people who’s been locked out? It’s always
going to work for him. Peter Robinson: Let me try another longish
. . . Shelby Steele: Because whites are still motivated
by race, the dummies. Peter Robinson: Okay. Shelby Steele: [Laughter] There’s painful
ironies. When I grew up in segregation, I prayed for some white liberals. “Where are
these people?” The same people now, whose attention I couldn’t get then, now are voting
for Obama. Peter Robinson: [Laughter] My embryonic political
movement is Shelby for President. Okay. Another longish quotation, makes a different point,
makes it in a very compelling way, and I think delivers it. I’m going to put this on the
table and see how you respond. So it’s worth the longish quotation. This is from Peter
Hitchens, not Christopher Hitchens . . . Shelby Steele: His brother. Peter Robinson: . . . his brother, who disagrees
with him on everything, but writes with the same ratatattat irresistibility. “I was in
Washington, D.C. the night of the election. There had been a few white people blowing
car horns and shouting as the result came clear,” that is as Obama’s victory becomes
clear, “but among the Mexicans, Salvadorans and other third-world nationalities, there
was something like ecstasy. They grasped the real significance of this moment. They knew
it meant that America had finally switched sides in a global, cultural war. Suspicious
of welfare addiction, totally committed to preserving its own sovereignty, unabashedly
Christian in a world part secular and part Muslim, the United States was unique. Now
the U.S., like Britain before it, has begun the long, slow descent. Where now is our last
best hope of earth?” I think it would be pretty easy to deride that as a racist, or as the
English might put it, racialist comment. It’s not really. He’s making a cultural argument,
right? Shelby Steele: Yeah, I think he is . . . Peter Robinson: Sound? Is there something
to it? How do you respond? Shelby Steele: No, I think there’s definitely
something to it. What he’s saying is, in one sort of this, this. In the election of Obama
— if a black like Colin Powell had been elected president, nothing would change much.
He is, at the very least, a centrist, centrist-right sort of figure. Obama really does want, he
likes identity politics. He really does want to use his moral authority as a black to usher
America into a new kind of an era, of a new kind of age. White Americans have now pretty
much, at least for the moment, this may change, but for the moment, they’ve signed on to that.
With the race also comes the cultural change, also comes the assault on classic American
values like hardworking American and fairness and so forth rather than government interventionism
and so forth. Obama is going to use his racial and moral authority to take us in that direction. Peter Robinson: There’s something there. Shelby Steele: There is something there. It’s
scary. Peter Robinson: Segment five, the politics.
We’re talking about A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win,
the paperback to be entitled Why He Was Bound to Win? Shelby Steele: [laughter] Yeah, How He Won. Peter Robinson: All right. You’ve been talking
about the way his moral authority as a black man is irresistible. Let me read to you an
exchange that popped up Christopher Buckley’s new column in the Financial Times. It was
a Q&A. He was taking questions from a reader. “It’s clear to me that the current GOP,” the
Republican Party as it now stands, “the current GOP has dissolved into the angry white-people’s
party much as the old National Party of South Africa.” Christopher Buckley, “An interesting
comparison.” Now, that Christopher Buckley can let that premise stand and slip by suggests
to me that the Republican Party is on the defensive in the most profound manner of my
entire lifetime. Shelby Steele: Yep. Yep. Peter Robinson: How does the Republican Party
grapple with this new man and the cultural phenomenon he has spawned? It is, by the way,
overwhelmingly a white party. Shelby Steele: That’s right. Peter Robinson: If John McCain received a
majority of white votes, there is that racial element in the result. Shelby Steele: That’s right. What happened
was, the whites, in general, were stigmatized as racist. Liberals have now, by going with
Obama and so forth, feel at least, their illusion is, that they’ve gotten some leverage of their
own and they’ve escaped that stigma. The stigmatization of whites now is focused like a beam on the
Republican Party and on conservatism as a point of view in the world. This is now sort
of a racist, by definition, by default, really, this is where racism now is located. We can
all see it over there and we can isolate it and it’s in those red states in the South
and the Southwest and so forth. It is going to be a difficult, difficult struggle for
the Republican Party. They might end up betraying — what I fear is they will end up betraying
what is good about them, which is those values of fairness and merit and so forth, in order
to play the game, to get back in the game. That’s how societies do begin to decline.
When you trade away those values, the whole thing weakens. Peter Robinson: Shelby Steele, “The black
illegitimacy rate remains at 70 percent. Blacks did worse on the SAT in 2000 than in 1990.
Fifty-five percent of all federal prisoners are black. The academic achievement gap between
blacks and whites persists, even for the black middle class. All this will continue despite
the level of melanin in the president’s skin.” That’s a horrifying set of statistics, but
it’s all true. Here’s the question. Is there a Nixon to China opportunity here? That is
to say, are there going to be things that Barack Obama can do, of which people like
Shelby Steele and I would approve because he’s African-American? Is he somehow going
to be able to talk with new moral authority about the importance of education, about the
important of intact families? Do you see openings that he could pursue and do you think he will? Shelby Steele: Oh, I think — yes to both
the questions. I think he already has certainly talked about responsibility, black fathers
being more responsible. I give him credit for that. I think that’s good. It’s certainly
not the first time. That’s not a new idea for black America. Bill Cosby is the most
recent casualty. Peter Robinson: Bill Cosby, exactly. He paid
a price. Shelby Steele: He paid a price. So Obama is
going to, he’s going to utter it. You see, it helps him bargain with whites. He’s going
to utter it. What disturbs me is that he turns around and stands for, advocates social policies
that don’t ask for responsibility, that, in fact, blunt the incentive. That’s what bothers
— yes, he will give some lip service to it, but that’s about it. Peter Robinson: But his effort to address
the various pathologies of the underclass will be lip service. Shelby Steele: Will be lip service, right.
As I say there, in one of those sentences somewhere, I think, again, from my experience
in the Great Society programs, people don’t change because the government intervenes with
a social program. It never happens. They change when they become exhausted with their suffering.
The Civil Rights Movement is the greatest example of reform, certainly in my lifetime.
It happened when people said, “That’s it. Kill us if you want, but we’re not going to
live the segregated life anymore. We’re exhausted with this. Enough.” Then change happens. They
didn’t care who the president was. They had no social programs from the government. The
government did not support this in any way, in fact, tried to repress it. Nothing could
stop it. When black America determines that it’s going to overcome statistics like that,
they’ll do it. Peter Robinson: A century from now, who will
be viewed as the more significant figure, Barack Obama or Martin Luther King, Jr. Shelby Steele: Martin Luther King, Jr. Peter Robinson: Without a moment’s hesitation. Shelby Steele: Without a moment’s hesitation.
This was a man who, again, as I was just saying, was leading an exhausted people into freedom,
people who were just ordinary people. It was a movement of real dignity. One of the biggest
problems black America has, one of the problems why you see the statistics like that, is that
we sold out our dignity to the government. They’re going to be the ones who — in the
Civil Rights Movement, again, we had no government support. We did it. We had our dignity. It
was a magnificent achievement. We have to go after our dignity again. There ought to
be that. If Obama could speak in that language, it would be helpful. I don’t think he will,
but it would be helpful. Peter Robinson: Final question, the playwright
and journalist of 20th Century, Clare Boothe Luce used to say that history would give even
the most important figures just one sentence. Lincoln freed the slaves. Churchill defeated
Hitler. Reagan won the Cold War. Take a guess at Barack Obama’s sentence in history. Shelby Steele: The first black man in the
White House. Peter Robinson: And that’s it. Shelby Steele: [Laughter] That’s it. Peter Robinson: [Laughter] Shelby Steele,
the author of A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Barack Obama and Why He Can’t Win, to
be retitled, I’m sure, in the next edition. Worth reading and rereading. Shelby, thanks
a lot. Shelby Steele: Thank you, Peter. Peter Robinson: I’m Peter Robinson for Uncommon
Knowledge. Thanks for joining us.

Posts created 29556

72 thoughts on “Shelby Steele on President-Elect Obama

  1. I've watched this video probably ten times over the last year.

    Shelby Steele is – without question – the brightest light with regards to issues of race in America today. His excellent book, 'White Guilt,' should be required reading for us all.

    It honestly saddens me that this video has been viewed only 3,320 times (as of 11/4/09). It reflects the illiteracy of our society today.

  2. I disagree with his analysis of Barack Obama. I've read "Dreams from my Father" and it reveals a man who wants to provide the opportunities for all the impoverished. That said, in retrospect perhaps Obama is not as much of a fighter as this country needs. If the republican party wants to have a future, it should consider trying to recruit Shelby Steele to run for high office.

  3. I too love and admire Steele…however, the invariable he's missing is that America was coping with eight years of utter, and near complete Republican incompetence. Did people need another reason to vote democrat?

  4. @Vanidecb Barack Obama wants to 'provide the opportunities for all' by literally redistributing all of the wealth in this country – and our country is reeling from his disastrous economic policies.

    ANYBODY can go to college if they want to – particularly the impoverished. There are scholarships available everywhere.

  5. @mookiepearl He doesn't say that 'intelligence is a white thing;' he, live many others, infers that a percentage of black pop culture believes that studying IS a 'white thing'…a tragedy.

  6. All the so-called complex sociological analysis aside,Steels's position boils down the argument Obama is elected because he's black-what a farce ! Obama is a columbia & Harvard Law School grad- all just because he's black -puleeze. He speaks of identity politics as if it is a "black invention". It's not-try reading Tim Weiss sometime- (White Like Me). Why is Mr steel so bitter. It's sad that in his own identity confusion,he embraces a right-wing political agenda ! Obama mom can come to Trinity.

  7. All the academic cant aside, Steels's position boils down to the argument Obama is elected because he's black-what a farce! Obama is a Columbia & Harvard Law School grad- all just because he's black -puleeze. He speaks of identity politics as if it is a "black invention". It's not-try reading Tim Weiss sometime- (White Like Me).Why is Steel so bitter? It's sad that in his own identity confusion, he ADVANCES a right-wing political agenda ! Obamas mom could come to Trinity ANYTIME

  8. Why would viewing a video have anything to do with literacy?

    Because the overwhelming majority of the American populace is not familiar with the refreshing perspectives of Mr. Steele – and don't bother seeking it out….and, yes, I relate that to a cultural illiteracy.

  9. The truth is were strangled in political correctness. This is one side of the argument but it is compelling to say the least. I think there is shreds of proof in his point. And just because Obama was a Harvard Law Professor doesn't make him smarter than someone who graduated from a state university of someone with simple common sense.

  10. So bloody what if Barack is black or (more precisely: half black)? He spends money he doesn't have and does not belong to him which means he has to take it from you and tax others now and in the future. THAT'S what people don't like. He (Barack) could care less about skin colour when it comes to bail out all his cronies at Wall Street. And people still argue over the skin colour isssue? No wonder they don't get the real issue (yet).

  11. Political correctness might be the death of America, nobody wants to get dirty so it won't get fixed.

  12. @shieldsff YOu are a racist, you know why, because you assume that this black man has an identity problem because he doesn't act like you think a black man is supposed to act. You want to box black people into what your comfortable with them being. This man is smarter than you, btw, Obama, although graduated from Law school, doesn't actually have any experience in practicing law. He was not qualified for president at all. But because this was a cultural war, he won the election.

  13. America voted for Obama because they wanted change from republicans and Bush´s politics and not so whites could feel good about themselves not being racist. This video is just another pseudo-intellectual argument from rights and libertarian think tanks.

  14. Obama got elected because people wanted change from republicans and Bush´s policies. of course, the Hoover Institute is a conservative, Libertarian think tank that has to say that the only reason why Obama won was because he is black. Just another example of the Hoover Institute´s pseudo-intellectualism.

  15. @SuperTB4 too bad obama isn't too very much different from bush then isn't it?…keeps all the crappy policies and then enacts more on top of it! just too too bad

  16. Stopped watching at about 6 minutes.

    White people didn't have to prove they were not racist. If you're not racist, you won't have to PROVE anything- It'll become self evident.

    Yeah, right… "Thankful" that I'm not being "prejudged a racist". Get off my screen.

  17. "'Barak Obama: The first black man in the White House' – and that's it." Wow. Why couldn't Steele have been asked that earlier in the interview? I really wish he could have expanded on that thought a little bit more!

  18. this is an "uncle richard" if I've evr seen one. Obama is a Man of many perspectives-unlike what I can saY for most people. He dosen't have to prove one of "who he is" He's many! He's many on both sides! This is what makes him unique! He's not ONe Sided!

  19. you should not be going around underminding Obama-He's making changes that people disdain, simply because they will die before they allow these changes to come to pass. You just want to discredit and undermind a man who is trying to change things for the better of the poor! your a jealous hater! is what u r!!

  20. @gkraychik The ward connelly's and shelby Steels's of the world are the one with deep inner demons and only God's knows what else. Here is a man who openly admits to voting for a senile fool like McCain, and placing a complete idiot like Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency. Need i say more.

  21. : Dr Steele knows full well that Obama’s Mother would have been well received and embraced in Rev Wright’s church. Steele knows better but the truth doesn’t fit his hype. Don’t be naive listing to this nonsense.

  22. @HanStanwell Intellectual rubbish by a slick opportunist, who’s degreed and has an excellent authoritative disposition. Actually his intent is working even though he wrote a worthless book (which is a huge joke!), but he is making a hunger group of anger men within the popular culture feel better while profiting. At 13:20 he begins to tell you what’s in his heart and the struggle that has perverted his mind

  23. @jollysincere

    Well…you could have added that Barack Obama has proven that you don't need to be senile to be incompetent.

  24. As a not white person myself, I could not be more agree with Mr Steele than I could be with anyone else’s views on race.

  25. No. Powell is a liberal-leftist who loves Obama because they agree on so much. On The Issues also identifies his policies as liberal, since he's so scared of conservative views.
    They're both terrible.

  26. So why does he have so many names? Why does he have so many social security numbers? Why does have have a forged birth certificate and fraudulent selective services card?

    Barry Soetoro? Or Harrison J. Bounel? Malik Zulu Shabazz? Pick one.

  27. Shelby if you're going to criticize Obama focus on the fact the he is basically a pawn for globalism. But if you were going to vote for McCain who is just as much a globalist (pushing many non-constitutional bills) and you're really just another …

  28. Will somebody out there please tell me what in the hell is a 'race card,' what does it look like, what the hell does it do? I am so Fed- up with hearing so called smart people of all skin pigment tones, talk about this damned ellusive fict-damned-ticious race card. What the hell does cards have to do with discrrimination, prejudice, and all the unfair, unequal treatment of darker pigmentation appearance skinned people by those with little/ no pigmentation appearance skinned? How's that?

  29. The race card= Because I am black, I deserve special privilege, special consideration, simply because one of my ancestors might have been a slave. Because I'm black, anyone who disagrees with me is a racist. Because I'm black I can be racist towards whites or asians and not be called out on it, simply because black people can't be racist.

  30. Hahahaha. You are a lunatic. Tell you what, look up the beginning of the republican party, 70 % of it's members were black. Are you telling me that all those men who later on got elected due to votes (white votes) Weren't accepted by the white majority? Bullshit. You are just another moron (black or white) who can't realize that nobody else is to blame for your own failures then you. There is no grand conspiracy to keep you down based or the color of your skin.

  31. BHO's ancestors were no slaves. That's what's so funny about it: He's not from West Africa, where all the slaves came from, but his father's a Kenyan Luo, i.e. he's from East Africa. So what about white guilt? Stupid white men's guilt at most!

  32. Race Card is a term which also means Race-Holding. Which means when we hold race up to shield us from what we do not want to see in ourselves. It's a sense of power that we hold on to control the White guilt that White's have also inherited. Never letting them off the hook. Black's live with sterotypes of their character and whites live with their sterotypes as supremacist.

  33. obama attended a black nationalist church for 20 yrs..a church his white mother could never attend..unbelieveable! that is not what blacks, on a hold, would condone..Like Mr. Steele..the first thing I would have said to myself too is my mother cannot participate…so glad that I did not vote for obama the 2nd time..I found him out in his first term

  34. After 7 mins in, I wondered why am I reading captions ? These guys are speaking perfectly, lol. Silly.

  35. I'm not saying he's wrong, but I think that he fails to mention a few things. For one thing, by Election '08, Bush was INCREDIBLY unpopular. Yes, we can argue that he's misunderstood, but the problem is that Bush was misunderstood at the polls and ANY Republican would have paid the price for it.

    On the other hand, Obama's main opponent in the DNC was H. Clinton, who was starting to become incredibly unpopular for reasons relating to her image as a shrill politician in a political marriage.

  36. I think it was a mixture of the expediency from race and the result of the country's distain for Bush; but I also think that it HELPED Obama that voters didn't know much about him.  Think about it: the fact that he was so elusive meant that the people could basically put things on him and see things in him that they couldn't do with, say, Hillary Clinton, because we knew her.  She had a past.  Hell, her autobiography was already on the shelves.

    Don't get me wrong, she COULD have won, but when you had this guy who just screamed "generic Democrat" at a time when the country was fed up with Bush (rightly or wrongly) as well as the opportunity to pat themselves on the back as having voted for the First Black President, it lead to this near-hysteria, where Obama's face was on the cover of "Time" photoshopped onto a picture of FDR and on another mag casting Lincoln's shower.

    Now, the honeymoon is over and a lot of it has to do with Obamacare, which had been preordained as his "signature achievement."  But for some of us, Obama's entire presidency has been one historic inevitability after another and no amount of shouting from the left can change that.

  37. Obama is not a bargainer as Steele defined it earlier, because he doesn't accept a role of inferiority. His willingness to relate to white people without prejudice is a good thing. I feel the discussion gets too complicated sometimes.

  38. Mr Steele was correct about Obama.  Obama is a phony fake president probably not born in America and we don't know who he is.  He has no past.  America, we have been had.

  39. With all respect to mr Steele the reason Obama has been a disappointment is because he is an egotistical Marxist demagogue with a high schoolers understanding of economics and realpolitik

  40. "First black man in the White House…" Peter I'd love to see a video of you and Shelby revisit some of these topics. I actually saw someone recently use the same words. Now that Trump is President and is talking of unwinding much of, if not all, of what Obama did the last 8 years it seems that "First black man in the White House" really will be the defining sentence for the 44th President.

  41. Oh Gawd….Stop pandering to Black People…..You Treat Them Like Bad Children…..They are not Children…..They are Adults and Treat them like Adults…..No Special Treatment…..Treat them EQUAL…….then judge them on their Character and Merit….
    So Sick Of White People acting all stupid around Black People….."Oh I have a Black Friend"…..WTH? How Stupid…
    Stop throwing money at them, free everything at them……Give them Charactor, the same way you got yours…..Education, and hard work…….Treat Them As Equals……If some can't cut it…Oh Well……Same as we do to all other Races…
    Giving them Stuff….Free Everything…..Has turned them into Eternal Babies……..Just Saying…..

  42. Shelby Steele is simply trafficking in white wrong perceptions to the whites in the white community that has misperceptions. Obama has never been a marxist and has always been a constitutionalist moderate conservative. It profits Steele and those like him to reaffirm those misperceptions. Steele is upset because Obama out Shelby Steeled Shelby Steele.

  43. Mr. Steele wrong again – Obama greatest victory was pushing Hillary out in 2008 – Bush crashed the economy and went to war in the middle-east – The door was open for Obama!!! McCain was a loser from the start!!!

  44. That's a lot of drivel. He has himself on a pedestal looking down on nearly everyone.
    What is the point of this discussion? Did I miss it?

  45. Part of Obama's appeal was as a fresh alternative to the undeniably AWFUL Bush (which Clinton and McCain decidedly were not). That is how he got away with nobody knowing much about him… voter fatigue coupled with the vacuous "Hope and Change" mantra.

  46. 17:30 – Sharpton and Jackson are not only anachronisms, they are actively working (for their own opportunistic benefit) to preserve perpetual entrapment of blacks in dependency , not to promote black freedom.

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