Alex Massie

Of Race and Men

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Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online:

I was in the car listening on XM when Obama was officially nominated. But I didn’t want to let it pass without saying that it is a wonderful thing that a black man can gain the nomination of a major American political party. The Democratic Party, which didn’t admit black delegates to one of its conventions until 1936 (the GOP did nearly a half-century earlier) has done a great and historic thing. It's another example of America's greatness many fail to appreciate: We are better at racial and ethnic reconciliation and assimilation than pretty much all of these countries that are supposed to be more enlightened than we are. I sincerely doubt the French, British, Germans et al. will be considering a candidate of African descent like this for quite a while.

Well, first off, it's interesting that a conservative such as Goldberg can't even dwell on a splendid example of American success without feeling the need to sneer at other countries. Then again, proclamations of virtue, especially unique virtue ain't much more than a pissing contest.

Secondly, I'm not sure, given the party's recent history, it's altogether wise for a Republican to include a crack at the Democrats expense here either. I happen to think it would be better for all concerned if the African-American vote were more evenly divided between the parties but it's worth recalling that black voters must feel there are good reasons buttressing their disinclination to vote for the GOP. Some of those may be misguided, even counter-productive to, however broadly you want to define it, black interests. Boasting that your mob admitted black delegates a full "half-century" earlier than the other mob did isn't worth very much if you can only win, at best, 15% of the black vote today. Then again, perhaps the GOP ain't the Party of Lincoln anymore? (That said, one of the more admirable elements of the Bush campaign in 2004 was its effort at reaching out to black voters. Sadly, if for obvious reasons, that's an effort that seems to have withered away.)

Look, I deplore the european habit of casting everything about modern America in racial terms. It's easy to succumb to this temptation, but doing so tends to over-simplify matters, often to the point at which any story becomes all but meaningless. Still..

Anyway, my main point is that Goldberg, perhaps unwittingly, is being obtuse. Or rather, he is not comparing like with like. He does have a point when he says that in many respects the United States is a model for reconciliation and assimilation and that other countries might profit from the American example (though, of course, there are sound historical and philosophical reasons that help explain why this is a difficult thing to accomplish). And this, of course, is exactly why so many people in europe are so excited by Obama. The view here, and it is one with which I have some sympathy, is that if you're a floating voter and you could live with either candidate ending up in the White House, why not give the black guy a chance?

And yes, many people in europe see the election of Obama as a positive example of the sort that Goldberg welcomes.

Even so, his sneering at europe a) ill-becomes him and b) demonstrates a startling ignorance, or, to be charitable, a willingness to ignore, history. That is to say, there has only been a significant non-white population in Britain (or France) for 60 years. The Windrush docked at Tilbury in 1948. Largish-scale immigration from the Caribbean and the sub-continent would follow. But in the grander scheme of things, these are recent arrivals. We have not been a multi-cultural, multi-coloured society for very long.

Yes, the United States, being a nation of immigrants, has been able to assimilate newcomers more effectively than europe (in some respects at least) but if Goldberg's crude comparison is to have any value (a debatable proposition) then he should ask if there's any chance of there being a black or asian British Prime Minister by, say, the year 2180. Only then will we have had sizeable racial minorities for as long as the United States has to this point. And I would guess that there will indeed be a black or asian PM well before that time.

Or, to put it another way, a black or asian British PM now, would be akin to the United States electing a black President in the 1840s. As best I can recall, that didn't happen.

I don't mention all this to claim any european superiority or to have a pop at the United States, I mention it just to remind you that Jonah Goldberg seems to be an ass.

Obviously, as someone who loves the US, I think it splendid that Obama is the nominee but while that's worth celebrating, a modicum of modesty about the fact that it has taken this long might be more in order than trying to use this to prove that the US is a better, mightier, more virtuous place than poor old bloody europe.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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