Okay, it’s getting late and I’ve had some wine and so I think I’ll weigh in on the Obama/Bell controversy because why not? I do this for me anyway. It’s not as though I’m changing anyone’s minds over here — I’m one of those cogs no one listens to. (But I’m not mean. And by God if I survive this city with my soul intact I will consider that a true achievement…)
So, the video of Obama at Harvard was a bit anti-climactic in the wake of Breitbart’s passing. I was pretty sure, as is usually true of anything that is overly hyped, that it would never live up to its bombshell myth. It seemed likely the video of young Obama at Harvard would “reveal” something we all already know — namely, that our current President has a taste for the spirit of protest, community organizing, and somewhat controversial ideology. Honestly, none of the things in that list, stripping away the current politicized definition of those various terms, is really offensive to me. In fact, I can say there are admirable things in all three. Social change can be a very, very good thing. It’s not the effort to change something that is troubling here. It’s the endgame. It’s the realization, in any serious study of what Prof. Bell was attempting to advance with his Critical Race Theory, that the effort was to change progress to regress.
I can get behind why people who have felt maligned and under appreciated and devalued may want to point out the ways that the system has been designed to keep them maligned or under appreciated or devalued. Being treated poorly makes you mad. Sometimes, it makes you mad enough to want to break the system and tear it down and rebuild it into one where you are recognized and appreciated and valued. Trust me, I can relate to that. I struggle in a town where I’m constantly reminded of what I don’t have to offer and how that makes me not good enough.
The serious flaw in focusing on that kind of thing, though, at least in my experience (and honestly, in how I was raised because my dad told me just the other day on the phone that the surest path to despair is in looking backward. “Progress lies in looking ahead, kid.”) is that looking back in anger just leads to vengeance. And vengeance is ultimately hollow and useless, certainly to an individual and possibly to a greater extent, to society at large. I’ve little doubt that Prof. Bell, as an academic, was postulating a theory to explain why things are the way they are. However, judging by the accounts of people who were aware of what was going on at the time, his theory became less an academic pursuit and became something a bit more hostile when it grew legs as a movement. This piece, to me, has been the most revealing. Primarily because it speaks to something that, for me, is the most useless characteristic of “radicals” I’ve known, which I think our President at one time was proud to consider himself. They are, at heart and in great numbers, not really that devoted to their cause. It’s an awful lot of hot air and bluster and youthful righteousness that goes away with the mellowing of age. Now, some may view this statement as forgiving of Obama for his radicalism — and that would actually be a fair assessment. I do forgive him his wildness in youth and his attraction to ideas that were essentially divisive and not all that productive. Because I think, for me, the character trait that I find least admirable is something altogether different because it speaks to his character as a leader. It is his unwillingness to admit that as a younger person he ascribed to these kinds of ideologies and that — oh the horror — he may have better information now. He doesn’t admit his fallibility often. He has trouble stepping off the pedestal. I’m not sure why. I think at this stage in the game, with this much riding on the outcome, he figures it would be ill advised. And perhaps it would be. But he would be a better man for it. He would gain a little of my respect.
Of course, the other option is that he still holds to these ideas. I’ll let Thomas Sowell — who is also invited to my fantasy dinner — explain the problem with what the the living organism of critical race theory led to, which ultimately just sounds like it was nothing more than a giant ego trip for Bell. Also, Sowell reminds me so much of my dad. The way he holds himself, phrases his arguments, and delivers his thoughts. For example, when asked what he thinks of Bell’s plan, he doesn’t really give his personal opinion on the relative goodness or fitness of the theory or the effort to mobilize around it; rather just an opinion of how successful it will be in relation to how important Bell thinks he is to Harvard Law School. Which is altogether a more revealing and interesting angle. Pops judges things like this with the same pragmatic and calculating eye. You can thank me later for comparing you to Sowell Pops…