Entry from November 10, 2008

Not for the first time in recent weeks have I been moved to wonder how so intelligent a person can be so spectacularly wrong; not for the first time, either, have I answered myself with what I fear is destined to become the two-word motto of glorious Age of Obama now a-dawning: wishful thinking. The British sociologist Frank Furedi tells us that “the election of Obama heralds the erosion of the Republican Party’s ‘silent majority’ strategy as well as bringing to an end an important chapter in America’s culture wars. . .Obama’s victory is testimony to the diminished significance of race.” I wish Professor Furedi could have heard what a D.C. shoe-shine man and part-time comedian named Danny Williams said when one of his shinees told him, “I hope Obama wins, because then you black guys won’t be able to play the race card anymore.”

“Oh yes we will,” Danny replied. “It’s too good a card to give up.”

And of course he’s right. President Obama’s victory and the extravagant hopes it has given rise to among the liberal-minded, especially those in the media who have been quite unashamed about giving voice to them, is itself proof enough of the fact. The race relations industry can only be made bigger and more profitable — whatever may happen to the rest of America’s industries — by the election of a man who owes so much to the desire of white people to think well of themselves. Normally, you’d think, so shrewd an observer as Professor Furedi has proven himself to be in the past would be bound to see that.

But if you start from mistaken assumptions, you’re bound to come to mistaken conclusions. The professor’s mistaken assumption is that Nixon’s “silent majority” politics was responsible for what he calls “the politicisation of cultural differences.” Not so! The idea of the “silent majority” produced the political outcomes it did for 40 years precisely because it gave a political home to those who desperately wanted to prevent the politicisation of cultural differences. That had been the product of the civil rights movement which — as, now, even most conservatives believe — had no choice but to seek political redress for social and economic grievances. The silent majority, whatever its politically incorrect or even racist origins, at least had this to be said for it: that it anticipated the overload which would be placed on American political institutions by the growing demand for social change. That may now become a lesson we have to learn all over again in the age of Obama.

Moreover, President-elect won at least as much by seeking not to inflame the doubts of the silent skeptics of social revolution — who have by no means disappeared — as by seeking to inspire the hopes of the social revolutionaries themselves. He knew better than Professor Furedi that one of the most effective ways you play the race card now is to pretend you’re not playing it, while your opponents are. Similarly, he has recognized that the way to advance a partisan agenda is in the name of post-partisanship. The stuff, he must be saying to himself, these liberal bien pensants will fall for! The remarkable thing is that there are now, apparently, so many of them. Whatever happened to Paul Begala’s memorable assessment only a few months ago of the 1988 Dukakis campaign, that Democrats could not win with a coalition limited to “eggheads and African- Americans”?

I believe that the answer lies in the big increase in the number of eggheads. As it began to be clear even in the 2004 election, the “some-college” crowd which might once have been expected to have something of a chip on their shoulders towards the la-di-da, latte-drinking, wine-and-cheese consuming educated élite was now being invited in to join that élite. All they had to do was to vote Democratic, just like the smart people! Now, just as they can in Lake Woebegone, everybody can be above average. Professor Furedi was himself ahead of the curve on this social change when he noted, also back in 2004, his bemusement at hearing his eight-year old son, just home from school, tell him: “Daddy, I really hate Bush.” When asked why, the boy had replied, “Because he”s so stupid.” When the cultural meme that the more fashionable party is clever and the less fashionable one is “stupid” has trickled down the social strata as far as elementary school, then you know there must have been some adjustment of the political tectonic plates.

That was four years ago, but the earthquake that adjustment eventually produced was delayed until this past week. But it remains to be seen if the silent majority is permanently silenced, or if it is just enjoying the fantasy of its own élite status until events put an end it.


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