Sunday, February 04, 2007

Barack Obama, the smooth-talking lawyer

A NY Times op-ed says:
Senator Joseph R. Biden's characterization of his fellow Democratic presidential contender Senator Barack Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy" was so painfully clumsy that it nearly warranted pity. ...

It is amazing that this still requires clarification, but here it is. Black people get a little testy when white people call them "articulate." ...

"The word perfectly conveys, to quote George Bush, the soft bigotry of low expectations. It literally comes down to that. When people say it, what they are really saying is that someone is articulate ... for a black person." -- Anna Perez. ...

Being articulate must surely be a baseline requirement for a former president of The Harvard Law Review. After all, Webster's definitions of the word include "able to speak" and "expressing oneself easily and clearly." It would be more incredible, more of a phenomenon, to borrow two more of the senator's puzzling words, if Mr. Obama were inarticulate.

That is the core of the issue. When whites use the word in reference to blacks, it often carries a subtext of amazement, even bewilderment. It is similar to praising a female executive or politician by calling her "tough" or "a rational decision-maker."

"When people say it, what they are really saying is that someone is articulate ... for a black person," Ms. Perez said.

Such a subtext is inherently offensive because it suggests that the recipient of the "compliment" is notably different from other black people.
It is news to me that anyone is so sensitive about the word "articulate". It is just not true that being articulate is a baseline requirement for someone of Obama's background, or even a Democrat president. Obama is much more articulate than either Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton.

Being articulate is the strongest quality that Obama has demonstrated. His main expertise is that of a lawyer, but I haven't heard him say anything of about law. I haven't heard him say anything of substance about foreign policy or other important topics for a presidential candidate either, but what he does say he says extremely well. How can it be racist to say so?

I think that Hillary Clinton would be helped by being called "tough" or "a rational decision-maker." She is coming across as a wishy-washy opportunist who cannot make up her mind about the Iraq War, and will not be tough against terrorist threats.

Biden claims that he meant "clean" in the sense of "fresh", but Obama is also clean in the sense of "clean-cut", and clean in the sense of having a clean political history. Other black candidates have had histories of selling out to political causes that make them unappealing to mainstream Americans.

I am not convinced that any blacks are really offended by the word "articulate". Being articulate is a high virtue among blacks. Among American blacks of West African descent anyway. I have no idea about someone like Obama. Nobody in the article suggested a better word. Maybe Obama should be called a "smooth-talking lawyer".

Steve Sailor says it is a gaffe to call Obama "Hawaiian", even tho he grew up in Hawaii (except when he lived in Indonesia). Obama's racial mix is different from the more common racial mixes in Hawaii.

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