alien & sedition.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
  March of the Straw Souljahs

At the National Review this morning, Kathryn Jean Lopez searches for The Way Forward in the War on Christmas. Here at a&s, we are committed to staying the course in the War on Christmas, and we believe we have a clear strategy for success, which we define as a December 25 that defends itself, that is free of the colors red and green, and that serves as an ally in the War on Valentine's Day.

At any rate, K-Lo has a very special Santa in mind this year: she's counting on Barack Obama to slide down the chimney and end all this nonsense by...uh...denouncing liberals.

While K-Lo sighs into her eggnog, let's note a couple things at work here.

One is the ongoing and ever-helpful conservative effort to tell Democrats about opportunities for "Sistah Souljah moments." Our friends on the right have fetishized the SSM and framed it as nothing less than a rite of passage for Democratic candidates. And, if you're a Republican, it's a neat deal. First your opponent is obligated to search around for some irritating and irrelevant extremist, pretend that he or she somehow represents a legitimate wing of the Democratic Party, and then denounce liberals and Democrats for being in thrall to such whackos.

So, yet another lesson Not Taking Advice from Your Enemies.

But there's something else here, which is Obama's success thus far at defining himself as the candidate of national unity. It's become increasingly common to describe - or criticize - Obama as a "blank slate," upon which anyone can project their political or patriotic hopes. I somewhat disagree: while it's true that, since coming to the U.S. Senate, he has kept a low profile to go with his limited track record (shocking behavior for a freshman Senator in the minority party!), he entered the national political scene with a very carefully crafted piece of rhetoric, which was designed precisely to define his politics - and his expression of what it means to be a Democrat - as a process of inclusion based around broadly shared values. It's a theme (further developed in his Knox College Commencement Address), that can seem irritatingly vague if you fail to realize how potentially powerful it is as a basis for progressive politics.

We'll talk a lot more about this later. At any rate, K-Lo's holiday (whoops, sorry - Christmas) wish for Obama points out the dangers of his approach: either that he could end up actually redeeming the cynical hopes of the pundit class - building and knocking down an army of straw Sistah Souljahs - or, on the other hand, that when the pundits realize he won't redeem those hopes - that he in fact represents a progressive politics which they cannot accept - he'll be subject to a truly vicious media backlash. One fueled by all the nastiness and scorn of spoiled children outraged to learn that Santa won't be coming down the chimney at all.


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