New York Times Bill Kristol says he "shuddered only once while watching Barack Obama's speech last Tuesday." It wasn't because Obama didn't answer the question of why he stayed in his church after his pastor's remarks were known to him, it wasn't when he linked Reverend Jeremiah Wright with Geraldine Ferraro, and it wasn't when Obama said he could not "disown" Wright. No - apparently what gave Kristol a case of agita was the fact that Obama suggested that we ought to have a conversation on race in the first place:
The only part of the speech that made me shudder was this sentence: "But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now."
As soon as I heard that, I knew what we'd have to endure. I knew that there would be a stampede of editorial boards, columnists and academics rushing not to ignore race. A national conversation about race! At long last!
I know! Obama really should have thought everything through before he so greatly inconvenienced Bill Kristol! Has the Senator no sense of decency?
Buried somewhere in Kristol's lengthy pout, is something that can called "a good point." Or what could be "a good point," anyway:
Luckily, Obama isn't really interested in getting enmeshed in a national conversation on race. He had avoided race talk before the Reverend Wright controversy erupted. And despite the speech's catnip of a promised conversation on race tossed to eager commentators, it's clear he's more than willing to avoid it from now on.
There's no doubt that if Obama walks away from the issue now that he's raised it and started this editorial board stampede, he'll rightly come to be thought of as just another cynical agent of the "politics as usual." Maybe, though, he should give Obama say, more than a week to prove his devotion to the matter.
Still, as good as that point could become - given enough time - it's not really why Kristol wants to avoid a national conversation on race. See, what no one but Kristol seems to realize is that the racial divide has already been solved! Or...at least solved enough to his liking.
Racial progress has in fact continued in America. A new national conversation about race isn't necessary to end what Obama calls the "racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years" -- because we're not stuck in such a stalemate. In fact, as Obama himself suggests in the same speech, younger Americans aren't stalemated. They come far closer than their grandparents and parents to routinely obeying Martin Luther King's injunction to judge one another by the content of our character, not the color of our skin.
It all makes perfect sense! We're almost "routinely" heeded MLK's admonition now, so why would we want to mess with these perfect race relations? After all, the political conversation on the Democratic primary race has never, ever, ever lapsed into a discussion of identity politics and no one's ever suggested that Clinton and Obama are struggling to build beyond strict race/gender based coalitions, and Pat Buchanan never comes on the air pitching wisdom that's based on mid-twentieth century demographic tribalism. We should seize this moment as a great conversation ender and ride out all the racial bliss we've come to enjoy.
One thing you have to give Kristol credit for: wherever there is a stalemate, there is a call for no "national conversations." One need only examine the stalemate miasma that has been the result of all the neo-conservative fantasias Kristol has espoused to see the beautiful consistency of his argument. Still, some would say our Iraq misadventures are an even more pressing matter than race. In the end, I don't know who has got the better case for urgency, but the lack of conversation on both scores certainly makes me shudder.