Friday, November 21, 2008


After the election we observed that its results exploded a couple of myths about Americans and America. One myth we didn't mention that wilted away during the campaign is the belief, common among the young, that their generation is much less "hung-up" on race than are older generations. Shelby Steele, the author of White Guilt, perhaps the best book written on race in the last decade, points out in an interview with Peter Robinson that, on the contrary, this election shows that much of this country, especially the young, is actually obsessed with race. Watch the video of the interview and note the conversation beginning at about the 3:45 minute mark.

Earlier in the discussion Steele makes another interesting observation about how the Obama candidacy meant different things to whites and blacks. For many whites, voting for Obama was a way of gaining absolution, of proving their non-racist bona fides, of clearing their conscience of the guilt of being a member of the racist, white ruling class. For blacks, on the other hand, it was a way of putting behind them their fears of their own racial inadequacy.

I think there's a lot to this. It's remarkable that many whites were enthusiastic about Obama, notwithstanding their complete lack of knowledge of his past or of his views (See, for example, the Zogby poll linked to here). On the other hand, it's also remarkable that among black Obama supporters criticism of him often seems to be taken personally. It's never said that way, exactly, but one gets the feeling that blacks think whites have no business criticizing Obama, and if they do it's reason to think that the critic is motivated by racial animus. This makes sense, of course, if blacks see the attempt to defeat Obama as more fundamentally an attempt to thwart their own struggle to expunge a perhaps self-imposed stigma of racial inferiority.

The Steele interview packs a lot into six minutes and is worth a look. In fact, the whole series with Steele is worth watching. You can find the other segments here.


Iran's Woes

Not all economic news is bad these days. There's always a silver lining. Apparently the current economic unpleasantness is hitting Iran pretty hard and that could be a good thing:

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where much of Iran's foreign trade is handled, local banks are refusing to do business with the 10,000 Iranian trading firms based there. This has caused delays and cancellations of Iranian imports (over $9 billion worth from the UAE last year) and exports. This is being felt by the ruling elite in Iran. There, the large extended families of the clerical leadership live the good life, and the goodies come in via the UAE. The sudden shortages of iPods, flat screen TVs, automobiles and bling in general, has been noticed in Iran, and is not appreciated.

The falling price of oil is producing another problem, national bankruptcy. The government admits that if the price of oil falls below $60 a barrel (which it has) and stays there (which it may, at least until the current recession is over), the nation will not be able to finance foreign trade (which is already having problems with increasingly effective U.S. moves to deny Iran access to the international banking system), or even the Iranian economy itself. The latter problem is largely self-inflicted, as president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad desperately borrows money to placate his few (heavily armed and fanatical) followers (about 20 percent of the population). The rest of the population has been in recession for years, and is getting increasingly angry over Ahmadinejad's mismanagement. Some 80 percent of Iran's exports are oil.

Maybe a restive Iranian populace will solve the problem of what to do about Tehran's nuclear ambitions so that military options become unnecessary. If that were a result of the current economic doldrums it would make the present financial pain worthwhile and would certainly be a wonderful turn of events.