Monday, April 14, 2008

Obama? Oh, boy!

A predictable nightmare:

U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, a Hebron Republican, compared Obama and his message for change similar to a "snake oil salesman."
He said in his remarks at the GOP dinner that he also recently participated in a "highly classified, national security simulation" with Obama.
"I'm going to tell you something: That boy's finger does not need to be on the button," Davis said. "He could not make a decision in that simulation that related to a nuclear threat to this country."
A predictable apology:

“My poor choice of words is regrettable and was in no way meant to impugn you or your integrity," Davis wrote in a letter that staffers said was hand-delivered to Obama’s U.S. Senate office. "I offer my sincere apology to you and ask for your forgiveness.”
Davis continued: “Though we may disagree on many issues, I know that we share the goal of a prosperous, secure future for our nation. My comment has detracted from the dialogue that we should all be having on legitimate policy differences and in no way reflects the personal and professional respect I have for you.”
Notice how, as a service to younger (or particularly clueless) readers, the Lexington Herald-Leader feels obliged to explain:

The word “boy” is considered extremely offensive by many African-Americans, as it was used by Southern whites in the Jim Crow South to assert racial superiority.
Uh . . . close enough, probably, although these blanket generalizations are always inexact. Diminuitives (including "boy" and "girl") were, and still can be, used as an attempt to belittle or derogate someone. But they also were, and still can be, used to communicate endearment or familiarity. And this is true in many contexts having nothing to do with race or Southern history.

Context is everything in construing the meaning of such usages. No one would think an insult was intended if I greeted an old Georgia friend by saying, "Boy, I ain't seen you since high school!" Similarly, the use of "girl" as an endearment -- "she's the sweetest girl I know" or even, "you go, girl" -- is easily differentiated from any offensive sexist use of the word.

It appears that Rep. Davis did not purposefully intend to use "boy" in a racially pejorative sense, although it was clearly meant to belittle Obama. This particular way of using "that boy" is a common Southernism, as in:
"That boy ain't got the sense God gave a mule!"
... or:

"That boy's dumber than dirt!"
So while a derogatory intent is clear -- Davis was delivering a putdown against a political opponent -- the racial context is almost certainly coincidental.

At the same time, the flap over the remark is indicative of the kind of problems the GOP will have to deal with if Obama wins the Democratic nomination. The Democrat/MSM axis will not hesitate to look for racist intent in any Republican attack on Obama.

UPDATE: Dan Riehl discusses media, Obama and race:

Putting aside the race issue, Obama has several problems. He's young, inexperienced, and far better working with a teleprompter, than working on his feet. . . .
Also, while some do, personally, I don't think whites will vote for Obama out of some sense of guilt, or desire to show their lack of bias.
In the end, he's never held an executive position, is starting to look rather brash - more ego, than substance - and for now I'm thinking he'll lose on the merits, even if the media will make the race all about race.
A very good point. Objectively, Obama has strengths and weaknesses as a candidate. He makes mistakes like any politician. Whether he wins or loses, however, the MSM is likely to be obsessed with the race angle.

If Obama wins, his election will be presented as some sort of fulfillment of The Dream. If Obama loses, we'll get ponderous Sunday op-ed ruminations on whether America will ever escape the bitter legacy of slavery, etc.

Either way, we're doomed to a surfeit of race talk from the MSM. How do I feel about that prospect? Bitter.

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