Kleiman on Sailer on Obama

Mark Kleiman makes a pretty cutting observation here: “Conservative” = “Lying racist”? Who knew? Kleiman talks about Steve Sailer’s recent piece on Barack Obama in The American Conservative (Obama’s identity crisis), calling the article “a dishonest, bigoted anti-Obama screed.” Then he talks about how Alex Koznetski, an assistant editor at the magazine, quit in protest over the article’s publication, eliciting a statement from yet another person, a conservative, with that statement in effect stipulating, in Kleiman’s view, that the racist lying of the original piece is part and parcel of conservatism.

Whew. Did you follow all that?

But here’s the thing. Before I linked to Kleiman’s blog entry, I thought I really should read Steve Sailer’s article. So I did. And, um, I’m not sure I agree that it qualifies as “a dishonest, bigoted anti-Obama screed.” It certainly betrays a certain point of view about race that I don’t agree with, and makes a lot of points at Obama’s expense. But at least from my perspective, it’s not over-the-top dishonest bigotry.

Sailer’s central point is that Obama’s choice as a youth and young man to identify himself as black, rather than as being of mixed race, betrays a degree of emotional immaturity that calls into question his suitability to be president. (I’m not really doing the argument justice; you should read the whole thing if you’re interested. But I think that gets to the heart of what bothered Kleiman.)

I’d respond that the decision to identify himself as black was not a weak-principled decision on Obama’s part. It was an identification thrust upon him by the culture in which he lives. And yes, Hawaii is not as reflexively racist a place as, say, certain parts of the U.S. mainland (or at least, it’s differently racist), and as a kid growing up there Obama certainly was subject to a different mix of pressures than he would have been growing up in Illinois. But I think Sailer’s analysis is myopic, and betrays a willingness to overlook the reality of being black (or looking black, which ends up being pretty much the same thing, which is pretty much my point) in America. (Disclaimer: I’m no blacker than Sailer is, which makes either of us pontificating about Obama’s responses to his racial experiences growing up an exercise in silliness.)

But anyway, I think Kleiman’s amusing snark is significantly undercut by the fact that once I actually read Sailer’s piece, it didn’t come off as either dishonest nor particularly bigoted (and not even particularly anti-Obama — Sailer says some fairly nice — and accurate — things about the guy). Now, maybe I should read more of the background in order to appreciate the context. Kleiman talks about Sailer’s having written for the VDare web site, which I’ve never read. And I haven’t even bothered reading Alex Koznetski’s protest of Sailer’s piece (maybe I’ll go read that now). But from where I sit, this undercuts somewhat my faith in Mark Kleiman as a reliable source of reality-based observation.

Update: Have now read Koznetski’s piece. Didn’t really change my view. Kleiman’s snark is fun, but not really justified by the underlying facts of the case.

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