Wednesday, November 5, 2008

On First Blacks

And so it begins.

The opening act of a new political passion play has now commenced.

And not with a whimper. As his predecessor would say, President-elect Barack Obama "thumped" Sen. John McCain in a not quite landslide. To be sure, even as we hoped against hope (and change), most conservatives saw this one coming.

Nevertheless, our disappointment is manifest, our sense of disillusionment is palpable. We wonder what has become of a nation that once possessed a healthy skepticism for leaders that promised too much at the expense of individual liberty, and government that sought to overrun its Constitutional bounds. Those touchstones of our national culture seem but part of a distant, dimly-lit past. Now begins our season of self-flagellation, of a questioning self-doubt. Did we ignore the mandates we received in 2000 and 2004? Were we too aggressive (or too incremental) in implementing our agenda? Is political conservatism the best template for governance in a post-modern society? The most we can hope for is a period of soul searching that is equally painful and brief.

And what of the Left? Doubtless, they are in full jubilee, and I begrudge them not one moment of it. But
while it never seemed as much at any point in my life, it occurs to me now that a black man ascending to the highest elected office in the land is the easy part. It will soon be his task to govern, which is to say that it will be his duty to establish priorities - to grant as well as to deny favor. When the Left's electoral sugar high is over, the crush of disappointment will be swift and certain.

It will also be sustained and multifaceted. The causes will be as innumerable as the wildly fantastic promises Obama offered up during the campaign, as he has created a bloat of expectation that can only yield to an eventual letdown. Election results notwithstanding, progressives have many hurdles yet to overcome. Even as America seems to have lost its stomach for war in Iraq, we are not subject to shy away from self-evident threats, and we will hardly countenance interminable negotiations with nations that mean us ill. Nor do we see ourselves - or our economic betters - as overtaxed, and
we won't appreciate confiscation of our wealth by a rapacious government.

While conservatives will mourn for a night, or perhaps a fortnight, I suspect that Obama supporters will ache with regret every day for the next four years. As Obama's track record bespeaks, if it can't be done with a grandiloquent speech, it won't get done. I sense that those who are in for the rudest awakening will be African Americans (and anyone else who voted for Obama based on the possibility of his being the first black president.) As a conservative, and as an American of African descent, I am entirely nonplussed by Obama's negritude. This should not surprise for any number of reasons, particularly the fact that it is blacks who are generally the first to forget about so-called "first blacks."

Find me one black fifth-grader who knows the name of the first black elected official (John Mercer Langston), the first mayor of a major city (Carl Stokes), the first black U.S. Representative (Joseph Rainey), the first black U.S. Senator (Hiram Revels) or the first black Governor (P.B.S. Pinchback). Show me a black college student who remembers the name the first black to graduate from college (Alexander Lucius Twilight), a black entrepreneur who knows the first black millionaire (Madame C.J. Walker), or an African American serviceman who knows the name of the first black recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor (Sgt. William H. Carney). For that matter, I defy you to a black lawyer or judge who knows the name of the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review (hint: it's not who you think.)

Nearly every one of these first blacks, along with dozens of others, have been left by the wayside. This rich vein of history (the better part of which was accomplished prior to the advent of affirmative action) has surely had little effect on the comportment of the masses of African Americans, and blacks seem to have gained virtually no wisdom from their example. What then suggests that the election of a black president - particularly one who offers so little in terms of recognizable accomplishment - will be the catalyst for a much-needed change in the African American community or elsewhere?

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