by Max Brantley
Give it early my rave of the week for fresh reporting and insight. It's on-line for those who don't subscribe. Among the good stuff, along with fiction and criticism worthy of note:
* PRESIDENT OBAMA AND RACE: Ta-Nehsi Coates has written a tour de force on President Obama's racial dilemma. He had to be "twice as good" and "half as black" to be the first black president, an achievement Coates doesn't diminish. But he's also had to avoid mention of race almost entirely and, when he does, it's inevitably with damaging political consequences (Trayvon Martin, Henry Louis Gates and more). "Fear of a black president" is still a large and disturbing factor in American politics, only underscored by the Obama experience. It's a long and nuanced article. Snippets:
The election of an African American to our highest political office was alleged to demonstrate a triumph of integration. But when President Obama addressed the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, he demonstrated integration’s great limitation—that acceptance depends not just on being twice as good but on being half as black. And even then, full acceptance is still withheld. The larger effects of this withholding constrict Obama’s presidential potential in areas affected tangentially—or seemingly not at all—by race. Meanwhile, across the country, the community in which Obama is rooted sees this fraudulent equality, and quietly seethes.
... After Obama won, the longed-for post-racial moment did not arrive; on the contrary, racism intensified. At rallies for the nascent Tea Party, people held signs saying things like Obama Plans White Slavery. Steve King, an Iowa congressman and Tea Party favorite, complained that Obama “favors the black person.” In 2009, Rush Limbaugh, bard of white decline, called Obama’s presidency a time when “the white kids now get beat up, with the black kids cheering ‘Yeah, right on, right on, right on.’ And of course everybody says the white kid deserved it—he was born a racist, he’s white.” On Fox & Friends, Glenn Beck asserted that Obama had exposed himself as a guy “who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture … This guy is, I believe, a racist.” Beck later said he was wrong to call Obama a racist. That same week he also called the president’s health-care plan “reparations.”
... Michael Tesler, following up on his research with David Sears on the role of race in the 2008 campaign, recently published a study assessing the impact of race on opposition to and support for health-care reform. The findings are bracing. Obama’s election effectively racialized white Americans’ views, even of health-care policy. As Tesler writes in a paper published in July in The American Journal of Political Science, “Racial attitudes had a significantly greater impact on health care opinions when framed as part of President Obama’s plan than they had when the exact same policies were attributed to President Clinton’s 1993 health care initiative.”
* HOW THE SMART PHONE CHANGED AMERICA: Less provocative, maybe, but still eye-opening to me was this column on the dip in car and home buying by younger Americans, a trend that the writer ties not only to a tough economy but more fundamental changes in our world wrought by technology.
Smartphones compete against cars for young people’s big-ticket dollars, since the cost of a good phone and data plan can exceed $1,000 a year. But they also provide some of the same psychic benefits—opening new vistas and carrying us far from the physical space in which we reside. “You no longer need to feel connected to your friends with a car when you have this technology that’s so ubiquitous, it transcends time and space,” Connelly said.
In other words, mobile technology has empowered more than just car-sharing. It has empowered friendships that can be maintained from a distance. The upshot could be a continuing shift from automobiles to mobile technology, and a big reduction in spending.
Housing is affected, too. Younger people seek denser city cores and rented space rather than suburban homes. Or so the theory goes. Check it out.
* AND MORE: There's an iconoclastic take on how the "hookup culture" is actually about female empowerment, not a further debasement of women. (By a woman writer.) There's an examination of whether certain kinds of booze — say tequila — make you crazier drunk. (No evidence.) An exposure to Iranian culture. A travel article on a visit to the Nevada nuclear test site. (Yes, you, too, can take the tour.) Fox News' glam treatment of women with pageant-worthy makeup and hairdos — guests and their own employees.
All good stuff.