- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2009


A curious juxtaposition of styles between two of President Obama’s closest compatriots could tell us a great deal about where the nation is heading: Eric Holder has reverted to the old Bill Clinton style of ideological pronouncement-as-policy while Hillary Clinton has instead dropped the Clinton administration’s mantra and adopted a policy position of pragmatism and self-interest (and, in this particular case, that ain’t easy!).

First take — Attorney General Holder and his speech at the Justice Department for African-American History Month. Serving under a president who was never willing to play the race card even to the slightest degree, his speech not unnaturally startled people when he said right off the bat:

“We have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion … we average Americans simply do not talk enough with each other about race.”

The nation’s top lawyer then went on to aver that “this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past, nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have.”

Now think about this. “Cowards”? A country that fought a horrible brother-against-brother civil war, with some 620,000 men killed, in a conflict that was in substantial part about race? A country that has struggled for the century-plus after that to wage and largely win a fight over civil rights, primarily for African-Americans and secondarily for women? A country that has done what virtually no other nation on the face of the Earth has done - elected a man as president who is from a race once plagued by the sin of slavery and also of a different race from the majority?

If all that is the work of cowards, then perhaps our attorney general does not understand the real world, of cowards and courage, out there.

Too many well-meaning Americans, blessedly protected historically by the arms of two great oceans from the harsh realities of others, have never understood that racial comity and peace, far from being the natural condition of man, is actually most unnatural. Families, clans, tribes, ethnic gangs and militias, and finally nations of one historic ethnic and linguistic group - that is what is “natural” to mankind.

America, to the contrary, has nobly fought against this and, so far at least, done extraordinarily well in the fight. But progress depends, especially at this historic moment, on discretion in the struggle.

President Obama has understood this well, and that is why he has inspired so many. But he also understood that an African-American could win the presidency only if he did not awaken old hatreds, either in speech or in appearance. He knew - and one can see this in his evocatively revealing books - that he must come across as a man who has transcended the old barriers. If that is hypocrisy, then hooray for hypocrisy.

Now people will probably hate me for saying this, but the truth is that, if the president had been raised in the African-American community in the continental United States, he would never have been chosen as president. It is quite sadly simple: He would be too angry. This man won because he transcended anger and, in his person, exemplified an amazing new agreement over race on the part of the American people.

Mr. Holder wants us to go back and bring up all that old stuff - and perhaps some new awful accusations, as well? (Hey, we have spent a century trying to get people to shut up about race.) There may well come a time when we are so developed intellectually that we can discuss race without all the old epithets, but that time is certainly not now, and certainly not when the nation is in such economic, social and psychological depths.

Second, let’s look at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her first weeks in office. It seems clear that the nation’s top diplomat has already thrown away her husband’s ideological stances about speaking constantly and largely ineffectively about human rights, and is enthusiastically and effectively adopting President Obama’s pragmatic approach to foreign policy.

On her just-completed first trip overseas to China, for instance, Mrs. Clinton was baldly criticized by human-rights groups for what The Washington Post called her “blunt and unadorned style of diplomacy.” Human-rights groups hated the trip. Although she did meet with 23 women involved in gender equality organizations, she most definitely stressed financial cooperation and cooperative work on global warming.

The U.S. and Chinese economies are “intertwined,” she said constantly, and “it would not be in China’s interest if we were unable to get our economy moving.” Even as she spoke, the American need for still more Chinese loans was growing to an embarrassing extent.

This was the same woman who, as first lady in 1995, roundly criticized Beijing’s human-rights record at a conference and whose husband, Bill, as president, told the leader of China that he was on “the wrong side of history.” But people, like nations, do change sides, and “right” and “wrong” are not so simple, especially when you didn’t stop yourself from becoming an international supplicant.

Today the inner reality of the Obama administration is not Eric Holder but Hillary Clinton. If only because of our horrible economic mess, that reality must be pragmatic and nonideological. That does not mean this demeanor has to last forever, but it does mean that one cannot preach to the world when one is asking for a loan.

So, these two people - both intellectual and talented, both wanting a better world for their children - are ones to watch. Their behavior and actions could well show us which way the winds are blowing in the Obama administration, upon which so much of our future hangs.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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