The Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart took some time out from defending the indefensible IRS today to accuse Matt Drudge and Breitbart News’ Matt Boyle of racism for their entirely non-racial reaction to President Barack Obama’s commencement address at the all-black, all-male Morehouse College in Atlanta on Sunday.
Beinart’s attack is so clumsy, however, that he undermines his own case–and proves Drudge and Boyle’s point.
He begins by attacking Drudge for drawing attention to the explicitly racial content of Obama’s speech, which Drudge did through his choice of headlines and links at the Drudge Report:
“I’m a black man…” “Obama Uses Commencement Address to Recall Jim Crow, Racism of 40s, 50s…” “As an African American you have to work twice as hard…”
Beinart then attacks Boyle for tweeting: “Sorry to break it to you Mr. President, but your race is IRRELEVANT to all the problems and scandals facing the country right now.”
Drudge and Boyle were both criticizing Obama’s explicit focus on race–understandable, perhaps in the context of an address to an historically black college, but certainly open to debate and criticism.
Not to Beinart, who concludes that Drudge and Boyle are both racists:
In other words, Obama gave exactly the kind of tough-love, individual-responsibility speech that conservatives claim African-American liberals don’t give. The students at Morehouse responded with thunderous applause. Drudge and Boyle responded by calling Obama a whiny race-baiter. Makes you wonder whether maybe, just maybe, they’re less interested in the black poor than in using their plight to demonize black political leaders.
Beinart has, perhaps, the makings of a serious critical response to Drudge and Boyle–until that last sentence, which is so cheap and unsupported by the facts that it invites ridicule.
Back to the substance. Obama has given these sorts of “tough-love” speeches before. I heard him give on, in person, at a church on the South Side of Chicago on Father’s Day in 2008. It was impressive (the first time).
What is peculiar about the Morehouse speech, however, is that Obama told graduating seniors that they had a “special obligation” to society and to their community–simply because they are black men.
It marks a break with Obama’s typical exhortation to Americans in general–and to the privileged in particular–to contribute more (via the government, usually) to lift up those who have less.
It is also a stark contrast to the philosophy of Morehouse’s most famous graduate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose vision of a color-blind society is, at best, in tension with Obama’s emphasis on identity.
Beinart cites Dr. King to attack Drudge and Boyle–and his choice of passage is rather interesting:
“In the final analysis…the weakness of Black Power is its failure to see that the black man needs the white man and the white man needs the black man. However much we may try to romanticize the slogan, there is no separate black path to power and fulfillment that does not intersect white paths, and there is no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not share that power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity. We are bound together in a single garment of destiny.”
Whereas Dr. King spoke of shared destiny, Obama told Morehouse seniors of their separate destiny–that although American society has changed, they must remember that they are still victims, and act accordingly.
Beinart, evidently thinking he is doing something clever, attributes the quote above to the president–then informs readers that the quote above is not actually from Obama, but from Dr. King! Amazing!
It’s hardly a surprise, and serves to undermine Beinart’s point completely. Of course Obama did not appeal to our “single garment of destiny,” but to a racial “special obligation”–channeling Kipling, not King.
Beinart ends with another gratuitous jab: “Had Drudge and Boyle been around then, they’d have slandered [King] too.” That’s rather rich, coming from a man who just defended discrimination this very morning.