I am going to make a statement that might surprise some of you: I actually like Shelby Steele.
Unlike other black conservatives I find him to be genuine in his conservative beliefs, and I think he writes in an intellectually lucid way which I find refreshing. (His book, "The Content Of Our Character" is a must read for all A-merry-cans, regardless of ideological preference) Unlike Sowell, he doesn't seem to be writing to impress his intellectual colleagues on the right. What he does seem to try to do, is inject an honest thought out point of view in the ideological debate for our souls. And who knows, maybe it's because we share a certain embarrassment in our predictions about the chosen one this past election. ( I bet he won't have to run anywhere naked)
Now having said that, I must take issue with some of the things that Shelby said in his Wall Street Journal oped today.
Shelby Steele's issue with liberalism is a classic one. It is typical of what you hear from conservatives: Liberals give blacks handouts, they promote big government, and liberalism creates dependency. Conservatism, on the other hand, offers nothing but a chance to make it in our great country. But it takes hard work and discipline, and with conservatism, there is no handouts. He argues that Lyndon Johnson, with his Great Society programs, took the moral high ground at a time when A-merry-ca's morality was being questioned for her shameful racial legacy. Republicans never recovered from that, and they are still playing catch up today.
Of course, he argues,that as black people, we are misguided in our loyalties. Liberalism actually takes away our humanity, while with conservatism, on the other hand, we can maintain our dignity as humans, and not get caught up in victim hood and racial identity politics.
"The appeal of conservatism is the mutuality it asserts between individual and political freedom, its beautiful idea of a free man in a free society. And it offers minorities the one thing they can never get from liberalism: human rather than racial dignity.... What drew me to conservatism years ago was the fact that it gave discipline a slightly higher status than virtue. This meant it could not be subverted by passing notions of the good. It could be above moral vanity. And so it made no special promises to me as a minority. It neglected me in every way except as a human being who wanted freedom. Until my encounter with conservatism I had only known the racial determinism of segregation on the one hand and of white liberalism on the other -- two varieties of white supremacy in which I could only be dependent and inferior."
Right there, Shelby, is the problem with your well written essay. You only saw yourself as a person of color in two ways: "A racial determination of segregation" and the subject of "white" liberal paternalism. You should have said no to both of those choices. It wasn't one or the other. Both were destined to make you the man you became: Someone who chooses a selfish ideology which is predicated on chasing a carrot that you will never be able to grab. By embracing that ideology you have bought into the false premise that your people seek the liberal handout and are not willing to work as hard as the conservative to grab the carrot. It is not true. I submit to you that your people (and poor people of all colors) are willing to work harder. The problem is that their government has never been willing to work as hard for them. Instead, their government has worked only for a special few, and contrary to what you might believe, it didn't neglect you, it used you to achieve its own goals. At least with liberalism, with all its faults, there was a realization that it should make you a promise, and that promise was that never again will you be subjected to second class status, and our government will always work to make it so. Our government will finally give you an even playing field to compete on, after tipping the field against you for so long.
"So here stands contemporary American conservatism amidst its cultural liabilities and, now, its electoral failures -- with no mechanism to redeem America of its shames, atavistically resisted by minorities, and vulnerable to stigmatization as a bigoted and imperialistic political orientation. Today's liberalism may stand on decades of failed ideas, but it is failure in the name of American redemption. It remains competitive with -- even ascendant over -- conservatism because it addresses America's moral accountability to its past with moral activism. This is the left's great power, and a good part of the reason Barack Obama is now the president of the United States. No matter his failures -- or the fruitlessness of his extravagant and scatter-gun governmental activism -- he redeems America of an ugly past. How does conservatism compete with this?"
Sorry Shelby, it can't. And I, for one, am glad for that.
*Pic stolen from my girl Danielle over at the Black Snob blog.