Sunday, March 11, 2012

The subtle racism of ascribing success to luck

For a couple of years now the chattering class has been characterizing President Obama as weak. What's interesting is that now that his political fortunes are improving, there seems to be a meme developing that he's lucky.

From Rolling Stone on the contraception controversy:

If this were a political mistake, Barack Obama seems impossibly lucky to have stumbled into it. Every repercussion is redounding to his favor.

Dana Milbank on the economy:

In politics, it’s better to be lucky than good, and Obama has come into an unexpectedly large quantity of luck. Five straight monthly drops in the unemployment rate have boosted consumer confidence and stock markets.

Gary Younge on his opponents:

Barack Obama has often been lucky with his enemies...

Now, as he heads for reelection, he must be saying a prayer every day in thanks for Mitt Romney...

The principal beneficiary would be Obama. The president should be fighting for his life. Instead, he's living on his luck.

So what they're saying is that the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review, the skinny black guy with the funny name who beat the Clinton machine, the first African American President of the United lucky.

It certainly couldn't be that he handled the whole contraception controversy masterfully. It couldn't be that his commitment to wake up every day fighting for jobs and an economic recovery is actually beginning to pay off. And it certainly couldn't be that stalwarts in the Republican Party decided to sit this presidential race out because Obama has managed to maneuver the Republicans into an ever more extremist corner without much of a chance in a national election.

Oh no, it couldn't be any of that.

I'm not saying that President Obama is perfect or that his actions alone have resulted in any of those successes. The world is much too complex for that. But its even more ridiculous to ascribe his successes to luck.

This President has had to traverse all kinds of racist minefields that are simply ignored by this kind of analysis. After we've taken that into account, how about recognizing that he took office when we were involved in two wars and suffering from the worst recession since the 1940's? Upon taking office, he faced the most partisan obstructionism we've seen in our lifetimes. And you want to ascribe his ability to maneuver all that and still be looking good for re-election to luck? Really?

Sorry chattering class. But your racism is showing.


  1. Good Morning, SmartyPants. I couldn't have articulatd this Lucky" meme any clearer. Thank you! Off to repost.

  2. Great call. You're becoming my go-to blog!

    1. Mine too. Since "discovering" Smartypants a few months ago, this has become a CAN'T MISS daily read. Her insights will amaze you.

  3. To quote Napoleon: "God is on the side with the most cannon."

    Putting yourself in the position of take advantage of "lucky breaks" is a skill not often appreciated.

    Gov. Dean's 50 state strategy is based on the fact that SOMETHING is going to go right where you least expect it. But if you don't have the resources in place to be able to take advantage of it ... it might as well have not happened.

    The contraception debate became the Kiss of Death (as opposed to the Stink of Hyocrisy) when Rush took off on Fluke. Serendipity. Go back and look on that day, it was a slow day. Rush didn't HAVE to make an ass of himself about a petite, pretty, respectful law student. Luck. Pure D Luck. Of course, it would have been something else with this crowd and someone like me would be saying Pure D Luck. and be just as right -- and wrong.

    In politics, who is running is often more important than what is being said. Obama IS lucky in his choice of candidates. The fact is that the "real" candidates were not afraid of Obama, they were afraid of the Tea Party. I don't think anyone saw the TP coming in 2009. Certainly not the R's congressional leadership.

    The economy improving IS somewhat a matter of luck. Putting the pieces in place to allow that to happen was foresight, hard work and attention to detail. But the inability of the "Hell NO" congress to derail the process??? In some measure Luck.

    To look again at the Little Corporal: If you are going to advance someone to the rank of General, don't ask if he is good ... ask if he is lucky.

    Besides, saying someone is LUCKY is to believe him/her to be less dangerous than they really are. Underestimation has lost more wars than overestimation.

    Peace and Peas

    1. I just couldn't disagree with you more on this one DerFarm.

      To categorize a black man who has accomplished what this President has is to strip him of his power - not to mention his intellect and hard work. That's racism at work...clear and simple.

    2. Oops, let me re-do that one:

      "To categorize a black man who has accomplished what this President has as lucky is to strip him of his power - not to mention his intellect and hard work.

    3. Echo Smartypants, but also to add: the President has not allowed the GOP breathing room anywhere except on the far right. That was strategy and work. His brain told him that yes, there were structural problems fo"People demand freedom of speech to make up for the freedom of thought which they avoid." r the GOP in their cultivation of the radical right as a voting bloc, now base, when the Clintons of the world thought that GOP rhetoric was the new normal. Obama knew it was a medium-term blip. He planned on it, worked for it, and we are now reaping the benefits of it.

      The problem is that a lot of white liberals aren't ready to a) deal with actually running things and/or b) can't deal with the notion that they were out-thought by one of the kids on scholarship at their prep school.

    4. Edit:

      "His brain told him that yes, there were structural problems for the GOP in their cultivation of the radical right as a voting bloc"

      My keyboard sometimes pastes randomly. The quote was from Kierkegaard. Good quote, but not on this point.

    5. Bill,

      Several points:

      First of all, I LOVE that Kierkegaard quote! So glad it slipped in.

      Secondly, I always knew there was a qualitative difference between Obama's strategy and Clinton's triangulation. As you probably know, I've often talked about Obama's conciliatory rhetoric as ruthless strategy. But your thought that what Clinton took as the new normal, Obama knew was a medium-term blip adds whole new depth to the difference.

      Finally, on this:

      The problem is that a lot of white liberals aren't ready to deal with actually running things

      That one has been rolling around in my head for weeks now. I want to write about it, but just haven't been able to get it together well enough. If you have thoughts or ever write about that - please let me know. I think its huge.

    6. @Smartypants--

      First: great post. You're right. The chattering classes are constantly having to explain away evidence that contradicts their precious, precious narratives. So, since they had decided long ago that their narrative would be that Barack Obama is weak, naive, feckless, etc., the successes HAVE to be explained by ... er ... luck! Yeah, that's the ticket!

      I hope @DerFarm doesn't mind my butting in, and I don't mean to speak for another commenter; but I think @DerFarm was pointing out that in situations when President Obama HAS been lucky, he has skillfully taken full advantage of "lucky breaks" as they arise. As @DerFarm pointed out, Rush wasn't coerced into making an ass of himself during the contraception debate; but since he did, President Obama (and his campaign staff) will very assertively remind the nation that Rush Limbaugh is one of the most influential voices of the GOP, and demonstrate to the nation how deferential GOP politicians are to him. Taking full advantage of lucky breaks IS a tremendous skill to have in politics.

      And I think @DerFarm has a good point about underestimation too. If GOPers think it's luck more than skill that's got President Obama kicking their butts, let 'em KEEP thinking it's just "luck." It's amusing to watch them smirk, thinking they're outwitting somebody who's so clearly more intelligent and skilled than they are. Hey -- when the show's amusing, why not enjoy it??

    7. Hmmm. I could probably come up with something. Can I have a moment to gather my thoughts?

    8. Buelahmo

      Perhaps its simply a matter of semantics. But I don't tend to ascribe taking advantage of your opponents mistakes as luck.

    9. Bill

      I got nothin' but time.


  4. Good Post, Smartypants!

    You're all over it. President Obama is shattering every stereotype out there about black people. His successes are very hard to accept by the media since they've been taught all of their lives that black people are dumb, inferior, incompetent, need to be lead by the hand or PBO is out of his league bullsh*t. This is why time after time you read things like President Obama was created by the CIA, he isn't real. Some comments are so asinine until it's not worth repeating. But this is who they are. Racist clowns to the 10th power!

    1. President Obama is shattering every stereotype out there about black people.

      Yes ma'm, he certainly is!

      That confuses an awful lot of people and scares the hell out of others.

  5. you are so on point, and thank you so much for this.

  6. Nailed it, Ms Smarty!

  7. Hey SP!
    Great post hitting every nail on the head. Your "ruthless strategy" + under-estimation does it for me. Its like a deadly cocktail.

    Each event (budget fight last August, Mr. I got 98% of what I wanted fame, finds out later he got nothing)(budget deal that screaming repugs now want to get out of) then (December unemployment/tax decrease) debacle for repugs! Jeez and dont add trade agreements, auto bailout, etc. etc.

    For me, its under-estimation that has played a huge role added to his "ruthless strategy" that has confounded all of the onlookers-competitors, media, lots of dems & some of the public.

    He just keeps doing as Michelle said, "keep going, keep your eyes on your objective and take the long view". I see this in him all the time.

    God Bless this man who is our president!

  8. 'Afternoon, Ms. Pants

    You just will NOT STOP, will you (VERY good. PLEASE don't)? And, what...? SULLIVAN found you?? EXcellent. Hope, then, he pays attention (he's a Bell Curver - grrrrrr...) Alright...

    This is continuing to unfold as I would think it would. I've talked about it a few times and, probably, will - all of us - be talking about it more as time continues to pass.

    SouthenGirl2 makes a number of points that Black folk wrestle with and Bill, to me, brings it home. It's this calling the shots thing that is just causing all KINDS of problems. Always has and any time a minority - certainly a some hue of brown one - is potentially in a position where they are gonna make decisions, we see this mess. VERY similar state of affairs for women (y'all are SOOO eMOOOOOtional, donchaknow. logic just ain't in y'all).

    Many, certainly not all because I'm able to do a lot of what I do because a goodly number of white liberals died so I could, "liberals" operate from the perspective of Burden. As SouthernGirl2 points out, we have to be "lead by the hand". As long as matters play out like that, all is well.

    But, here comes this guy who demonstrates that his hand doesn't need to be held( arrogant, uppity,Socialist, Kenyan...). He's not just competent, but he's brilliant (which has NOTHING to do with making mistakes. he does) and one of the better political strategists - speaking for me - that I've, in my 61 years, has ever seen.

    He says pretty frequently that he intends to help this country to continue to perfect its Union. He also says he does NOT bluff. He walked, alone and with cameras blazing, into the Republican Retreat and told them - to their FACES - that their mess was NOT gonna work, WHY it wasn't gonna work, and what HE was GOing to do.

    What do we see??????

    In the changing of hundreds of years of a country's approaches, luck would certainly be a welcome factor. But, it canNOT be a guiding principle.

  9. He says pretty frequently that he intends to help this country to continue to perfect its Union. He also says he does NOT bluff. He walked, alone and with cameras blazing, into the Republican Retreat and told them - to their FACES - that their mess was NOT gonna work, WHY it wasn't gonna work, and what HE was GOing to do.

    You're giving me goosebumps! I watched that video of the Republican Retreat again a few nights ago. He was awesome! Republicans had NOwhere to hide. He ate their lunch!

  10. Smartypants, you are amazing! As you've done with many of your previous posts, you've once again penned the most penetrating commentary about inherent racism (and some may be by people who may not be conscious of their racist analyses) that characterize the way the media (left, right and so called mainstream) has covered President Obama. I am 66 years old. In my lifetime I know of no other President who faced more daunting problems than President Obama. Yet, in spite of President Obama's grace, political skills, and pure statesmanship, in facing these daunting problems, people still refuse to give him credit for his successes. What is truly an eye opener is to see the difference between most of the international media and most of the U.S. media in the way they treat and analyze President Obama.

    This is really a super post, Smartypants! It should be a must read for eveyone

  11. I'm a bit late, Ms. Smartypants, but want to add my voice to compliment you on this fine post.

    Over the past week, I watched the PBS series on Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and was reminded of how so many of Lincoln's enemies and detractors underestimated him and his steely nerve as he brought this country through the worst crisis in its history..

    Lincoln was underestimated all the time, even by those in his own party and his own generals.

    I also believe calling Mr. Obama's successes "luck" is back-handed racism.

    Let the leader of the GOP stay on the air and continue to be its spokesman--let the country hear El Rushbo call Mr. Obama a "boy president" and let him continue to denigrate African-Americans, women, handicapped people, and even children.

    Then let the voters decide on the kind of leadership they want for this country.